John Archer - Britain’s First Black Mayor
Article and painting by Paul Clarkson
John Archer was elected as Mayor in radical Battersea on 10 November 1913 - the first black man ever to become a Mayor in Britain. Wandsworth Museum opened a small exhibition in October 2005 looking at his life, politics and circle.
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. 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 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.
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