In 1963, E.P. Thompson published his renowned exploration into the formation of the English working class, delving into ordinary individuals’ experiences of living through the immense upheaval of the English economic system and its entrance into industrialised modernity. Thompson’s work demonstrated the absolute necessity of integrating lived experiences into macro-historical processes, drawing together embodied experiences with politico-structural contexts and debates. By addressing this, historians can reclaim individual actors as ‘significant agents of change’ rather than ‘passive vehicles of historical processes.’ I will apply a similar historical approach to consider the social ramifications of British deindustrialisation (the decline in manufacturing and subsequent shift to service industry) as a post-Thompson macro-history, traditionally framed by economic and political discourses. Using Thompson’s work as theoretical guidance, a social and cultural perspective can add depth and nuance to this coercively imposed process, and explore the nexus between culture and power to present history as an active process of conflicts and struggles between individuals and structures. The rapid deindustrialisation of Britain has proved to be a conflict-ridden process, coinciding with an extensive cultural transformation. Just as Thompson sought ‘to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the ‘obsolete’ hand-loom weaver…from the enormous condescension of prosperity,’ I aim to illuminate some lost voices of deindustrialisation, swallowed up amongst a sea of statistics and sensationalist headlines. I intend to explore several grassroots activist groups and subcultural practices in post-industrial Leeds from 1975 to 1981: focusing firstly on the female-dominated Leeds and Bradford women’s groups’ responses to Peter Sutcliffe’s murders, and then turning to traditionally male spheres, analysing the Leeds United Service Crew, and the Leeds Punk Front. A mixture of social movements and subcultures, these groups have been understood as products of crises and sites of resistance, and thus offer insight into individual and collective action and agency in history. My analysis will treat subcultural groups as a form of collective grassroots activism – and vice versa – presenting the two as analogous rather than separate categories of groups. The emergence and development of each of these collectives and their protagonists cannot be understood in isolation of their political and socio-economic context. Consequentially, this historical approach offers insight into the ways individual and collective cultural practices engage both directly and indirectly with their political context. This consideration of an interrelationship between individuals and wider societal structures is useful in analysing the ‘massive…changes on the social structure of (formerly) industrial, working-class cities associated with deindustrialisation.’ An important theme permeating through my exploration of these groups is spatial location, enabling me to examine localised changes occurring alongside structural transitions, focusing predominantly on evolving experiences of sexuality and class. Just as Talbot notes that ‘conflict and control throughout history has shaped the nature of space,’ physical spaces should be understood as territories through which we can consider changing dynamics and experiences of conflict and control. An exploration into these three groups and the spaces they occupy can offer us snapshots of ‘economic, social and cultural life at a particular point in history.’ I am not attempting to replace an economic macro-history with an equally obsolete ‘true’ lived reality of the period, but rather I aim to challenge orthodox understandings of deindustrialisation by exposing a multiplicity of experience. After explaining some of the methodological choices I utilised completing this dissertation, I will begin by briefly exploring existing interpretations of the era, and then discuss the concepts and themes that influenced my research before investigating them through an analysis of the selected grassroots activism and subcultures.
Leeds, as the former ‘centre point of the wool trade,’ was an appropriate choice to explore deindustrialisation. My research began exploring responses to the Yorkshire Ripper murders and trial, interested by how events and attitudes seemingly unrelated to deindustrialisation offer insight into the atmosphere of the time. I took the years Peter Sutcliffe was active, from his first convicted murder in 1975 to his 1981 trial, as the foundation for the periodisation of my project, and then looked towards other social groups in this era. This method avoids being restricted by an understanding of history through decades, which I noticed as a reoccurring problematic trend in traditional accounts of the era. Basing my subsequent research around the ‘Ripper time’ prohibited me from actively selecting a time period, and risking falling into decaditis. Research regarding grassroots and media responses surrounding the Ripper mostly revealed changing experiences of female sexuality and gender roles. In light of this, I then explored typically male spheres: the punk subculture and football hooliganism, both frequently identified as archetypal groups of the late 70s. Rather than challenging the traditional gendering of these spaces, I will use them to explore how they provide individuals with the agency to actively consume or reject their surroundings and self-construct their identities. My source material is a variety of memoirs, autonomous and mainstream media accounts, and self-published documents by those within these grassroots and subcultural collectives. This mixture enables a consideration of relationships between historical actors and groups, and of the production of identity and meaning through this interaction. This methodology avoids a dehumanising top-down history throwingself- ‘cold analytical water’ on discourses of sincerity and passion, instead providing a reflection on emotion and affect. Some of the anecdotal memoirs have been published within other social histories, introducing certain implications of using edited testimony as primary evidence, such as the likelihood that the pre-selected material may purport a particular narrative. However, using this material in conjunction with other types of primary sources should begin to counter this. Rather than using this material to construct an accurate account of the era, my aim is to expose nuances in historical evidence. Cultural and social histories not only uncover important aspects of change beyond traditional structures such as the family, education and the workplace, but also should provide space for self-identification and analysis. By looking at representations of these historical actors in the media alongside their own voices, I aim to challenge not only orthodox interpretations of these social groups, but also how these traditional historical assumptions of the era have been constructed. This introduces the ‘common struggle for the social control of historicity.’ My distance from the subject should aid this, as it prohibits me from exerting an autobiographical influence based on my experiences. Using the theme of spatial location to address intersecting social experiences of class, gender and race helps to prevent the possibility of imposing a chronological narrative, as the orthodox accounts I will now go on to outline have tended to.
‘A Disunited Kingdom’? Placing Leeds in 1970s Britain
The 1970s are traditionally depicted as the ‘lost decade,’ with surrounding cultural and political discourses generally taking on declinist rhetoric. Although I am cautious not to periodise through decades in my analysis, I will briefly succumb to this trend to provide an overview of existing accounts of the era. Reynolds has described the 70s as ‘one long crisis,’ leaving Britain ‘disunited, simmering with resentment.’ Popular narratives present the ‘unfashionable’ decade through a sea of figures – the 1974 three-day week; unemployment doubling between 1975 and 1977 – that help construct the notion that Britain was ‘in agony.’ The idea of the 70s as ‘a dismal, benighted decade’ has been politically exploited by both the New Right and New Labour, helping to construct a negative contemporary memory of the era. David Cameron has referred to frequent striking in the 70s as ‘the British disease,’ exemplary of the popular Anglocentric narrative adopted when speaking of this time. A global lens demonstrates that this British exceptionalism rhetoric is faulty: Tiratsoo has argued that the economic and political traits of 1970s Britain were part of a global trend and thus British structural problems cannot be taken in isolation. Parallels of decline can certainly be drawn with the USA (Watergate, withdrawal from Vietnam, the New York City 1975 bailout). However for now, refocusing on Britain, we can appreciate that certain issues, including racial conflict, strikes, and industrial decay were prominent, whilst rejecting the understanding of the 70s as an ‘orthodox internal chronology of escalating problems.’ Rather than a simple ‘arc towards neoliberalism,’ historical processes are more ambiguous than trends simply ‘moving in one direction, and especially not for an entire decade.’ Black is correct in stating that the 70s are ‘ripe for revisionism:’ the decade saw numerous legislature passed on issues such as equal pay, sexual discrimination, race relations, domestic violence, and consumer rights. There was also attention to environmentalism, feminism, identity and sexuality politics, and anti-racism that wasn’t connected to the official politics of the British government, but to everyday life. The numerous strikes – although traditionally considered a negative aspect – actually suggests high levels of political involvement from the general population, an argument supported by the general elections’ high turnouts, demonstrating the existence of political power outside British parliament. Revisionist accounts of the era have looked towards popular culture to understand the period and explore the relationship between economic conditions and the politics of culture. As these accounts have demonstrated, we cannot ignore the economic and structural contexts of the 1970s, but we must consider this period beyond its characterisation as ‘a convulsive crisis’ of economics, politics and culture. This requires addressing individual and grassroots histories to recapture a level of agency, autonomy and emotion of the ordinary actor, demonstrating that history is not something simply imposed onto those living it. Addressing the misrepresentation of the 70s can further our understanding of the ambiguities of post-war Britain, and also generate a better consideration of the contemporary relevance of the period.
I will now focus on 1975-1981 Leeds as a post-industrial city, preparing for my analysis of social groups within it. Alongside deindustrialisation came the ‘rupture of traditional family, work and emotional structures,’ felt particularly hard in what were once Britain’s industrial capitals, such as Leeds and Bradford, previously the world textile industry’s workshop. This industrial history has been suggested to have created specific sexualities: a tough Northern working-class masculinity and a corresponding traditional femininity, both deeply impacted by the shock of deindustrialisation. The Daily Mail contested in 1980 that in the North ‘man [had] always been undisputed lord and master within his own family at least,’ and the apparent growing anti-male resentment felt by women was hugely unfamiliar. When large portions of older industrial city centres were left derelict, local and regional identity fragmented, creating a vacuum of purpose and identity and replacing it with a general sense of social disenchantment. Deindustrialisation created massive unemployment, and with it, masses of unemployed men whose traditional identity seemed under attack from all angles. Between 1973 and 1978, jobless figures more than doubled in industrial parts of Yorkshire, with youth unemployment figures especially high. No longer was working class identity – which industrial work had been so central to – derived from one’s position in the matrix of production. Cue the rise in importance of culture and leisure. As an economic sector, the leisure market had been expanding quickly in the post-war period. Self-identity was increasingly enacted and modified through leisure and consumption, demonstrating the importance of exploring cultural and social histories. Correlating with this was the decreasing stability of collective categories such as class, gender and family and the collapse of traditional boundaries between the dichotomies of public and private, male and female, and work and leisure. The sharp increase in immigration coincided with these changes affecting post-industrial cities. In Manningham, Bradford, the Middle School consisted of 85% Asian pupils, contributing to ‘plenty of deep-rooted racial prejudice in the area.’ An amalgamation of the above factors associated with deindustrialisation, alongside less obviously directly related occurrences such as the Ripper murders and far right activities in response to higher immigration populations combined to make Leeds an ‘uncomfortable’ place in the late 1970s. It is through my selected social groups that I will analyse how these struggles were routinely carried out at extremely localised levels, with battles occurring on the streets, football grounds and at gigs.
My dissertation has been predominantly guided by social historian E.P. Thompson, whose influential work explored the forgotten history of the emergence of the working-class political left in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. Thompson recognises class as a fluctuating relationship, an embodied concept, happening when ‘some men, as a result of common experiences…feel and articulate the identity of their interests as between themselves, and as against other men whose interests are different from (and usually opposed to) theirs,’ rather than traditional understandings of it as a rigid structure or category. Although Thompson’s male-centric language is problematic, his understanding of class as dynamic is valuable, maintaining that we must watch ‘these men over an adequate period of social change,’ observing their relationships, ideas and institutions. Indeed, if we were to ‘stop history at a given point, then there are no classes but simply a multitude of individuals with an assortment of experiences.’ By considering the experiences of groups of workers in the industrial revolution, Thompson recognises that these historical actors were not passive victims of the changing economic system, and that their popular protests were more than ‘rebellions of the belly.’ Rather, they were demonstrative of an ‘effervescence of regional consciousness:’ the emergence of widespread class consciousness. By presenting history as an ‘active process,’ Thompson addresses agency, claiming that ‘class is defined by men as they live their own history.’ This goes beyond inadequate interpretations of history which downplay ordinary actors’ contribution to the making of history as simply being a ‘labour force… migrants, or as the data for statistical series.’ Reclaiming the lives of those who experienced ‘these times of acute social disturbance’ by challenging the orthodox tendency to only remember the successful – deeming all others passive victims of historical processes – is vital for enhancing our understanding of history. Thompson also rightly recognises the importance of studying culture to enlighten macro-economic narratives, drawing attention to the cultural superstructure, and acknowledging social and cultural aspects of class.
An important occurrence during this time period was the rise of cultural studies. The ‘vibrancy, variety and volume of sociology, criminology and cultural studies’ that emerged from this era alone challenges the stereotype of the 70s as a stagnant decade. A tremendous range of material arose from the CCCS, founded in 1964, that was revolutionary in employing interdisciplinary methods to tackle culture as an academic subject with political importance. Subcultural practices and styles were recognised as more than passing fads, but as sites of resistance. One notable concept that stemmed from the CCCS particularly relevant to this dissertation is Stanley Cohen’s moral panic theory, which pays attention to the importance of the media and governing bodies in amplifying the threats of certain phenomena, constructing norms and defining deviancy. The contemporary memory of 1970s Britain as a period of unparalleled crisis can be better understood as semi-constructed through moral panics. Reports of these ‘crises’ – including punk and football hooliganism, explored later – tell us as much about the rising power of the media as a facet of the state’s repressive apparatus as it does about the actual people involved. By enabling those involved in these movements to self-analyse through their own publications and memoirs, we can strip back the social panic dimension to better understand the real nature of this era. Another interesting project born out of the CCCS is Janet Mendelsohn’s photographic exploration of Birmingham’s inner-city district Balsall Heath, particularly focusing on Varna Road. This area was a ‘focus of significant concerns about vice, prostitution and decay’ and provides an insight into a ‘community in an acute state of flux’ transitioning from ‘blitzed industrial backwater to modernist motor city.’ Mendelsohn’s photographs delve into the domestic sphere, capturing the people and places rarely featured as the subject of academia and art, and keeping with the core ambition of the CCCS by taking seriously the cultures and everyday experiences of ordinary people through an interdisciplinary approach. Using the physical territory of Varna Road as a lens into post-war Britain is particularly relevant to my dissertation, as it demonstrates how geographical locations can be used to explore lived conflicts and historical changes.
We can observe individual and structural interplays between culture and politics through considering social movements and subcultures. Touraine has developed a comprehensive social movement theory, in which social, cultural and political forces are associated with changes in the mode of production. Regarding my periodisation, this would involve changes such as the ‘growth of large-scale structural unemployment…the rise of new technologies, and new communicative networks,’ amongst others. With this in mind, grassroots activism and subcultural practices can demonstrate the construction of individual and collective identification through struggles to reappropriate control of socio-economic development, relationships, spaces and styles. Rather than aiming to overhaul the political power of state apparatus, many of these collectives are instead striving for a more localised ‘control of a field of autonomy or independence.’ Gilroy outlines three central goals apparent in most social movements and subcultures: collective consumption; a cultural identity relating to specific territory; and political self-management. It is this theme of spatial location as territory that I will explore throughout my analysis, addressing the symbolic dimensions of physical geographical spaces that establish locations as places of ownership, and how these spaces act as venues for conflicts and demonstrating agency. Thus, by considering the ways space has been occupied by individuals and groups to establish both personal and collective identities, location proves to be a valuable lens offering exploration of converging themes of sexuality and gender, class and race. Recognising that these themes cannot be understood independent of each other, but are intersectional, I will attempt to weave them into my analysis of each social group rather than consider each separately. Rather than presenting the era in a traditional ‘consecutive narrative,’ I will entwine E.P. Thompson’s focus on agency and dynamism with social movement theory and cultural studies as theoretical inspiration to analyse ‘groups of studies, on related themes’ to explore post-industrial Leeds.
‘Girls in Ripper Riot Fury’: Leeds/Bradford Women’s Groups Respond to the Ripper
I will first explore Leeds and Bradford women’s grassroots responses to the Yorkshire Ripper murders, and how they were dealt with by the media and police. My analysis is based on official WLM responses, and more localised, independent activity. Peter Sutcliffe attacked 20 women – murdering 13 of them – from 1975 until his arrest in 1981. Analysing media, police and feminist response to Sutcliffe’s attacks, and to each other, reveals evolving sex roles, occurring through active challenges to the streets as male territory. Although this appears to be a progressive time for feminism, there were failures by the WLM and related groups to provide a truly intersectional approach, and a safe space for all women. Despite introduction of legislation, there had been slow change in women’s status, and traditional sex roles associated with industrialisation sustained in the post-war period. Socio-economic processes remained largely responsible for sex role patterning, demonstrative of the impact that deindustrialisation would have on sexualities. Although the WLM had been active from the 60s – and interestingly drew much influence from left-wing British historians such as E.P. Thompson themselves – the Ripper murders had the effect of politicising ‘ordinary’ women. O’Brien speaks of a more urgent feminism that appeared in the Leeds/Bradford area due to the atmosphere created by these attacks, referring to Leeds as a ‘war zone.’ It is important to note that action in Leeds and Bradford varied, and their women’s groups should not be considered as interchangeable with each other nor with the nationwide WLM, an umbrella organisation for different activist groups. The Leeds women’s groups were supposedly more intellectualising, perhaps due to Leeds’ large student population, whereas female Bradford residents claim they were more action-based and less elitist. Bradford was also supposedly a more integrated town, which could have impacted the diversity of the movement – discussed below. Thus, although I will be considering their responses to the Ripper murders together, they should be recognised as distinct movements. After addressing how the mythologisation of Sutcliffe as the Yorkshire Ripper alone can signify the economic transformation occurring in the era, I will then go on to explore this politicisation. This activism should be understood within the merging of the private and public spheres, successful in pushing sexual and domestic violence into the public realm, and forcing police – amongst others – to become more involved with women.
Drawing comparisons between the Victorian ‘Jack the Ripper’ and Sutcliffe has two notable effects: the automatic assumption that Sutcliffe had perverted moralising motives as a prostitute-killer (discussed later), and the association between post-industrial Leeds and the poverty stricken Victorian East End, presenting Leeds as a derelict industrial city. In 1979, the Evening News claimed Saturday night Bradford to be ‘pure Victorian gothic: dank slate roofs flaming the blackened brick.’ Bradford was ‘pockmarked with soot-stained mills and ramshackle factories,’ a shadow of its former role in the ‘glorious wool trade’ at the heart of England’s northern industrial zone. These elaborate and emotive accounts persisted following Sutcliffe’s arrest, with the Sunday Mirror describing how the Ripper would drive through ‘ill-lit streets with derelict houses and waste grounds’ to where his victims ‘lurked…gaunt creatures asking if they wanted to do ‘business’.’ The ‘socio-economic dereliction’ of the Northern landscape was embellished and employed to draw comparisons with industrial Victorian England and ultimately construct a particular tone of poverty, decrepitude and depression in which Sutcliffe’s actions were contextualised.
The attacks clarified nocturnal public spaces as heterosexual male arenas. The initial police response was to advise women to ‘not go out at night unless absolutely necessary and only if accompanied by a man you know.’ The fear felt by women was immense: Spare Rib proclaimed 40% of women simply did not venture out after dark. Those in the Leeds and Bradford women’s groups agreed, with Elsie Dawdson claiming ‘as soon as it was dark, you were in.’ The responsibility of women’s safety was shifted onto themselves, suggestive of regulation via a cautionary tale: pressuring individuals to undergo precautionary behaviour and conform to rules for their own protection or safety. This effectively controlled the space women could occupy, urging them to self-regulate where they went, their appearance and what they did, ultimately training them to ‘limit their social freedom.’ This sense of self-care is evocative of neoliberal narratives emerging at the time, which encourage an individualisation of responsibility and governance rather than reliance on the welfare state. Of course, this advice was not applicable to all women: those who worked night shifts, especially sex workers, had no choice but to be out. This misogynistic assault on female freedom did not go unchallenged. Sarah Dixon speaks of women’s anger with the police for instructing them to stay at home, a sentiment mirrored in the WAVAW statement: ’Why must we…restrict our lives when it’s men who are to blame? Many women work at night; they can’t stay at home,’ calling for a ‘curfew on men, not women!’ This indicates a refusal to allow the streets to remain male territory, reclaiming women’s rights to move freely in public space, channelled through a range of direct action, including the first torchlight Reclaim the Night march in November 1977, called by the Leeds Revolutionary Feminist Group, where women united in City Square for a female ‘takeover.’ This is indicative of a growing sense of community amongst women, marking out their own territory. Interviews of the women involved in the Bradford movement were littered with references to pubs in Springcliffe, an area in Manningham which Sarah Lockyer claimed they ‘had,’ and enjoyed a busy social life in.
As well as rejecting the advice to take responsibility for their own safety and avoid the dangerous, male-occupied night-time streets, the Leeds and Bradford women’s movements also contended the police and press’s judgment and division of Sutcliffe’s victims into distinct categories of the ‘pure’ and the ‘fallen.’ The Bradford movement’s Yvonne Stringfellow recalls writing to newspapers to ‘tell them off about their coverage because they were making a distinction.’ Indeed, analysis of the case’s treatment by the police and the press demonstrates what was socially acceptable for women of the time. The referral to certain victims as ‘innocent,’ deserving respect and concern, implies by comparison that ‘deviant’ women were partly guilty for endangering themselves and provoking the attacks – failing to protect themselves sufficiently, and thus becoming legitimate prey to male sexual violence. This category included anyone from sex workers to women who went unaccompanied to pubs, in opposition to his ‘innocent victims:’ middle class women with valid reasons for being out alone at night. It was only after Sutcliffe claimed his first ‘innocent’ victim in 1977 that the attacks concerned everybody; before, ‘ordinary’ women ‘could always…go home and say, that’s the seedy side…that doesn’t really apply to me.’ Subsequently, the severity of the case and pursuit of the Ripper increased rapidly, with senior detective Constable Hobson declaring ‘he has made it clear that he hates prostitutes. Many people do…But the Ripper is now killing innocent girls. That indicates our mental state…You have made your point. Give yourself [The Ripper] up before another innocent woman dies.’ This statement seems to offer some level of understanding concerning Sutcliffe’s previous attacks, and explicitly draws a distinction between his victims. This sentiment was mirrored in the trial, with prosecutor Sir Michael Havers stating ‘some were prostitutes, some were women of easy virtue, but the last six attacks involved victims whose reputations were totally unblemished,’ as if the trial would have differed had he persisted in targeting deviant women. The press reiterated the lack of sympathy for sex workers, ‘girls whose hearts are as cold as their hands,’ the Times even offering the police sympathy for being apathetic to murder of prostitutes. Sutcliffe’s victims were put on trial themselves, vilified by the press and police. Police dossier reports included information about their drinking habits and sexual history. Mrs Rogulskyj was reported as ‘a very heavy drinker and [having] cohabited with a number of men,’ even making a note of her boyfriend being Jamaican – a fact entirely unknown to Sutcliffe and of no relevance to her murder. Wilma McCann supposedly ‘drank too much, was noisy…sexually promiscuous [and] distributed her favours widely.’ The purpose of presenting such information was seemingly to tarnish these women’s reputations, pitting them against ‘innocent’ victims by implying they were women of ‘loose morals.’ The police reports offer us valuable insight into ‘working-class male attitudes to what is and is not proper female conduct.’ If not criticising the victims to hold them accountable, the attention was turned to the women in Sutcliffe’s life. His mother’s affair with a policeman was widely publicised, as was a depiction of his wife Sonia as an obsessive and nagging partner, ‘subject to nervous breakdowns,’ who ‘dominated’ Sutcliffe. One Ripper detective suggested that when Sutcliffe viciously attacked each of his 20 victims, in his mind he was attacking his wife, further serving to turn the limelight away from the true perpetrator of these crimes. The scrutiny of these women’s lives reveals a societal disapproval of women who had too much sex (especially with the ‘wrong’ men and for the ‘wrong’ reasons), drank too much (especially away from a watchful husband) and were in the wrong places. It is also worth noting the press response to this feminist activism, which discussed the collective action as ‘disorderly women,’ dismissing these activists just as the mainstream press did with Sutcliffe’s victims. The Daily Mirror ran an article headlined ‘Girls in Ripper Riot Fury,’ degrading those involved by portraying them as clueless ‘girls.’ The article later describes these women as a ‘frenzied mob,’ further discounting any political motivations as senseless, irrational and riotous behaviour. This narrative is reminiscent of E.P. Thompson’s critique of the dismissal of industrial revolution protesters as ‘rebellions of the belly.’
The feminist response rejected the way the prosecution and press made sense of Sutcliffe as either rebelling against his mother and wife, or as a perverted moraliser. Simply mythologizing Sutcliffe as the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ projects him as a ‘prostitute hater’ acting out of disdain for a certain category of women. Joan Smith, who reported on the case, proposed that the mythology of Sutcliffe as the ‘Ripper’ served to derail the case, resulting in a police search for a crazed prostitute killer, when he was ‘just an ordinary bloke…not a needle in a haystack.’ A Spare Rib article links the ‘contemptuous attitudes’ held towards women by the prosecution and press to those Sutcliffe had himself. Smith ascribes a specific type of masculinity to both parties: ‘tough, Northern, working class, patriarchal.’ In light of this, the feminist movement aimed to demonstrate that Sutcliffe’s actions were not unique, but exemplary of the attacks frequently made on women – an extreme example of the widespread misogyny and sexual violence serving to subordinate women. WAVAW argued that even when ‘this ‘Ripper’ is caught, women will not be safe,’ preferring to place the Sutcliffe scenario within the wider ‘battle against sexual violence.’
I will now address some limitations of these movements. Although the women’s movements’ contention of the tendency to distinguish Sutcliffe’s victims between the ‘pure’ and the ‘fallen’ was of good intentions, the narrative employed to argue this was problematic, and further demonstrates how engrained particular appropriate femininities were. The ECP reminded the public that sex workers were mothers, and that the Ripper had orphaned 23 children. This emphasis on motherhood relates sex work to other domestic labours, seeking public sympathy for Sutcliffe’s prostitute victims by desexualising them and rendering them relatable. This narrative privileges the female identity of motherhood and discounts the experiences of prostitutes who are not mothers ‘fighting to make ends meet and feed our children,’ ignoring alternative motives for prostitution. The reliance on these narratives to prove these women’s respectability demonstrates the endurance of traditional sex roles, even within feminist movements.
The nationwide WLM’s relationship with sex workers was, overall, a rocky one, demonstrative of these women’s groups failure to provide fully integrated spaces for women from all areas of society. Differences between Leeds and Bradford women’s groups become more apparent through an exploration of varying reactions to the emergence of prostitutes as political actors, most visibly in the appearance of the self-help organisation ECP, founded in 1975. The WLM officially supported the ECP’s political agenda, demanding ‘public inquiry into the police handling of investigation; an end to bias and discrimination by police and the courts; the apology by the attorney general to the families of prostitute victims; compensation for the victims and their families.’ However, full integration of sex workers into the movement never occurred. The Bradford women’s group critiqued the fact that no sex workers were contacted for the sex work workshop held at the 1978 Birmingham WLM Conference. When one was present by chance there was disruption: the conference was not prepared to listen to her. Helen Buckingham of the ECP criticised national WLM conferences for not advertising externally to the movement, thus excluding a multitude of women. When she contacted Spare Rib proposing a page on prostitution, they responded negatively, claiming they had ‘already analysed prostitution and it oppresses women.’ The Bradford group rightly declared that ‘to imagine that you can organise women…whom you have no contact with is patronising and authoritarian,’ and called for the WLM to ‘leave prostitutes alone as they are obviously not concerned about genuine prostitution,’ preferring to contemplate how prostitution effects them and their oppression. Sheila Jeffreys, a leading figure in the Leeds Revolutionary Feminist Group, dismissed the need to ‘[study] prostitutes to explain prostitution,’ claiming instead that it is more important to look at ‘who benefits and in whose interests the institution is maintained.’ This male-centred perspective trivialises and silences female experience, undermining the validity of women’s history apart from as a site of gender oppression – especially disregarding working-class women. Sexual orientation, class and race were also explosive issues causing divisions in the movement. Oral histories of those in the Leeds and Bradford women’s groups demonstrates contention as to how integrated the movements were. Yvonne Stringfellow from the Bradford contingent maintained the working women’s inability to attend conferences led to them becoming a ‘middle-class, student-y type place[s],’ alienating less privileged women. Louise Lavender refers to the Leeds meetings as ‘solidly middle class,’ approachable to working-class women who had gone to university or who could be incorporated through lesbianism, but ‘intimidating’ for those who hadn’t or were heterosexual. This middle-class university stereotype wasn’t shared by all women involved, and Sara Dixon notes the use of newsletters by the Bradford Women’s Action Group to overcome such obstacles and reach those who were unable to attend meetings. Feminist groups also remained overwhelmingly white in both Leeds and Bradford, with limited access to non-white women despite large immigration populations. Thus although there was a desire for solidarity with women that had been ‘hitherto barely registered,’ the WLM still excluded marginalised women.
Ultimately, analysis of organised women’s responses to press and prosecution coverage of the Ripper murders illustrates the transitioning status of traditional understandings of sexuality and sex roles. The women involved can be understood as active agents in challenging both male occupation of nocturnal public spaces and the sexist rhetorics employed by the police and the media, but also not as entirely unaffected by traditional stereotypes of appropriate femininity as demonstrated by their reliance on the podium of motherhood to defend sex workers. The inability to create an intersectional women’s movement reveals that although the struggles to broaden female territory were important in making women’s issues public and constructing sexual violence as a national problem, many women’s groups were only available to privileged women, demonstrating a lack of space for marginalised women.
‘Mindless morons’: Leeds United Service Crew
After focusing on female access to space, I will now consult a traditionally masculine sphere, and men’s efforts to define their territory, by exploring hooliganism associated with the LUSC, a ‘top firm’ of the 70s. Conventional understandings of football hooliganism as an ‘English disease’ emerging in the 70s are misguided. In addition to providing a popular source of media outrage, hooliganism provoked a ‘rich vein of sociological research,’ with cultural studies offering an alternative perspective on the subculture’s roots, dismissing media representations of football hooligans as mindless thugs and instead drawing a relationship between hooliganism and ‘a severe deterioration in [the] economic situation.’ Although the process of deindustrialisation did significantly impact the construction of working-class male identities, understanding football hooliganism as solely symptomatic of catastrophic breakdown ignores other factors shaping subcultures. Hooliganism is not unique to this era nor this country, and we should identify the late 70s LUSC within a history of hooliganism. The social violence associated with football firms has historically been a ‘marked characteristic of traditional working class communities’ – which Hall deems understandable considering social conflict often arises from experiencing exclusion. Dawdson also correlates men’s unease with the formation of ‘gangs.’ By looking beyond the headlines, we can expose a more nuanced outlook on football supporters. Diversity can be located in an analysis of the LUSC, which should be understood as a collective of individuals, challenging both the assumption of football hooligans as an army of indistinguishable racist skinhead thugs, and traditional interpretations of subcultures as solely working-class resistance. What is impossible to miss in an analysis of the firm is the absolute vitality of occupying space to aid construction of self-identity and expressing power.
Black and Pemberton’s claim that football hooligans’ treatment tells us more about the press’s power than the actual actors involved is evocative of Cohen’s moral panic theory, and the ‘active and constructing’ role of the press. Whereas offending individuals in the inter-war period were described as ‘hotheads’ lacking ‘sportsmanship,’ hooligans in the 70s were branded barbaric and animalistic, requiring stern state discipline. It is important to consider these attitudes as emerging simultaneously to a ‘marked polarisation in the national press into…highbrow and popular,’ the latter being fuelled by scaremongering and sensationalism. The late 70s also saw a welcoming of neoliberal ideologies, and thus an increasing abrasive stance towards anyone ‘scrounging’ on the welfare state rather than ‘pulling his weight,’ in which football hooliganism came to stand as a symbol of ‘general decline in moral standards’ needing stricter social discipline. Headlines such as ‘RIOT! United’s Fans are Animals’ and ‘SAVAGES! ANIMALS’ set the tone for understanding football supporters’ actions. There is a blatant likening of these ‘mindless morons’ to animals, with the Mirror proclaiming one should ‘treat them like animals,’ suggesting they be ‘herded’ into ‘hooligan compounds.’ This language serves to ignore any consciousness or rationale of the football supporter, reminiscent of the popular protests Thompson aimed to rescue from being dismissed as unruly and riotous. Just as Thompson described the governmental policies’ power to render popular radicalism ‘inarticulate by censorship and intimidation,’ the tabloid media silenced any potential political consciousness in hooliganism. We must also consider the self-fulfilling prophecy that such content can induce, appealing to fans that saw themselves as liminal to society. For some, hooliganism seemed attractive explicitly because it was deemed illegitimate and dangerous, offering the opportunity to ‘indulge their fanciful notion that they were somehow… a threat to society.’ This idea of self-understanding and construction of identity through societal reactions broaches the issue of agency. Hall touched on this, calling for a consideration of the ‘real social conflicts and antagonisms’ that may provide people with reasons for behaving like this, rather than simply treating it as an ‘irrational collective spasm.’ He notes the divisive consequences of these media rhetorics, creating particular class and culture narratives that are pitted against each other. Although we should not deny football hooliganism as real – it was not ‘dreamed up by a conspiracy of strict disciplinarians’ – we must recognise that dismissing football supporters as ‘temporarily insane’ leaves no room for exploration of this phenomenon.
Tony Harrison’s poem ‘v.’ explores the wider societal tensions and aggressions evident in football hooliganism. In his narrative, Harrison visits a graffiti littered graveyard overlooking Leeds stadium Elland Road, through which Leeds supporters have sought to ‘reassert the glory of their team.’ Their violent anger is evident from the aggressive graffiti Harrison describes, a repertoire of ‘blunt four letter curses,’ alongside swastikas and NF signs. The poem explores what ‘these crude words are revealing? / What is it that this aggro act implies?’ By comparing the opposition between football teams to other animosities in society (‘LEEDS v. DERBY, Black/White…Left v. Right, / Class v. class as bitter as before’), ironically amongst ‘UNITED’ tags, Harrison places tensions in football as symbolic of wider ones, connecting this supposed leisure activity to political and economic realities. He does this almost explicitly by using an anecdotal reference of a young man complaining about ‘life on t’dole’ in ‘fucking Leeds!’ and drawing a relationship between the ‘jobless’ football supporters teams’ losses and anger towards ‘‘Pakis’, ‘Niggers’, and…‘Yids’’ who they believe should bear the blame. This powerful poem demonstrates that football hooliganism surpasses the game and can be interpreted as a general feeling of hopelessness and disenchantment towards the rest of society – an accumulation of the week’s frustrations – exposing how physical spaces associated with football are symbolically important to explore the post-industrial experience of young men.
In this respect, we can acknowledge football hooliganism within terms of territory and masculinity, particularly significant when considering the breakdown of traditional order, and the vacuum of masculine space deindustrialisation may have left where work places traditionally served as male territories. A central confrontation between supporters involved ‘taking of the ends,’ where fans attempted to ‘infiltrate the opponent’s terrace and assert their claim to space.’ When increasing security prevented this, the streets became conflict sites, particularly train stations where home firms would wait to clash with arriving opposition fans. These encounters were often referred to by fans as ‘wars’ or ‘battles,’ the ‘ends’ as ‘castles’ to be protected from ‘invaders,’ suggestive of different teams as nations. Sean, of the LUSC, continues this theme of nationalism, claiming there to be something ‘about the British male that makes us so territorial,’ stemming from ‘our history of war and being an island race.’ This patriotism also existed on a localised level, creating a collective regional identity that required territory. The firms provided a ‘coherent social body,’ constructed through occupying particular spatial areas and practices such as communal chanting. Interestingly, one of the chants used to degrade the Leeds firm’s masculinity was ‘did the Ripper get your mum?’ – a bid to discredit men’s legitimacy by suggesting their mothers were prostitutes. Hall has argued that demonstrating this type of masculinity was of particular importance to the vulnerable working classes, devastated by ‘growing unemployment, public spending cuts and a sharpening political polarisation.’ Football offered these young men a ‘claim to cultural space and territory…the only compensating ‘victory’ for a lifetime of defeats.’ As Chris Lightbown testified: ‘we fight for the pride of our ends — there is nothing else to be proud of in our society.’
No subculture is entirely unified, and there is diversity amongst LUSC’s members. A mixture of styles and fashions is evident from Gall’s anecdotal collection of the firm, for example the excerpts from Johnna, a self-proclaimed punk, suggest the overlapping of subcultural practices. Another member, ‘Skiz’ remembers a confrontation against Manchester United involving approximately 2000 Leeds fans, ‘all sorts of people – punk rockers, mods and a middle-aged father.’ The crew’s reputation for being one of the most racist mobs in England has also been challenged by other Leeds supporters. Although there was NF presence in these firms, there was also resistance. ‘Leeds Supporters Against Nazis’ proclaimed that 99% of Leeds fans were disgusted by the NF, and although they succeeded in getting a ‘few misguided United fans to try and attack blacks,’ the majority of supporters simply wanted to support their team. The group reiterates that Elland Road was not a ‘happy hunting ground’ for new NF recruits.
This exploration into LUSC demonstrates the significance of physical confrontations to ‘win’ public spaces as territory in order to proclaim power and masculinity. This is particularly significant in the face of the breakdown of traditional male areas. It is important to realise the role of the media in perpetuating the mythology of football hooligans as barbaric creatures, and draw attention to the potential relationship between aggressions and power struggles within the game to these young men’s contest for control in other aspects of their life. Spatial locations in football hooliganism provided territories to be collectively captured to demonstrate unity, power and masculinity. Finally, we must recognise diversity within these football firms, further challenging the sensationalist representation of hooligans as a mass of senseless thugs.
‘Street Soldiers’: Leeds Punk Front
Having touched on NF encroachment into cultural spheres such as football grounds, I will now turn to their attempts to claim another social space, the Leeds punk scene, and their subsequent creation of the ‘Punk Front.’ Reynolds describes Leeds as a ‘front line’ in the culture war between political groups, a struggle materialising at a local level in cultural venues including music gigs and pubs. This analysis challenges traditional understandings of punk as politically progressive, exposing a different branch of the subculture, where punk and its cultural spaces were utilised to propagate racism and fascism. Typically portrayed as a product of crisis, punk has been frequently understood as reflecting a breakdown of post-war ‘consensus,’ a cultural response to the socioeconomic situation in Britain. How punk appeared to ‘embody a reaction to the…socio-political climate and prospective (no) future’ and its autonomous rhetoric was attractive to those on the political left and the right, who both attempted to understand it within their ideological frameworks to use for their individual objectives. While the Socialist Workers Party understood punk as ‘a healthy expression of young working-class anger born from the inequities of capitalism,’ those on the right latched onto punk’s ‘fascination with the history, aesthetics and iconography of fascism,’ understanding the subculture as a product of frustration of particularly ‘white working-class youth.’ Punk’s adoption of varying political signifiers and images (swastikas, Marx, the anarchy symbol) left its political alignment up for grabs. Insight into this struggle between political factions, and the emergence of the ‘Punk Front’ reveals ‘the contested and politicised nature of British youth culture in the late 1970s,’ which played out at a localised levels at punk gigs and pubs.
Before exploring the intersection between punk and the NF, I will outline the birth of this far-right faction, of which Leeds was the Northern stronghold. Formed in 1967 from an ‘amalgam of far-right sub-sects,’ the NF’s appeal was strengthened by an increased sense of nationalism and patriotism in the face of British entry into Europe, loss of empire, and economic problems. Immigration was a ‘simplistic and prejudicial explanation for rising unemployment and related social issues,’ and thus a strong anti-immigration stance attracted support from those disenchanted with Labour governments. The left was increasingly associated with students and middle-class intellectuals, enabling the political space traditionally held by Labour’s working-class to be opened up for the NF. This played out at a localised level, a ‘battle for the streets,’ with an active physical far-right presence that aimed to counter the influence of left-wing parties promoting anti-racism and anti-imperialism at colleges, universities and schools. The Leeds NF territorialised particular pubs, notably the Adelphi, Prince of Wales, and Scarborough Taps, serving as venues for collective creation of political identity and masculinity.
Essential to NF growth was the recruitment of disaffected working-class youth. One way to penetrate this group was via popular culture, a method already deployed by the RAR and ANL. Eddy Morrison, Yorkshire’s regional NF organiser in the 70s, recognised that punk had been appropriated by these organisations, forcing the far-right to either ‘condemn punk or use it.’ Understanding punk as a ‘powerful weapon for anyone who could turn it politically,’ he chose to mirror the left’s ‘cultural turn.’ Thus the Punk Front served as a right-wing youth counter-movement responding to what they perceived as the left’s encroachment into ‘every area of society,’ competing for the support of youngsters who might otherwise have been drawn to the ANL and RAR. Although it is misguided to perceive youth as a drifting category that can simply be co-opted down one political path or another, music certainly provided a cultural space for competing political factions to try and claim. The NF seized the ‘aggressive oppositionism of punk to construct a vehicle for fascism.’ Attempts to claim the cultural space of punk required claiming physical spaces associated with punk.
The left-wing punk scene in Leeds predominantly materialised around the university and polytechnic. Gang of Four, a prominent Leeds punk band that openly supported RAR, has been analysed as ‘products of the left-wing university culture of the seventies,’ with comparisons even drawn between their music and the brutalist campus architecture. The Punk Front exploited towns-versus-gowns animosities, and ‘young fascists began to enter into youth cultural spaces,’ such as the student-based Fenton, a pub at the centre of this scene strategically located between Leeds university and the polytechnic. Reynolds describes the ‘marauding’ of young fascists around the university campus, invading Gang of Four gigs and starting fights. Gigs, clubs, shops and pubs were ‘contested spaces’ to be colonised, into which both the left and the right projected their politics. A particular site of contention was the F-Club, a notorious punk club that officially declared itself apolitical, and was thus deemed free for the taking. Eddy Morrison claimed the NF dominated the club and the landlord supported their politics, seeing it as a site of recruitment. Forbes and Stampton allege ‘red bands’ stopped playing at the club, having been ‘ghettoed…back to the student areas and out of the city centre pubs and clubs.’ This was met with resistance from the left, with Paul Furness of the RAR maintaining that the ‘stewarding’ of RAR gigs would be handled by members themselves, suggestive of the use of physical violence to assert territory, performing politics at a very grassroots level. The importance of occupying physical territory is evident when considering that banning lead members of the Punk Front from pubs, or putting them on curfews, took the dynamism out of the Punk Front.
Evaluating claims that the NF ‘was the dominant political force’ on the Leeds punk scene or that the far-right never succeeded in gaining a significant following, but met resistance and rejection, is not the focus of my analysis. Rather, the Punk Front demonstrates nuance in subcultures. Although there is an obvious relationship between culture and politics, punk is too diverse and incoherent to be aligned to a distinct political ideology. It demonstrates a refusal to be claimed, projecting itself almost as ‘politicised anti-politics.’ This analysis has also highlighted the significance of cultural venues as ‘sites for…discussion, exploration, conflict and exchange,’ and the politicisation of culture through these. Occupying spatial location once again offers actors the agency to self-construct both individual and collective identities. A consideration of subcultural practices demonstrates how individuals express political affiliation and ideas through physically and culturally embodied agencies, where occupying territories at a localised level and engaging in physical conflict are methods of expression; resisting traditional political accounts confined to official intellectual and political bodies exerting influence from the top down.
In this essay, I have aimed to produce an alternative history of life in post-industrial Leeds to that presented in traditional accounts that focuses solely on politics and economics. Although these are undeniably important, my cultural and social perspective demonstrates that these can still be explored through grassroots activism and subcultural practices, offering us lived experiences of deindustrialization, and exposing the interrelationship between macro-historical processes and individual actors. By drawing on E.P. Thompson’s work and recognising the influence of the ideas that emerged from the CCCS and social movement theory to provide my theoretical framework, I have attempted to breathe life into this historical period. Throughout my analysis of the responses to the Yorkshire Ripper, the Leeds United Service Front and the Punk Front in Leeds, I have focused on exposing the considerable struggles within these groups to occupy localised space. Social spaces offer insight into social life, and provide venues for the creation and regulation of identities, as well as social conflicts. This theme of space is a valuable theoretical lens, which can be utilised innumerably in historical and social studies. This cultural and social history of post-industrial Leeds has broached some of the extensive transformations that were occurring at this time through contestations to occupy space: changing expectations of sexuality and gender roles evident through female challenges to access nocturnal public space; physical encounters at football patch demonstrative of evolving experiences of class in the face of disappearing industrial jobs; the growing political use of popular culture and physical conflict at gigs. Overall, in order to understand the processes at play in constructing history, it is of the utmost importance that we turn our attention to the nexus between culture and power, offering insight into individuals’ agency in resisting and producing change, and exposing the conflicts and collaborations that establish the relationships and structures within society.
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