Friday, October 30, 2009

A Lens on Deptford - 1978

The following article. 'A Lens on Deptford', appeared in the radical magazine The Leveller (no.16) in June 1978. It was written by Sandy Craig with accompanying photos by Chris Schwarz. Very interesting - certainly suggests that not everything has got worse, which is important to recognise. For instance movements against racism have had some success since then, support for the BNP outside of London notwithstanding. If you recognise any of the photo locations post a comment.

In concerned-statisticians' and social justice seekers' computerese, Deptford is "one of the decaying heartlands of London", a "deprived inner-urban area", with a "low record of employment initiative", "inadequate housing supply" and "high intra-racial tensions".

There are 2,716 male unemployed in Deptford. That's 15%, and the percentage is higher for West Indians. Over the last decade there's been a net decline in jobs of over 20%. And now the power station is closing down. Meanwhile, there's fights at the dole offices ...

There's one of the largest doss houses in London in Deptford, Carrington House. A Victorian institution with turnstiles on the door, panda-cars carting back the dossers parked Sweeney-fashion outside, and 750 beds inside. Reporters and photographers not welcome. More dossers sleep in the disused Deptford Odeon across the road. Gypsy caravans on bomb sites and waste-ground waiting for redevelopment down the road.

And cramped rows of austere Victorian "artisan" terracing; clumps of red-bricked century-old tenements, gaze blankly across rubbish tips at the huge, futuristically-planned and graffiti-scrawled, housing developments and a sky-line prickling with tower blocks. All: "neither good enough to promote, happiness nor bad enough to produce hopelessness."


Yet, of course, with nowhere else to go, they defend what little they have. Students and other tenants on the Speedwell estate are about to be chucked out to make way for a new: housing complex. (Only, the Labour Council haven't even put a provisional date on when this will be built.) Their flats are cramped, with little light, few services and without bathrooms. There are few lights on the external stairs. But it's somewhere to stay.



Of houses in Deptford, 80% are council-owned. Under 5% are owner-occupied. Yet, the Tories campaign here on issues of Law and Order and "mugging". In neighbouring, middle-class Greenwich, where only about a third of the houses are council but where the percentage of blacks is much less, the Tories campaign on issues of "buying your own council house" and home improvement grants.
And race relations - how "good" are they? There's different measures: in the 1976 local council be-election the NF and National Party polled 44%. This was a freak result, but it resulted in the formation of ALCARAF (All Lewisham Campaign Against Racism And Fascism). Recently, they organised a Festival over three Saturdays which was attended by well over 5,000 people, black and white, all enjoying the stalls, theatre shows and the sounds.


On the other hand Deptford was one of the starting points for the "Stop Sus" campaign, because this is one of the worst areas for police harassment of black youth, where the police continually pull them in on "Sus" (suspicion). And the NF, though they don't have many activists in the area, pull in outsiders to capitalise on that ‘76 freak result (and, of course, the street-battles on 13 August 1977 in, Lewisham High Street). A few weeks after an NF meeting when it was suggested "to send the boot-boys in to burn down The Moonshot (a local West Indian club), the Moonshot was burned down. Police continue with their enquiries.

Life can get even heavier for West Indians and Asians. On 11 March an Asian student, Nyrup Reddi, was killed in a fight outside a party on the Speedwell Estate. He was killed by a gang of white youths. Witnesses from the party (who joined in the fight) state that Reddi was separated 'and taken around the corner by these white thugs. They are convinced this was a racial murder. There is, of course, no report of this "mugging" in the press.

Down in Deptford the Tories are even more overtly racist than Thatcher: when ALCARAF asked all the political parties not to share any election platform with the NF, only the Tories didn't comply. They went further and stated they would share their platform with the other parties, only if the NF were there.


And what about the Labour Party? They've been in charge of Deptford for decades. They've not provided any policies to halt the slide of unemployment and bad housing. (At the moment they're opposing the extension of the Fleet tube Line which might just bring back industry.) But while nationally they practise policies which are covertly racist, in Deptford things might change.

For there, we have Russell Profitt, a black left-wing Labour councillor. And there's the growing power of black and white grass-roots organisations like The Stop Sus campaign and ALCARAF. Fighting back. And despite their hardships, so do the people of Deptford. Making the best of someone else's bad job with fun, humour and vitality.

(This copy of The Leveller was found in the archive at the 56a Infoshop Social Centre, SE17. They have an excellent collection of radical literature, particularly from the 1980s and 1990s and are always interested in more, inlcuding from earlier periods. So if you have any old boxes of magazines, leaflets or other ephemera get in touch with them. On a personal note I would love to come across copies of the People News Service bulletins - a newsheet from the 1970s - as I am sure there would be some lost nuggets of South London history in them. If you have any you would like to donate, or even just lend for copying/scanning, please get in touch with Transpontine or 56a)

5 comments:

Deptford dame said...

A fascinating post, thanks. We hear a lot about Deptford's distant glories as a royal dockyard and so on, but to me the more recent past is of greater interest particularly since it brought dramatic changes to the area.

CarolineLD said...

Yes, fascinating stuff. Is the second picture of Albury Street?

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post - I remember the murder at Speedwell House very well as it took place just near my flat at the time. That really was the beginning of the end for Speedwell House. However, despite the poor condition of the flats, the slightly sinster air of violence about Deptford at that time it was still a vibrant exciting place to be in the 1970s and I have great memories of the area. Must visit Deptford Market one day again.

Anonymous said...

I remember Nyrup's murder too. I lived at no 82 Speedwell House with Joe Torres and Debs Martin. I came home the morning after Nyrup had been stabbed to find blood all over the ground just below our flat. Nyrup died the next day.It was very sad. Incidentally, Jo Jo Smith, who killed Nyrup, and was released on parole 11 years ago, is the uncle of David Norris who is accused of murdering Stephen Lawrence. There was indeed a sinister, edgy vibe in the area at the time, with violence seemingly bubbling just beneath the surface, but it was an exciting place to live too.

Anonymous said...

is their anyone around who was a lodger at carrington hous in the 40.s or lived at browne house please drop me a line .i know it is a long time ago but i would like to find a few points about my life at that time. , thanks dave