Monday, March 31, 2008

Deptford Nights

A couple of interesting-sounding nights coming up in Deptford.

Indie/electro club London Sunshine are in action at the Bunker Club (46 Deptford Broadway) on Friday 11th April.

The very next night at the Deptford Arms (Saturday 12th April 2008) sees Retrojunk with its eclectic menu of 'Grunge, Mod Classics, Ska, 60s Girl Bands, 80s Cheese, Forgotten Pop Classics, Guilty Pleasures, Hair Metal, 50s Rock & Roll, Northern Soul, Motown, Legwarmers & Leggings, 50s Pin Ups, Vinyl Records, Jukeboxes, Rockabilly, Hippies, 70s Punk, Disco, Old Skool Hip-Hop, Reggae, Beehives & Brylcreem, Flower Power, Platforms & Flares'. Must be something you like there! There's also live rockabilly from J.D. Smith.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Afrikan Boy

Nigerian-born and Woolwich-raised MC Afrikan Boy is responsible for the greatest South East London anthem so far this century - One Day I Went to LIDL, a catchy tale of shoplifting and hassle from immigration authorities.

Thanks to the buzz about this track, Afrikan Boy was asked to contribute to Hussel, a track on M.I.A's latest album Kala. He's been performing with her in the US and all over.

You must also check out this film by Spike Jonze of him and M.I.A. visiting Afrikan Boy on his council estate in Woolwich. Yes that's right, the director of Being John Malcovich and Beastie Boys videos was up a tower block in South East London (can any of our Woolwich readers identify exactly where?). Expect to hear a lot more from Afrikan Boy this year.

Big Cats in London

We've mentioned big cat sightings in South London here before, including the so-called Beast of Bexley and the Nunhead panther. Theories abound about these - are they just misidentified pussies or dogs, escaped exotic pets or paranormal phenomena?

The next South East London Folklore Society event is a talk on Big Cats Around The Capital by
Neil Arnold. Neil is the author of Monster! the A to Z of Zooform Phenomena as well as maintaining Beasts of London, 'a chronicle pertaining to strange creatures and out of place animals in the capital'. The latter was recently selected by Time Out as one of London's top 50 websites.

In other words you must get to The Old King's Head, Kings Head Yard, 45-49, Borough High Street on Thursday April 10 2008 at 8:00pm (see Facebook event).

Friday, March 28, 2008


Woofah is ‘an independently produced fanzine covering dancehall / grime / dubstep /dub / bashment / roots / and all points in between’. Issue Two is out now, a glossy 60 page number with plenty of South Londonist content.

Most notably there is a good interview with reggae MC Tippa Irie covering his long journey from Dulwich Hospital (where he was born), through his time with Saxon sound system, 1980s Top of the Pops (with his hit ‘Hello Darling’), right up to recording with Black Eyed Peas (he appears on their global smash Hey Mama) and his excellent new album Talk the Truth (I went to the launch at the Albany in Deptford).

Also in this Woofah an overview of up and coming young grime MCs features Lewisham's Little Dee, and there's a review by Neil Gordon-Orr of Linton Kwesi Johnson and Paul Gilroy's recent Goldsmiths/New Cross talk on 'African Consciousness, Reggae and the Diaspora'. You can get a copy from Rough Trade and a few other shops or order online at Woofah's site.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Minesweeper benefit

We've mentioned the minesweeper/mindsweeper boat on Deptford Creek here before, basically it's a floating arts/music/film venue that is recovering from a fire last year.

Next week (Friday, April 4, 2008) there is a fundraising event for it at the Ivy House in Nunhead (40 Stuart Street). The event will include a premiere of some Deptford.TV short films (from 6:30 pm), Ampersand.TV performance (8 pm) and an openlab headphone concert (bring your own headphones) from 9:00 pm. Admission is by donation. a

Monday, March 24, 2008

NME article: New Cross is Reborn

It's been a little while since the last wave of New Cross hype, but NME returned to the area on February 8th with an article by Jamie Fullerton saying 'it's been a long time since it bore Bloc Party, Klaxons and Art Brut... but now New Cross is Reborn'.
Of course we know it never actually died but the familiar tales of crazed squat parties and student nights at The Amersham Arms certainly won't do the area any harm, or the bands featured which included The Pepys, Talk Taxis, The Metros, Ratty Rat Rat and Rum Shebeen. OK so some of them are really from Peckham or even as far away as Camberwell but lets face it it's New Cross where bands play so they'll just have to put up with being labelled as New Cross bands - rather like Bloc Party who didn't come from here either but did enter the earthly plane through the Paradise Bar/Angular Records portal.

Brixton Prison Gigs

Fair play to The Alabama 3 for playing a Rock Against Racism gig for inmates in Brixton Prison last week, even if it does feel strange to hear Paul McDowell, the Prison Governor overseeing this suicide hotspot, talk about his love for Joy Division, Patti Smith and A Certain Ratio.

Alabama 3 are not the first musicians to play in Brixton Prison - Billy Bragg and Mick Jones of The Clash went there last year to promote the Jail Guitar Doors project (set up by Bragg in memory of Joe Strummer to provide guitars to prisoners). The band Cable released a live at Brixton Prison EP in 1997, Maroon Town played in 1998 and way back in July 1965 so did Simon and Garfunkel.

Musical inmates at the Prison have included Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones for cannabis possession in 1967 - he wrote 2000 Light Years From Home in his cell; Topper Headon and Paul Simonon of The Clash (for shooting pigeons in 1978!); and, in 1979, Glenn Danzig of US punk band The Misfits, who wrote the lyrics to their song London Dungeon while inside.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Walking New Cross (3): Drakefell Road, Endwell Road, Shardeloes Road, St Donatts Road, Barriedale, Millmark Grove

Walking Drakefell Road again I am getting to notice what the buildings tell us about the history of the area. On the even side of the streets the numbers don’ t begin until 42. Numbers 2 – 42 have vanished, destroyed during the Second World War and now replaced by the council housing blocks of Fern Court. Most gaps in the Victorian housing in this area can be explained by war damage, reminding us of just how much destruction and terror people lived through at that time.

Another shift in building styles takes place further down the road. Most of the housing developed by the Haberdashers company in the late 19th century follows a uniform style (albeit with variations in size). After 105 Drakefell, different styles appear. This is because the boundary of the land owned by the Haberdashers at this time is next to this house – so 105 (called ‘The Anchorage’) and 170 on the opposite side of the road mark the eastern limit of the Haberdashers estate. Both have small Haberdashers' plaque on their walls. Next to 105, the fine ‘owl house’ (107-9) is completely different (OK it's not actually called the owl house but I call it that on account of it having an owl above the entrance).

Aspinall Road is a short cul de sac off Drakefell Road leading to the footbridge over the railway line. There are some good views down the line to Battersea Power station in the west and St Peter's Church (Wickham Road) in the east, albeit somewhat obscured by the cage over the bridge.
Presumably the cage is to prevent vandalism, although it does seem a bit odd as just down the line there is another road bridge with no protection at all.

Perhaps it might also discourage casual train robbers, if they still exist. On the other side of the railway bridge Aspinall Road continues. During the 1970s, great train robber Robert Welch lived on this road after being released at the end of a 12 year stretch for his part in the famous 1963 heist (Times, 19.12. 1979).

The bottom end of Drakefell Road is marked as SE14, even though further up Telegraph Hill and further away from Brockley Cross it is SE4. On the corner of Drakefell and Endwell Road is one of my favourite local sights at the moment. A garden fence has come down exposing a 1m vertical slice of the built up garden, so you can see what lies under the surface –a mixture of soil, roots and old bottles.
It's like an archaeologist’s trench. Just around the corner off Endwell Road is the Brockley Cross Business Centre, where one of the country's leading archaeological contractors is actually based - Pre-Construct Archaeology. PCA recently excavated the Bermondsey Abbey site and have worked on a number of sites across Lewisham.
Childnet International also have their offices in the Business Centre.
Endwell Road heads down to the notorious double roundabout at the cross, passing the (soon to be completed?) Tea Factory development. Another building site is visible down Mantle Street on the site of the recently demolished Maypole pub. I don’t think the pub itself is particularly missed but the name is.
I have heard the theory put forward that there was a maypole here on the old village green at Brockley, maybe even that the name Endwell Road suggests that there was a well there too. Speculation maybe, interested whether any old maps confirm or disprove this.

At 93 Endwell Road there is a vacant shop above which can be seen the sign for its sometime use – ‘baker, confectioner, patisserie, chocolatier, caterer’. Yum, shame it's not there anymore.

Turning from Brockley Cross into Shardeloes Road we are once again in SE14. After the timber yard one of the first buildings on the left is the pentecostal Calvary Church of God in Christ, an uninspiring brick hall but with a fine pair of palm trees flanking its crucifix. Well it is Good Friday today.
The first section of Shardeloes Road is strange as there aren’t any houses, just the backs of the gardens of the roads parallel to it. The space created is filled on one side by the famous 'world's longest poem' which reads ' LIVE WORK LOVE LAUGH GATHER GREET STAY TRADE TRAVEL BELIEVE BUILD EAT DRINK & PLAY SEE HEAR TASTE TOUCH SIT BREATHE SLEEP TEACH LEARN CARE CREATE SOW GROW & REAP' .

After the junction with Vesta Road the housing builds up with council blocks on both sides. The names - Yew house, Cherry Tree House, Birch House – suggest more greenery than is in evidence, though there are some fine birch trees outside Alban House.

At the junction of Shardeloes Road and Lewisham Way there is the entrance to a modern gated cul-de-sac, Chestnut Way, on one side and on the opposite corner the grand Surrey House, now a Goldsmiths College building. It has a name plaque on the wall that suggests it was orginallly called Bryn-Towy.

St Donatts Road, heading back down towards Shardeloes from Lewisham Way, starts with The Rosemary Branch pub on the corner. Most of the housing is Victorian terracing (a plaque on one row reads ‘Bermuda Villas 1866’) but there an interesting exception at no. 75a with a modern brick/wooden house called The Ark squeezed into a narrow space.

St Donatts does extend for a short distance beyond Shardeloes down to Clare Road. This section is Council housing plus the Little Gems Day Nursery. There also seems to be a graveyard for shopping trolleys.
Barriedale and Millmark Grove stretch round in a crescent parallel to Shardeloes Road. Unlike most of the dark brick housing in this area, the interwar terracing in these streets is mostly white with each road having a distinct appearance (Barriedale is the first picture below, Millmark Grove the second, note the timbers which distinguish the houses in the latter).
Incidentally, the early nineteenth century Croydon canal ran along the line of Shardeloes Road and Barriedale.

Easter/Equinox happenings

Various quirky and interesting happenings over the weekend...

Utrophia Arts Network are putting on an Egg festival, starting tonight (Friday 21st, 6:30 pm) at their Deptford Properly cafe on Tanners Hill and going on until the full moon tomorrow morning at 6:40 am. There will be story telling, food, performances and medieval-style music from Walpurgis Night.

Tomorrow night they will be having a party at the Utrophia Project Space (136 Tanners Hill), then on Sunday 23rd there will be a marching band-led procession/egg trail from Deptford Properly (2 pm) to Friendly Gardens for fun and games including a maypole and egg and spoon space.

On Easter Monday meanwhile, Blackheath Morris Men observe their annual tradition event of "Chair Lifting" in which young women are lifted into the air in a chair with music, dancing and rinking along the way. You can catch them in Cutty Sark Gardens from about 1:00 pm to 3:30 pm and at various pubs in the area throughout the afternoon (more details from Richard at Baggage Reclaim).

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

South London Ukes

The ukulele craze continues to sweep through the streets of South London... Dulwich Ukulele Club have been going for a while and are a performing band. This weekend (Sunday 23rd) at the Royal Festival Hall they are taking part in the Hawaii-themed Easter in the Ballroom and will be leading a mass ukulele jam - bring along your uke and join in. They also have a gig coming up at the Plough in Lordship Lane as part of the Dulwich Festival on 17 May.

Meanwhile down at Broca cafe in Brockley, the new Brockley Ukulele Group has started strumming. It's very much a Sunday afternoon drop in jam at the moment, if you're interested pop into the cafe opposite Brockley station in Coulgate Street and ask.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Joyce Cary - an Irish writer in New Cross

Well it's the day after St. Patrick's Day, so a good time to note that the Irish writer Joyce Cary (1888-1957) spent a key period of his childhood in New Cross, and indeed Nunhead.

Cary is probably best-known today for his novel The Horse's Mouth (1944) made into a film starring Alec Guinness. Cary lived with his family at 41 Kitto Road SE14 from 1897 to 1901, after a spell at his first London home at 11 Ivydale Road. He also attended Haberdashers’ Askes Hatcham Boys’ School in Pepys Road during this period.

The house in Kitto Road was on the corner of Waller Road opposite the Church and 'was bombed and then demolished, on 6 January 1945' (Fisher, 1996). Cary’s mother died suddenly from pneumonia while he was living there in 1898. A biographer suggests that ‘Being opposite the Methodist Chapel, it becomes a likely source of inspiration for the lonely death of Chester’s mother, when her eldest son Richard is ten’ in Cary's novel ‘Except the Lord’ (Fisher, 1996).

Sources: The House as Symbol: Joyce Cary and ‘The Turkish House’ – Barbara Fisher 1996;
Joyce Cary Remembered – Barbara Fisher, 1988.

New Cross Inn on Thursday

Thursday night (20th March) at the New Cross Inn sees 'live performances from Artrocker-featured new blood The Inconsolables, hotly-tipped Bromley popsters Spilt Milk and a welcome return for the sleek awkwardness of Dora Brilliant. Plus DJ action from residents Three Men and a Little Lady. All for free, all from 9pm to 2am+ £2 pints for nus'. More details:

I didn't get to go to see The Long Blondes last week at The Amersham Arms, Last Bus Home did. I think I can trump this by saying that I saw their first ever London gig in the Paradise Bar (now the Royal Albert), but Last Bus Home wins with his recollection of seeing them last summer in Barcelona on ' a huge stage by the Mediterranean'.

Monday, March 17, 2008

London Marches On

'London Marches On' by Harrold P. Clunn was published in 1947 with the aim of providing "a record of the changes which have taken place in the Metropolis of the British Empire between the two World Wars and much that is scheduled for reconstruction".

It serves as a reminder of a period of post-WW2 optimism, with the author declaring: "The new London which will grow up, let us hope, within the next twenty years or less, will be a shining monument to the courage, fortitude and enterprise of the citizens of this glorious metropolis of the British Empire. It promises to become the most magnificent city in the whole world". It also reminds us of the fact that much of the building boom in this period had actually been planned between the wars and postponed because of the conflict - albeit in some cases to be later accelerated by the Luftwaffe's wholesale demolition of parts of the city.

'A second Piccadilly Circus for South London'

In the early 21st century, with new plans for the redevelopment of the Elephant and Castle, it is salutary to recall the plans for its earlier redevelopment - for it is precisely the outcome of these plans that is now deemed as the planning disaster that must be demolished to make way for the next urban utopia:

"A long row of buildings which stood on the east side of Newington Butts, at its junction with the New Kent Road, was destroyed in the air raids of 1940 and has since been razed to the ground. This included the large tailoring estab­lishment of Messrs. Isaac Walton & Company, formerly the dry goods store of Messrs. Tarn & Company, which, in the eighties and nineties of the last century, was a centre of fashion. Well-to-do residents of the South London suburbs used then to drive in their carriages and pairs to shop at Messrs. Tarns', but about 1910 this store closed down. Spurgeon's Tabernacle, erected in 1861, has also been destroyed, together with numerous houses and shops which fronted the west side of Walworth Road, at its junction with the Elephant and Castle crossroads. Here a traffic roundabout and circus, to be larger and better than that at Piccadilly Circus, has been planned for South London, under the new London County Council scheme. Eight- and ten-storeyed buildings are to be erected round the new Elephant Circus, which is designed to become one of London's greatest centres. It will include a new Underground Station with wide platforms and fast escalators, a traffic roundabout and a new system of pedestrian subway crossings. Three housing estates, to accommodate 7,000 families, are to be built in this quarter. More than 6,000 houses, damaged beyond repair in the air raids, are to be demolished to make room for the new estates".


"Whole quarters in both Southwark and Bermondsey were destroyed in the great blitz of 1940 and to-day present a scene of great desolation. Many buildings were destroyed in South­wark Street, and between Southwark Bridge Road and Blackfriars Road large sites have been cleared for rebuilding on both sides of the street. Similar destruction has taken place on both sides of Borough High Street, where the London County Council plans to create a new roundabout at the junc­tion of Southwark Street and Borough High Street. The east wing of Guy's Hospital has also been destroyed and plans have been prepared for the rebuilding of the entire hospital on sumptuous and modern lines. The neighbouring streets flanking the Southern Railway, which vanished after the great blitz, as well as the large office building at London Bridge Station, formerly the Bridge House Hotel, have been cleared of their ruins, and large bombed sites are now awaiting redevelopment. Many new blocks of workers' flats have been erected in Abbey Street, Bermondsey, in connection with local slum clearance carried out before 1939 and also in Druid Street and on the adjoining Arnold Estate. All the houses in Rotherhithe Street and in the immediate vicinity of the Surrey Commercial Docks were destroyed in the air raids of 1940, and only the cleared sites are now to be seen in this once crowded quarter, together with a few surviving newly erected blocks of flats. Some new blocks at the Lower Road entrance to Southwark Park are of very attractive appearance, with all the advantages of plenty of fresh air and open space. Others have been built near the southern approach to the Rotherhithe Tunnel.

In Camberwell many fine new blocks of workers' flats have been erected on both sides of Peckham Road. These stand well back from the roadway in gardens. Many streets and houses were destroyed in the air raids in the quarter situated between Peckham Road and Old Kent Road, and here, on the cleared sites, a number of prefabricated temporary houses have been erected
. Long rows of houses have also been destroyed along the Old Kent Road. Here, on the east side not far from Great Dover Street, there are several large new blocks of workers' flats. Further down on the same side is a large new Astoria Cinema.

Special features of Camberwell include the splendid new building of the Booth Memorial Training College, on Champion Hill near the corner of Grove Lane, which overlooks Denmark Hill Station and is crowned in the centre by a tall square tower. It was erected about 1929. On the south side of Grove Vale, near East Dulwich Station, is another very pleasantly situated colony of workers' flats erected on the southern slope of the hill by the London County Council. These extend from Albrighton Road as far as Quorn Road and also have long frontages to both these roads. Many houses have been destroyed in Rye Lane and its tributary streets and also on the east side of Peckham Rye Common and in East Dulwich Road in successive air raids. No other part of London, except Croydon, has suffered more severely from the ravages of Hitler's flying and rocket bombs. Occupying a choice situation on the east side of Peckham Rye Common is another fine colony of London County Council flats extending from Waveney Road to Rye Hill Park. These have escaped serious damage amidst the surrounding destruction of old houses".

New Cross

"One Saturday morning in November, 1944, the second worst bomb disaster of the war occurred when a V.2 bomb fell in New Cross Road, killing 168 people and seriously wounding 108 others. There were queues of people outside several of the larger shops waiting to buy their week-end food and other household goods, when, at ten minutes past twelve, without a second of warning, this busy High Street was converted by Hitler's death bomb into a shambles. Between seventy and eighty bodies were recovered from the large Woolworth store alone and so great was the force of the explosion that the entire store with all the people in it were hurled into the basement together with hundreds of tons of masonry. Many other nearby buildings in the High Street were also destroyed by the bomb".

Smart Brixton and Continental Streatham

"A century ago London ended at North Brixton and once you had passed the Old White Horse Hotel the houses became fewer and fields and open country were close at hand. The Old White Horse Hotel, which has since been rebuilt, was a famous omnibus terminus in the days of the slow horse­drawn public conveyances, and little more than sixty years ago the conductors used to call out "Any more for London? " To-day Brixton Road has become the Oxford Street of South London and its fine shops include the two large drapery stores of Messrs. Quin and Axten Ltd. and the Bon Marche, both of which are now owned by the John Lewis Partnership, Ltd. Unfortunately, the Quin and Axten store was completely destroyed in the earlier air raids of 1940 and only its ruined walls now remain. Its business is transferred for the time being to the neighbouring Bon Marche store. The shopping section of Brixton Road commences near Stockwell Road and extends southwards for about half a mile to Acre Lane. That portion which lies between Atlantic Road and Coldharbour Lane formerly included a wide open space which was used as a street market, but this was abolished in 1935. A portion of this ground was utilised in 1936 to widen the roadway at a cost of £13,000 and the remainder was allotted for building to the owners of the frontages to Brixton Road. This has resulted in the erection of several handsome new buildings on the site of the former shabby houses which lined the east side of the road. Brixton Road bears a smart appear­ance which is totally lacking in similar neighbourhoods"

"Of the more attractive suburbs of South London first place should, perhaps, be awarded to Streatham, which affords all the amenities of a large and handsome town. It comprises Streatham proper and the ultra-modern district of 'Streatham Hill which lies to the north. Streatham High Road extends for a distance of two miles from the top of Brixton Hill to Norbury. It is exceptionally wide at the northern end and is bordered for almost its entire length with smart shops, cinemas, theatres, and ultra-modern blocks of flats which give Streatham the most Continental appearance of any of the larger London suburbs".

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Walking New Cross (2): Gellatly, Bousfield and Drakefell Roads

Gellatly Road is another SE14 border road – SE15 starts at the bottom of the gardens of the houses on the western side. It is also the edge of the Telegraph Hill conservation area, made up of the housing built by the Haberdashers Company in late Victorian times. Most of the houses have details like the head and foliage decorations (the pictured example is from no.58). The Doctor’s surgery at 42 Gellatly Road also has a rare surviving example of the ornate tiles that once lined the doorsteps of all these houses.

The Haberdashers company do not seem to have been too good at providing for the social needs of residents beyond housing – the only pub and the only shop in the conservation area (excepting those on New Cross Road) are situated on Gellatly Road. The latter is the superior cornershopGellatly Supermarket’ the former is Skehans pub (formerly
Mcconnells and before that the Duke of Connaught), South London’s premier Irish-Thai establishment. The décor inside the pub includes a mixture of Irish and Thai bric-a-brac, such as musical instruments, and behind the pub in a converted stable block is a proper Thai restaurant, Chai’s Garden. The food is generally excellent. Back in the pub there’s a quiz night on Tuesdays and usually music at the weekends.

One of the notable features of the road is how busy it is, forming as it does part of the B2142. Compare the completely different feel in the parallel Bousfield Road, identical in many respects but without the traffic. It is one of the idiosyncrasies of traffic control in the area that most vehicles are channelled up this relatively narrow road, while the wide boulevards of Jerningham and Pepys Road are kept relatively quiet. The sweeping corner from Lausanne Road into Gellatly Road has always struck me as particularly dangerous, enabling cars to zoom round without being able to see people crossing to the shop.

Still at least the traffic is tempered a bit by the speed humps, the result of a successful campaign in the early 1990s by local residents who staged actions including crossing the road continuously during the rush hour and hiring skips to slow down the traffic. Funnily enough the story of the Battle of Gellatly Road is told in a school textbook, Geography in Action (1995), as an example of neighbourhood campaign to improve city life.

The name of the road changes to Drakefell Road as it passes the junction with Kitto Road and heads over the hill and down towards Brockley Cross. As well as the Victorian terraces and 20th century council blocks (Fern Court) there is an interesting 2-storey wooden structure, Greenstreet Hill, a self-build housing project developed by a housing co-op in the 1990s. It backs on to Telegraph Hill Park and brings some of the feel of the park on to the road with hazel bushes covering the front, from behind which a model of Anubis watches the traffic (not a rabbit statue as I once thought).

Next to Greenstreet, and entirely hidden by a large hedge, is another interesting building – one of the last prefab bungalows in the area. These white ‘temporary’ buildings were put up on bomb sites after World War Two with an expected life of ten years, but many survived 50 years or more. A row of them on Kitto Road were only demolished in the 1990s to make way for the new housing opposite the park.

As we move down Drakefell Road we cross from SE14 to SE4 – are we still in New Cross? For the purposes of my Walking New Cross project I am assuming that New Cross=SE14, but I know it’s not that simple. Some people who live in Gellatly or Drakefell might describe themselves as living in New Cross, others Telegraph Hill, some Nunhead or Brockley depending on their precise location. And it’s always been this way – a search through the adverts in The Times newspaper shows how these roads, and indeed the wider area, have always moved around on people’s mental map of South London:

- an advert in 1889 gave an address at ‘94 Drakefell Road, St Catherine’s Park, Peckham’ (Times 15.8.1889);
- Arthur Jackson, a Professor of Music, was mentioned as living in ‘Drakefell Road, Nunhead’ (Times 22.6.1892);
- the birth of a son to James Garrett took place at ‘122 Drakefell Road, Hatcham’ (Times 5.6.1897);
- the death of Caroline Clark took place at ‘Drakefell Road, Brockley’ (21.6.1906) ;
- a fundraising concert for a hospital ambulance took place ‘per Mrs Huggett and Mrs Everett’ at ‘Drakefell Road, New Cross’ (Times 27.11.1914).

Brockley, Peckham, Hatcham, New Cross, Nunhead or even the now-forgotten St. Catherine’s Park – take your pick.

New folk night in East Dulwich

Richard at Baggage Reclaim brings us the news of a new proper folk night starting at the East Dulwich Tavern called The Goose is Out, with the first event on March 28th featuring ex-Fairport Convention legend Dave Swarbrick. Details here.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Mexican Border Films

Cinema/Division: We are all Illegals is a US/Mexico Border Film Festival organised by the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths in New Cross. Over the next couple of months there are regular Tuesday night screenings at 6pm in Goldsmiths Cinema including:

- Tuesday, 18 March, 6pm Viva Zapata
- Tuesday, 22 April, 6pm Bread and Roses
- Tuesday, 6 May, 6pm Maquilapolis [city of factories]
- Tuesday, 13 May, 6pm Frontierland
- Tuesday, 20 May, 6pm La Otra Campaña: Indigenous Voices
- Tuesday, 27 May, 6pm Border Film Project & De Nadie

All of these film showings are free and open to all (i.e. you don't need to be a student or work at Goldsmiths to attend). Download a flyer here.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ray Alan and Lord Charles - Greenwich ventriloquist

A child growing up from the 1960s to the 1980s on a diet of British TV would certainly have been haunted by the slightly sinister figure of Lord Charles and his ventriloquist handler, Ray Alan. Alan was born in Greenwich in 1930 and went to Morden Terrace School in Lewisham. He started out as a teenager performing at the Lewisham Hippodrome Theatre and Woolwich Empire, later touring with Laurel and Hardy. Apparently he is still going strong.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Walking New Cross (1): Lausanne Road, Dennetts Road and the Somerville Estate

I am not promising to follow the Herculean efforts of those across the world who have walked every street in their town, but since I spend a lot of time with the dog up and down the streets of New Cross I am going to make a start with a street by street stroll - starting off in the Western border lands.

Lausanne Road is a double border – between SE14 (New Cross) and SE15 (Peckham/Nunhead) and between the Boroughs of Southwark and Lewisham, whose different coloured dustbins face each other across the street. The pub on the road has followed the Lausanne theme, calling itself the Swiss Tavern. Opposite, the council housing blocks (including Walter Green House) cover the site where the South East London Synagogue was based in a hut in 1890s.

There is a former jam factory at no.73, now an artists studio called Jamworks. At the tip of Evelina Road there is a row of businesses including a scrap metal dealers where Camberwell sculpture students are sometimes taken on a trip to learn where to source cheap materials; Shear Class, known locally as Mandy’s hairdressers; and of course there’s Fantasy Tattooing whose owner's American police car does indeed add an element of fantasy to this busy road. There must be people all over the world with a permanent reminder on their flesh of their visit to this part of South East London, me included courtesy of Swedish Tommy who was working there on a visit from Scandinavia when I went in one day ten years ago.

But strictly speaking this is SE15, only a small stretch of Lausanne Road near the Queens Road junction is marked as SE14. Cutting in from Lausanne Road via Mona Road, the first road fully in SE14 is Dennetts Road. The top end of Victorian terraced housing edges up to the Telegraph Hill conservation area, the bottom end is Lewisham Council’s Somerville Estate. Two former pubs seem to have served their last pints – the Rising Sun on the corner of Rutts Terrace is now housing and the Earl of Derby seems to have been being converted into something (not sure what) for a couple of years.

‘Mr Lewisham: A Life of Les Stannard’ by Helen Tomkins records that Les (1919 – 1996), a lifelong South London activist in the Communist Party, trade unions and later Lewisham Pensioners Forum, was born at 15 Rutts Terrace. The book recalls that ‘during World War 1 the Rutts Terrace residents used to gather in the Rising Sun every evening and prepare the vegetables for their evening meal while they had a drink’. Les Stannard and his brothers attended Waller Road School (now Edmund Waller Primary), the playground of which backed on their garden, and his mum would bring out cups of cocoa and leave them by the fence for them. These old houses on Rutts Terrace have long since been demolished.

The council housing includes a couple of blocks and garages with the inevitable ‘no ball games’ signs and a little maze of cul de sacs and alleyways: Swallow Close, Wild Goose Drive, Wellington Close. The (1970s?) low rise brick buildings include Somerville Sheltered Housing, presumably for older people, and a community centre – the Barnes Wallis Centre – with Errol Williams’s popular and well established Tae Kwon Do club and a children’s nursery (Stars of Hope).

Odd to have a community centre named after a weapons designer, even if it was a bomb that bounced on water – yes he was the man behind the bouncing bomb featured in the famous Second World War movie The Dambusters. There is a plaque for him elsewhere in New Cross Road.

At the bottom of the estate on Queens Road is Somerville Adventure Playground, which has struggled valiantly on shoestring funding for years since it opened in 1971. A rough and tumble playscape of rope swings and slides improvised from tyres and telegraph poles, it’s the kind of place I loved when I was a kid. Murals of cartoon characters remind me of my friend Colin Brown who painted some of them with the kids when he worked there – yes there is a corner of New Cross where the Simpsons are publicly celebrated.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Peckham Pram Factories

A friend has lent me a copy of the 1952 Official Guide to 'The Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell' from the days before Southwark Council when Camberwell had its own Council covering Peckham, Nunhead and of course Camberwell itself. One of the things that struck me is how much manufacturing industry there was in the area then - there's a whole section 'Made in Camberwell'. Not sure much of anything, other than art and food, actually gets made in Camberwell today.

Interestingly, the area seems to have been a centre of pram making. The guide states: 'Camberwell can claim to produce some of the finest perambulators in the world. Two well-known firms that specialise in these products pay particular attention to taste in colour and decoration, and the finished articles speak highly for the craftsmanship and regard given, not only to strength and durability, but also to individual character and beauty of line, the sine qua non of British Industry'.

The firms in question were Royale Prams who claimed to make 'The World's most Beautiful Baby Coach' at the Besfoldas Works, 70a Nunhead Grove, SE15; and Deanes Limited who claimed to be 'Makers of Britain's Best Baby Carriage' at the Denette Works, 163 Peckham Rye (their advert is reproduced here).

Friday, March 07, 2008

Reclaim Your Food in Brixton

Last Sunday a group of people turned up in Brixton to give out free food. The police response to this act of generosity? A Dispersal Order under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act and two people arrested.

The weekly Reclaim Your Food open picnics have been running in Brixton Town Square for a few weeks now. As well as offering free vegan food there is a free Bicycle Repair Workshop. Last Sunday two police vans, a mobile surveillance vans and 2 police cars were waiting when they arrived. A Dispersal Order was placed on the group, supposedly in response to an alleged Section 5 Public Order offence - defined as causing harassment, distress or alarm.

The police case seems to have been that by giving out free food, a climate was being created that enabled drug-dealing - which in itself could promote harassment, distress and/or alarm. The legal basis of this is highly dubious - case Law contradicts the use of this Public Order law 'by proxy' (as it were) and it has previously been ruled that if a Section 5 offence is being comitted, it is unlawful to arrest anyone other than the alleged perpetrator of the offence. But leaving this aside, everyone knows that Brixton town centre is full of drug dealers all year round and the police don't close down MacDonalds or KFC because dealers and users frequent them.

Still at least Brixton residents can sleep sound in their beds knowing that these dangerous food-distributing criminals have been reprimanded for their anti-social behaviour! Reclaim Your Food are planning to back in Brixton this forthcoming weekend, why not show your support by getting down to Brixton Town Square (outside the Ritzy) at 3 pm.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

New Cross Inn

Lots on at the New Cross Inn (323 New Cross Road) over the next couple of weeks. There's the regular Tuesday night open mic night Fifteen Minutes Of Phamous (singer/songwriters, MCs, bands, comedy, cabaret, spoken word, whatever - turn up, plug in and play) and the Wednesday night punk clun POLITE RIOT. Earwax Radio also record a regular session at New Cross Inn. Gigs coming up include:

- Thurday 6 March : THE JOHNSONS - free entry
Monday 10 March : EZBRA BANG & HOT MACHINE, NO BRA, TOY! TOY! + DJs WARBOY, WOODCRAFT at BASH - free entry
Thursday 13 March : THE FUCKS + KIDS LOVE LIES.

Monday, March 03, 2008

George Livesey and the Gasworkers

The Livesey Museum for Children at 682 Old Kent Road was closed down by Southwark Council last week, part of a package of funding cuts (opponents of the closure are seen here picketing a Council meeting at the Town Hall in February). A Friends of the Livesey Museum group has been established and aims to talk to the Council about securing charitable funding to re-open a museum in the building. When a building like the Livesey closes is not just a service that is lost, but a link to history.

The museum building was donated for the use of local people by George Livesey in 1890 and was originally 'Camberwell Public Library, No. 1'. Damaged by bombs in World War Two, it was repaired and continued as a library until 1966. In 1974 it was reopened by Poet Laureate John Betjeman, as an interactive children's museum.

George Livesey was a philanthropist, but we should also acknowledge that much of his wealth was created by working people in South East London. Livesey was the Chairman of of the South Metropolitan Gas Company, with works on the Old Kent Road and in Deptford. It was a major employer in the area, and the workers organised themselves to improve their conditions. On 11 May 1889 a half mile long procession of gas workers, with brass band and silk banners, converged on Deptford Broadway calling for an eight hour day, in place of the then current 12 hour shift system.

Although the eight hour day was achieved, in December 1889 the workers refused to agree to a ‘no strike’ clause. The management brought in strikebreakers including workhouse inmates and prisoners, who lived in corrugated iron huts inside the works. There were frequent clashes between strikers on the one hand and police and 'scabs' on the other. In one incident there was a fight in the Dover Castle pub on Deptford Broadway, where one of the strikers, William Derry, was accused of taking two herrings and a haddock from a strikebreaker’s pocket.

Support in the local area for the strike included a ‘grand dioramic and vocal entertainment’ put on by Deptford Social Democratic Federation and a concert at Trinity Hall, Deptford, featuring the Greenwich gas stokers’ brass band. The strike was called off in February 1890 at a mass meeting at the Hatcham Liberal Club, with the management gaining the upper hand.

The Camberwell Public Library building opened shortly afterwards, and another long-lasting consequence of the strike was the development of Telegraph Hill Park in New Cross. As the programme for its 1895 opening put it, George Livesey, the Chairman of the gas company, had initiated the laying out of the park with ‘a sum of money which he had received as a testimonial to the energy and resources by which he had maintained the supply of gas during the severe strike of gas workers’. In the aftermath of a brutally managed dispute, this was a gesture he presumably hoped would restore his philanthropic reputation. When we walk in the park today, or pass the empty museum building on the Old Kent Road, we might want to spare a thought not just for him but for the nameless local gasworkers whose sweat and toil left this legacy for future generations.

Sources: Mary Mills, The Gasworkers of South London, South London Record No.3, (South London History Workshop, 1988); Arthur Arnold , Opening of Telegraph Hill, Hatcham (London County Council, 1895, reprinted by Telegraph Hill Society, 2001)