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Plaque in Hackney pays tribute to global peace sign’s designer Gerald Holtom

PUBLISHED: 13:46 28 October 2018 | UPDATED: 10:49 29 October 2018

Gerald Holtom and his daughter Anna in 1958 carrying a cardboard cut out of the symbol he designed for the nuclear disarmament march

Gerald Holtom and his daughter Anna in 1958 carrying a cardboard cut out of the symbol he designed for the nuclear disarmament march

Anna Scott

The Gazette speaks to the family of Gerald Holtom, whose logo for the nuclear disarmament movement went on to become a global peace symbol. Hackney Council has now marked the shop where he first showed it to colleagues

Crowds gathered to watch the unveilling of the peace plaque in Blackstock Road. Picture: Hackney CouncilCrowds gathered to watch the unveilling of the peace plaque in Blackstock Road. Picture: Hackney Council

Anna Scott still remembers the “hard graft” when, aged 14, she stapled “dozens” of cardboard cutouts of a logo her father Gerald Holtom created for the nuclear disarmament movement.

She was preparing for their first outing on the march 60 years ago – and neither had any idea how massive the symbol would become.

Gerald first showcased his design around Easter in 1958 at the first London to Aldermaston march, when thousands of people protested against Britain’s production of the atom bomb.

The symbol was soon adopted by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and went on to become one of the most widely recognised designs in history.

The peace plaque will be erected above the Fish and Cook Stationers at 3 Blackstock Road, where Holtom first presented the iconic design to his colleagues at the Direct Action Committee against nuclear war. Picture: Hackney CouncilThe peace plaque will be erected above the Fish and Cook Stationers at 3 Blackstock Road, where Holtom first presented the iconic design to his colleagues at the Direct Action Committee against nuclear war. Picture: Hackney Council

With no copyright it became known internationally as a symbol of peace.

Gerald had first presented the symbol to his colleagues at the Direct Action Committee against nuclear war (DAC) on February 21, 1958, above the Fish and Cook Stationers in Blackstock Road.

Hackney Council has now erected a replica above the shop as part of its brown plaque scheme, which commemorates historical figures and events in the borough.

Campaigners, politicians, members of the public and Gerald’s family gathered to commemorate its unveiling by the speaker of Hackney Clare Potter.

Crowds gather as the plaque is erected in tribute to Gerald Holtom and vice-chair of CND Bruce Kent sends his apologies not to be able to attend. Picture: Rosie HoltomCrowds gather as the plaque is erected in tribute to Gerald Holtom and vice-chair of CND Bruce Kent sends his apologies not to be able to attend. Picture: Rosie Holtom

Rosie Holtom, the artist’s great-niece, cycles past the plaque every day on her way to work, and has been instrumental in getting recognition through the council for her relative who died aged 71 in 1985 when she was just three.

She said: “Our family are proud of Gerald’s iconic design and how it’s become a symbol of hope and peace around the world.

“I’m happy we finally got this plaque made and I am grateful to everyone who has helped and supported it along the way. It’s a rare thing for a designer to work for free like that, and that’s why the plaque is important, because people don’t credit anyone with designing it.

“It has taken on a life of its own and become an international symbol, and it wouldn’t have done that if he didn’t give it copyright free.”

A plaque has been erected in Blackstock Road in tribute to Gerald Holtom who designed the international symbol for peace. Picture: Rosie HoltomA plaque has been erected in Blackstock Road in tribute to Gerald Holtom who designed the international symbol for peace. Picture: Rosie Holtom

Rosie, a graphic designer whose HQ is in Green Lanes, added: “I didn’t even know he had designed the peace sign until I was 14 and I saw an episode of Mastermind.

“The question was who had designed the international peace symbol, and Gerald’s name was the answer. I asked my dad: ‘Is that a relation?’ because our surname is unusual.

“He said: ‘Yeah that’s my uncle’.

“At that time I’d maybe vaguely heard of him but I didn’t know what he did, and I thought it was amazing. I was quite a hippy teenager, and I couldn’t believe they hadn’t told me earlier.”

“I think I probably did go around telling people but I don’t think many people believed me because it’s such an iconic thing.”

Anna, 74, who spoke at the ceremony, remembers how her father “cared deeply” for the cause.

“The symbol came from his heart,” she said.

“It came from his experience and suffering as a conscientious objector, from prison, from the destruction of so much war, and from Hiroshima.

“This incredible symbol came from the core of a committed man.”

She would like to see another plaque erected above their family home in Twickenham where he designed the symbol in his workshop.

The design was a circle encasing the letters “N” - two arms outstretched pointing down at 45 degrees – and “D” – one arm upraised above the head – from the flag semaphore alphabet, standing for nuclear disarmament.

The logo has been adopted by various other movements around the world. In America it has stood for feminism and civil rights as well as opposition to the Vietnam war.

Gradually it lost its association with the phrase “ban the bomb” and came to represent peace and justice.

It was revived after the Paris terrorist attacks of November 2015, by graphic designer, Jean Jullien, who turned the internal lines into an Eiffel Tower by adding three short brush strokes.

Speaker of Hackney, Cllr Clare Potter said: “This iconic symbol, three lines and a circle has gone onto symbolise freedom and justice for over 60 years and I’m sure many more years yet.

“To our wonderful diverse local community in Hackney, Haringey and Islington I hope it represents hope for a peaceful world for many generations to come.”

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