Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Farewell Steve Wilson

The funeral took place in Beckton on February 10th of Steve Wilson (1955-2017), who died recently after nearly two years of serious illness.



A man of multiple enthusiasms including Leonard Cohen, Crystal Palace FC, and folklore,  it was in the pagan/occult scene that Steve was most active. Among other things he was at various times an Archpriest in the Fellowship of Isis,  Archdruid in the Druid Clan of Dana, and SE London regional co-ordinator of the Pagan Federation, as well as working for a spell in the famous Atlantis bookshop. In his druid capacity, he was involved in the campaign for access to Stonehenge, and as described in this 1996 article in the Independent, helping conduct summer solstice ceremonies at Parliament Hill and watching the 'sunrise at Plumstead Common Burial mound'. I have seen mention of  his involvement too in the delightfully named Plumstead Occasional Druids.

In his book 'Robin Hood: The Spirit of the Forest' (Neptune Press, 1993), Steve mentioned another important campaign from that period, the successful fight to stop the construction of a major road through Oxleas Wood 'where once the King of England and his Queen, along with the Guilds of the City of London, once watched Marian and Robin in their Mayday Revels... By involving ourselves in these battles we can let the spirit of  Robin and his band live on in ourselves'.

I met him through his involvement in the South East London Folklore Society. SELFS was established in the early 1990s (I believe), starting out at Charlton House, and Steve was active in it from early on. In its first incarnation it was primarily a regular meeting (moot) of local pagans and fellow travellers. Although it has subsequently broadened out to include a wider range of folklore, local history and fortean themes, the format of a speaker on an interesting topic followed by beer and discussion has continued down to the present. Steve himself gave a number of SELFS talks over the years, including one on  'Chaos, Conjuring and Combat' at a 1999 SELFS conference in Charlton House ('Thee Event -Thee Last Magickal Conference ov thee So-Called Millennium') and another entitled 'The Brockley Thing' at a SELFS event at the Brockley Jack during the 2005 Brockley Max Festival. The latter touched on another of Steve's interests - the history of the Woodcraft Folk and associated youth groups such as the Kibbo Kift Kindred and the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry which he saw as linked to the 20th century neo-pagan revival - and in whose story SE London was an important focus.

Steve was a driving force and frequent MC at similar occultural 'moots' including Talking Stick, Secret Chiefs and The Moot with No Name (which he founded in 2003). He was thus a key contributor to the great London alternative university of esoteric talks in pubs - as well as organising and speaking he could always be guaranteed to have a question at the end of anybody else's talk! The debating and public speaking skills he no doubt first polished at Dulwich College were frequently put to use. He was a big man with a big voice.

Steve was an enthusiastic participant in the annual Deptford Jack in the Green/Fowlers Troop procession, including sometimes taking turns in the toughest job on the day, carrying the Jack - a heavy frame covered in foliage. The photos here are all of Steve in his May Day costume, the two below by Sarah Hannant.






Monday, February 06, 2017

Neil Innes, Desmond Dekker, John Motson & Learie Constantine - in one Lewisham street

This row of houses in Slaithwaite Road, Lewisham has some interesting connections - I believe the white house on the left is number 22, with number 20 to its right followed by number 18 and 16.

I am grateful to 'Kobra' for a recent comment on a post here about singer Desmond Dekker's time in Lewisham:

'I spoke to my Dad about Desmond Dekker as I had some sort of memory that he used to rehearse next door to where I lived in Lewisham. I lived in 20 Slaithwaite Road and the family in number 22 were the Powells. This was back in the 60s and 70s.....now next door the other way at 18 lived Neil Innes of the Bonzo dog doo dah band and Rutles fame.... The Scaffold used to pop in and out all the time with John Gorman and I think Paul McCartneys brother... Lilly the pink... etc....Opposite before I was born I believe John Motson lived too. My family name is Smith and the property was owned by my parents and my Dad's parents I think since before the war...'




Neil Innes, a sometime Goldsmiths student, was a member of the 1960s groupThe Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, and also wrote songs for Monty Python. The Bonzos sometimes played with The Scaffold, the Liverpool band that included  Mike McGear (Paul McCartney's brother), Roger McGough and John Gorman.  So its not surprizing that they might have visited Neil Innes, and indeed The Scaffold played at Lewisham Odeon in May 1968, with Paul McCartney and then girlfriend Jane Asher in attendance.

The young Neil Innes
But what of football commentator John Motson? He apparently also lived at 18 Slaithwaite Road in the 1950s, between the age five and 11. His father, the Rev William Motson, was the Methodist minister at the Deptford Methodist Mission, having previously been Minister of Plumstead Common Methodist Church (the family lived in Burrage Road, Woolwich at the time). Whatever his religious affiliations, Motson senior was decidely non-sectarian in football, taking the young John regularly to both Charlton and Millwall games. John Motson went to Ennersdale Primary School in Hither Green, and he remembers queuing to get football legend Stanley Matthews' autograph when he appeared at a shop in Lewisham. 



As Motson recalls in his autobiography, Motty: Forty Years in the Commentary Box (2009), 'On one side lived Ada Smith - I saw Jackie Milburn win the FA Cip for Newcastle on her flickering set in 1951 - and on the other, another Methodist minster called Walter Ridyard; who had been minister of Albion Road Methodist Church in Lewisham, destroyed in the 1941 Blitz and then rebuilt.

The Ridyards 'often offered lodgings to West Indian cricketers when they were playing in England; and Motson remembers 'having tea with Colin Smith, the Jamaican all-rounder killed in a car crash, and also having a conversation over the garden fence with Learie Constantine, the former West Indian captain and fast bowler'. Constantine (1901-1971) was famously described by his friend CLR James as belonging 'to the distinguished company of men who, through cricket, influenced the history of their time' (among other things he won a legal case in the Second World War against a London hotel that refused to let him stay on racist grounds).


So if Motson lived in Number 18 (like Innes after him), and the Smiths were at Number 20 (according to our commenter), then the Ridyards and their cricketing guests must presumably been at Number 16. All of this plus Desmond Dekker popping into number.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

'You can't stamp us out' - Save New Cross post office protest

A good turn out this morning for the protest to launch the Save New Cross Post Office campaign. As mentioned here before, the busy community facility is threatened with closure.

EastLondonLines reports, 37 Post Offices around the country are under threat, with the Communication Workers Union estimating the loss of around 300 staff on top of 2,000 post office workers who lost their jobs in 2016.



Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Save New Cross Gate Post Office


'On the 10th January 2017 the Post Office Limited proposed to close 93 Post Offices. Among those they wish to close is New Cross Gate Post Office located at 199/205 New Cross Road, SE14 5DH.
New Cross gate Post Office provides a vital service to the local community and beyond, and to lose such services will gravely impact those who need this local post office most. Among those will be pensioners and vulnerable people. This is a high demand, busy and heavily utilised Post Office.
New Cross Gate Post Office is located in a central location in New Cross, at a major public bus interchange, where for local savers there is no alternative banking facilities.  It is used by a wide demographic of ages for postal services, saving, making payments, currency, passports service, as well as many other key services. In this part of New Cross there is no other banking or saving institutions, which adds to reason why the Post Office at New Cross Gate would be a severe loss.
We the undersigned call on Paula Vennells, Chief Executive of Post Office Limited, to revoke  the plans to close the vital New Cross Gate Post Office'.

On Saturday 28th January the campaign will be publicly launched with a demonstration outside the Post Office from 10 am to 11 am. 



Thursday, January 12, 2017

Robert Dellar Memorial

Writer and mental health activist Robert Dellar sadly died last month (December 2016)  just after his 52nd birthday.  Robert was one of the founders of Mad Pride, which brought a new defiant energy to the mental health service users in the noughties, putting on punk gigs and festivals as well as  protests. More recently he was active in its successor, the Mental Health Resistance Network, campaigning in particular against the increasingly punitive benefits regime for people with mental health problems and other disabled people. 


Dellar was one of the editors of the book 'Mad Pride: a celebration of mad culture' (2000) and published an autobiography 'Splitting in Two – Mad Pride and Punk Rock Oblivion' in 2014. He put out numerous fanzines and for many years edited the newsletter of Southwark Mind (later Southwark Association for Mental Health). 

The wake for Robert, who lived in New Cross, will take place next Tuesday 24th January at the Ivy House pub (Stuart Road) at 2.30 pm, following the funeral service at Camberwell New Cemetery at 12.15. People are invited to donate to the costs of the funeral and party/wake.



Sunday, January 01, 2017

New Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia Mural in Peckham

There's a new Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia mural in Peckham, 'The Rebels' Princess' was painted by Artful Dodger yesterday just a few days after Fisher's death. It is located on the outside of the former Walmer Castle pub.


The same artist has done another Star Wars themed piece near to Peckhamplex Cinema, showing Prime Minister Theresa May as 'Grand Admyaral' with little Boris Johnson on her shoulder.


Artful Dodger previously used the Walmer Castle site last October for this 'Gentrify This' piece.


Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia has previously been stencilled on Deptford High Street, not sure who by - this photo was taken last May 2016.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Franco Rosso RIP - director of Babylon

The film director Franco Rosso, best known for the classic sound system movie Babylon (1980), has died (see John Eden's obituary). Born in Italy in 1942, he attended Camberwell College of Art and was working at the Albany in Deptford along with the film's co-writer Martin Stellman when they conceived of a film based around reggae sound system culture and young people's experience of racism.



As discussed at Transpontine before, the film makes extensive use of South London locations including St Paul's Church in Deptford and Deptford High Street, with many local young people taking part as extras.

A 2010 interview marking the film's 30th anniversary recalls a lost era of  horses on the High Street: 'One particular anecdote reveals how unlensed life in Babylon life really was – the scene when Forde’s character Blue is chased by police onto Deptford High Street - which had to be re-shot when a pony bolted down the street mid-scene. A pony! Standard practice in Deptford in the 1970s, apparently... where rag-and-bone trade totters would leave their nags grazing outside their tower blocks. The totters controlled Deptford and had to be paid off for use of the alleys where the crew filmed' (30 Years on: Franco Rosso on why Babylon's Burning, Indepedent 11 November 2010)


Martin Stellman has also mentioned that Rosso lived in Lewisham during this period: 'this church where he lived, in Lewisham, had a blues every Friday, and it used to drive him mad because of the bass, yeah? Jah Shaka used to play there as well; it was literally at the back of his garden. Don’t get me wrong: Franco also made a documentary about dub poet LKJ, so he was very simpatico to the subject. He only hated the noise because he had kids'.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christmas Meerkats of Nunhead Grove

As in previous years, a couple of houses in Nunhead Grove SE15 have brightened up the area with their Christmas decorations. Favourite feature for me is the Christmas hat wearing meerkats.





The display put me in mind of Les Back's excellent piece about Christmas lights, Fairytale of New Addington: 'At the heart of this story is an ordinary miracle. In contrast to the glitzy consumerism of the supermarkets and shopping centres that profit from Christmas, this is a spectacle of community — a gift given for free in hard times'

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Death of an Italian Deptford Anarchist (1907)

'ANARCHIST DISCIPLE’S DEATH

The body man of a man found shot through the head, at Lambeth Meadow, Plumstead on Wednesday morning, was on Thursday identified as that of Leone Povinelli, Italian ice-cream vendor, residing at 25, Brookmill Road, Deptford. Emilio Nella, a companion of the deceased, who lives at the same address, saw the body during the afternoon, and at once identified it. Deceased is said to have been frequenter of a club resorted to by Anarchists in the neighbourhood of Hampstead Road, but he was in no way a well-known Anarchist, nor was he “wanted' the police on any charges' 
(Evening Star - Friday 4 January 1907)

'A SUICIDE MYSTERY. ITALIAN'S UNKNOWN TROUBLE. 

The death of the young Italian, Leon Povinelli, who was found shot on Plumstead marshes, and was supposed to be an Anarchist, was inquired into by the Coroner at Woolwich yesterday. Povinelli was a knife grinder, and resided with a compatriot, Mr. Emelionella, who has a knife-grinding business in Brookmill-road, Deptford. The latter said that Povinelli had been drinking a good deal lately, and had declared that he did not like to live in this world any longer The witness was shown a copy of a weekly Anarchist journal, the “Grido della Folla” ['cry of the crowd'] published in Milan, which was found on the deceased, but be knew nothing of it. A detective stated that some writing on a corner of the paper might be translated "To avoid disgrace.” The revolver discovered near the body was not of English make. The Coroner remarked that the writing on the Anarchist newspaper showed that the man must have had something on his mind, although it was not known what. A bankbook had been found belonging to the man, showing that he had placed £25 to his credit in September and October last. He had put no money in since, and had probably been drinking it away. A verdict of “Suicide during temporary insanity, caused by drink and trouble,” was returned 

(Leeds Mercury, 8 January 1907)

'ITALIAN’S SUICIDE. Inquest on Supposed Anarchist Who Shot Himself. TRAGEDY OF DRINK

At Woolwich today as inquest was held on the body of the man who was found shot on Plumstead Marshes on Wednesday last. The name of the deceased was Leone Povinelli. When discovered on the Marshes he was dead, shot through the head by a revolver, which was lying by his side. In his pocket was found an Italian newspaper.

Mr. Emelionella (whose evidence had to be translated from Italian to English), carrying on the occupation of knife grinder at Deptford, said he was acquainted with the deceased, who was 26 years of age, and was a knife-grinder. He lived with the witness.

The Coroner: What country was he a subject of? —He lived in the Tyrol. Used this man to drink much?— Yes; for some time past he was always drinking too much, and for the past two or three weeks he had been worse. Witness went on to say that deceased had been in this country about six years, but it was a habit of  his to go to and from his native country. Witness last saw him alive on New Year's Eve, when he was dressing himself in his best clothes. He said he was going to St. Mary Cray to see a friend. 

The Coroner : Has he ever threatened  to commit suicide?—I have heard him say he did not like to live in this world any more. A letter was produced which arrived this morning from the deceased’s father, who had written to his son urging him to write more often and also longer letters, promising him that he would do his best to have him back in Austria if he was unwell and did not like the place in London. Evidence was given as to the finding of the body. Medical evidence was to the effect that death was due to the bullet wound, and the jury returned a verdict of suicide whilst temporarily insane, brought about by drink and trouble' 

(Sheffield Evening Telegraph - 7 January 1907)

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Feeding the poor at Christmas in Victorian New Cross

Charitable appeals from Victorian New Cross:

'Poor Children's Dinners 

Sir, —The time is drawing very near when it is  customary to give the poor little destitute children a Christmas dinner of roast beef and plum-pudding, also weekly dinners during the succeeding three or four months. May I be permitted to invite the attention of your readers to the fact that this season, though a festive one to many, is very trying to the poor and wretched inmates of the courts and alleys. The distress has been truly severe throughout the year, but has seriously increased up to this time, there being no employment to be obtained. We wish to give a Christmas dinner, if possible, to about fifty poor and aged women. Contributions of money, clothing, provisions, &c., will be gratefully received by, yours respectfully, D. Anderson, Hon. Sec. The Good Shepherd Ragged and Industrial Schools, Pomeroy Street, New Cross-road, S.E' (Globe,  20 December 1869)

'Christmas Breakfast and Dinners to 30,000 poor London children 

The Robin Society, of 390, New Cross road, London, S.E., writes us: "Last Christmastide we arranged breakfasts and dinners in some forty different centres in various parts of London and suburbs for nearly 25,000 poor children. The committee of the Robin Society hope this year to invite 30,000 of all sects and creeds. We are receiving parcels of cuffs and cards from all parts of the country, but are still a long, long way short of the 30,000 pairs we shall require for our little guests. We want funds so as to be in a position to carry through our gigantic undertaking. May we venture to hope that your readers will help us? All amounts will be gratefully acknowledged by our hon. treasurer if addressed to the Robin Society, 390, New Cross road, London' (Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News - Saturday 22 December 1894)

'More than 3,000 poor children were entertained yesterday at breakfast in connection with the Robin Society, in John Addey’s schools, Church-street, Deptford. It required the assistance of 200 ladies and gentlemen to supply the needs of all the hungry children (St James's Gazette, 26 December 1888)

Thank God people no longer have to rely on food banks to eat.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Marvin Gaye in Deptford at Cheeks nightclub

This picture has been doing the rounds on facebook, pinterest etc. and has caused some excitement as it purports to show soul legend Marvin Gaye dancing in Deptford - the caption actually says 'Marvin Gaye - Cheeks Club - Deptford -1980' with the photographer given as Richard Young.

This seems too good to be true - is it for real? The photographer Richard Young is well known for celebrity/society nightclubbing shots, and definitely photographed Marvin Gaye in London (his website includes a 1981 shot of Gaye at Stringfellows). The origin of the image circulating online with the Deptford caption seems to be a Sunday Times article on Young from October 2014 - the online edition doesn't include the Marvin Gaye photo, but I gather it was included as extra content on the tablet edition.  So there doesn't seem to be any reason to doubt the caption, which would have been based on the photograph's metadata as supplied to the paper.  The context of the article was that Young had just published a collection of his photographs in a book, Nightclubbing, which is available  from the Richard Young Gallery. Not sure if the book includes the Deptford photo, but I am hoping that the fact that I am advertising it and only using the image for non-commercial local history interest will reassure the gallery - but of course will take it down if requested.

©  Richard Young Gallery

It is well documented that Marvin Gaye did live in London for a while in 1980/81, in a bit of a bad way with cocaine addiction, before moving to Belgium. So that makes the Deptford visit plausible.

And what of Cheeks? This was a nightclub at 18 Deptford Broadway that opened in 1980 (the following advert for bar staff at 'South London's newest club' is from The Stage, 21 August 1980).  I believe that the recently departed Harry Haward, sometime gangster associate and later pensioners rights campaigner, was involved in running the club.


Another article in The Stage apologised for suggesting that the club was 'failing as a disco to attract sufficient custom' and stated that it was 'licensed for 550 people'. As mentioned here before, posters for the opening night of Cheeks can be seen briefly in the 1980 film 'Babylon' 


Later the club was renamed Champs - this advert is from the Illustrated London News 1 June 1988 and is for 'Planet Rok Brutal Rave' there on Thursday night promising 'flare grooves':



So yes, Cheeks nightclub was going in Deptford in 1980/81, and Marvin Gaye was living in London in that period. Then there's also the supporting evidence that he had been spotted in Deptford another time-  Tom Fawcett, editor of Artrocker,  tweeted in 2014:  'I met Marvin Gaye once, in a pub in Deptford High St. He was there to see a band I was playing trombone for. Very odd'.

So lets's say its true, would be good though to have some eye wtiness confirmation. Mind you, somebody else claimed on facebook that Diana Ross also once visited Cheeks and (less surprizingly) Adam Ant. Tell us more!

Update 8 December 2016:

Interesting detail in comment posted by Mark Cathcart. He notes that Greg Edwards is mentioned in one of the Cheeks articles - presumably the DJ of Capital Radio Soul Spectrum fame. According to Mark 'Greg's day job was the distributor of Philadelphia Records in the UK(I think) he almost certainly would have had contact with Marvin'.

Actually, Greg also worked for CBS who Marvin Gaye was signed to at this time. So there's a possible explanation for Marvin being in Deptford - maybe Greg, who he would probably have met through the record company wsa DJing and in any event seems to have had some link to Cheeks.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Tupac SE8

Tupac Shakur, corner of Deptford High Street and Comet Street, SE8.



Speedy Auto Service Ltd, Creek Road, SE8 - I like this, anyone know who these people are?




Sunday, November 27, 2016

Transpontine Pantomime, today and past

The Pantomime season is upon us. At Greenwich Theatre, Peter Pan: A New Adventure by Andrew Pollard opened last week, and Peter Pan is also to be found at the Broadway Theatre in Catford this Christmas with The Lost Boy Peter Pan (not technically a pantomime): 'The Broadway’s Resident Theatre Company, the award-winning ACTION TO THE WORD bring their brand new twist on J M Barrie’s classic novel to stage this Christmas. With live music, singing and interactive theatre for children of all ages, this alternative to traditional Pantomime is the perfect treat'.



This year's Telegraph Hill Centre community panto is Mother Goose: 'Mother Goose rents her Brockley hovel from money-grabbing Squire Hatcham. Poor Mother Goose. She’s not young, good looking or well off. But Mother Goose is kind, loyal and a dedicated community activist. Oh yes, she is!' Most shows next weekend are sold out, but still a few tickets left for the Friday.


Transpontine Pantomime

Pantomime has a long association with South London, the phrase 'Transpontine pantomime' being used in the 19th century to refer to the shows on the Surrey side (i.e South side) of the Thames, in venues such as the Surrey Theatre in Blackfriars Road and the Vic at Waterloo. 

An 1867 article entitled 'THE TRANSPONTINE PANTOMIMES' noted that these theatres had become the main venues for Christmas panto: 'In the internecine war raging between pantomime and burlesque, the latter has decidedly the best of it this Christmas in the centre of London. Out of the dozen theatres in the heart of the metropolis, only two, Covent Garden and Drury Lane, have produced pantomimes. In the outlying districts, this time-honoured species of winter amusement is in full force, and notably in the three theatres on the Surrey side of the Thames—Astley's, the Surrey, and the Victoria' (Cheltenham Chronicle, 15 January 1867).  

A review of a pantomime at the Surrey in 1866 describes the ingredients: 

 'A sufficient stringing together of nursery rhymes, a little touch of fairy machinery, a lover and a princess, with a rival possessor of magic powers, while a benevolent fairy or an old woman and her cat agree to befriend true love, and in the end are successful, or, if not, bring all the parties into Fairyland, and there change them into harlequin, columbine, and clown, and you have a transpontine pantomime of the present day' (London Daily News, 27 December 1866) 

So familiar was the formula that the phrase 'transpontine pantomime' passed into the language as a metaphor for absurd and knockabout events. So a parade of Chinese soldiers in 1894 was described as thus: 'their drill and demeanour, were suggestive of a show of a transpontine pantomime. (Western Times, 31 October 1894). Similarly the humiliation of the Ashanti king during the British occupation of what is now Ghana was decribed as  'A scene more fit for a transpontine pantomime than one de-signed to impress a conquered foe with the idea of European dignity or British magnanimity' (Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough, 24 January 1896).

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Deptford Sounds Today

A couple of interesting musical events in Deptford this afternoon/evening (Saturday 19  November):

First up from 5 pm at Vinyl Deptford (cafe/record shop at 4 Tanners Hill),  there's a progamme of 'live experimental, electronic and improvised music presented by Hither Green's foremost underground label Linear Obsessional Recordings'


Line up includes:

UNNAMABLE TRIO - A new trio brought together for this show, featuring Oli Barrett (cello/electronics) who records exquisite, halucinatory drone, noise albums as Petrels, Linear Obsessional boss, Richard Sanderson (amplified melodeon) and the singular Irish electro-acoustic explorer Michael Speers

RODDART (Daniel James Ross- Live Electronics, Jake Stoddart - Trumpet) - 'Mind expanding duo... Expect mutations and instant transformations and transfixions'.

PLASTIGLOMERATE - Thomas Tyler - Tape Loops and Electronics 'dense, tangible structures of sculpted noise

SEAN DOWER (Bow Gamelan/Death Magazine 52/Sonofapup) presents new work exploring "intervention into systems of autogeneration"


JAMES O'SULLIVAN 'Probably the most inventive electric guitarist on the scene at the moment, O'Sullivan comes at the guitar from a new angle, with extended techniques and bricolage, he explores the physical weight of the instruments heritage with dynamism and wit' 

Admission is a suggested donation of £5

Deptford Dub Club

Later at the Duke (125 Creek Road SE8) from 8 pm to 12:30, Deptford Dub Club return with regular DJ Soft Wax joined by guest David Katz: 

'David is an internationally renowned author and broadcaster on all things reggaematic; he’s also a wicked selector. He can be relied upon to present upbeat, up tempo selections for your dancing feet. 

They will be joined by the fabulous Laura Trombone, who will be gracing us with her space echo pedal work again...  joined on clarinet by the accomplished Jas. We will also be enjoying the distinctive vocal stylings of Ras Darun and Ant’one Setondji.

David will have some of his excellent books available at a specally reduced price too, he’ll sign and dedicate them as required' 


Thursday, November 17, 2016

'Pride, Prejudice and Peckham' - John Beckett, from Labour MP to Nazi apologist

I have been peering again into  the murky waters of the history of the far right in South London.  One of the more depressing specimens is John Beckett (1894-1964).

After the First World War, in which he served, Beckett joined the left wing Independent Labour Party and following a period as a Hackney councillor he became the Labour MP for Gateshead in 1924, and then for Peckham in the 1929 General Election. He seems to have created some dischord such that in the 1931 election three Labour candidates stood against each other, all of whom lost to the Conservative candidate as a result (draw what contemporary lessons you like from that...)

'Pride, Prejudice and Peckham'
'This time... it is the Socilaists who have quarrelled, and they have quarrelled so violently that they are bringing into the field not two candidates, but three. Mr John Beckett - who created disunity at Gateshead, where he was once returned with a majority of more than none thousand - came to Peckham in 1929. He seems to have created as much disunity there'
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Thursday 22 October 1931
Beckett subsequently moved rapidly to the right, and in 1934 joined Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists (BUF). Beckett became the BUF's Director of Publications, editing its paper, but after falling out with Mosley founded the even more openly anti-semitic National Socialist League with William Joyce. Joyce, from Dulwich, ended up being executed for his role as Hitler's 'Lord Haw Haw' propagandist. Beckett, along with other nazi sympathisers, was interned from 1940 to 1943 - for some of the time in Brixton Prison. After the war he resumed his fascist activities with the British People's Party before dying in 1964. His son, the writer/journalist Francis Beckett, later wrote about him in the book 'Fascist in the Family'. 

For those intrigued/horrified by the politics of left-right crossover - in which sometime leftists co-operate and ultimately become indistinguishable from the extreme right - the case of Beckett and some of his associates is a salutary lesson. Among his comrades in the British People's Party were Ben Greene, a Quaker pacifist and former Labour candidate, and St John Philby (father of Russian spy Kim Philby), another former Labour supporter who converted to Islam and helped the Saudi family to power in what became Saudi Arabia - before standing as a fascist candidate and being locked up for a period in the Second World War. What a bunch of eejits.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

I am Human - Precarious Journeys

Coming up next weekend at Goldsmiths in New Cross:


Trace the precarious journeys of refugees as they navigate the perils of land, sea and a deadly human landscape riven by geopolitical failure on an unprecedented scale. Documentary filmmaker Professor Sue Clayton presents a multimedia installation responding to three perilous spaces that refugees fleeing conflict to the UK must navigate: the sea, the national border and the camp.

Featuring original music composed by Brian Eno, a soundscape of voices, the throb of tides, motorways and the human heart, visitors will be invited to interact with three short films activated by movement.

Opening event on Friday, 18 November. At 7pm Professor Clayton will give a talk introducing the work and situating it within her documentary filmmaking practice and her recent experiences helping children escape the Calais 'Jungle'.

St James Hatcham Building, St James', London SE14 6AD. Runs from Friday 18 November to Sunday 20 November. Free entry, booking advised for opening night - here.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Lewisham Refugee & Migrant Network Fundraiser

A fundraiser for Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network takes place this Saturday 19 November at The Ivy House, Stuart Road SE15. The family friendly event from 1 to 5 pm includes music from the LRMN women's choir, South London Songsters and others as well as a cake sale and raffle prizes. Further details on facebook.



Thursday, November 10, 2016

United Kingdom: David Oyelowo & Rosamund Pike in the Rivoli

'United Kingdom' is a new movie starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike, based on the true-life interracial romance between Seretse Khama (first president of Botswana) and his wife Ruth Williams. The couple first met in London in the 1940s, and the film seems to have used the Rivoli Ballroom as a location for some of their courting scenes





Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Robin Hood Ballads at South East London Folklore Society

Coming up tomorrow (Thursday 10th November 2016) at South East London Folklore Society, Bob Askew will be given a talk on 'Robin Hood Ballads: The ‘Real Robin Hood’?

'The Robin Hood Ballads are the source for the core stories of the Robin Hood figure that we know today. They have been sung, recited and read for centuries; long before people wrote novels, or made films and TV programmes. Do the ballads depict the ‘real Robin Hood’, a different person to the English hero that we know so well today? Bob will trace the development of the Robin Hood story, and look at the many ballads about him.

Bob Askew is a lifelong lover of folk songs. He is particularly interested in the folk songs of his native Hampshire, and has researched the singers of these songs. He has also explored the life of George Gardiner, the Edwardian folk song collector, who noted over 1000 songs there. He writes articles, and gives talks on Hampshire Folk Songs. His interest in Robin Hood Ballads was provoked by the fact that seven different Robin Hood ballads were noted in a small area of Hampshire in 1907'.

The talk starts at 8pm in the upstairs room of the Old King's Head, King's Head Yard, 45-49 Borough High Street, SE1 1NA. Entrance is £3/1.50 concessions,  email cunningfolkmusic@gmail.com to book a place or chance your arm and roll up on the night.



I don't think anyone's ever claimed Robin Hood as a Londoner, though his tale has featured in transpontine festivities

On May Day 1515, Henry VIII and the Queen ‘rode a Maying from Greenwich to the high ground of Shooters hill, where as they passed by the way, they spied a company of tall yeomen clothed all in Green’. The staged pageant included ‘Robin Hoode’ leading a band of 200 archers. ‘Robin Hoode desired the King & Queene with their retinue to enter the greene wood, where, in harbours made of boughs, and decked with flowers, they were set and served plentifully with venison and wine, by Robin Hoode and his men, to their great contentment, and had other Pageants and pastimes’ (Stow, 1603). 

Likewise on the 25th June 1559 there was a special performance for Queen Elizabeth I at Greenwich of ‘a May game’ featuring a giant, St George and the Dragon, Morris dancing, Robin Hood, Little John , Maid Marian, Friar Tuck, and the Nine Worthies of Christendom. 

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Van Gogh in South London

As a young man, the artist Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) spent a couple of years living in London. Thanks to his practice of sending regular letters to his brother Theo and others, we know quite a lot about his time here including his movements across South London. The complete letters are available online courtesy of the Van Gogh Museum.

Van Gogh drawing of 87 Hackford Road - rediscovered in 1973
(source: wikipedia)
It was in the summer of 1873, while working for an art dealer,  that he moved to lodgings at 87 Hackford Road, Stockwell.  He wrote of it: 'I now have a room, as I’ve long been wishing, without sloping beams and without blue wallpaper with a green border. It’s a very diverting household where I am now, in which they run a school for little boys'. The 'diverting household' was the house of Ursula Loyer and her daughter Eugenie. A year later, Van Gogh declared his love for the latter, and when rebuffed the heartbroken artist moved  with his sister Anna to new lodgings  at the Ivy Cottage 395 Kennington Road - the house of John Parker, a publican. While he was staying there, the landlord's daughter Elizabeth Parker died of pneumonia, as mentioned in an April 1875 letter to Theo:

'I’m sending you herewith a small drawing. I made it last Sunday, the morning a daughter (13 years old) of my landlady died. It’s a view of Streatham Common, a large, grass-covered area with oak trees and broom. It had rained in the night, and the ground was soggy here and there and the young spring grass fresh and green'.


We know that he visited Dulwich Picture Gallery, writing on  4 August 1873) 'I had a nice day last Monday. The first Monday in Aug. is a holiday here. I went with one of the Germans to Dulwich, an hour and a half outside L., to see the museum there, and afterwards we walked to a village about an hour further on. The countryside here is so beautiful; many people who have their business in L. live in some village or other outside L. and come to the city every day by train' (L. is of course London). Exactly a year later he returned to the Gallery with his sister Anna (see note)

After a period in Paris in 1875, Van Gogh also spent much of 1876 living in England, in Ramsgate and then Isleworth. It was during this period that he visited the Gladwell family in Lewisham, who lived at 114 Lee High Rd.  It was a sad occasion, as he wrote from Isleworth (18 Aug. 1876) 'Yesterday I went to see Gladwell... Something very sad happened to his family: his sister, a girl full of life, with dark eyes and hair, 17 years old, fell from her horse while riding on Blackheath. She was unconscious when they picked her up, and died 5 hours later without regaining consciousness. I went there as soon as I heard what had happened and that Gladwell was at home. I left here yesterday morning at 11 o’clock, and had a long walk to Lewisham, the road went from one end of London to the other. At 5 o’clock I was at Gladwell’s.  I’d gone to their gallery first, but it was closed'.

Harry Gladwell was a friend of Vincent's who he had met  while working in Paris. It was his sister Susannah Gladwell who had. Gladwell's father, Henry Gladwell, ran a gallery in Gracechruch Street in the City of London. The six hour walk from Isleworth to the City and then to Lewisham is around 30 km. His route from the City would have presumably been across London Bridge and then down the Old Kent Road, through New Cross and up what is now Lewisham Way. 

Van Gogh wrote home in October 1876:  'One of these days, perhaps, I’ll go to London or Lewisham again', and soon he did. In Isleworth Van Gogh worked in a school and was sometimes sent by its headmaster, Thomas Slade-Jones, on errands such as collecting school fees. He wrote to his parents in November 1876: 'It is already late, and early tomorrow morning I must go to London and Lewisham, for Mr. Jones...I must be in the two remotest parts of London: in Whitechapel - that very poor part which you have read about in Dickens; and then across the Thames in a little steamer and from there to Lewisham'. He added the next day 'I started this morning at four o'clock, now it is two. I have just passed through the old cabbage fields - now for Lewisham. One sometimes asks, how shall I ever reach my destination?'. Wonder where the cabbage fields were? I guess the 'little steamer' crossing could have been at Woolwich.

Later that month he was back in Lewisham again, this time visiting the Gladwells at the end of another long journey: 'I left here at 4 in the morning, arrived at Hyde Park at half past six, the mist was lying on the grass and leaves were falling from the trees, in the distance one saw the shimmering lights of street-lamps that hadn’t yet been put out, and the towers of Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, and the sun rose red in the morning mist – from there on to Whitechapel, that poor district of London, then to Chancery Lane and Westminster, then to Clapham to visit Mrs Loyer again, her birthday was the day before... I also went to Mr Obach’s to see his wife and children again [314 Brixton Road]. Then from there to Lewisham, where I arrived at the Gladwells at half past three. It was exactly 3 months ago that I was there that Saturday their daughter was buried, I stayed with them around 3 hours and thoughts of many kinds occurred to all of us, too many to express'. 

Van Gogh mentioned his friend Harry in a letter in December 1877:  'I hope he’ll be able to go to Lewisham at Christmas. You know that painting by Cuyp in the museum here, an old Dutch family, when he saw that he stood looking at it for a long time and then spoke of ‘the house built on the rock’ and of his home in Lewisham. I, too, have memories of his father’s house and will not easily forget it. Much and strong and great love  lives there under that roof, and its fire is in him still, it is not dead, but sleepeth'.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Leon Rosselson at New Cross Folk Club

Good to see that the recently started New Cross Folk Club at the Amersham Arms is going from strength to strength. This Sunday November 6th (7:30 pm) they are hosting veteran radical singer Leon Rosselson - probably best known for his Diggers anthem 'The World Turned Upside Down' which has been covered by Billy Bragg, Dick Gaughan and Chumbawamba among others.
The club meets twice a month, with forthcoming guests including Robb Johnson and Stick in the Wheel.

Friday update from Andrew, New Cross Folk Club:

'Leon Rosselson has had to cancel at the last minute on health grounds. However in a stroke of luck which is almost unprecedented in my life, Leicester protest folk superstar Grace Petrie has agreed to play instead. Make no mistake this is incredible good fortune. I had been hoping to book her next year and now she's playing on Sunday'.



Monday, October 31, 2016

The Man Behind the Door - A Brockley Ghost Story

For Halloween, here's a ghost story written by Elliot O'Donnell for the London 'Weekly Dispatch' and then reprinted in the Australian 'Express and Telegraph', 6 August 1910.

The location of the events is given as '200Y Brockley Road, SW', said to be haunted by 'the phantasm of a tall man in a frock coat and top hat'. The house number is obscure (perhaps the Y was to indicate that it was somewhere in the 200s rather than identify a specific house) but there was no Brockley Road in SW then or now so it must refer to the SE4 one, something reinforced by the mention of St Johns Road.

(Indeed the story is retold in his book 'More Haunted Houses of London' and the location is given as 'Brockley Road, SE'. In that version he says that he first heard about it from the house's former inhabitants at a friend's house in Norwood)




The investigator gains access to the house and  spends an evening there with his dog, Ghoul, and apart from some footsteps on the stairs notices nothing out of the ordinary. Returning a second time though he feels 'the presence of the occult was now most marked'.  After the clock strikes 12, the front door flies open and he perceives 'a tall, pale luminous figure... dressed in a frock coat and top hat, with jet black whiskers and brows, and the most appalling white skin and gleaming eyes... one the most perfect and unusual examples of pychic phenomena I have ever witnessed'. He concludes that this must be the 'earth-bound phantasm of Percy Stephens' who had apparently lived there before killing himself  'over the cliffs at Ramsgate' in despair at his son's wayward behaviour.



Elliot O'Donnell (1872-1965) - pictured below - was an Irish-born 'ghost hunter' and author of numerous books on ghosts and related matters. Like many of his trade, his reputation is controversial and the line between fact and fiction in his work decidedly uncertain. In this case it is notable that in the version of the story retold in 'More Haunted Houses of London' (1920), he gives a completely different explanation of the ghost. This time it is apparently the spirit of  a Mr Mills, who drowned himself in the River after his wife left him for a 'handsome foreigner'.  You might say this calls into the question the whole story... but hey you can suspend your disbelief for a moment on a dark Halloween night!