Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Deptford Project

Deptford Properly, the short lived cafe on Tanners Hill, is seemingly closed for good. Apparently there was some kind of dispute with the landlord, and a flooding problem. On the plus side the new Deptford Project cafe has now been open for a few weeks at 121 Deptford High Street. It is a converted railway carriage, and their website features a short film about how they got it here.

There's a terrace outside where you can sit outside reading their stock of glossy art/fashion magazines while you eat/drink. Coffee was good, and I am led to believe that the toilets are a treat in the own right (I didn't have cause to visit when I was there but my partner reported there was some kind of Elvis theme).

Samuel Palmer of Walworth and the Dulwich Valley of Vision

Samuel Palmer (1805 -1881) is the best known of a group of 19th century artists who styled themselves The Ancients. They were greatly influenced by William Blake, who they befriended towards the end of his life.

Samuel Palmer was born in Surrey Square, off the Old Kent Road. The eighteenth-century terrace still stands today, with a plaque commemorating Palmer on his old home, number 42 (between two houses named 'Avalon' and 'Content' - very Samuel Palmer). Today the area is dominated by the Aylesbury Estate, but in Palmer's day it was more rural. As a four-year-old he was entranced by 'the moon... rising from behind some elms, casting their shadows on the floor' (Lister, Samuel Palmer: a biography).

With his father, he enjoyed childhood walks to Greenwich Park and to Dulwich, and continued these excursions as a young man. Of the former he he wrote: "We observed the shadows in Greenwich Park in the morning so purple and cool" (quoted in Abley).

As a young artist, Palmer visited Dulwich Picture Gallery in the company of John Linnell, his mentor and later father-in-law. The paintings he saw there had a lasting influence on him. Forty years later he recommended specific pictures in Dulwich Picture Gallery to a friend, including Aert de Gelder's striking 'Jacob's Dream', wrongly attributed at the time to Rembrandt (1864 letter to Louisa Twining).

But the local countryside had at least as profound an effect on Palmer. In his notebooks from 1824, Palmer imagined a rural scene of a field of corn over which 'golden sea might peep up elysian hills, the little hills of David, or the hills of Dulwich or rather the visions of a better country which the Dulwich fields will shew to all true poets'. He also made a note to "Remember the Dulwich sentiment at very late twilight time with the rising dews (perhaps the tops of the hills quite clear) like a delicious dream".

Samuel Palmer, Cornfield by Moonlight
This image of the dreamlike Dulwich landscape recurred in his notebooks; "considering Dulwich as the gate into the world of vision one must try behind the hills to bring up a mystic glimmer like that which lights our dreams. And those same hills (hard task) should give us promise that the country beyond them is Paradise" (quoted in Abley). He wrote that "at Dulwich, the distant hills seem the most powerful objects in colour, and clear force of line: we are not troubled with aerial perspective in the valley of vision".

Palmer's most famous works were undertaken while living at Shoreham in Kent, but it is clear that the landscape of (what is now) South London had a formative influence on his art. It was in this period too that he composed poems such as "Twilight Time" and "The Shepherds' Home". Perhaps we can see the "And now the trembling light/Glimmers behind the little hills" (Twilight Time) as a reference to his Dulwich visions.

Palmer's visionary sense of the landscape paralleled that of Blake. While Blake famously had childhood visions of angels in a tree in Peckham Rye, Palmer once wrote: "Sometimes trees are seen as men. I saw on, a princess, walking stately with majestic train". Elsewhere he wrote "creation sometimes pours into the spiritual eye the radiance of Heaven: the green mountains that glimmer in a summer gloaming from the dusky yet bloomy East; the moon, opening her golden eye, or walking in brightness among innumberable islands of light, not only thrill the optic nerve, but shed a mild, a grateful and unearthly lustre into the inmost spirits, and seem the interchanging twilight of that peaceful country, where there is no sorrow and no night" (letter to John Linnell, December 21 1828).

Samuel Palmer, Garden in Shoreham

  • Abley, Mark (ed.), The Parting Light: Selected Writings of Samuel Palmer (Manchester: Carcanet, 1984)
  • Lister, Raymond, Samuel Palmer: a biography (London: Faber, 1974).
  • Lister, Raymond (ed.), Letters of Samuel Palmer (Oxford: Clarendon, 1974).
  • Lister, Raymond, Samuel Palmer and 'The Ancients' (Cambridge: University Press, 1984).

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Blythe Hill Fields Festival

The Blythe Hill Fields Festival in Honor Oak Park this afternoon was blessed with fine weather, and some fine music too if I may say so myself.

Blythe Hill Tavern Players played an Irish session from the stage, recreating the vibe of their weekly Thurday night session at the pub of the same name.

Heather Beverley played some of her own songs, accompanying herself on the guitar. Frank and Annie had a nice line in Handsome Family-style Americana. Brockley Rise Singers played a version of one my favourite French song 'Tous les garcons and les filles', a Francoise Hardy classic.

I played a few numbers with the East Dulwich Jug Band - we did Spring Heeled Jack and a couple of Dulwich Ukulele Club favourites, 'Midnight Train' and 'Lewisham', a tale of a summer spent making out on Blackheath instead of Ibiza. The Blackheath Morris Men (including Richard) did their thing, despite the difficulty of their accordion having to compete with a brass band on the stage. All this plus a bouncy castle, cake stalls and donkey rides.

The Blythe Hill Tavern Players...
Some of the East Dulwich Jug Band...

Blackheath Morris Men...

Friday, June 27, 2008

Another Green World

Look on a map of South East London and you will see plenty of large green spaces, with lots of major parks and some woodland. But there are also lots of smaller places, some of them reserved for nature and open to humans only occasionally.

One such place is Vesta Road Nature Reserve, which is open this Sunday from 2 pm to 5 pm - Brockley Central has some nice photos of this green oasis. It is down by the railway line with the entrance on the left on Vesta Road if you going down hill from the Pepys/Jerningham/Vesta Road roundabout.

Vesta Road is looked after by the London Wildlife Trust, who also run the Centre for Wildlife Gardening (28 Marsden Road, Peckham SE15) – a fine plan to wander around and open Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday from 10:30 - 16:30 (admission free).

Elsewhere in Peckham it’s the Brimmington Park summer festival tomorrow (Saturday 28th June). The park is between Culmore Rd & Clifton Crescent, SE15 - there is also an entrance on the Old Kent Road opposite the end of Ilderton Road.

Meanwhile in Lewisham (Honor Oak Park), tomorrow sees the Blythe Hill Fields Festival from 11 am to 4 pm, with music from the East Dulwich Jug Band and Irish session players.

Another hidden green space is Russia Dock Woodland in Surrey Quays, and there is a great photo blog documenting its flora and fauna . The blog ‘is a photographic record of...Greenland Dock and Russia Dock Woodland.... respectively, as their names imply, a piece of enclosed water and an adjacent area of park and woodland with small ponds and waterways. Both are legacies of a commercial dockland heritage, and both have become significant success stories from an environmental point of view. The dock, which connects via a lock to the Thames, is full of fish and well used by both freshwater and sea birds. The woodland is full of wildlife including birds, animals, insects and a huge variety of plants”.

Bring Back the Routemaster?

The South London Press today features New Cross Gate musician Rukaiya Russell, who is releasing a single called Bring Back the Routemaster. She says: 'I remember walking through central London and thinking how awful it was without them'. It's a good track - nice mellow house groove with an MC reciting the numbers of lost routemaster bus routes (number 12 and 36 both get a name check).

Good luck to Rukaiya but I am not sure I can get as excited as her about the subject matter. I liked being able to hop on and off the bus as much as the next fare dodger, but there were dangers too - a friend of a friend was killed in Camberwell when he fell off a moving bus and hit a lamp post. I appreciate that having a bus conductor made passengers feel safer, but you've also got to think about the safety of the conductor, a lone worker carrying cash and basically asking for it.

I am sure Boris Johnson's talk of a new Routemaster will come to nothing, but it's interesting that to an extent he succeeded in his election in tapping in to a current of nostalgia, with the red Routemaster bus maybe acting as a signifier for some mythical London past when the streets were clean and villains only killed their own (and thousands of people died from respiratory diseases because the air was so polluted).

Fond as I am of archaic modes of transport - Routemaster buses, old trams, horse and carts - I think we should be looking forward rather than backwards. Whatever happened to those personal jet packs they promised us on 'tomorrows world'?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Wild Cat in Borough High Street?

Within a few weeks of big cat researcher Neil Arnold speaking at South East London Folklore Society on Borough High Street, there have been reports of a puma sighting... on Borough High Street (perhaps one followed him up from Kent and couldn't find its way back).

According to Southwark News (2 June 2008), "The 'tanned small cougar', described as almost twice the size of a domestic cat, was apparently spotted wandering near the entrance of Southwark Police station on Borough High Street". Arnold is quoted as saying that there was a similar report from a year ago near the Tower Hotel, and somebody commenting on the S.News story said that on 31st May 'on the sight of the recently demolished London Park Hotel' (by Elephant & Castle) he saw something that 'was too large for a domestic cat and didn't move like a fox or a dog'.

I went to Arnold' s talk at SELFS - his take on the whole phenomenon is that there have been big cats living wild in the British countryside for centuries, maybe as far back as Roman times, refreshed by escapes from zoos, circuses and private collections. Sceptics dismiss the whole thing as a mixture of hoaxes and misidentifications of pets, while others have a range of supernatural explanations.

Neil maintains the interesting Beasts of London blog. More Transpontine big cat posts.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Donkey Stealing in Brockley

Proceedings of the Old Bailey Online 1674-1913 is an addictive site which, as the name suggests, includes transcripts of more than 200 years of London criminal trials. You can search by keyword which means you can find lots of trials relating to specific areas of London, or even particular streets. For instance a search under Brockley throws up all kinds of crimes from its rural past.

There was 17 year old William Garrett, convicted of stealing a donkey in 1836 and arrested ‘at Mr. Owen's farm, at Brockley—he said he had stolen the donkey, and sold it to a man in Kent-street’. The following year Thomas Palmer was jailed for six months for stealing from his master’s ‘stack of hay at Brockley Wood’. In 1884 two men were prosecuted for ‘Stealing 10 tame fowls of George James Smith… a builder at Brockley’ who lived in Wickham Road.

One of the more colourful trials related to a punch up at the Maypole pub in 1868 (the address is given as Brockley Lane, but I assume it was the same Maypole that was demolished last year in Mantle Road). Thomas O’Donnell was jailed for nine months for wounding a policeman, Edwin Bridge, who had been called to the pub to deal with an argument between drinkers and the landlord, Frederick Barker. Bridge told the court: ‘ the prisoner rushed out of his house, pulled off his coat, and said, "Where is the b——?"… he rushed at me, and gave me a violent blow on the head and another on the chest, and knocked me down—while I was on the ground I was kicked by the prisoner and others—I got up and defended myself against five—I got some distance back, and said, "The next one that comes up to me I shall knock down with my truncheon"—they came up several times, and after defending myself some time, I became exhausted, and went into an adjoining yard, followed by the prisoner and others—they got me down and kicked me all over the body, and jumped on my head, and the prisoner said, "You b——I will murder you"—the others made use of the same expression—when they had done kicking me, the prisoner said, "I think the b——has got enough now, he will not get up again," jumping on me at the time—I became insensible but subsequently got up, and got to the gate of the yard, and as I went out the prisoner struck at me again—I struggled to get away from him, and my coat was torn to pieces—I ran for protection into Mr. Bond's house’ (1 Foxberry Road, Brockley).

Fighting of a different kind was the subject of a trial in 1885 when John Parker and Alfred Bailey were charged with ‘Unlawfully assembling and taking part in a prize fight’. A policeman, John Boustead, reported that: ‘About 7.30 p.m. on 2nd July I received information, in consequence of which I went along the bank of the Brighton and South Coast Railway at Brockley—in a field adjoining I saw about 250 persons standing round in a ring, and in the centre I saw Parker and another man having a stand-up fight—they were stripped to the waist, with no gloves on, pummelling each other—I climbed over the fence—when I got to within 60 yards Bailey was fanning Parker with a shirt—when I got near to them there was a cry of "Police," the fight stopped, and they all ran away’.

The accused were found not guilty after claiming that rather than a pre-arranged prize fight it had just been a spontaneous punch-up after ‘a glass of ale in the Brockley Jack’, described in court as ‘a public-house and place of amusement where holiday people go—there are sometimes 200 or 300 people outside’.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The London Nobody Knows (1962): Deptford Market

On Saturday I went to the 34th annual Amnesty International booksale in Blackheath. It's a real treat for bibliophiles, with every pew of the Church of the Ascension in Dartmouth Row full of (mainly) second-hand books. I guess there must be a fair smattering of writers and book reviewers living locally, as there were lots of review copies of recent books on sale. My best find though was an old book, Geoffrey Fletcher's 'The London Nobody Knows' (1962), a celebration of what Fletcher worried was the disappearing 'off-beat London; the unexplored, unknown-to-the tourist London... the obscure, hardly-to-be-thought of city'. There is an essential film based on this book, with James Mason narrating.

The book though, unlike the film, really gives South London its due, particularly Deptford and its market. Anyone who has been down Deptford market recently may lament some of what has vanished (e.g the buskers), but perhaps celebrate how much is still recognisable in Fletcher's account:

'A stone's throwaway is the market in Douglas Way, a Hogarthian scene on Saturday. Vegetable stalls without number appear, stalls full of dis­infectant and toilet paper and those selling lino and rugs. There are stalls selling pet foods, especially strong in budgie-toys, stalls of tinned fruit, wireless stalls. That almost obsolete form of transport, the horse and cart, comes into its own in Douglas Way, and very nice these carts sometimes are, too, decorated with curvy flourishes, fat roses and carving, here and there. It is like the London of Phil May, less vigorous, perhaps, but the jokes still have the special London quality. At the end of the street are junk dealers' stalls -pitches only, many of them - a pile of miscellaneous goods laid out on the pavement, but the junk and marine store dealers appear to be decreasing in numbers. Although I have made one or two finds in this market, including a complete set of old kitchen jars for four shillings, straight off the pavement, the wares have a dreary look about them. Battered suitcases minus a lock or the handle are nearly always found. Victorian sewing machines, also hardy perennials, fail to arouse a desire for possession, and there are impossible beady lampshades left over from the nineteen-twenties. Great shapeless masses of scrap iron erupt on the paving stones, together with decrepit television sets, old clothes, ancestors with mutton-chop whiskers and other articles whose specific purpose, if they ever possessed such, can now only be guessed.

Deptford High Street is crossed by a rather interesting bridge, carrying the Greenwich Railway. The bridge is supported on Doric columns of cast iron, and dates from the late 1830's. Saturday morning is the time to see the human element at its richest in Deptford, and in the crowded High Street are all sorts of buskers and street entertainers whose presence gives additional character to the street: an organ grinder, perhaps, whose instru­ment is more properly termed 'a street piano' (there is still one firm left hiring out the' pianos' in London, near Saffron Hill: look for the pictures of Edwardian beauties on the panels of the organ), one-man bands, sellers of Old Moore's Almanack and so on. Today, a couple of stocky, red-faced men take their stand under the railway bridge - one plays an accordion and the other sings 'The Mountains of Mourne'. Appropriately, too, for Irish ideas are not lacking in Deptford - witness the large pub charmingly named The Harp of Erin and here today at the Catholic Church a gaudy Irish wedding takes place. As the bride and groom assemble on the steps, they are joined by their families and friends, the women in pale blue and the men in navy-blue suits. All wear large pink carnations, and the men's faces, each creased in a wide grin, are all red from the application of yellow soap. Small boys, also in blue suits and with even shinier faces, cross their legs uneasily, and the accordion plays 'The Meeting of the Waters'...

It was at Deptford that I once saw one of the most interesting of the remaining street entertainments of London-a pearly-suited pair, presumably man and wife, doing a sort of clog dance in the street to the accompani­ment of a concertina. Such entertainments are worth watching in present-day London, for they are disappearing rapidly. This is unfortunate, for those who get their living off the streets are essential to character and interest'.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Tudósok at the Montague

'Stephen stepped into the Magyar Morbius Magners sipping Montague. Saxophone jazz punk funk on that stage where the Gang of Four once sang: 'See the world through their polaroid glasses, things'll look a whole lot better for the working classes'. Antelope stares blankly to the zebra across the bar'.

Apologies for the bad-Joyce parody, which is just my way of saying what a good time was had last Monday, Bloomsday, at the Montague Arms. Actually I met up there with the book group I'm in, so we started off sitting on a table at the back of the bar (near the famed stuffed zebra), taking in the strains of tombone poetry and images of James Joyce while we discussed 54 by Wu Ming. But we got up to watch Tudósok, the aforementioned dada jazz punk funkers, and they were really good. It was one of those New Cross moments when you find yourself giving thanks that you live in an area where one of your local pubs can feature an East European avant-garde outfit on a Monday night (the band were formed in what was then Yugoslavia, and then reconvened in Hungary when war broke out there). I also enjoyed the band's singer Dr. Máriás inviting a young woman up on stage to sing a Hungarian bandit song.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Pulp in Peckham

Pulp are normally referred to as a Sheffield band, and true enough Jarvis Cocker and co. did start off in that Yorkshire city. But their breakthrough into mid-1990s Britpop superstardom came courtesy of a spell in South London, or to be precise Peckham.

When Stuart Maconie interviewed Jarvis in Select Magazine in 1993, he was living down our way and on the verge of making it big:

‘Autumn in Peckham. Is there a more romantic phrase in the English language? On the balcony of Jarvis Cocker's town residence, every bird in South London seems to have ritually defecated on Jarvis' bicycle. He points to a sheet of stagnant water lying on the top of the adjoining row of lock-up garages. A few forlorn fag packets and plimsolls loll in the oily water. "We used to have a family of ducks living there. How stupid can you get? You've got the ability to fly, you stupid birds. Don't live on top of some garages in Peckham!"

Inside, the orange curtains are emphatically drawn against the glorious sunshine. A massive fairground amusement labelled 'Cupid's Secret' dominates the front room. Above the stereo is a large anatomical model of the human ear. There are two vases filled with outlandish plastic sunflowers. And a football-sized transparent strawberry on the coffee table. This has been Jarvis' home for the last two years and now he is moving on. The end of an era.'

Pulp drummer Nick Banks moved down to London in 1991 and lived with bassist Steve Mackay in Camberwell. Banks recalled: 'It was a 14th floor squat in Camberwell, at a place called Crossmount House. I think it’s been featured in a few episodes of The Bill, it was quite orderly, though. We didn’t have any dogs on strings’. Jarvis moved in with them, and then having been evicted ended up living on the Sceaux Gardens Estate on Peckham Road.

Mackay, who worked for a while at Burntwood School in Wandsworth remembered: “The main thing about Jarvis is his clutter. He is the skip king. It was a bad time, because I was at college and I was tired all the time. I’d come home just wanting to watch the TV and the front room would look like Andy Warhol’s factory. You couldn’t move for Joe 90 annuals… My best memory of Jarvis was when we moved to Peckham, by which time the band was beginning to get a bit more popular. Jarvis started to get paranoid about signing on, so every second Tuesday he’d get dressed up in his grunge outfit – one of those hats which pull down right over your ears and a really scruffy jumper. I used to stay in and miss college just to see him”

The original video for Pulp’s 1992 song ‘Babies’ was partially filmed locally. According to Jarvis: ‘This is probably our most successful completely self-made video and it was also one of the easiest and least traumatic to make. I had met Selina and Sophie round at Bob Stanley [of St Etienne's] house and I thought they would be perfect to play the sisters in the song. I filmed all their scenes one Sunday afternoon in Tufnell Park. The band performance scenes were shot in an "infinity room" in a studio in Camden. The exterior shots were filmed on the Sceaux Gardens Estate in Peckham, where I was living at the time" (Jarvis).

Another Pulp song from this period is very specifically set in the area. ‘59 Lyndhurst Grove’ was ‘inspired by a party I'd been to the week-end before. We were thrown out by an architect so I got my own back by writing a song about the event. It was a really crap "right on" party - there were children there. You don't take children to a party in my book. I sent a copy of the CD to 59 Lyndhurst Grove, the lady of the house, because she was in a bad situation married to this prick, but she never wrote back. (Jarvis). The lyrics to this SE15 classic are as follows:

There's a picture by his first wife on the wall
Stripped floor-boards in the kitchen and the hall
A stain from last week's party on the stairs
But no-one knows who made it
Or how it ever got there
They were dancing with children round their necks
Talking business, books and records, art and sex
All things being considered you'd call it a success
You wore your black dress

Oh, oh, Oh, oh...

Oh, he's an architect and such a lovely guy
And he'll stay with you until the day you die
And he'll give you everything you could desire
(Oh, well, almost everything -Everything that he can buy)
So you sometimes go out in the afternoon
Spend an hour with your lover in his bedroom
Hearing old women rolling trolleys down the road
Back to Lyndhurst Grove
Lyndhurst Grove, oh

In this period too, Pulp played a number of times at the Venue in New Cross: on August 30 1991, 28 February 1992 (with Lush) and June 20 1992.

Jarvis’s most notorious/celebrated moment came in 1996 when he stormed the stage at the Brits award as Michael Jackson performed his "Earth Song" accompanied by a chorus of children. Another sometime Peckhamite came to his aid when he was arrested: "Bob Mortimer used to work for Peckham Council in the legal department so he offered to speak in my defence and deal with the legal aspects of the case".

Sources include: Truth & Beauty: The Story of Pulp by Mark Sturdy (Omnibus Press 2003)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

South London Punk Zines

In the first wave of punk (1976-78), the best known fanzine was the legendary Sniffin’ Glue, published from 24 Rochfort House, Grove Street, Deptford by Mark Perry. Fellow Deptford boy Danny Baker also contributed, going on to write for New Musical Express and later to become a radio DJ (currently on BBC London). Issue 10, June 1977, featured Baker (left) and Perry (centre) on the cover, with the headline ‘Sniffin’ Glue and other Rock'n'Roll Habits for Deptford Yobs’. Perry went on to form the great band Alternative TV, releasing their first single, 'Love Lies Limp' in 1977, followed by two albums: ‘The Image has cracked’ and ‘Vibing Up the Senile Man’.

Another, more obscure, locally-published zine from 1977 was called 'South London Stinks'. I only know about it because it was featured in Destroy, an exhibition of punk graphic design held at the Festival Hall way back in 1998. One page read 'South Circular Tours - nothing else to do but pass through. Miles of glorious road. Get away from it all'. It also included a spoof article about the Horniman Museum suggesting that its treasures had been collected by a Mr Kurtz-like character called Trader Horn who had set himself up as some kind of sex-crazed tribal demigod and written an autobiography called 'Butterflies for Sperm'!

Somebody out there knows the full story of this zine, seemingly published in the Forest Hill area. Eventually they will google to see if anyone remembers it and come across this post. When they do, hopefully they will leave a comment to tell us more.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Pre-Raphaelite South London (3): Fanny Cornforth

Fanny Cornforth (1835-1906) was Dante Gabriel Rossetti's lover, before and after the death of his wife Elizabeth Siddal. At the time she met him - probably in late 1857 - she was living in a lodging house in Tenison Street, near Waterloo, and probably working as a prostitute.

By her own account she first met Rossetti in the Royal Surrey Gardens, a pleasure garden and Music Hall in Walworth (it covered the area to the west of the Walworth Road, including where where the Pullens Estate now stands). She married Timothy Hughes at St John's Church in Waterloo.

Fanny Cornforth was the model for Rossetti's 'Mary Magdelene' (below) and 'Bocca Baciata' (the Kissed Mouth), as well as for 'Merlin and Nimue' by Ned Jones.

Source: Jan Marsh, Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood (London: Quartet, 1985)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hillaballoo - call for singers

Hillaballoo is an event celebrating views and visions of Telegraph Hill, SE14. It will take place on 19 July 2008 in the top park (which is situated between Kitto and Drakefell Road) and beyond. The centrepiece is the Amazing Camera Obscura, but there will also be lots of other interesting activities and stalls.

Transpontine is planning to help put on an afternoon session of South London-themed acoustic music near to the park. There are some final details to be sorted out, but we are looking to sign up singers and performers from now. The brief is for people (individuals or groups) to sing a couple of songs each, at least one of which should have a South London theme. The first priority is for songs that actually mention a place in South London, but if you can tell a story that convicingly links a song to South London we might allow it! It could be a song you've written yourself, a cover, maybe even a poem or piece of writing set to music - for some ideas look through previous Transpontine discussions of South London songs. It will be a fairly lo fi set up, really we're looking for people who can turn up and do their thing without too much preparation.

Brockley Ukulele Group are already confirmed and have baggsied The Only Living Boy in New Cross and Up the Junction! If you are interested get in touch with your ideas (email address is at top of site, or leave your details in a comment).

290th in the blog chart

According to the Wikio blog rankings for June 2008, Transpontine is now the 290th 'most influential blog in the UK blogosphere'! Not sure quite what to make of that, it appears to generate the chart from the number of times people link to articles at the sites, giving more weight to links from blogs higher in their chart. This sounds a bit of a circular process - Bob from Brockley is number 233, so presumably as long as we continue to link to each other we will bob up and down the chart.

Roy Porter: a New Cross Childhood

A plaque was unveiled on 5 June at 13 Camplin Street, New Cross Gate to commemorate the historian Roy Porter (1946-2002), who lived there from 1946 to 1959 and attended Monson School. Porter was best known as a medical historian - he was the Director of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine from 1999-2000 - and as the author of London: a Social History (1994). In the preface to the latter, Porter recalled his New Cross childhood:

"I grew up in south London just after the war. Three miles from London Bridge, New Cross Gate was… a stable if shabby working-class community completely undiscovered by sociologists. In many ways, that past now seems another country: bomb-sites and prefabs abounded, pig-bins stood like pillboxes on street corners, the Co-op man came round with a horse and cart delivering the milk, everybody knew everybody. Some of the houses in Camplin Street still had gas lighting, as did my infant school; clanking trams are a vivid memory, and it was fun creeping to school through pea-soupers, a torch vainly held out in front. In those years of austerity, ration-book coupons taught me my sums -locals grumbled about how run-down and old-fashioned the area was, hemmed in by the railway sidings, canal and docks that had long provided secure employment but which imparted a grimy, dingy feel.

The three-up, three-down council house that my parents shared with my grandparents and an uncle had an outside lavatory; a tin bath was hauled in once a week from the bottom of the garden, set down on the scullery floor, and filled from kettles and a wheezing Ascot gas water-heater. Domestic overcrowding was worsened but redeemed by the sanctity of the front room, used only at Christmas, though unlocked once a week so that the Rexine three-piece suite could be polished with Ronuk.

… There were plenty of things to do around home. The Gaumont, ABC and Astoria all lay within easy walking distance. There were municipal parks and swimming-baths. Millwall Football Club was' only five minutes away at the Den, Cold Blow Lane; there were also greyhounds on thurdays and Saturdays, and speedway on Wednesdays. In the summer 'there was the Oval, and that magical Surrey cricket team.

Nobody liked living in New Cross Gate. Yet there was much to be said for that kind of respectable working-class inner-city neighbourhood that is now pretty much a thing of the past. My parents had seen serious poverty around them when they were growing up in Bermondsey in the twenties, but all that had disappeared by 1950. Only a few kids got free school dinners - my class looked on them with a mix of pity and envy. All the men were in work, many with big local employers such as the council, Surrey Commercial Docks, the railways, London Transport, Borough market or Peek Frean's biscuit factory; women kept house and raised children. Husbands had wives, housewives had breadwinners, and children had parents (and aunts, in-laws and grandparents round the corner). Families stuck together. Menfolk slipped down to the Royal Archer, but there were· no notorious drunks or wife-beaters. Nor was there violence or crime. Girls skipped, and we boys kicked a tennis ball in the street, and mothers didn't worry too much: there was little backstreet traffic - no one we knew owned a car - and no fear of child-molesters.

…How different are things in SE 14 now? Camplin Street's terraces have changed remarkably little: even some of the privet hedges look familiar. In the fifties the talk was of bulldozing the area and redeveloping it with council flats. About flippin' time too, neighbours grumbled: the houses were dark and damp and never looked clean. In the event, nothing happened. Now many of them are privately owned, and the monotony of Deptford Borough Council's bottle-green and cream paint has yielded to rainbow hues, Regency doors and louvre windows, and kerbsides crammed with cars. Certain bits look more tacky now, but it is also livelier, brighter, less regimented, There must be fewer nuclear families with 2.4 children and grandparents and in-laws living round the block. What lives are led behind the front doors and the permanent lace curtains?

Five minutes' walk away, however, change hits you in the face. Millwall Football Club boasts a brand-new stadium with a multimillion-pound entertainment complex. Surrey Docks are closed, the canal is filled in, the railway a ghost of its former self. The local sweet factory and dressmakers have closed down. New Cross Road, which once wore an air of faded early Victorian elegance, is now a ceaseless roar of lorries hurtling down to the Channel ports, The big houses near the Marquis of Granby pub, once admired, are slums, squats or boarded-up, like many of the shops. Dossers and drunks litter the gardens, and some students of mine were mugged there last year. South London has gained a mean name for drug-dealing, racial violence, gangland crime and contract killing.

Things endure, things change: improvement, deterioration, adjustment - all respond to the deep pulse of the city. And in that respect the south London community where I grew up forms a cameo of London at large: the physical fabric engages in endless dialogue with the inhabitants; the townscape shapes them, while they reconstruct it. Factories and flats, railways and roads outlive individuals. People make their own cities, but never under conditions of their own choosing".

Porter wrote the above in 1994 and the area has arguably changed again, as perhaps it will always be changing. I am not sure that I believe that New Cross in the 1950s was free of crime and domestic violence, even if Porter didn't personally experience them. But he is right that many of the social landmarks have disappeared from that time. Of the big employers, only the Council and now the NHS remain, and The Royal Archer pub has recently been demolished.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Pre-Raphaelite South London (2): Ford Madox Brown and Emma Hill

The Pre-Raphaelite painter Ford Madox Brown and his lover (later wife) Emma Hilll lived in Stockwell in 1851/2. His famous picture The Pretty Baa Lambs was painted in the Stockwell garden. Brown recalled: '"The Baa-lamb’s picture was painted almost entirely in sunlight which twice gave me a fever while painting. I used to take the lay figure out every morning and bring it in if it rained, my painting room being on the level with the Garden. Emma (his wife) sat for the lady and Kate (his daughter) for the child. The lambs and sheep used to be brought every morning from Clapham Common in a truck. One of them ate up all the flowers one morning in the Garden, and they used to behave very ill. " (I haven't been able to find the address of the Stockwell cottage - anybody know?).

Source: Jan Marsh, Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood (London: Quartet, 1985)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Pre-Raphaelite South London (1): Elizabeth Siddal

Who is the most famous female face from South London? Most people would probably answer Kate Moss, but there is another contender whose face has been seen by millions staring out from paintings and their poster and postcard reproductions.

Elizabeth Siddal (1829 -1862) was the model for many of the most famous Pre-Raphaelite paintings. Millais painted her as Ophelia (above), for which she had to lay in a bath of cold water while he painted. Her lover (and eventually) husband Dante Gabriel Rossetti painted her many times, perhaps most notably after her death in Beata Beatrix (below).

Siddal was born in Holborn but lived in South London from an early age, at Upper Ground in Lambeth and then 8 Kent Place (this no longer exists, but was on the Old Kent Road, close to the present day flyover). Her father ran an ironmonger's business from their home at the latter address. Siddal recalled that one of her family's landlords was James Greenacre, executed at Newgate, 2nd of May, 1837, for murdering and mutilating a woman. Greenacre was arrested in his lodgings at St Alban's Place, Kennington Road, and convicted of killing Hannah Brown. Her torso had been found in Edgware Road, and later her legs in a ditch in Coldharbour Lane, Camberwell.

Siddal was living in Kent Place and working in a hat shop when she started modelling. She was also a painter and a poet in her own right, and was taken up by John Ruskin who acted as her patron. She visited him at his home in Camberwell (Denmark Hill). Siddal and Rossetti were also regular visitors to the Red House, the home of William Morris in Bexleyheath.

Siddal died of a laudanum overdose in 1862, at her and Rossetti's home in Chatham Place, next to the River Thames by Blackfriars.

Source: Lizzie Siddal - The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel by Lucinda Hawksley.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Lijia Zhang

'Socialism is Great! - A Worker’s Memoir of the New China' by Lijia Zhang is a memoir of working in a Chinese rocket factory in the 1980s. , 'queuing every month to give evidence to the “period police” that she wasn’t pregnant' and 'organizing the largest demonstration by Nanjing workers in support of Tiananmen Square Protest in 1989'

The author lived in Bousfield Road, SE14, until quite recently and although she is now back in Beijing, she will be giving a talk locally about her new book. Upstairs at the Old Nun;s Head,
15 Nunhead Green SE15, Saturday 28th June, 6pm – 8pm, admission free.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Burgess Park Lake

The lake in Burgess Park, SE5, might be artificial but it is teeming with wildlife. Cormorants, swans and many other birds are to be seen there. Yesterday I saw lots of huge fish splashing around near the edge, which is something I haven't noticed before.

It put me in mind of The Singing Ringing Tree:

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Southwark Cyclists

Southwark Cyclists have some interesting themed rides coming up, including a whole series linked to the London Festival of Architecture in June. Next one though is this Thursday 12 June with ride to mark the Hundredth Birthday of the Rotherhithe Road Tunnel (which opened on Friday 12 June 1908). Meet 6.30pm at Southwark Needle. Further details here

Tlon Bookshop Closed?

Bit of a shock yesterday when I tried to go to Tlön, the great second hand bookshop in Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre. It was closed with a notice saying that it had been repossessed by the shopping centre landlord St Modwen properties. The same thing happened last year, and it later reopened so hopefully all is not yet lost.

Either way this highlights the precarious position of the shopping centre. Everybody has known for several years that the current centre's days are numbered, with plans to redevelop the whole area. As a result many high street chain stores have stayed away. A beneficial side effect has been that shops and cafes have been able to exist in the centre which would never be able to afford the rent in a similar centre - such as the bookshop and the Latin American cafes that have made Elephant & Castle an unofficial community centre for people from that part of the world.

On the other hand, these places are vulnerable with no idea what the future holds for them and a landlord that has no real interest in the centre other than as a property investment to cash in as part of the regeneration programme. St Modwen Properties PLC were one of two companies bidding to lead on the regeneration of the area, but lost out when Southwark Council selected a rival bid led by Land Lease, so arguably they now have even less interest in the area.

What this also highlights is how local community needs are subject to global economic interests. St Modwen Properties actually owns Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre through Key Property Investments, a joint venture partnership between St Modwen and Salhia Real Estate Co. of Kuwait. Strange to think of a little bookshop being at the mercy of the recycling of petrodollars through property investment, but that appears to be the case.

In the mean time thousands of books are being held hostage behind the closed doors of Tlön - what will be their fate? There were some I meant to buy come pay day, lucky I got my last purchase out just in time. For the record it was 'Redemption and Utopia: Jewish Libertarian Thought in Central Europe: A Study in Elective Affinity' by Michael Löwy - not sure there's anywhere else in South London where you're likely to come across a book like that second hand.

Tlön, incidentally, is the name of an imaginary world in a short story by Jorges Luis Borges.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Sunday in Rotherhithe

Rotherhithe might not be top of your list of destinations on a sunny Sunday, but we had a good time there today. We started off with the car boot sale at the Fisher F.C. football ground in Salter Road. It's on every Sunday from 11 am and replaces the one that used to be held at Alwyn Girls School in Bermondsey. Nearby on Rotherhithe Street is the Old Salt Quay pub/restaurant, a great place to sit outside by the river and watch the boats and the world go by. All within walking distance of Canada Water station if you're not cycling or driving.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Cinetopia Goes Arthouse

"On Friday 13 June Cinetopia invites you to a special one off film event at The Lewisham Arthouse, 140 Lewisham Way, London, SE14 6PD.

The Cinetopia experience means a few drinks with friends, a fun film quiz and a great mystery feature film – so you won’t know what it is until it starts!

Each event is themed around the film - from classic comedies to hard-boiled thrillers. In keeping with the Arthouse environment, Cinetopia brings you a paint spattered, bohemian, gin soaked portrait of an artist with great central performances and stunning photography.

TICKETS: £5.00 on the door. Doors open at 6.45. Fun Film Quiz (points mean prizes) starts 7.15. Feature Film starts promptly at 8.00pm".

Nunhead Station Access

When is disabled access going to be sorted out at Nunhead Station (and at other local stations)? It's bad enough parents of young children having to struggle up the stairs with buggies, but yesterday I saw a disabled man hauling himself up the stairs on his knees - against the exiting rush hour crowd - while someone else carried his wheelchair.

I must admit I don't even know who to complain to - as Nunhead councillor Fiona Colley found last year, this and other station issues can get passed from pillar to post between South Eastern railways, Network Rail and the Department of Transport. Presumably Transport for London are somewhere in the mess too.

Brockley Station has at least been promised investment to make it accessible - but not until 2012 at the earliest.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

South London Gypsy History

June 2008 is apparently the first Gypsy, Traveller and Roma History Month. As part of it in Lewisham, the London Gypsy Orchestra are playing at Blackheath Halls on June 13th. So here's a bit of South London Gypsy History.

The Gypsy presence in South London is marked in some of the place names, most obviously Gipsy Hill. On a more derogatory note, South Norwood Hill was once known as Beggars Hill. From at least the 17th century to the mid-19th century, gypsies camped in in Norwood, Penge and and Croydon Common, paticularly in the summer months. A 1777 pantomime in Covent Garden was called 'The Norwood Gypsies'.

Margaret Finch, who died on 24 October 1740 at the age of 108 years, was known as the 'Queen of the Gypsies' and lived near the lower end of Gypsy Hill. Her fortune telling was a local attraction. She was buried in Beckenham Parish Church.

According to James Caulfield: 'The most remarkable was Margaret Finch, born at Sutton, in Kent; who, after travelling the whole of England in the double capacity of gipsy and thief, finally fixed her place of residence at Norwood. [She] adopted a habit, and afterwards a constant custom, of sitting on the ground with her chin resting on her knees, which caused her sinews to become so contracted, that she could not extend herself of change her position. [..] The singularity of her figure, and the fame of her fortune-telling, drew a vast concourse of persons from the highest rank and quality to that of the lowest class in life. Norwood, and the roads leading to it; on a fine sunday, resembled the scene of a fair; and, with the greatest difficulty only, could a seat or a mug of beer be obtained, at the place called the Gipsy-house." (Remarkable Persons, 1819)

Margaret was succeeded by her niece, 'Old Bridget, the Queen of the Gypsies' who died 6 August 1768 and was buried in Dulwich college burial ground. She was succeeded in turn by her niece Margaret. Another of her descendents, a Mrs Cooper, was one of the principal fortune tellers at Beulah Spa in the 19th century.

In the nineteenth century, 'the heights of Norwood were the holiday playground of the cockney tripper... Fortune telling by the gypsies was still one of the attractions" (1). Other attractions included the tea gardens at the Jolly Sailor (at the foot of South Norwood Hill), the White Swan, the White Hart (at the corner of Westow Street and Church Road) and the Windmill in Westow Hill. There were strawbery gardens in Beulah Hill and the famous Beulah Spa.

Elsewhere in South London, Samuel Pepys records in his diary for the 11 August 1688 that his wife went 'to see the Gypsies at Lambeth and had their fortunes told'. The church register for St Giles in Camberwell records that on June 2 1687, 'King and Queen of the Jepsies [gypsies], Robt. Hern and Elizabeth Bozwell' were married there (2)

The authorities cracked down on the Gypsy fortune tellers of South London in the late 18th century. In August 1797, police arrested thirty men, women and children in Norwood under the Vagrancy Act. In 1802, the Society for the Suppression of Vice brought charges against the Norwood fortune-tellers. 'Faced with police repression and subsequent enclosure of the Common, the fortune-tellers finally deserted Norwood' (3). Despite this there has been a traveller presence in South London down to the present.

(1) Alan R. Warwick, The Phoenix Suburb: A South London Social History (London: Blue Boar Press 1972).
(2) William Harnett Blanch, The Parish of Camberwell (1875).
(3) Owen Davies, Witchcraft, Magic and Cultures, 1736-1951 (Manchester University Press, 1999)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Morris Dancers in Lewisham

Tomorrow night (Thursday 5th of June) Blackheath Morris Men willl be out dancing in a couple of local pubs - the Jolly Farmers on Lewisham High Street from around 7.30 and the Wickham Arms, 69 Upper Brockley Road from about 9. More details from Richard at Baggage Reclaim.

London Folklore Today

A real treat at South East London Folklore Society next week, with host Scott Wood's talk on Adventures in Urban Folklore. Scott will be 'going through the contemporary ritual year in London, stopping off at twentieth and twenty-first century folklore. Meet the Deptford Jack-in-the-Green. Hear of how Bridget and Imbolc scared the horses in Wimbledon. Remember Solstices in south London, Goddess worship in Southwark and Greenwich, recoil at accounts of young men being "banged out" on Clerkenwell streets, discover the truth about the friendly terrorists warning in Harrods and much more. This is an introduction to a huge, exhilarating and very much living world of London folklore today'.

Details: Thursday, June 12, 2008, 7:45pm, at The Old King's Head, Kings Head Yard, 45-49, Borough High St, London, SE1 1NA. A bargain £2.50 / £1.50 concs.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

1968 in South London (5): The Who at the Elephant

From the South London Press, Friday 28 June 1968, by Monty Smith:

The Who stage pop explosion

The Who are that pop rarity - a good commercial group. They make attractive noise which sells. And noise it most definitely is. As the people at the Elephant and Castle's London College of Printing found out last Saturday when The Who appeared at an all-night dance.

Coming on stage at about 10.30, The Who deafened all and sundry with an impressive performance encompassing humour, violence and 'Happy Jack'. For over an hour they played, often showing scant respect for their instruments. In their final number - a 10 minute version of the classic 'My Generation' - Moon threw his drums all over the place and Townsend jumped up and down on his vox box.

In America they are considered to be an Underground group. Over here parents don't like their children going to see them.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Reindeer at the Elephant

There's a statue of a reindeer, made out of scaffolding, on this building site in Elephant Road (in front of the Heygate Estate). The photo was taken from platform 4 of the Elephant & Castle station - the best view of this giant beast.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Bloomsday at the Montague

The 16th June is Bloomsday, celebrated in Ireland and elsewhere to commemorate James Joyce and in particular his novel Ulysses. The novel, whose main character is Leopold Bloom, is set on 16th June 1904.

The event has also been celebrated in Hungary for some years, in the town of Szombathely, where the fictional Leopold Bloom's Jewish family is said to have come from. For some reason I have yet to fathom this year's Hungarian DadaBloomsday is being celebreated in South East London, starting off on with a pre-Bloomsday afternooon on Sunday 15 June at 5 pm at the Ivy House (40 Stuart Road, SE15). The main event is on Monday 16 June at the Montague Arms (289 Queens Road, SE15 - 8 pm start)– with Trombone Poetry, Foul Geese and Hungarian artists.

(thinking about it, is the Hungarian avant garde connection with South London via Brain of Morbius? - the locally-based band are fairly big in Hungary and I notice that Foul Geese includes ex-members of BoM)