Handsworth Riots 1985: Photographic Archive

The days are warm and sunny, thousands of dancing revellers, many in brightly coloured costumes are pouring into Handsworth, an area of Birmingham, UK – well known for it’s rich and vibrant cultural mix. Most people who attend the annual carnival on the Saturday and Sunday say it has been an overwhelming success.

At approximately 5pm on Monday 9th September 1985, a black man is arrested near the Acapulco Cafe, Lozells Road for a minor traffic offence. Very soon a crowd consisting of African Caribbean, Asian and British people ask the police to let the man go – the police refuse this request and the situation quickly escalates into a riot.

By 7.30pm The Villa Cross Bingo Hall and Social Club has been fire bombed, firemen try and put out the flames, the crowd say “let it burn”.

Between 8pm and midnight cars are set alight, shops looted, residents are forced to leave their homes.

11.30pm police take back control of Lozells Rd after hours of looting and burning.

What is now known as the Handsworth Riots lasted for two days. In the aftermath, well over 1500 police officers were drafted into the area and 50 shops were either burnt or looted. Damage to property was estimated at hundreds of thousands of pounds, 35 people were injured or hospitalised, two people unaccounted for and tragically 2 people lost their lives.

Unfortunately some memories and crimes will never be forgotten or forgiven. Even today many people still question themselves and each other “how could a tiny spark turn into such a gigantic flame”?

Birmingham film maker and photographer Pogus Caesar found himself in the centre of the riots and managed to document these images. The stark black and white photographs featured provide a rare, valuable and historical record of the raw emotion, heartbreak and violence that unfolded during those dark and fateful days in September 1985.

Photography © Pogus Caesar/OOM Gallery Archive


Leave a Reply