The National Justice Museum installed a plaque in Nottingham, commemorating the contributions of Eric Irons, Britain’s first black magistrate. Irons died in 2007 and during his lifetime he received the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1977, campaigned for social justice, became Britain’s first black justice of the peace in 1962, and heard court cases until his retirement in 1991.
Born in Spanish Town, Jamaica in 1921, Irons was recruited into the Royal Air Force in Jamaica during World War II. He was at RAF Syerston for a time and stationed at Little Rissington in Bedford. Originally recruited to serve from 1944-1945, he extended his service for five more years.
Irons’ legacy of fighting for social justice began in the 1950s when he established the Colonial Social and Sports Club. While working at the Army base of Chilwell Ordnance Depot, he addressed discrimination there and helped negotiate for better employment opportunities, health, and education for black workers.
He was also instrumental in lifting an embargo on black workers at a local transport company. Irons then turned his attention to the Nottingham City Council, helping the government officials address issues related to the race riots that occurred in the St. Ann’s district in 1958.
The magistrate was recognized with an honorary Master of Arts degree from the University of Nottingham for improving race relations. As part of London’s National Portrait Gallery’s Creative Connections Nottingham project, a portrait of Irons was obtained that was originally part of a 2017 exhibition by artist Katherine Green.
Irons settled in Nottingham after the war where he met his future wife, Nellie Kelham. The couple raised six children and has 16 grandchildren.
Photo: Irons Family