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John Richard Archer - the first Black mayor of a London borough

Updated: Jan 30




John Richard Archer was born on 8 June 1863 in Liverpool to Richard Archer, from Barbados, and Mary Theresa Burns, from Ireland.


Following in his father’s footsteps, he became a seaman and travelled the world for many years spending time in America and Canada.


He married Margaret, a Black Canadian, and in the 1890s, returned with her to England, settling in Battersea while in his thirties. He started to study medicine but supported himself by a small photographic studio.


Archer entered local politics after attending the Pan-African Conference held in London in 1900, where he met leading members of the African diaspora. He was also a supporter of the radical Liberal John Burns and friendly with London radicals.


In 1906 he was elected as a Progressive (Liberal) to Battersea Borough Council for Latchmere ward; at the same time, Caribbean Henry Sylvester Williams and fellow Pan-Africanist won in Marylebone.


Archer successfully campaigned for a minimum wage of 32 shillings a week for council workers but lost his seat in 1909; he was re-elected in 1912.


In 1913, Archer was nominated for the position of mayor (at that time a position implying that he was the political leader of the Battersea council, rather than the ceremonial role common in England from the 1920s). There were negative and racist aspects to the campaign, with allegations that he did not have British nationality. He won by 40 votes to 39 among his fellow councillors.


His success caught the eye of the newly formed NAACP in the United States who reported Archer’s success in their journal the Crisis in January 1914.


Archer moved to the left during his years in Battersea and in 1919 was re-elected to the council as a Labour representative, and by 1931 he had become the deputy lead of the Labour group.


In 1918 he had been elected as the first president of the African Progress Union, working for "advanced African ideas in liberal education". In 1919 he was a British delegate to the Pan-African Congress in Paris and two years later, chaired the Pan-African Congress in London.


In 1922, Archer gave up his council seat to act as Labour Party election agent for Shapurji Saklatvala, a Communist Party activist standing for parliament in North Battersea. He convinced the Labour Party to endorse Saklatvala, who was duly elected - one of the first Indian MPs in Britain. He and Saklatvala continued to work together, winning again in 1924 until the Communist and Labour parties split fully. In the 1929 general election, Archer was agent for the official Labour candidate, who beat Saklatvala.


Archer served as a governor of Battersea Polytechnic, president of the Nine Elms Swimming Club, chair of the Whitley Council Staff Committee, and a member of the Wandsworth Board of Guardians.


He was again elected in 1931, for the Nine Elms ward. At the time of his death in 1932, he was deputy leader of Battersea Council. He died on 14 July 1932, a few weeks after his 69th birthday. His funeral was held at the Church of Our Lady of Carmel in Battersea Park Road on 19 July. He was buried in the council cemetery at Morden.


London’s first Black mayor is remembered both in his birth city of Liverpool where they have the John Archer Hall and in Wandsworth where there is road named after him called 'John Archer Way’.


In 2004, he was chosen for the "100 Great Black Britons" list, and in April 2013 he was remembered by a Royal Mail stamp recognising ‘Great Britons’.


He has two blue plaques – the first was issued by the Nubian Jak Community Trust and an English Heritage blue plaque at his former home on Brynmaer Road in Battersea.


In March 2018 the Ark Academy Network renamed High View Primary school in Battersea as Ark John Archer Academy.


Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Archer_(British_politician)

https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/john-richard-archer/


Local historian Sean Creighton - https://youtu.be/adr1aq_7I-Q



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