This account of their fascinating history is take from the website of The Brick Lane Bookshop
The Basement Writers - In 1970, young teacher Chris Searle arrived at Sir John Cass School in Stepney, where he urged his pupils to write poems about their lives in East London. Although the Headmaster was initially receptive to the idea of the work being published by the school, the governors found the collection, with stories of abusive parents and slum housing to be ‘unbalanced’. So Chris Searle set about publishing the anthology Stepney Words himself, incorporating photos of the area and getting copies printed. And for this ‘flagrant disobedience’ he was sacked. Interestingly, it was the only time that the Sun newspaper has run a double-page spread of poetry: ‘The Astonishing World Of These East End Kids’.
In support of their sacked teacher, pupils organised a strike and marched to Trafalgar Square with banners held aloft, also making national headlines. Chris Searle was eventually reinstated in 1973 by the then Education Secretary – Margaret Thatcher! In October 1973, an evening group was formed on Chris Searle’s suggestion. He met with his ex-pupils to share their writing in a room of the Basement Project beneath St George’s Town Hall in Cable Street. There could be no other name for the group: The Basement Writers. Their first publications were in poster form, plastered up on the corrugated iron sheets of the nearby building sites. Poetry booklets and performances at the local Half Moon Theatre followed.
A book by group members Leslie Mildiner and Bill House, The Gates, about their experience of truancy met with great acclaim and a television film: Doing it for Ourselves, featuring the Basement Writers, appeared in 1976. Some of those involved, such as school striker and Basement Writer, Alan Gilbey, continued to develop community writing and publishing at Tower Hamlets Arts Project.
Content released under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0. Website by CommunitySites