Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Becket House - an immigration prison in SE1

At present there are major building works going on next to London Bridge station in St Thomas Street with the construction of a 27 storey 'EDGE London Bridge' office block well underway.  Whatever you think of it, nobody is going to much miss the Home Office building it replaced, known as Becket House. Before the latter vanishes from historical memory it's important to record what happened there as possibly the last designated prison in a part of London that has seen many prisons over the centuries.

Protest at Becket House in 2010

Becket House's purpose was probably unclear to those fortunate enough not to have to use it, including the many commuters passing by as they exited the south entrance of London Bridge station. The only clue was the daily queue of people from all corners of the world stretching around the building each morning.

Becket House was an an Immigration Reporting Centre where asylum seekers were required to attend regularly.  In most cases this would involve a long queue and a short signing on but the terror underlying this was never really knowing when you left home that morning whether you would be coming back again. Asylum seekers could be detained when they turned up and for this purpose Becket House had what was called a 'short term holding centre' where people could be locked up until they were moved to a longer term detention centre and then potentially deported.  This was officially designated as a prison and subject to HM Prisons Inspectorate (see for instance this critical report of a 2009 inspection). It consisted of two adjoining secure 'holding rooms', one for single adults and one for families. As well as being used for people detained when signing it was used to lock up people arrested in immigration raids in the community organised from Becket House.  People were usually moved to a removal centre on the same day, though sometimes they were moved overnight to local police station cells. The centre was run for  some of its time for the then UK Borders Agency by Group 4 Securicor (G4S).

At one time Becket House was processing 15,000 appointments a year. How many people were detained in total is unknown but one report shows that between August and October 2009 alone 255 people had been detained, including 39 children (15%) and 59 women (23%). Among those who were  locked up there was Amir Siman-Tov from Morocco. Detained when he reported to Becket House in January 2016 he was transferred to Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre where he died the following month (see Inquest report). 

As part of the Government's Hostile Environment, Becket House was designed to intimidate - in 2018 the Guardian reported that an official there had been filmed saying 'We are not here to make life easy for you. It’s a challenging environment we have got to make for people. It’s working because it’s pissing you off'.

Becket House was the focus for a number of protests from migrant solidarity groups. The building closed in 2022 and was demolished soon afterwards.

Several hundred people paused at Becket House during the March for Migrant Rights in October 2006
 which went from Imperial War Museum to Tanner Street park

No Borders protest in 2009

SOAS Detainee Support, Migrants Organise and These Walls Must Fall at Becket House in 2021

The only Immigration Reporting Centre for South London is now at Lunar House in Croydon. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Russell Dryden RIP

Sorry to hear today of the passing of Russell Dryden. Familiar to many from his fish stall in Bermondsey's  blue market, which he ran  for more than 30 years, he championed music through his involvement with Bermondsey Beat and Bermondsey Carnival.

He also had a lovely singing voice himself. Back in June 2011 'Nigel of Bermondsey' hosted Southwark Folk, a night of South London themed songs at the Cuming Museum on Walworth Road. Nigel/George performed, I sang a few songs as did John Constable, and Russell charmed us with some of his own compositions including one I remember prompted by hearing an American accent in the market and reflecting on the ever changing area.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Hate is a Drag! - Honor Oak protest exhibition in Catford

Hate is a Drag! is an exhibition at Catford Constitutional Club's Gallery SE6 of art from and inspired by last year's Honor Oak anti-fascist counter protests. It includes placards and signs from the movement as well as other work by Kate Emblen who curated the exhibition and who was herself targeted online by the far right for her participation in the events.

From February to July 2023 there were monthly far right protests targeting a Drag storytelling session at the Honor Oak pub. The first one saw 500 people turn up and block the road to oppose them, and that set the tone for an ongoing community mobilisation which outnumbered the far right each month until the final one in July 2023. By this time the storytelling session had stopped anyway, it's in the nature of events in pubs that they come and go over time though I think that the company running the pub may have brought pressure for it to take a break and no doubt the police had a word in their ear too. 

The exhibition at Catford Constitutional Club runs from 10 May to 5 June 2024

I've written an account of the protests at Datacide magazine, here's an extract:

'The protests were first called by Turning Point UK, a Trumpian ‘anti-woke’ group, and amplified by right wing influencers like GB News TV presenters Calvin Robinson and Laurence Fox. Both of these attended the first protest in February 2023 where their 30 or so supporters were heavily outnumbered by community opposition, with several hundred people occupying the road by the pub to stop them getting near. Since then there have been monthly face offs with anti-fascists as the far right has tried and mostly failed to occupy a space directly outside the pub for its protest.  In the most serious confrontation in June intelligence that the far right were planning to arrive very early led to an to an even earlier counter effort. By 6 am people had gathered to defend the pub and soon afterwards the Turning Point mob turned up and piled in. Scuffles continued for a while before the police turned up, a few people were injured and a window broken in the pub but the line held. After the early departure of  the far right there was dancing in the road before the police cleared the impromptu street party.  Giving evidence against a protestor who was arrested, a cop claimed that the sound system had been louder than Rampage at Notting Hill Carnival – a slight exaggeration.

Since then events have settled down into a routine with 100+ anti-fascists outside the pub, large numbers of police (12 van loads at most recent count) and a hard core of around 20-30 anti-drag activists, mostly older white men with long term involvement in far right street politics. Among those identified have been people previously associated with Combat 18, Blood & Honour (white power skinheads) and the British National Party. One regular attendee spent years in jail for being part of a neo-nazi gang that nearly killed a man in a racist stabbing in Essex.

Opposition to the far right at the Honor Oak has come from a mixture of  younger queer and trans activists, long time Lewisham leftists and trade unionists and other local people just outraged at the presence of bigots in this diverse part of London. Despite some political differences some interesting connections have been made and a tentative South London antifascist community of struggle has emerged over seven months. Large banners have proclaimed ‘South London Loves Trans People’ and ‘South London is Anti-Fascist’. 


Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Electric Sweat at Venue MOT

Coming up next Friday May 3rd at Venue MOT, Surrey Canal Road SE14 - Electric Sweat, a night of 'underground electro and jacking grooves'

They say:

'After a long hiatus, Electric Sweat has returned on it's promise to providing a serious session of Electro and jacking grooves all night long. Experience a more specialist and old-school approach with longer set times from the DJs, in a warehouse setting!

Resident Controlled Weirdness has teamed up with Lex G (Gunfinger Food) for this mega return and the pair have invited down UK electro don, Phil Bolland aka Sync 24.

Phil has been a key part of the resurgence of electro the past few years. An amazing DJ, producer and mastermind behind the renowned record label Cultivated Electronics, which has been running since 2007. He has worked with and released many tracks from key figures of the underground electro community such as Radioactive Man, Morphology, The Hacker, Silicon Scally, The Exaltics, DeFeKT, Assembler Code and Jensen Interceptor as well as many others. Expect plenty of new and unreleased music to be played by the artist on the night and experience the sweaty warehouse experience you've been missing, down at the wicked Venue MOT.

Support from residents Controlled Weirdness & Gunfinger Food...

Controlled Weirdness is a veteran producer and DJ who's been at the front line of all aspects of club and sound system culture since the early 80’s. His musical CV includes playing everywhere from plush clubs to dirty warehouses as well as mixing tunes on a variety of iconic London pirate radio stations. He has released music on numerous underground record labels and runs Presence Unknown, a vinyl and digital record label dedicated to releasing music influenced by his love of Electro, Acid House and Rave. He also has a monthly residency on Threads radio and has recently started a podcast called "Tales from a Disappearing City", which is a platform to educate and tell some untold subcultural stories from past and present, joined by friends from his lifelong journey through subterranean London.

Gunfinger Food is an independent record label, platform and DJ advocating underground vinyl culture, with a core focus on Electro and Breakbeat styles. Lex G has been running and DJing under the brand for 5 years and through this journey has pushed his sound through radio residencies (bloop, Threads), features (Rinse, Balamii, Netil & more), countless mix/podcast contributions (Dark Science Electro, Typeless, Das Booty & more) and rocking the party with his vinyl sets across UK and Europe. At Electric Sweat we always promise to play you some amazing music that you have never heard before.

Inspired by and always remembering Nacho'.

Monday, April 01, 2024

Women in Revolt at Tate Britain

'Women in Revolt! Art and Activism in the UK 1970-1990' at Tate Britain features a huge amount of archive material from different 1970s/80s feminist currents alongside the art works which taken together give a strong sense of the visual culture and politics of the period. 

Lots of South London content included, here's a few I spotted:

'Shrew - Women's Liberation Workshop' (1970)- I noticed on the cover that this copy was at one time held in 'The Fawcett Collection, temporarily at 67 Barry Road SE22'. The Fawcett Collection later became the Women's Library. Barry Road in East Dulwich just across the road from Peckham Rye, where as discussed here previously one of the first London Women's Liberation groups was formed, a group that was involved in the production of Shrew.

'In Print' - newsletter of Peckham Black Women's Group, at one point ran Peckham Black Women's Centre, 69 Bellenden Road SE15

Leaflet for a demonstration from Brockwell Park called by the Groce Family Support and Community Defence Campaign. Cherry Groce was shot and seriously injured by police during a raid on a house in Brixton in 1985, sparking off a riot.

'Defend the black community! fascists off the streets' - a leaflet mobilising for the anti-National Front demonstration in New Cross/Lewisham in August 1977, that became known as the Battle of Lewisham. Would like to see the back of this leaflet to see who produced it.

The exhibition includes issues of Rock Against Racism zine 'Temporary Hoarding', one of which features this picture of Adam and the Ants playing a RAR gig at Elephant and Castle'. This was at South Bank Poly (now Uni) on 17 June 1978.

Chain Reaction at the Market Tavern in Vauxhall, 1980s women only SM/fetish club 


Quite a few visitors delighted in spotting images of themselves or friends, or things they had been involved with and by the end I was doing the same with pictures from the Clause 28 demonstrations and copies of Shocking Pink zine which my friend Katy Watson was involved with and which was based for a while at the 121 Centre in Brixton.

The exhibition closes on 7 April 2024.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Music Monday: Hope 4 Justice with Eska and John Stainer School Choir

In 2022 over 1,000 young people, including students from 27 South London schools took part in Hope 4 Justice, an urgent call to action on the climate emergency highlighting issues such as air quality, ‘throw-away’ culture and housing inequality through performances of music, dance and spoken word. Created and produced by Trinity Laban as part of the Lewisham London Borough of Culture, it culminated in a performance in Mountsfield Park on Saturday 18 June 2022.

Now, to commemorate the project, five songs composed by Mercury Prize nominated artist Eska (with lyrics from Young People's Poet Laureate for London Cecilia Knapp) have been recorded at Trinity Laban with Brockley's John Stainer Community Primary School Choir and students from the TL Jazz Department.  The first track. Air, was released on 15 Feb 2024, the eleventh anniversary of the death of Lewisham resident Ella Roberta Adoo Kissi Debrah who died aged nine after a fatal asthma attack.  Ella was the first person in the world to have air pollution listed as a cause of death on their death certificate.  

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Nunhead and District Municipal Museum 2024

It's Telegraph Hill Open Studios this weekend, I went to the launch last night of the legendary pop up 'Nunhead Municipal Museum and Art Gallery' at 80 Gellatly Road SE14. If you've never been to this temple of kitsch and outsidery art you better get down there today (Saturday 23 March 2024, 11 am - 4 pm) or tomorrow (Sunday, 1 pm to 6 pm).

The Museum will include a short interlude of Neil Gordon-Orr reading from his 'New Cross Park Life: a year in the life of Telegraph Hill Park' (Saturday 3 pm - 3:30 pm)


Thursday, March 21, 2024

Acoustic Anarchy

Martin Howard's Acoustic Anarchy has been running since 2017 at waterintobeer in Brockley (209 Mantle Road SE4), an acoustic live music night focusing on folk, punk and indie. There's a couple of events coming up in next few weeks.

As part of the Telegraph Hill Festival this weekend, on Saturday 23rd March 2024 there's a special featuring artists including:

  • Joe Bitter is an acoustic punk rocker with songs celebrating cider, football and punk rock.
  • Shouting into the Dark are a prog-folk duo with heartfelt songs of love, life and grief. Their latest song features a middle English section, which will be a first for the night.
  • Drew Margot is a queer singer songwriter from LA whose work tends to revolve around gender, mental health, and often, dogs.

Then on Saturday 6th April 2024, headliners are The Water Chorus 'a young folk trio with an array of instruments tackling a mix of Irish and Scottish folk with plenty of tunes from further afield. They are exciting musicians with wit and zest and quite a dry sense of humour. Support comes from Neil Gordon-Orr, who will be playing some specifically South London folk songs. Regular host Martin Howard is joined by Max for some interpretations and originals'. More details here.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Music Monday: Sahra

Brockley-based singer Sahra is another graduate of the great South London jazz finishing school that is Trinity Laban. She's been getting increasing attention for her new material, including an excellent live session on Gilles Peterson's show on Worldwide FM last week. 

As she told Gilles, her soulful new single 'Alone Again' was recorded at Theo Erskine's studio in Forest Hill.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Goldsmiths: Redundancies protests/Palestine occupation

A rally in the rain at Goldsmiths College last night (15 March 2024) brought together the fight against job cuts and the ongoing 'Goldsmiths for Palestine' occupation.

Job Cuts

The ongoing financial crisis at Goldsmiths seems to be reaching a critical point with senior management announcing on 28th February that as part of its 'Transformation Programme' it is planning compulsory redundancies for 130 full time equivalent posts (likely to affect many more than 130 people, as many are on part time contracts). Goldsmiths management certainly deserve the criticism it is getting but the bigger picture is inadequate national Government funding of higher education which is driven not just be economic considerations but by culture war hostility to arts, humanities and social sciences subjects. As stated on this poster, 'This attempt to erode our university represents a broader assault on critical, cultural and political education across academia': 

Goldsmiths for Palestine

Meanwhile the 'Goldsmiths for Palestine' occupation of the College's Stuart Hall building looks set to continue into its fifth week, having started on 19th February

See previously:


Monday, March 11, 2024

Crystal Palace Dragon and Griffin

Dragon and griffin in a Crystal Palace antique/vintage shop window (in Church Road). Fine 'lifesize' specimens - well who knows what size the real ones are? Apparently these were originally part of the Lightopia installation in Crystal Palace Park but were left behind when the company went bust in January 2023.


Monday, March 04, 2024

Music Monday: Goat Girl - Ride Around on Dawson's Heights (and Nunhead)

Ride Around, the new single from Goat Girl, features scenes shot by Dawson' Heights Estate in East Dulwich...

...and inside our current favourite local pizza place, Dinner for One Hundred's Bar D4100 in Evelina Road, Nunhead.

Not sure about other locations - what do you reckon?

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Peckham Peace Centre 1939

The Peace Pledge Union was the main organisation of pacifists in Britain from its foundation in 1934, based on a pledge to 'renounce war and never support or sanction another'. It had an active Peckham branch, and in 1939 opened a local HQ at 158 Queens Road, Peckham, named after its founder Dick Sheppard.

Peace News, 2 June 1939

The Peckham group of the PPU began meeting at the Dick Sheppard Centre in June 1939. Six members were living on the premises and 'pacifists needing contact or COs [conscientious objectors] advice' were invite to call there any evening. 

Peace News, 23 June 1939

Once the war started PPU members may have refused to fight but they helped support local people caught up in the Blitz. In October 1940 it was reported that the 'Dick Sheppard Centre (158, Queens Road) is always open to the public during air raids and members have been standing by to do emergency rescue work. At times there has been no 'standing' about it, for they have been far too busy finding homes for the homeless, putting out fires, and collecting clothes and furniture to meet the more pressing needs. When an urgent phone call asked them to take in four homeless people, the group meeting room was turned into a bedroom and the Centre generally rearranged' (Peace News, 4 October 1940).

158 Queens Road today

Not sure how long the Centre continued for.

In this period there was also a PPU associated Blackheath Peace Shop.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Tales from a Disappearing City - Uncle G on Woolwich B-Boys and Acid House

'Tales from a Disappearing City' is a great podcast with Controlled Weirdness interviewing people about their untold subcultural stories from his SE16 batcave. The latest one is a SE London cracker featuring Uncle G, also known as Urban Intelligence. Godfrey arrived in London with his family as political refugees from Chile in the 1970s and grew up on the Morris Walk Estate in Woolwich. He has lots of great stories of body popping and breakdancing crews in that area in the 1980s at places like Woolwich YMCA and taking part in 'freestyle boogie' dancing competition to hip hop at the Albany in Deptford (apparently there was guy called Chris Sykes  who arranged these events across Lewisham and SE London).

Moving on to the acid house period, Godfrey recalls the legendary Clink Street parties and an ecstasy epiphany with the luvdup crowd that led to a  'rude boys see you later, we want this shit' turning point. He went to Asylum acid house parties at Thames Poly and lots of other raves and parties including 'Rave in the Cave' at Elephant and Castle, a Biology event in a Charlton warehouse, the Tasco warehouse in Plumstead, the Comedy Club in Greenwich and the Tunnel Club (at the Mitre pub by the Blackwall Tunnel) where he remembers a police raid  with 'a big pile of money and pills' in the middle of the dancefloor as dealers frantically disposed of evidence.  He also recalls, as I do, nights at the Venue in New Cross where people would be dancing to house music in one room while indie/alternative bands were playing downstairs: 'we used to see all the goths going to Woolwich train station, loads of punks and all that, and they'd disappear on to the train and go the Venue'. 

He was soon putting on his own parties, including setting up decks in the fields in Middle Park estate in Eltham, and getting involved in pirate radio - leading to 20 years of radio DJing on Woolwich based stations Shockin FM then Wax FM. Today he livestreams every Friday from Planet Wax record shop/bar in New Cross.

Along the way Neil CW mentions seeing Sonic Youth at Thames Poly in 1985 (one of their first UK gigs) and Afrika Bambaataa at Deptford Albany. 

If you remember any of these nights, or similar scenes, let us know in comments.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

WW2 Peace Shop in Blackheath: 'War will cease when men refuse to fight'

During the Second World War, as in the First World War, there were pacifists who refused to serve in the armed forces because of their political and/or religious opposition to war. Many of these war resisters suffered time in prison, while others recognised as conscientious objectors were officially excused on the basis that they agreed to undertake non-military duties.

The main journal of the peace movement, then and now, was Peace News which was founded in 1936. Its entire run has now been digitised on Internet Archive and it is a fascinating treasure trove of historical material. I have already found some South London nuggets and no doubt you can find plenty more.

Here's one interesting story... the Blackheath Peace Shop, which ran at 14 Royal Parade from late 1938 until mid 1940. It was seemingly set up by local branches of a number of pacifist groups including the Peace Pledge Union, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship and the Society of Friends (Quakers).

Peace News, 5 April 1940

In the early days of the Second World War it was opening daily between 10 am and noon, and 3 pm and 5 pm, with Sunday afternoon tea parties followed by open air meetings on Whitfield's Mount on Blackheath.

Peace News, 22 September 1939

The shop did though face hostility, with a window being smashed in May 1940 at this 'centre of pacifist activity in the neighbourhood':

Peace News, 3 May 1940
The shop also featured in a court case in which six officials of the Peace Pledge Union were prosecuted in relation to a poster reading 'War will cease when men refuse to fight. What are you going to do about it?' The poster was said to have been on display in various locations including on a board outside 1a Eddystone Road in Brockley (the HQ of the Forest Hill branch of the PPU) and outside the Peace Shop in Blackheath. The location near to the Heath where 'service men resorted' was cited as evidence for the serious charge that the poster was intended to incite 'disaffection' in the armed forces.

The trial ended with the defendants being ' bound over' after the Peace Pledge Union agreed to withdraw the poster. A verbatim account of the 'Poster Case' trial was published as a pamphlet by the PPU later that year. One of those summonsed to court was Ronald Smith, of Courtrai Road SE23, described as the 'group leader' of the PPU's Forest Hill branch.

Peace News, 7 June 1940

Shortly afterwards it was reported in the Lewisham Borough News that 'Blackheath's little Peace Shop' had closed down after having its window broken again.

The PPU remained active in Blackheath however, with its local branch meeting at the home of its secretaries Alan and Winifred Eden-Green  of 2 Talbot Place SE3. As well as supporting 'distressed COs' they set up a Pacifist Service Unit to provide welfare help in the local community.  Alan Eden-Green (1916-1997) was  a conscientious objector during the Second World War who 'performed voluntary work for Woolwich Council in the blitz, driving mobile canteens and putting up Anderson shelters for the elderly' (obituary in Independent, 12 December 1997).  Winifred Eden-Green worked as assistant to author and prominent pacifist Vera Brittain through the war years and on to 1962. The Eden-Greens later edited a collection of Brittain's war time letters  in which they recalled that 'two attempts were made to set the Blackheath Peace Shop on fire' and that an Army Major had threatened to shoot them both (Testament of a Peace Lover: Letters from Vera Brittain, Virago, 1988).

Peace News, 15 November 1940

The former Peace Shop at 14 Royal Parade has most recently been home to Yield Gallery.