The Syndicalist Workers Federation on slum landlords in West London.
It is now 14 months since Rachman1 died. Thanks to Mandy Rice-Davies and the Ward trial2 , the press found they were on a good thing. There were a few months of seven-Sunday weeks, when everybody came to know of Rachman and his activities. News of the World reporters took rooms in St. Stephen's Gardens and reported "I Lived in a Slum"; Panorama moved into Westbourne Park Road. Then other stories took over the front pages and the small storm of public indignation died down.
The Milner Holland Committee has been appointed and the government has been forced to introduce its Housing Bill. But despite these supposed cure-alls, Rachman's ghost still looms over Paddington and North Kensington. Admittedly, when the story first broke there was something like panic among the closely-knit group of Paddington slum-landlords. Raymond Nash, of Venus Properties, sold all his Paddington houses by September (he has since re-acquired them) and the others hurriedly began repairing leaking pipes, renewing lightbulbs and bannisters and issuing rent books.
But that was six months ago and now that "Housing" is last year's news they feel safe to come into the open again; as this little incident shows. Capital and Suburban Properties Ltd. is registered at 84 Queensway, W.2, just round the corner from the old Peter Rachman Ltd. hang-out at 91 Westbourne Grove. It is only one of the many companies run by friends and associates of Rachman and using methods made famous by him, which specialise in West London slum property. Its managing director is Peter Alfonso Davis, one of Rachman's most successful managers and, possibly, the "experienced coloured man" referred to in the Commons debate.
Recently, Capital and Suburban bought 125 Gloucester Terrace, Bayswater, in the name of Davis' girlfriend, Hilda Ludlam from Hamburg. There were a number of controlled tenants in this house and Davis made it known that he wanted to get rid of them. Knowing his reputation, most accepted a cash statement. One tenant—a Miss Linscombe—however, refused to leave. She came home one night and found that her room had been entered and ransacked. All the furniture, including the bed, had been overturned and sheets, clothes and personal belongings scattered over the floor. This happened several times and, although nothing, not even her transistor radio, was ever taken, Miss Linscombe found it impossible to carry on living in that house.
So things have not changed much. Despite newspaper sensations and "official action," Paddington in February, 1964, is much the same as it was in February, 1962. With one notable exception, the old gang, Nash and Shabaini, Cyril Kaye and Peter Davis, is still in control. Now that no paper will touch the story the old conditions have returned. Peter Rachman with his Heavy Glove Gang was no isolated figure, but just one [????] in a huge network that is not only slum-landlordism but the whole of the property business.
And where do the authorities stand in all this? Paddington Borough Council seemed to be taken aback by the Rachman "disclosures." Although the people of Paddington had known about the housing situation since 1957, the majority of their elected representatives had to rely on the national press for their information. Paddington, with its millionaire mayor and some of the worst slums in London became an even dirtier word than it had been before.
A face-saving operation was needed and a house-to-house survey of the St. Stephens Gardens area was attempted. This was impossible to complete, because of the difficulty of tracing owners of particular properties (one house in St. Stephens Gardens itself changed hands six times between the 23rd and 30th of September). The result of this was that Closing Orders have been haphazardly placed on various houses in the western end of the Gardens and in adjoining parts of Ledbury, Shrewsbury and Westbourne Park Roads, as well as in some areas of Bayswater and North Paddington. The landlords have found it cheaper to evict tenants and do without the rent than to make the necessary repairs, so that the houses could be declared " fit for human habitation." For the tenants it has meant that a leaking roof is exchanged for no roof at all. "Ah well," said one of the council officers, " you have to be cruel to be kind to these people."
Neither is the LCC record too good. Although, theoretically, they have nothing to do with it, they must take at least some of the blame for the situation in Paddington. They have consistently refused, on density grounds, consent for housing development in the working-class districts. Last December, though, they granted it for the "high quality " development of St. George's Churchyard site (facing Hyde Park and two minutes from Marble Arch).
In October the LCC made a compulsory purchase of four large houses in Leinster Square and over a hundred tenants, including a number of old age pensioners, had to move. These houses are still empty and there is no sign of any work being carried out on them. Closing Orders have even had to be placed on one LCC property in Paddington (243 Gloucester Terrace). These authorities claim that their hands are tied. The Town Clerk of Fulham spoke for all Metropolitan Borough Councils when he said that a Council cannot probe too deeply into housing questions or it will "find itself footing substantial bills at the ratepayers' expense."
Yet Paddington, the most deeply involved of all the councils, finds nothing strange in spending £500 a week of the ratepayers' money on, of all things, time and motion study! And who are these ratepayers who must not be offended, anyhow? Of course—the landlords! So everything fits into place. The councils need the landlords and make no distinction between bad and "good" landlords. They are all bound up together, all part of a system. They won't go until the system does. And only then will Rachman's ghost be finally exorcised.