Sir Collins’ unique archive collection made accessible for future generations

Sir Collins stands outside London’s High Court in 2004 after a New Cross Fire inquest hearing.

Hackney Council is looking for an Archivist to preserve and share one of the largest collections of material relating to African-Caribbean people in Hackney the archives team have ever seen. 

The unique collection of documents, film, audio recordings and photographs were created and collected by Charles Constantine Collins, aka Sir Collins, a club-owner, entrepreneur, music producer and activist who, alongside others, was responsible for the founding of the revered Four Aces Club on Dalston Lane and the establishment of memorial sites in Hackney to the victims of the New Cross Fire which included his son, Steve Collins, who tragically died in the blaze.

The collection provides a unique insight into local and national history. Spanning the years 1957 to 2017, the papers document the activities of several local community organisations as well as entertainment venues like the Four Aces Club, carnivals and street festivals and performances of many well known musicians.

By the time Sir Collins sadly passed away in 2018, his archive had become somewhat of an urban legend. He was rarely seen without his camera, and although many speculated on the nature and content of the material he had collected, few had ever actually seen the collection for themselves. Thankfully, Sir Collins’ descendants, understanding its historical importance, have dedicated themselves to the task of opening up the collection for the benefit of this and future generations. Resurrecting their father’s ‘Older Generation, Younger Generation’ (OGYG) community organisation, they plan to leverage the material to support intergenerational community development and education projects. 

Thanks to a successful grant application, in collaboration with the OGYG organisation, funding (supported by The National Archives, The Pilgrim Trust and The Wolfson Foundation) will pay for a fixed-term Archivist who will focus on cataloguing the material over the coming year. The role is currently being advertised and it is hoped that the successful candidate will be able to start work on the collection in January 2023.

African Caribbean people have made an immeasurable contribution to Britain but often this work has been slow to be recognised. Archives like the Sir Collins collection provide crucial evidence of the struggles and successes of African Caribbean people locally and nationally, ensuring that present and future generations are able to access primary source material about their past and leverage this to build better futures. Hackney Archives is excited to be working with the OGYG organisation to preserve and share this unique collection.

Dr Etienne Joseph, Manager of Hackney Archives
 Philip Glanville, Mayor of Hackney

I’m delighted that this amazing collection of documents, film, audio tapes and photographs will be catalogued so that it will remain accessible to present and future generations of residents and researchers. Preserving this important collection, one of the largest of its kind, is crucial to ensuring we remember and honour the contribution of the African-Caribbean community to Hackney. The set of materials provides a unique insight into the proud and diverse history of our borough and offers young people, who are keen to learn more about local heritage, a glimpse of the past and knowledge of the wider community.                                                        

Philip Glanville, Mayor of Hackney

OGYG was set up by my father in the 70s to ensure underrepresented youth had an outlet for their talents and concerns. Supported by Hackney Council and local businesses he, alongside others, went on to champion a variety of pioneering and successful projects engaging the local community. OGYG has now been passed on to the younger generations of the Collins family so this work can be continued. We want the collection to be an educational resource which can benefit the whole community and are pleased to be working with Hackney Council and Archives Revealed to achieve this goal.                                                       

Gary Collins, Chair of OGYG

Notes to editors

Senior Archives Officer: Cataloguer vacancy

For more information about the project contact:  archives@hackney.gov.uk

Find out more about Hackney Archives

Find out more about Archives Revealed Cataloguing Grants here

See full list of grant recipients here

FInd out more about Sir Collins here