Helen Bates remembers the 1981 Riots in Hyson Green in anticipation of the activist exhibitions Aftermath Dislocation Principle (ADP), and Fighting Walls + a rebel scene at NAE.

Helen Bates remembers the 1981 Riots in Hyson Green in anticipation of the activist exhibitions Aftermath Dislocation Principle (ADP), and Fighting Walls + a rebel scene at NAE.


‘Remember them? I had a ring side seat!’

‘Women were on the street, ripping bits off their skirt, to help make the petrol bombs. Women holding babies were doing this.’

‘I was going to work early on Saturday morning. All the windows of the shops were smashed up on Radford Road’

‘People stole milk bottles from the dairy to make petrol bombs and hid them on the roof of the Flats …’

‘The rioters wanted to smash up the Flats but other people told them to leave them alone.’

‘The night of the riots if you wanted to be involved you were on the street. If you didn’t, you stayed indoors.’

‘I had gone out to play, my mum was looking everywhere for me. I knew the ‘riots’ were coming and I thought it was like Goose Fair coming.’

‘I went out in the early hours of Saturday morning to see what was going on. An eerie calm and quiet had settled over the Flats …’


In 1981, there were serious riots across many major cities in England, including Nottingham. The main motives for the riots were related to racial tension and inner-city deprivation, together with a distrust of the Police and ‘authority’ in general.

According to an official report written about the role of the Police and the Special Courts set up following the Nottingham riot, the riot took place over the weekend of 10th to 12th July 1981.

The main ‘battle’ between Police and those involved in the riot took place in and around the Hyson Green Flats complex, between 11.30pm on Friday and 3.30pm on Saturday. It wasn’t just people from Hyson Green that were involved though, the report notes that ‘youths’ from many areas of the city were involved, with people coming to Hyson Green from as far afield as Clifton.

Apparently, the ‘rioters’ threw bricks and petrol bombs and over 100 people were arrested – with those arrested mainly aged between 16 and 25.

Interestingly, out of those arrested only ONE person was charged with ‘incitement to riot’ and many people felt that the reaction of the Police and the Special Courts set up to deal with the ‘rioters’ had been exaggerated.

The incident definitely damaged the relationship between the community and the Police/Courts. A police inspector told the Special Courts ‘no one would control the streets of Nottingham except the Police’.

The riots continued on the Saturday night, along Alfreton Road and in the city centre.

The Evening Post wrote at the time that the cost of policing the riots had come to £379,000 and that the Police had used powerful night binoculars to keep an eye on ‘rioters’ for example. The Post also reported that the Police had monitored Citizens Band Radio wavelengths ‘thought by the Police to be the main medium of communication between some of those involved in the disorder’.

Another independent report into the 1981 riots across the UK as a whole noted that ‘in Nottingham, rioting developed on both the Friday, in response to a huge build-up of police presence, and on the Saturday night after racists from outside the town had attacked blacks under the cover of the riots; the fighting began as a confrontation with the police using stones and petrol bombs, with shop windows only being broken ‘accidentally’ – but looting developed later; the rioters were always of mixed races, ages, employed and unemployed.’

An extract from publication On the Flats – an oral history of the Hyson Green Flats 1965-1987 by the Partnership Council in 2012. Text by Helen Bates in collaboration with the community volunteers.

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