Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Black Lives Matter one year on

'ACAB' 'Floyd' - Albert Embankment SE1, April 2021

A year ago today the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis sparked off the latest round of the global Black Lives Matter movement. The UK movement really started off with a march in Peckham on the 30th May and today Black Lives Matter activist Sasha Johnson is in our thoughts, seriously ill in Kings Hospital after being shot in Peckham last weekend. We have covered some of the many protests and posters in South London here before, but a year on here's a few more examples of the visual impact of the movement locally.

'FTP/BLM', Cold Blow Lane SE14

'Black Lives Matter', Hilly Fields

'Abolish the police' - Queens Road, Peckham

Lewisham Way, outside Goldsmiths

'George Floyd' with fist, Barry's Food Store, Barry Road, East Dulwich

'Black Lives Matter - we understand that we will never understand. However, we stand'
(London Theatre, 443 New Cross Road)

'More blacks, more dogs, more Irish' - sticker on Lewisham Way

A number of professionally designed posters appeared, including on paid for advertising billboards. The messages and images were sometimes strong, but I did feel uneasy at a kind of marketing style 'aestheticisation of rage.'  

'I can't breathe' - Brockley Cross

'Black British History is British History', Amersham Road SE14

'Bun the Police' - Queens Road station
Arguments about appropriate (or even appropriating) imagery came to a head in relation to the use of the instantly iconic photograph of Patrick Hutchinson carrying an injured white man following clashes in London on June 13th. On that day a large number of right wing eejits demonstrated in central London, supposedly to defend statues from Black Lives Matter protestors. They had a punch up with the police and as some warriors of the master race were heading home via Waterloo station they were humiliatingly decked by anti-racists. Dylan Martinez got a great photo of Hutchinson, and this was reproduced all over the place - including on this 'bank note' billboard by Peckham Rye. 

Soon though people began to question why this image had become so acceptable in mainstream media. It seemed to being used to suggest some cosy reconciliation between racists and their opponents, mediated by the figure of a 'respectable black man'. This was certainly not Hutchinson's intention. In interviews since he has been very clear that racists can't complain if they face the consequences of their words and actions, and his motivation on the day was partly to prevent young black people ending up on serious criminal charges if the guy had ended up  badly injured or worse. 

Local mural artist Lionel Stanhope painted a mural based on Martinez' picture on hoardings in Lewisham in September 2020. Lionel is a good guy and meant well but the critical discussion about the overuse of this image was reaching its zenith. Somebody painted over it 'We don't rescue racists in Lewisham, we run them out'. Soon it was painted out altogether (see discussion at Huffington Post).

Builder Balfour Beatty had allowed the original mural to be painted, along with other street art, on the boards around its property development near Lewisham station. The limits of its tolerance were exposed shortly after when Balfour Beatty painted over a mural opposite the police station in memory of Kevin Clarke who died while being restrained by police in Catford in 2018. A reminder that we have our own George Floyds closer to home who also must not be forgotten.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Lewisham Museums of Migration and Neoliberalism

With museums and galleries reopening let's celebrate two small but perfectly formed and radical museums in the borough of Lewisham, with a few photos from pre-lockdown period.

The Migration Museum

The Migration Museum in Lewisham Shopping Centre reopens on 19th May 2021.

 I visited in that brief inter-lockdown window in Summer 2020 and saw The Singh Twins great artwork 'NHS v. Covid 19: fighting on two fronts' showing an 'an Asian nurse on horseback slaying the Covid-19 dragon' while highlighting 'Britain's historical dependency on people of BAME origin' and the 'labour and resources' of the 'colonised and exploited'

Angelica Dass's humanae is an ongoing attempt 'to document humanity's true colours' in terms of colour tones 'rather than the inaccurate labels... associated with race'

The Museum of Neoliberalism

The Museum of Neoliberalism is in Lee Green at16 Eltham Rd, London SE12 8TF.  It remains closed, but hopes to reopen in July 2021, pandemic permitting.

'The 1970s is a period known for cults, serial killers and the capitalist class becoming organised to defend its interests'

Curated by Darren Cullen and Gavin Grindon it features some highly imaginative exhibits including a Grenfell Tower Cross Section...

...a bottle of Amazon worker's urine and a working model of an Amazon warehouse (sorry fulfilment centre)...

...as well as some interesting toys and games like this Hornby Standing Room Only Passengers set

Monday, May 10, 2021

Music Monday: Elephants and Castles - Song for the Birds

We've featured some of  Elephants and Castles' South London-tinged songs here before, including Concrete Love (filmed in the now vanished Elephant and Castle subways) and The  World's Greatest Complainers, filmed in Jenny's cafe in Deptford.

Their latest single, Song for the Birds, was inspired by hearing birdsong down Deptford High Street during lockdown  'so we wrote a song back to them, trying to explain the shit show they've been looking down on over the past year or so'. The video was filmed in Deptford and Cornwall, featuring the band's Robin Spencer and Chris Anderson, as well as birds including a robin, great tit and waxwing I think. Never seen the latter in SE London, but a quick google search found an old Brockley Central posts with a photo of some in Arklow Road SE14.

You can support them by buying the single at their bandcamp site as well as on iTunes.

In case you missed their earlier lament to the demise of the Elephant and Castle shopping centre and the Heygate Estate, What's Left for Larry and Janet?, here it is:

Monday, April 19, 2021

The Covid Memorial Wall

The National Covid Memorial Wall has been painted over the last month by volunteers along the South Bank of the Thames between Lambeth Bridge and Westminster Bridge, opposite the Houses of Parliament, and including the riverside wall in front of St Thomas' Hospital. There are around 150,000 hearts, each representing one of the UK Covid dead (so far) and many of them dedicated to named individuals. This unofficial memorial was started by people involved with Covid-19 Bereaved Families For Justice UK.

It is hard to do justice to the scale of this monument in photographs, stretching as it does for around 500 metres. I strongly recommend that if you get the chance you visit it yourself.

Harder too to keep a dry eye as you read the names and messages on the wall, and feel a rising sense of sadness and anger.

The impact of Covid is so often rendered as a series of statistics in which the individual lives lost and damaged are rendered invisible, the wall places these lives back at the centre - mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, lovers and friends.

'The UK has one of the highest death tolls in the world. While many have become used to seeing the statistics associated with Covid-19, it is important to remember that each one of these numbers represents a loved person, a life gone too soon and a family torn apart. Our loved ones were not just numbers, but treasured relatives who will be missed forever.

As more and more information comes to light, it has become clear that the UK hasn’t ended up with one of the highest death tolls in the world by coincidence. Gaps in the country’s pandemic preparedness, delays to locking down, inadequate supplies of PPE and the policy of discharging into care homes among other issues have all been identified as having contributed to the level of the death toll. Despite this, the government continues to refer to its ‘apparent success’ and being ‘proud’ of its record. Not only is this deeply hurtful for bereaved families who have already gone through a traumatic loss to hear, but this reluctance to engage honestly with what has gone wrong is a barrier to learning. Every day the government fails to learn lessons, more families are going through the same loss and trauma. It is heart breaking to see the same mistakes repeated over and over'

Most of the names on the memorial are of UK dead but good to see acknowledgement too of the global dimension of the pandemic including a heart for Li Wenliang, the Wuhan doctor who was one of the first to raise the alarm about Covid.

'When politicians and experts say that they are willing to allow tens of thousands of premature deaths for the sake of population immunity or in the hope of propping up the economy, is that not premeditated and reckless indifference to human life? If policy failures lead to recurrent and mistimed lockdowns, who is responsible for the resulting non-covid excess deaths? When politicians wilfully neglect scientific advice, international and historical experience, and their own alarming statistics and modelling because to act goes against their political strategy or ideology, is that lawful? Is inaction, action? How big an omission is not acting immediately after the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency of international concern on 30 January 2020? At the very least, covid-19 might be classified as “social murder”'
(Kamran Abbasi, Covid-19: Social murder, they wrote—elected, unaccountable, and unrepentant, British Medical Journal editorial, 4 February 2021)

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Fenton Ogbogbo- murdered by racists in the Old Kent Road, 1981

Fenton Ogbogbo was a 25 year old man who was murdered in a racist attack on the  Old Kent Road in June 1981.

 Three white youths aged 15 to 17 from the Peckham area were jailed at 'Her Majesty’s pleasure' in  a trial at the Old Bailey in the following year.  The court heard that on 21 June 1981 after an incident in a pub on the Old Kent Road, 'Other white youths were recruited and they went after him. But Mr  Ogbogbo of Nunhead Grove, Peckham,  was rescued by young whites he had been playing pool with' in the pub. A few minutes later the three murderers 'who had described the rescuers as “n* lovers”, caught Mr Ogbogbo alone in a fish shop' and stabbed him  repeatedly (Times 23 February 1982). Fenton has been watching a  boxing match on TV in the Senol Fish Bar in Old Kent Road. He died at Guys Hospital.

Fenton had come to London from Nigeria in 1969 and gone to schools in Peckham before working assembling computers, but he had lost his job and was unemployed.

Bizarrely the police suggested that he may have considered suicide earlier that day having supposedly 'pulled back from jumping from the balcony of a block of flats'. This was denied by his family, and in any event was irrelevant to his brutal racist murder later in the day (Times, 23 June 1981)

His father Isiah Ogbogbo, an electrical engineer, said: 'I have lost a child because of the racial trouble in this country. Why should somebody kill a quiet innocent boy like him? [...] It is these skinheads with their hated of black people. That is why my child died. We have a lot of English people living in Nigeria but we do not kill them'.

The report below mentions that another black man had been stabbed in a racist attack in Peckham in the previous week, and that in the same period there were clashes between the police and black youth in the area:

'The Saturday night of Fenton‘s murder hundreds of black youth, joined by some white youth, had fought for two hours with the police in Peckham Rye. “It looked like they were seeking confrontation with us“ said Superintendent Staplin in charge of the police on the scene. He couldn’t have been more right. Wooden stakes were torn up from fences and used as spears to throw at the police, police vehicles were attacked, and such money grabbers as Currys, Boots and British Home Stores were broken into. The BP petrol station narrowly escaped destruction.…

A few miles from Peckham in Lewisham shopping centre, in just two forays by the police, 20 black youths were picked up on 4 and 5 June. These youths, the youngest of which was 13, were held for hours in Ladywell police station. A pregnant teenager among them was attacked and given a black eye. All were subjected to a constant barrage of racist abuse. When one young girl asked how she was supposed to get home when she was released late at night with no money she was told “you can swing on trees“. She was left as an easy target for the kind of racists who killed Fenton Ogbogbo that the police allowed to roam the streets' (Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, July/August 1918 - sourced from the Splits and Fusions archive)

Monday, March 29, 2021

Music Monday: Pinty at the Gowlett Arms

I heard 'Found it', the new single from South London MC Pinty, on Gilles Peterson's BBC6 Music show at the weekend. Wait a minute, does he actually mention legendary Peckham pub The Gowlett on this track? Yes indeed, my ears were not deceiving me.

 It is in fact 'a love story set in his local pub, The Gowlett in Peckham. Produced by friend and collaborator Tomos, ‘Found It’ is a heady blend of dubby house and hip hop. Pinty's first memories of The Gowlett are being taken there after his father’s Royal Mail shift, sharing a pizza whilst his dad drank beer: “Weight of father’s shadow towers…”. On ‘Found It’ we find Pinty back in that pub as an adult, torn between taking his night elsewhere with his new love, or staying within the realms he knows so well. His first ever ‘love song’ it’s an unusual tale of love lost and then found: “Arm to arm, Bukowski types / Love was lost I found it / Are you around I’m about it / let’s French exit like it’s so crowded” (Pinty bandcamp).

I have had many a drink and a pizza there myself over the years and hope it won't be too long before we can all do it again.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

'Predatory culture' - challenge to Dulwich College continues

Boys boarding school Dulwich College has been rocked in the last week by allegations of a culture of sexual abuse and harassment amongst its students, targeting in particular young women attending local schools with which the College has links, notably James Allen's Girls School (JAGS). A demonstration planned for last Friday by pupils from local schools with supportive Dulwich College dissidents was called off after the school's head emailed parents stating that pupils could be prosecuted for taking part. The protest had been called 'against the predatory culture of Dulwich College and the school management [which] condones it'.

An open letter to the school put together by a recent ex-Dulwich student included around 100 personal accounts, mainly from current or former JAGS pupils. The dossier includes cases of rape, sexual assault and harassment, as well as allegations of  homophobia and racism.

Although the protest did not go ahead on Friday, JAGS pupils staged a vigil and have put up posters on the railings outside the independent school on East Dulwich Grove.

'Not all men but all women'

'The behaviour of your students is not a reflection of their confidence, it is a testament to their entitlement, to their experience of an institution which has enabled their sexism, their racism, their homophobia and their abusive tendencies... At the heart of this attitude, one which leads so many of your students to believe themselves authorised to control other people’s bodies, is a sense of superiority and entitlement borne out of a discriminatory worldview'

'End rape culture'/'No means no'

'Your school is a breeding ground for sexual predators who are being released into the world, safe in the knowledge that they can be whatever they want, and do whoever they want. I am a woman in a world that is unkind to women, and the predators around me no longer wear uniforms marking them out as God’s gift (ex-JAGs student who left in 2019 -  Dulwich College was originally known as 'the College of God's Gift) 

Not all Dulwich College students, but... 'The submitted testimonials do not present a divide between the many and the few. They describe a community of abusers and their enablers, violently sexist boys whose behaviour is underpinned by a collective understanding that their comfort and status is worth more than the lives of those who fall prey to their abuse. In almost every story, experiences of assault, revenge pornography and slut shaming were exacerbated by the aggressor’s friends, young men who were not, in that instance, one of the “very few” but who enabled them, who laughed at stories of sexual violence, who shared illicit photos of teenage girls without consent, who stood by as their mates, the supposedly “very few”, ruined lives'.

'we do not want to use the term harassment, what is happening today is sexual terrorism'

'I have been sexually assaulted by boys from Dulwich College. My closest female friends have been raped. It started aged 14 when boys would rate us all out of 10, sitting in your classrooms on their phones. It continued with requests for underage nude selfies which when refused were followed with misogynist comments and when women complied these shared around illegally. Your teachers were aware of this but not enough was done. It continued to escalate as I got older, boys from your school would drug and intoxicate girls from local schools and proceeded to rape and assault them when they were under the influence. Where are these men now?... This HAS to stop. Teach your students how to treat women'.

'Throughout my 13 years at JAGS, my experience with Dulwich college boys were almost entirely negative. There is an extremely prevalent rape culture and violent culture at DC. This is present throughout Dulwich college but exacerbated amongst the sporting teams, particularly Rugby'

While Dulwich College has been the initial focus of this fast spreading movement against sexual abuse and harassment linked to schools, accounts of similar behaviours are emerging in relation to other schools in both the private and state sectors and are being collected by Everyone's Invited. I am sure young women in all kinds of education settings are having to deal with this day in day out and it doesn't help to single out just a few high profile schools and pretend everywhere else is fine. On the other hand saying something happens everywhere can lead down the slippery slope to saying nobody is responsible. 

The response in some schools is no doubt more positive than others in terms of how they challenge these attitudes and behaviours and how they deal with allegations. The accounts from the Dulwich College dossier do suggest that some matters were raised with senior leaders at both the College and JAGS with what the victims viewed as inadequate responses. The consequences may vary from school to school too - is an alleged offender less likely to be sanctioned when their wealthy parents have barristers at their disposal and the school is a multi-million pound business worried about its reputation? Though as the last week has shown, failing to deal with this can lead to a much worse PR disaster down the line - not great when one of your own pupils is quoted in a national newspaper saying that they 'woke up every day feeling shit about going to Dulwich College because it’s not a place that attracts or makes good people'.

And some places are no doubt worse than others. It is quite possible that the culture of how women are viewed and treated differs from school to school, and a segregated group of young men living apart from families and the community and told they are the creme de la creme of future leaders might well have a different sense of their boundaries and entitlements than others.

[All photos taken of outside of JAGS in East Dulwich Grove this weekend; all quotes in italics from open letter/dossier to Dulwich College. The full document is quite harrowing. I have not quoted detailed accounts of abuse, hopefully some of these will end up in court]

Friday, March 26, 2021

Green Onions re-opens - Stefan Finnis (1974-2021) remembered

Green Onions, the much loved health food and record shop in Clifton Rise, New Cross, has reopened after a period of closure.

Sad to report that the co-founder of the shop, Stefan Finnis, died on 15 January 2021. There's a lovely collection of photos and memories of Stefan online, and a book of remembrance in the shop also. In the words of his brother:

'For Stefan, meaning was to be found in the beauty of the natural world, in artistic creation and in championing the interests of other people.

Most of us know about his work over the last 20 years in London: Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses, CoolTan Arts, Bee Urban, finally in his and Adrian's wonderfully multifaceted shop Green Onions in New Cross. In this one venture, Stefan's different passions could find an outlet: his unfailing sense of the aesthetic, his passion for community issues and for the promotion of local artisans and artists, his deep knowledge of plants and of everything to do with good food and healthy living. He conveyed these passions in the calm, effortless and generous manner we all loved'.

Stefan Finnis (1974-2021) in Green Onions
(photo from East London Lines)

There's an interview with Stefan, and more photos, at Deptford is Changing with reflections on change and regeneration in the area. In  Stefan's words,  “Clifton Rise has a special energy; New Cross in itself has its own energy, but Clifton Rise is special. If New Cross has a centre, you could say it’s somewhere round here. It has something to do with how people move through the area, it’s a meeting of worlds, of historically richer and poorer communities; Clifton Rise is somewhere in the middle of those two.” At the time of giving that interview the shops on Clifton Rise were threatened with demolition as part of the redevelopment of the neighbouring Achilles Street Estate. As a result of the community campaign which Stefan was involved it was decided in 2019 to remove the shops from the demolition plan, though the housing redevelopment is planned to go ahead 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Vigil to remember victims of patriarchal violence - Telegraph Hill Park

There was a vigil in Telegraph Hill Upper Park last night (20th March 2021) 'to remember victims of patriarchal violence' . A list of women killed by men stretched across the ground ending in Sarah Everard,  recently killed while walking home in Clapham.

Those present read out the following together: 

'We lay down flowers and light candles to hold our sisters in our thoughts, to remind us to love and protect one another, may they rest in peace and power'

'In the last year 1300 Lewisham women were referred to domestic violence services'

Nearby on the railway bridge on Avignon Road a roadside 'Stop femicides' memorial has been pasted on the walls by Feminist Collages, with names of murdered women.

Spotted this freshly decorated barge on the canal by Hackney Marshes last week:

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Haberdashers, Hatcham and Slavery

The Haberdashers' Aske's school in New Cross is reported to be considering the implications of the links between Robert Aske (after whom the school is named) and slavery, with press coverage suggesting that a change of name is being considered. A statement issued by the school's sponsor, the Haberdashers Company, states:

'The Haberdashers’ Company and its Schools in Elstree and South London have become aware that Robert Aske was a shareholder in the Royal African Company (RAC).  All are clear that the role of the RAC in the slave trade was deplorable and sits in stark contrast with the values which underpin the activities and philosophy of the Company, its schools and beneficiaries today.  The schools are already engaged in comprehensive reviews of culture, values and their brands and this matter will be included.  The outcome of these fully consultative deliberations, including the future use of the Aske name, will be communicated when conclusions are reached and decisions made.  The Haberdashers’ Company is proud of its ethos of benevolence, fellowship and inclusion, and the diverse nature of its membership'.

I have been looking into slavery and the New Cross area for a while,  now seems a good time to summarise some of what we know - or ought to know.

Haberdashers and slavery

The Haberdashers' schools in South London and elsewhere have their origins in the Haberdashers' Aske's charity, established with funds bequeathed by Robert Aske (1619-1689) and managed by the Haberdashers company, one of the City of London livery companies.

The current Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College (as it is now known) was built on Pepys Road in New Cross in 1875 expanding on to a second site in Jerningham Road in 1889. The Haberdashers Company owned most of the land in the New Cross area at this point. A 19th century statue of Robert Aske stands in the forecourt of the school's Pepys Road site.

It is now well established that Robert Aske was one of the early investors in the Royal African Company, holding £500 of stock. According to historian William Pettigrew, the RAC 'shipped more enslaved African women, men and children to the Americas than any other single institution during the entire period of the transatlantic slave trade' (Freedom's Debt: The Royal African Company and the Politics of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1672-1752, 2013) including more than 150,000 slaves forcibly transported to the British Caribbean.

Aske was neither the first nor last member of the Haberdashers' Company to invest in slaving. For instance William Garrard (1507-1571), sometime Lord Mayor of London, helped develop the slave trade by funding the early slaving voyages of John Hawkins.

A contemporary of Aske's, Jeremy Sambrooke (died 1704) was a director of the Royal African Company as well as a member of the Haberdashers Company. In the same period at least two masters of the Haberdashers Company were also directors of the RAC:  John Lawrence (died 1692) holding £1,600 of stock and Arthur Ingram (1617-1681) holding £1500 of stock.  Both were also directors of the East India Company which was likewise involved in slavery in this period as well as beginning its colonial expansion in India which the Company was eventually to rule (see more at Reclaim EC1 on slavery and the City of London).

The Haberdashers' Company was also involved with the early 17th century Ulster Plantation, whereby land confiscated by the Crown from its Irish owners was given to City Livery Companies. Their mission was to clear Irish catholic tenants and replace them with English and Scottish protestant settlers who it was hoped could be relied upon to be loyal to the Crown - paving the way for centuries of sectarian conflict.

In short an honest assessment of the links between the Haberdashers Company, slavery and colonialism would have to look a lot wider than the technical details of Robert Aske's share holding in the Royal African Company.

The Lucas family

Haberdashers' Aske's is not the only local place with a slavery connection. To give just one further example for now, the St John's area of Lewisham was developed in the 19th century on land largely owned by the Lucas family - hence the name Lucas Street SE8 and Lucas Vale Primary School.

Jonathan Lucas II owned slave plantations and hundreds of slaves in South Carolina, where his father (also Jonathan Lucas) had become wealthy through his rice mill business.  'Lucas and his family were at the centre of Charleston's cosmopolitan society'  but following the suppression of a planned slave uprising there in 1822, 'Jonathan II settled his family at Hatcham Grove House in New Cross, where the family lived from 1824 to 1834' (R. Williams III & A.L. Lofton, Rice to Ruin: The Jonathan Lucas Family in South Carolina, 1783-1929). This was a mansion in its own grounds situated between what is now Erlanger Road and Pepys Road at the bottom of Telegraph Hill.  This Lucas died in 1832 and his wife shortly after, but his son and other descendants continued to own land locally and played a major role in the development of Deptford New Town (now St Johns) from the mid-19th century.

Hatcham Grove House, sometime home of the Charleston slave plantation owner Jonathan Lucas. In the 1850s it became a school for the children of Warehousemen and Clerks 


It is sometimes argued that it is anachronistic to criticise those involved in slavery in the past, on the grounds that we are applying modern moral standards to different times. The implication is that nobody knew that slavery was wrong at the time.

In fact there were opponents of slavery from very early on - not least the slaves themselves of course! Deptford's John Evelyn, also connected to the slave trade, mentions a planned slave revolt in Barbados in his diary for 1692. He also discusses the ethical question of whether slaves should be baptised, something opposed by many slave masters as they feared even this recognition of their captives' humanity.

The long opposition to slavery is documented in a book largely written in New Cross more than 200 years ago. The History of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade (1808) was written by the slavery abolitionist Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846), much of it while staying as a guest of the Hardcastle family at  Hatcham House in New Cross (grounds bordered by what is now Hatcham Park Road). Clarkson was one of the founders of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787, and among other things had travelled to Paris after the French Revolution in an effort to persuade France to abolish slavery. Clarkson is unsparing in documenting the cruelties of slavery and denouncing 'the oppressors of the African race'. He also traces the history of opposition to slavery right back to the start of the slave trade in the 16th century. Among the arguments he quotes is an 18th century text by Humphry Primatt: 'It has pleased God to cover some men with white skins and others with black; but as there is neither merit nor demerit in complexion, the white man, notwithstanding the barbarity of custom and prejudice, can have no right by virtue of his colour to enslave and tyrannize over the black man'. Anti-racism was not invented in the 20th century!

There is a plaque on the Haberdashers' school site in Jerningham Road to the poet Robert Browning, whose family home was on the grounds of what later became the school. Browning's father, who lived there, had once been sent to St Kitts to manage a family owned plantation with slaves, though apparently he returned home unhappy with the cruelty of the plantation system (see Browning and Slavery).

The 'Black Lives Matter' movement has highlighted some of these historic connections and its supporters have been accused of wanting to rewrite history. But much of the history of slavery and its role in British society has never been written in the first place. 

Still at least in New Cross the statue of Olaudah Equiano - once forced back into slavery in Deptford - stares across Telegraph Hill Park on the other side of which stands the statue of Robert Aske. As to which of these two should be honoured by children in a 21st century multi-cultural South London school I leave that to you to judge.

Of course there's a whole lot more to be said about slavery and South London, here's a few previous pieces: 

Paul Hendrich on the statues on Deptford Town Hall in New Cross

Deptford's Runaway Slaves

'South London and Negro Emancipation' - 1863 anti-Slavery meeting at the Elephant & Castle

Friday, March 05, 2021

SAFA House, Arklow Road SE14 - Lady Flo's and more

If you haven't been down Arklow Road for a while you might be in for a surprize, the new Anthology Deptford Foundry housing development is complete and lived in with little trace of the former industrial landscape.  

A statue on site of a human figure with propellors hints at its former use as the location for J. Stone and Co’s Brass, Copper and Iron Works, Deptford.

The company had its origins in an engineering workshop on Deptford High Street started by Josiah Stone (1803-1867) to make copper nails and rivets used in shipbuilding. Going into business with George Preston and John Prestige as J. Stone & Co., the company operated out of railway arches by Deptford station from 1842 until 1881 when it moved to its new built factory on Arklow Road.

Stone's factory in Arklow Road, SE14 in 1885

By the start of the First World War, Stone's had 1,350 workers and was making propellors for the Royal Navy as well as other metal items for ships. In World War Two it made more than 2,200 propellors for the Royal Navy, and at its peak in the 1950s expanded further with 4,000 staff spread between its Deptford site and another in Woolwich Road, Charlton. Like much local industry though it was to decline through the 1960s and the Arklow Road factory closed in 1969. Incidentally, comedian Spike Milligan worked at Stone's in Deptford in the 1930s.

Most of the site has been redeveloped, but there is though an original building remaining at 28 Arklow Road, albeit it in very poor condition. This was most recently known as SAFA House but was originally known as the Welcome Institute, sometimes  referred to as the Welcome Coffee Tavern and Institute (Kentish Mercury, 6/4/1894). Opening in 1890, it catered primarily for the Stone's workers and comprised ‘a concert room and gymnasium, a reading room and library, a coffee bar and two dining rooms’ (The Engineer, 26 February 1892).

The Stone's workers had a wide social and cultural life. There were Welcome Institute cricket and football teams, draughts and chess clubs, and a swimming club who swam at the baths in Laurie Grove SE14 (Kentish Independent, 21/9/06).  A Welcome Institute Athletic Club held a very healthy sounding 'smoking concert' there in 1904 with 'several scientific wrestling bouts':

A Welcome Institute Rowing Club was out on the Thames by 1890, though it seems to have faltered by 1895 when former members set up a new Deptford Albion Rowing Club (Sporting Life, 17/4/1895). However the Welcome Institute Rowing Club 'composed chiefly of the employees past and present of Messrs Stone's Engineering  Works, Deptford' was relaunched in 1901 (S.Life, 21/8/1901). This was the ancestor of the still thriving Greenwich-based Globe Rowing Club, which started out as the Stone's Rowing Club before moving to the Lord Clyde pub (when it became the Clyde Rowing Club) then the Globe pub in Greenwich where it assumed its current name.

Welcome Institute Rowing Club race from Limehouse Pier to Greenwich, 1891

There was a W.I. brass band, flower shows and a debating society. The venue was used for wider community initiatives too. New Cross and Deptford Amateur Gardeners Society met there (KM, 3/2/1893) and a concert and meeting was held there to establish New Cross and Deptford People's Co-operative Society (KM 7/12/1894).

In the 1920s, the building was bought by Lady Florence Pelham-Clinton and renamed Florence House as part of her charitable work in the area. Lady Florence, who lived at 38 Wickham Road (Pall Mall Gazette, 7/10/20) had originally been involved with the Deptford Fund and Albany Institute, but split away after a disagreement to establish the Lady Florence Institute which as well as the site on Arklow Road also had premises on Deptford Broadway (today home to the 999 club). The Institute's use of the building seems to have come to an end in the 1970s.

In the 1980s it became  an African Caribbean club and boxing gym. A former attendee recalls 'I use to go there all the time. It was a small community centre in the week with a pool table and on Friday and Saturday night it was a music venue. It was just called simply 'Arklow Road' (I have also seen it referred to as Arklow Road community centre). It was known for its weekend reggae/dub sessions; Jamaican artist Nitty Gritty performed there once but there was plenty of local sound system talent from Saxon, Ghetto Tone and Jah Shaka  (I assume that the footage on youtube and elsewhere of  Shaka playing in Arklow Road in 1986 was filmed here, though he also played in other nearby spaces). On the sleevenotes to the Young Disciples 'Road to Freedom' album in 1991, the producer Demus (Dilip Harris) gives thanks to 'the Dub Basket (Arklow Road)' so wonder if that was a name used for club nights.

In the early 1990s the then empty building was squatted by people including the Conscious Collective, a group who put on free parties/raves and gigs. According to Deptford historian Jess Steele 'They cleared the building out, re-decorated, re-plumbed, re-wired, re-glazed, patched the roof and installed a coffee bar. The group of performers, clowns, jesters, bands and dancers ran arts workshops, provided rehearsal space for local groups and organised a series of performance events' (Turning the Tide: the history of everyday Deptford, 1993). The squat was known as Lady Flo's. The great 90s+ gigs, squats and parties site has a flyer for a Co-Creators gig there and for the 'Flo's Farewell' Eviction Party in April 1992. According to an article about the Collective by Camilla Berens, 'On the day of the eviction from Lady Flo's the Collective held an impromptu street party outside the building. A bemused bailiff was greeted with tribal rhythms emanating from drums, bongos and a grand piano' (Independent, 30 July 1992).  The Collective had tried to negotiate a deal to stay with Lewisham Council who by then owned the building, but the Council sold it off and its 100 year history as a social/cultural/sporting venue more or less came to an end.

The Conscious Collective moved on to squat 'The Canteen'  for a while, formerly the canteen for Deptford power station workers and they were also one of the groups responsible for the 1990s Deptford Urban Free Festival which attracted tens of thousands of people to Fordham Park in New Cross.

From 90s+ gigs, squats and parties

Since those days the increasingly derelict building seems to have been largely used for storage though it was squatted for a while recently by 'a collective who value the building's history and aim to continue its use as a community resource'. They hosted a Radical Film Network film screening there in October 2019.  Scott Barkwith from Deptford Folk took a look inside a couple of year ago and it was a bit of a mess. There were still some posters on the wall for local events, including this one for a 1991 gig at the (now closed) Pilot pub at 174 Deptford High Street featuring 'The Sea' (another Deptford Urban Free Festival favourite):

photo by Scott Barkwith at Deptford Folk.  

The building was sold in 2017 and Murky Depths reports that planning permission was granted in 2018 for the conversion of the building into flats, or more precisely for the frontage of the building to be retained wrapped round new build housing with the remainder demolished, possibly with a coffee shop on the ground floor. That would be some kind of return to original usage, though a long way from the engineers' social club of 100 years ago. 

There's still a lot more to be told about SAFA House I am sure. For a start does anybody know what SAFA stands for? Would also like to know more about what went on there during the Lady Florence Institute period (1930s-1970s?).  Stone's deposited extensive papers with Lewisham archives when the factory closed, and there is information held there about the Welcome Institute that would no doubt be worth checking out.

[There's some historical detail on building in archaeology survey for planning application]