How Nottingham creatively celebrated Jamaican-born Eric Irons, UK’s first Black magistrate

Stephen Nartey December 08, 2022
Eric Irons Obe, first black magistrate/Photo credit: Nottingham Post

He was a strong advocate for social justice and rose to become United Kingdom’s first Black magistrate in 1962. Eric Irons OBE grew up in Jamaica and later relocated to Nottingham in 1948 following his military engagement in World War II.

His extraordinary story of pushing strongly for equal rights inspired a wave of artwork in the UK city of Nottingham. The brain behind the mural celebrating the first Black magistrate is local artist Honey Williams.

The artwork, according to the BBC, can be found in Obe’s home region of Nottingham and Beeston Canal at Castle wharf. The artwork was unveiled last October on Carrington Street Bridge. The family of Irons were happy about the project celebrating the work of Irons, describing it as a rare way of immortalizing greatness. They expressed the hope that the public will appreciate his contributions to social and racial justice through the art and draw some inspiration from it.

The artwork pays tribute to Irons’ experience in Jamaica, his early life, his days in the military during World War II as well as his contributions to uplifting the status of the people of African descent in Nottingham.

One of those key milestones was when Irons championed the toning down of racial tensions during the 1958 race riots in the city. He advocated the scrapping of a prohibition on the hiring of Black bus drivers and transport operators.

This mural was the second by The Nottingham Project, which recognizes what it describes as “rebels and pioneers” who led the path in shaping the past, present and future of the city. The first mural celebrated Nottingham’s pioneering history with the lace industry, BBC said. It was created at a council-run car park in Fletcher Gate.

Project Director Lee Walker said Irons was one towering Black person the future can look up to. He said Irons dedicated his life effortlessly to making the lives of the people in Nottingham better and opening the doors of opportunities to the youth. According to him, the mural is to appreciate the accomplishments and opportunities the Black magistrate created when he was in a position of power.

A commemorative plaque was also mounted in 2019 at the former Shire Hall Courts celebrating Irons’ first cases he sat on as a magistrate. The plaque acknowledged him as Britain’s first Black magistrate and an individual committed to social justice and equality.

Irons has become the face of racial equality and social justice for the Black community because that was what he championed throughout his career. One of the matters he took up was when minority Black workers were battling with discrimination at the Chilwell Ordnance Depot in 1952. He won a case against the Nottingham and District Trade Council and got better working opportunities for more minority workers at the depot.

He set up the first Black community group in his own house and that went on to form part of the Consultative Committee for the welfare of Blacks in 1955, according to eachother.org.

Jamaican-born Irons garnered a lot of media attention when he first started his work as a magistrate in 1962. People scrutinized every decision and ruling he made. That however did not deter him from his pursuit of social equality and justice which earned him an award in 1978. He served for 29 years on the bench and retired in 1991.

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