Animal Aid : 30 years of campaigning for cruelty-free living

John Archer

John Archer 1863 - 1932

John Richard Archer was born in Liverpool in 1863. His father was from Barbados and worked as a ship's steward. His mother was Irish and, in her son's words, 'belonged to one of the grandest races on the face of the earth'.

Nothing is known about Archer's education but as a young man he travelled the world probably spending some time in the West Indies and North America. During this time he met and married Bertha, a black Canadian.

Archer and his wife settled in Battersea in the 1890s and in 1898 were living at 55 Brynmaer Road, near Battersea Park. By 1908 he had set up a photographic business at 208 Battersea Park Road.

At this time Battersea was a poor, overcrowded district with severe social problems and had become a magnet for left-wing political activity. Initially Archer became known for his fiery public speeches against spiritualism. He also took an active interest in local politics and was elected as a Progressive (Liberal) Councillor for the Latchmere ward in 1906. He was particularly interested in health and welfare issues and served on many of the Council's committees as well as the Wandsworth Board of Guardians. In 1913 he became Mayor of Battersea, Britain's first Black Mayor.

Archer was also interested in fighting racial prejudice in the wider world and became a member of the Pan-African Association in 1900. His interest in politics moved to the national scene when he supported Sharpurji Saklatvala, the Indian Communist, in his fight to become MP for Battersea North in 1922. Archer was involved in the formation of the new Battersea Labour Party in 1926 and was elected Deputy Leader of the Labour Group in 1931. But the years of intensely busy public life took their toll and Archer's health deteriorated swiftly during 1931 and he died the following year.

John Archer was born in Mount Pleasant, a poor, working-class area of Liverpool. By the late 1800s this densely populated city included communities of sailors, labourers and tradespeople from diverse backgrounds including Irish, Jewish and Caribbean. Archer would have been very aware of the problems caused by urban poverty and overcrowded living conditions.

When Archer became Mayor of Battersea in 1913 and people wondered where he came from, he said:

"I was born in a little, obscure village in England that maybe you have never heard of - Liverpool. I am a Lancastrian bred and born."

The Anti-Vivisection and Battersea General Hospital, c1906

The hospital, stood on the corner of Albert Bridge Road and Prince of Wales Drive. Originally built as a private residence, it was converted into a hospital in 1902, largely due to the generosity of Lady Headley. She felt strongly about animal welfare, so the "Anti-Viv" had a policy of not carrying out medical experiments on animals. John Archer was a strong supporter of the anti-vivisection movement and became involved in the famous dispute about the brown dog statue.

The Brown Dog Statue, Latchmere Recreation Ground , c 1910

In 1905 Battersea Borough Council accepted a gift of a statue of a dog from the International Anti-Vivisection Society. The dog represented a little brown dog 'done to death' in the laboratories of University College, London. The statue was repeatedly attacked by medical students and the police were ordered to mount a guard day and night. The Police Commissioner asked Battersea Council to contribute to the costs of policing the statue and Archer responded:

'You might as well ask a neighbourhood where burglaries are frequent to pay the expenses of detectives who scour the country to apprehend the thieves'

However the elections of 1911 saw a change in the local politics and the council decided to destroy the statue.

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