Haunted by night Highbury home was firebombed
Retired teacher: ‘I wake up at 3am thinking about it’
10 May, 2019 — By Tom Foot
ANNA Sullivan inspired hundreds of children through music and art during decades working as a primary school teacher.
Her energetic lessons at Charles Lamb community school – now New North Academy – became celebrated nationwide.
Outside the school gates, she was well-known for driving the far-right off the streets of Islington as an active member of the Anti-Nazi League – a defiance which led to her home in Highbury being petrol-bombed in 1987.
Her extraordinary story of determination has now been published in a memoir put together by her friend, Susie Burrows, and her daughter, the actress Saffron Burrows, with a dedication from actor Samuel West.
It recalls: “The dog is howling, her fur is burnt off her back. My son is in the passage with his girlfriend, both wearing coats over their bare bodies. It is three o’clock in the morning, as bright as day. I stand watching my house burn, and feel completely frozen.”
Remains of four petrol bombs were found the next day by police, said Ms Sullivan, who added: “I still wake up at 3am every night thinking about it.”
Ms Sullivan said: “The school I taught at was near the Packington estate. All those parents from the Essex Road, a lot of children who found it hard to read and do things like that.
“We did art and music all day if I felt that’s what I wanted to do. I found that you built up their confidence by doing something they really loved. Some of my kids, they got work in art exhibitions.
“I remember there was one kid who was a real bully. His father was a fascist, but the one thing he loved more than anything was art. And I just let him paint and draw all day and gave him art books. It changed him. There were a lot of fascists in south Islington at the time.”
Outside the school gates in Popham Road, Angel, she was an active member of the Anti-Nazi League, helping to drive fascists off the streets of Islington.
On July 26, 1987, fire swept through her home in Whistler Street, Highbury, at 3am. The far-right had petrol-bombed her home.
The book has photographs and memories of her selling the Socialist Worker newspaper in Chapel Market in the 1970s when she would confront far-right supporters wearing Union Jack T-shirts, selling Bulldog newspaper and raising hands in salute to a “better future”.
She said: “It’s very frightening what is happening now. Only what is different today is the rise of fascism is all over Europe. We’re going to have to do it all over again – but it can’t be me. I’m 80 this year.”
Ms Sullivan grew up in the East End to working-class Jewish parents.
Her father joined the Communist Party in 1929 and was the “most well-read person I ever knew”, said Anna.
“My mother died only 18 months before him and he never got over it,” she said.
“And the miners, he never got over that. He was angry with Scargill – felt like he marched them up to the top of the hill and didn’t know how to get them down again.”
The memoir contains poems and memories from the Burrows family, who have edited the book.
• People Like Us – Anna Sullivan A Memoir is published by World of Inclusion.