Estate pays tribute to tenants’ champion Claude
Horse-drawn hearse for ‘pillar of the community’ who was campaigning for neighbours’ rights up until his death at 90
01 March, 2021 — By Tom Foot
The horse-drawn hearse in Rowley Way
A HOUSING estate fell silent as a horse-drawn hearse carrying popular tenants’ champion Claude James made its way past his home of more than 40 years.
Long-standing residents said the solemn procession on Wednesday was the first time they had seen a horse-carriage in the historic Alexandra and Ainsworth estate, Abbey Road.
Mr James, who was fondly remembered as a “pillar of the community”, was still serving on the tenants’ and residents’ association right up until his death in hospital aged 90 last month.
Born in Guyana, he and his wife Daisy were among the first tenants to move into the Grade I-listed estate after it was completed in 1978.
Sara Bell, who worked side-by-side with him in the association for many years, said: “He was just the loveliest man, we all loved him. Extraordinarily fair and wise and down to earth he respected everyone and they respected him.
“Everyone on the estate says they will miss him because he would always stop and speak to them and if there were any problems he’d ring me and say ‘we need to do something’. He touched so many people.”
Friend and neighbour Andrea Butcher recalled the first time they met in 1989 while they were campaigning against the poll tax: “I lived opposite him for 35 years and he was an amazing man, lovely neighbour, and a dear friend. I remember spending several evenings putting the world to rights.
“You could always get his thoughts on anything, unless, of course, a test match was on because he loved his cricket.”
Mr James worked as a health and safety manager for British Rail and spent decades as an activist for the Transport and Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) of which he was a member for 51 years, becoming the first black person to be elected to the transport and travel industry trade union’s executive.
His TSSA colleagues called him a “pioneer”, and credited him for helping establish the union’s first group for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic members called E-mix, and for serving two decades on the Trades Union Congress race relations committee.
He went on to take an active role as an executive member of the National Pensioners Convention.
As a Labour Party stalwart for many years, he is said to have always made time for delivering leaflets around his own estate.
Party activist Katharine Bligh said: “He was the kind of person you went to if you wanted to get something done. Nothing was too much trouble. He was a real pillar of the community.”
Mr James also became a JP Employment Tribunal, and DHSS Tribunal, member, executive member of the Anti-Racist Alliance, member of the North Islington-Camden New Deal Employment Board, and chair of the regional TUC race relations board for 25 years.
Mr James is understood to have died of pneumonia.
There are now calls for a plaque to be erected in his honour on his estate.