Vron Ware
13 Dead, Nothing Said

9 March - 27 May 2017

Goldsmiths University of London

London, UK

Free exhibition

Vron Ware’s photographs documenting the Black People’s Day of Action (1981) will be on public display for the first time in this free exhibition.

The images record an important moment of cultural resistance in post-war Britain's history of community organising.

In the early hours of Sunday 18 January 1981 a fire broke out at 439 New Cross Road. 13 young black Londoners were killed as they were celebrating Yvonne Ruddock’s – one of the victims – birthday. One survivor committed suicide nearly two years later, bringing the official death count to 14.

Concerns about racism had been running high in the area due to the active presence of the National Front. Several racially motivated arson attacks had already taken place in the London borough of Lewisham. Initial suspicion within the local community as well as the police was that the birthday party had been firebombed.
In the face of public indifference towards, negative media coverage about the loss of 13 young black lives, and perceived police inaction to apprehend suspects, hundreds of people met on 25 January 1981 at the Moonshot Club to march in protest. The New Cross Massacre Action Committee was established and plans were made for the Black People’s Day of Action on 2 March 1981.

The Black People’s Day of Action was a political and cultural turning point, with thousands of people coming together to protest against racist violence and police inaction.

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This unprecedented demonstration assembled in New Cross and, over the course of eight hours, made its way to Hyde Park. The decision was taken to march on a Monday to maximise the impact on London.

As the marchers passed through the streets of south London, workers walked out of their offices to join in, and children and young people scaled the fences of their schools to take part. Young women and men defied police as they crossed the river at Blackfriars to take the protest directly to the home of the British print media in Fleet Street. A delegation headed by John La Rose delivered ‘The Declaration of New Cross’ to 10 Downing Street, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and the Houses of Parliament. Other prominent activists in the black community were present, including Linton Kwesi Johnson, Sybil Phoenix, Darcus Howe, Alex Pascall and Menelik Shabazz.

Ware captured the demonstrators up close and personal, paying attention to the to the signs and placards, many of which express the marchers’ palpable anger at public indifference to the tragic loss of young black people’s lives. 

These images now form part of Autograph ABP’s permanent archive, acquired for the collection by Renée Mussai in close collaboration with Vron Ware since 2012.

“Over 30 years later and hitherto unpublished, Vron Ware's defiant photographs offer insight into decisive moments of cultural resistance in post-war Britain's anti-fascist and community campaigning” - Renée Mussai, Curator / Head of Archive

The following people lost their lives in the fire:
Humphrey Brown (b. 4 Jul 1962); Peter Campbell (b. 23 Feb 1962); Steve Collins (b. 2 May 1963); Patrick Cummings (b. 24 Sep 1964); Gerry Paul Francis (b. 21 Aug 1963); Andrew Gooding (b. 18 Feb 1966); Lloyd Hall (b. 29 Nov 1960); Lillian Rosalind Henry (b. 23 Aug 1964); Patricia Johnson (b. 16 May 1965); Glen Powell (b. 19 Jan 1965); Paul Ruddock (b. 19 Nov 1958); Yvonne Ruddock (b. 17 Jan 1965); Owen Wesley Thompson (b. 11 Sep 1964). A fourteenth person, Anthony Berbeck, caught up in the fire, was believed to have committed suicide following the trauma of the event, in Jul 1983.

Address and opening times

Goldsmiths, University of London
Richard Hoggart Building, Kingsway Corridor
Dixon Road, London, SE14 6YZ

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Nearest stations: New Cross and New Cross Gate

Monday - Saturday: 9am - 9pm
Sunday: 9am - 5pm

The building is fully accessible, with step-free acces to the exhibition. 

About Vron Ware

Best known for her scholarly work as an academic and writer, Vron Ware has also produced an important and little known body of documentary photography.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s she was actively involved in feminist, anti-racist and anti-fascist movements, documenting campaigns as a freelance photographer and working as editor for Searchlight magazine from 1981-1983.

In partnership with

This exhibition is presented in partnership with Autograph ABP and the Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths.

About Goldsmiths:
Creativity has always been the hallmark of Goldsmiths. Academic excellence and imaginative course content combine to make a place where creative minds can thrive and ideas are allowed to grow.

Goldsmith's courses and research activities span the arts, humanities, social sciences, cultural studies, computing, business and management across 20 academic departments.

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