Saturday, December 31, 2011

London Song

Happy New Year everyone, to get you in the mood here's London Song by French singer June Caravel. The song is seemingly made up of words from London street names, and the video features her singing by the relevant street signs from all over the city. South East London streets featured include Mint Street and Mermaid Court (SE1) and in Brockley, Darling Road SE4. The closing shot is in Greenwich Park.

(thanks to Mark B. for spotting this)

Friday, December 30, 2011

The 1981 Riots in South London

Previously confidential Government papers released to the National Archives this week provide some fresh insights into the 1981 riots, which swept across England in July 1981. Included in the papers is some information on events in South London, which combined with contemporary press reports gives an idea of what happened in the area at that time.

Woolwich and Lewisham

 Included in the documents is a briefing from the F4 division of the Home Office (responsible for links with security services, special branch etc) with details from the Metropolitan Police of disturbances on Thursday 9th July: ‘At 7:24 pm 100 black youths and 50 white youths were reported at Woolwich, but there was no trouble… at 8.42 pm disturbances broke out at Woolwich, with youths throwing stones and overturning vehicles. Serials had previously been deployed to the Woolwich area for the Anti-Nazi League meeting and these, supplemented by the Special Patrol Group and Urgent Response Units deployed from Operations Room, moved into the area to prevent trouble… At 10.35 pm disturbances broke out at Lewisham … During this time the disturbances at Woolwich were continuing’. Statistics from the Met’s ‘R’ district (Woolwich) showed that 37 people had been arrested in Woolwich, with four minor injuries to police, 8 windows broken and two cars overturned. ‘P’ District (Lewisham) reported 10 arrests.

The Times reported these events the next day: 'London police quickly quelled what threatened to be a riot early yesterday evening in Woolwich, south-east London. About 200 black and Asian youths ran through the town centre smashing 15 shop windows and overturning two cars. There was some looting. The youths were outnumbered by police who quickly dispersed them. 27 arrests were made… In Lewisham, eight youths were arrested after clashes in which goods were looted from Chiesman’s department store. About 100 black youths in Deptford threw bottles at a police car (Times, 10 July 1981).

The Woolwich events seem to have been provoked by rumours of a racist skinhead invasion to attend a gig at the Tramshed (a similar occurence had led to the riots in Southall in the previous week). According to the Deptford and Peckham Mercury (16 July 1981), people initially gathered on the streets to defend local venues thought vulnerable to racist attack - groups were reported at local Sikh temples in Calderwood Street and Masons Hill (where an Anti Nazi League meting was taking place), a mosque in Thomas Street, and the Simba project (an African-Caribbean community group). An (untrue) rumour that the skinheads were arriving on the Woolwich ferry prompted hundreds of mainly young people to run down Powis Street, and it was here that shop windows were broken and cars overturned, with a tobacconist shop being looted.

The same paper reported that on that night too, bottles were thrown at police by a crowd on Tanners Hill, Deptford (presumably the same incident referred to in The Times). In Balham High Road 'Around 35 shops were damaged in a wave of violence which started shortly after midnight when some 200 youths roamed the streets. Worst hit was the Argos Discount Store where hundreds of pounds worth of goods were stolen' (South London Press, 14 July 1981). On the following Friday night, two cars were overturned in Daneville Road, Camberwell (Mercury, 16 July 1981), while 'a 15 year old youth was arrested in Rye Lane, Peckham, for allegedly throwing a petrol bomb at police'  (South London Press, 14 July 1981).

The trouble in Lewisham seems to have been fairly sporadic, prompting some self-congratulation from the police in the South London Press: 'Lewisham has escaped almost trouble free from a week of rioting in Britain's inner cities thanks to sensitive policing and public co-operation, a police chief said yesterday. Apart from a window being smashed at Chiesman's in Lewisham High-St, and a minor stone throwing incident in Sydenham on Saturday where three people were arrested, there have been no repeats of the mass looting and rioting which has hit many areas. Although many shopkeepers have taken the precaution of boarding up their windows and police have been issued with protective clothing and headgear, P District's acting commander Dennis Rowe said that he is "delighted" the borough has remained peaceful.

'Although many of our officers have been drafted into other areas where there have been riots and the ones left behind have had to work long hours, they are still endeavouring to remain patient and to police the area sensitively... I am aware that while we have to continue to remain firm and to make those arrests that are correct, we can still keep sight of the need to be understanding. Through a concerted effort by our liaison officer and home beat constables along with a tremendous spirit of co-operation by local community groups, youth leaders and the general public we have been successful... We are even getting a feedback from a number of black and white youths who are proud of their borough saying "This is our town and we don't want to smash it up' (SLP 17 July 1981).

Many local black people probably had a less rosy view of community-police relations, particularly in the aftermath of the New Cross Fire in January 1981. Indeed there was renewed controversy in July when police warned that a planned New Cross Massacre Action Committee fundraiser couldn't go ahead for licensing reasons at the Evelyn 190 Centre in Evelyn Street, Deptford ('Clash over fire victims' disco', Mercury, 16 July 1981).

Battersea Park

Battersea was another flashpoint: 'A gang of youths attacked four policeman on Sunday afternoon [12 July], striking them to the tarmac floor of the roller skating rink in Battersea Park. Two PCs - Robert Smith and Brian Tullock - were rushed to hospital with serious head wounds. PC Smith needed 13 stitches. "It all started when we answered a call saying a car had been overturned in the park, said Det. Con. Larry Lawrence, "Four of us were in plain clothes but as soon as we identified ourselves we were attacked by about 20 youths carrying hockey sticks and wooden staves. The blows rained down on PC Smith and PC Tullock was given a severe kicking". Mr Lawrence said a crowd of 200 stood watching. "The only human touch there was a girl who took off her cardigan and wrapped it around PC Smith's head as he lay bleeding". A crowd of youths carrying hockey sticks and wooden staves ran through the park during the early evening damaging two cars and throwing petrol bombs at the police'.
'Later in the evening three policeman were injured in Francis Chichester Way when 35 youths hurled missiles and fire bombs at police lines. The incidents followed outbreaks of violence on Saturday night when 17 arrests were made in Queenstown Road and Falcon Road area' (South London Press, 14 July 1981).

The main Brixton riots occurred in April 1981,  arguably setting off the whole cycle of 1981 uprisings. But in July there were two further outbreaks, first of all on Friday 10 July:

''Violence returned to the streets of Brixton this weekend, a few hours after Lord Scarman finished part one of his enquiry into the April riots. Large crowds clashed with police, cars were overturned and set alight, shops were attacked and looted only a short distance from Lambeth Town Hall where GLC leader Ken Livingstone was addressing an Anti Nazi League meeting. His audience had a grandstand view as officers fought looters... 31 officers were hurt and there were 157 arrests, mainly for looting and assaulting police.

Trouble started at about 4 pm when police arrested a Rastafarian called Maliki in Atlantic Road. A popular disc jockey and community leader Lloyd Coxsone (32) tried to intervene but was arrested for obstruction. Within minutes youths had set up barricades across Atlantic Road... Police reinforcements were quickly on the scene but at 4:30 a Panda car in Atlantic Road was overturned and set on fire. An unmarked car which came to its aid was also overturned and fired but officers escaped unhurt.

Outside the Atlantic pub [later renamed the Dogstar in the 1990s] black leaders used a loud hailer to appeal for calm. Mr Maliki told the crowd that Mr Coxsone had been released and urged them to disperse. But some youths had already taken advantage of the confrontation to start looting shops in Atlantic Road. Rattner's the jewellers were attacked at 4.30 and a mob then ran down Electric Lane to raid Curry's the electrical goods shop...

Police formed themselves up in squads of about a dozen men with a sergeant in command. They lined up along the main road, walking under cover of riot shields towards the crowds. They were apparently trying to disperse the mob along Effra Road and Brixton Hill... By 8.30 police had cleared the centre of Brixton' (Source: South London Press, 14 July 1981).

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher visited Brixton police station in the early hours of the 14 July, following a meeting at New Scotland Yard where predictably senior officers lobbied for greater police powers and more riot equipment (the National Archives papers include a report of this meeting, and of arrangements to provide riot helmets and plastic bullets from the army to the police).
Burning police car in Brixton 1981 (not sure if this was in April or July)
Railton Road raids

Then on 15 July there was further trouble in Brixton following controversial police raids on Railton Road. The Government papers in the National Archives includes a detailed report of these raids, supposedly prompted by reports that petrol bombs were being stored there. 
Eleven premises were raided, numbers 35, 37, 47, 52, 54 and 60 Railton Road under warrants obtained under Section 187 of the Licensing Act 1964 ‘suspected of being used for unlawful drinking’, and 50, 56, 58, 62 and 64 under section 6 of the Criminal Justice Act. Several of the properties were semi-derelict and due for demolition. 176 CID and uniformed officer were employed ‘to enter the premises and a further 391 officers were either held in reserve or employed in cordoning off the area’. The report admitted that ‘No evidence was found during the operation of the manufacture of petrol bombs or of premises being used for illegal drinking that evening. Seven people were arrested, all for minor offences’.

Details in the report do give some indication of social life on 'the frontline' (as that part of Railton Road was known) at that time: at 47 ‘a new record player and a small quantity of drugs were found’; at 54 Railton Road, there were ’25 to 30 people on the premises’; at 58 the police paid compensation for damage to a space invaders machine and a pool table; at 62 ‘The ground floor of these premises was used as a quasi-masonic temple and at the time of the raid two ceremonial swords were laid out on the floor and other items of regalia stored in a cabinet.’ (Report of Enquiry by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dear into Police Operations in Railton Road, Brixton on Wednesday 15 July 1981).
This report downplays the extent of damage to people's homes, but locally there was intense anger at the way the raids had been conducted:

'Joseph Francis (17), who was asleep when the raid occurred, said his unlocked bedroom door was axed by two policemen. He said a woman and baby in the room were thrown to the floor when the mattress was dragged from under them and furniture was ripped open.
Mr. Gladstone McKenzie arrived at his shop, the Railton Free Off Licence, to find the door and windows smashed and the back room ransacked. He said he had always had a good relationship with the police and was shocked by the extent of the damage. Some upstairs windows looked as though they had been broken from are inside as most of the glass was lying outside.

One of the houses wrecked during Wednesday's raid had just had £4,000 of Inner City Partnership money spent on it. No. 50 Railton Road is owned by Lambeth Council and leased to the Railton Youth Club...

100 youths were involved in running fights with police in Railton-rd. on Wednesday night. Petrol bombs, stones and bottles were thrown and 10 officers were injured. The trouble started just after 11 p.m. when two cars were set alight and a barricade of corrugated iron and timber set up behind them. But the police, drawn up in strength at the junction of Railton-rd. and Coldharbour-lane, made no move. Masked youths, one carrying a long stave, then charged the police lines, hurling missiles but were quickly driven back. A fire engine attempting to reach the burning cars was stoned. There was another scare when a convoy of eight powerful motorbikes ridden by white youths roared through the riot area.

At 11.45 police started cautiously moving up Railton-rd behind a wall of riot shields and sealing off side roads. Another large force was meanwhile approaching from the Herne Hill end. It was at about this time that the first petrol bombs were thrown. By 12.15 the barricade was being removed and police were in control of the area, though they remained on guard for some hours' (South London Press, 17 July 1981).

The left in Brixton

A briefing report for Ministers included in  the National Archives papers highlighted the involvement in left-wing groups, particularly in the Brixton area: ‘There is considerable evidence of activity by extremist organisations that have been hit by some of the worst of the recent violence' though it acknowledged that 'It seems unlikely that in any major case extremists have actually instigated the violence’. The report doesn't say that the radical left seems to have been too fragmented into rival groups to co-ordinate any kind of large scale effective action, but it does provide evidence of this.

The report mentions the Labour Committee for the Defence of Brixton founded following the 1981 riots at the instigation of the ‘Militant Tendency’ and operating ‘from an address in Railton Road’; ‘the Workers Revolutionary Party has a books hop in Atlantic Road and a Youth Training Centre in Stockwell’; ‘the Revolutionary Communist Group has its headquarters in Railton Road’; ‘the Revolutionary Communist Party set up a Lambeth Unemployed Workers Group shortly before the Riots, and has since formed a South London Workers Against Racism group, similar to the East London Workers Against Racism which attracted some notoriety for organising vigilante patrols’; ‘the Race Today Collective has offices in Brixton. The edition [sic] of its magazine is Darcus Howe, who has been associated with campaigning in support of the H-block hunger strikes, the New Cross Massacre Action Committee’; ‘After the riot the Socialist Workers Party circulated a leaflet in Brixton in which it said “it was a magnificent way for Brixton to fight back"’ (Brief for a Debate on Recent Outbreaks of Civil Disorder in Great Britain).

The aftermath: riot training on Greenwich peninsula

As reported at Greenwich Phantom,  following the riots the River Way Police Holding and Training Centre was created for a couple of years on Greenwich peninsula (Greenwich Council published a critical report in 1984 on 'Riot Training in Greenwich'). The map shows that this included  a mock-up street and areas for petrol bomb, CS gas, water cannon and smoke grenade training.


Edit/Select are an energetic young SE London band. I saw them a few weeks ago at the Toe Jam Christmas party at the Bussey Building in Peckham and they were pretty good (Toe Jam is a club night that the band help promote, it started out at the New Cross Inn). Now they are looking for a new bassist:

'We are an indie / punk / reggae / ska / pop rock band. We have played venues such as IndigO2, Barfly, Scala, Dingwalls, Goldsmiths SU, Astoria 2, etc. We have supported Art Brut, Toploader, The Holloways and more. We regularly go on tours in Holland as we have a buzzing following out there and a lot of contacts. Currently making an album too!

We are looking for a bass player who is enthusiastic, experienced, someone who is up for having fun and really wants to make a go of this. Must be willing to work with image too! If this sounds good to you then drop me a reply!'

If you are interested you can contact them via their facebook page.

Here they are with their track Your Fire, the video seemingly filmed in the Old Police Station (Amersham Vale, SE14). Warning to would-be bassists - this was a couple of years ago and they've got more musically sophisticated, maybe bit more Vampire Weekend, bit less Hard Fi. So you will need to be good!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A death in the marshes

A tragic story from 1877:

'At daybreak on Saturday morning a boy employed to frighten crows from a cornfield discovered the body of a gentleman up to the waist in water in the marshes forming a portion of Woolwich Arsenal, The body was subsequently identified as that of Mr David Darling, a pensioned officer from the Royal Arsenal, of 7 Amersham Grove, New Cross. The deceased was last seen alive at the grave of his wife in Plumstead Churchyard, and it is conjectured that in walking through the marshes he was overtaken by the darkness and got into a bog from which he was unable to extricate himself' ('Lost in a Bog', The Times, 5 March 1877)

The elements of Kent marshes, a churchyard and a frightened boy put me in mind of a story written not long before, albeit set further out in North Kent (believed to be based on the marshes around Cooling, beyond Gravesend):

'Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea. My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things, seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time I found out for certain, that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard... and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond, was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing, was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip' (Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, 1861)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

In the Neighbourhood

Ork Posters, based in Chicago, produce typograpic map posters of cities across the world. For London they do one for both London boroughs and London neighbourhoods (below):

Of course borough names and boundaries are prescribed and well-established, but neighbourhoods are more subjective and change over time. Here's a detail of the SE London section, featuring among others New Cross, New Cross Gate, Deptford, Brockley and Ladywell. No doubt there could be much discussion on what's been missed out, what shouldn't be there, and where the boundaries should be - that is the nature of neighgbourhoods, no two people carry the same map in their head.  

Incidentally I found out about this map from Adventures of a Frogsbif - a bilingual blog documenting a French student's adventures in London while she studies at Goldsmiths in New Cross: 'London never sleeps. This city is never silent. I live next to a pub backyard, which means that I can hear people talking from noon to 1am, then there's the noise of people talking in my flat, or in the flat next door, or in the other blocks, or down on the green. There's also the constant roar of cars going by, rythmed by police cars and ambulances' alarms freaking me out every half hour. One would think the whole Lewisham population would be dead by now, considering how many people already called the cops these last days' (full post here).

See also her thoughts on British food, and lots of recipes with French alternatives!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tribeca, Elephant and Castle

'Yeah, I'm out that Brooklyn
Now I'm down in Tribeca
Right next to DeNiro
But I’ll be hood forever
I’m the new Sinatra
And since I made it here
I can make it anywhere
Yeah, they love me everywhere
I used to cop in Harlem
Hola my Dominicanos
Right there up on Broadway
Brought me back to that McDonalds
Took it to my stash spot
560 State street'

OK Jay-Z, enough. You see this isn't actually your Triangle below Canal Street. No, this is a new tower block being built at the Elephant and Castle. For some reason the developers have decided to call it after an 'aspirational' part of New York rather than something that bears any historical or geographical relation to the area it is located in. They've even branded it as New London, because of course everybody hates the Old London - that's why milllions of people choose to live here, and make there way here from all over the world.  Still Jay, there is a McDonalds not far away on the Walworth Road, more like Brooklyn than Tribeca some would say.

(Note this isn't a joke - Oakmayne really are marketing this development as 'Tribeca Square, New London'. Image from Southwark Notes Gentrification Top Trumps - afraid this isn't the only South London major development with no 'intermediate' or 'social rented' housing)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Peter Saunders

The Guardian reports the death  last month of the painter Peter Saunders (1940-2011):

'The painter Peter Saunders, who has died of cancer aged 70, presented in his work a complex local history of the last 50 years in and around London. His subjects – always painted in series – included skateboarders at the South Bank, Borough market, the bleak landscape of Dungeness, Kent, Thames-side scenes at Deptford, the open spaces and skies of Blackheath through the day and night, Brick Lane paper sellers and the Whitechapel Bell Foundry...

It is in his last works that Peter's breakthrough really came. His work started to explore in great depth the human figures in motion he saw around him: dancing at the Rivoli Ballroom in Brockley and then at the tea dances at the Royal Opera House...His most recent exhibition, Dancing at the Rivoli Ballroom (Some Enchanted Evening), for Isle of Thanet Arts, in 2004, was introduced by a comment in the catalogue by the painter Frank Auerbach: "You are as ever taking on brave and exciting subjects that others only dream of." At the end of his life, Peter felt he had finally achieved his essential, personal vision.

Peter was one of five children, born into a working-class London family evacuated during the second world war to Bicester in Oxfordshire. Returning as a young child to south London he drew and drew (paints were in short supply in the 1940s) rather than spend time playing with other children. Later, at Camberwell School of Art, he learned to pursue the tough discipline of drawing in the manner of William Coldstream from mentors such as Euan Uglow'.

Images: above, 'Some Enchanted Evening' [detail], depicting the Rivoli; below, 'Skateboarding, South Bank' from 1980 (depicting a space still used for the same purpose 30 years later). I would love to see some of his other South London paintings if you come across them.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Straw for Deptford?

Happy Christmas one and all, and God rest ye Merry Gentlemen and Women. But wait a minute, if you live in Brockley don't forget to bring some straw to Deptford tomorrow.

According to the book 'A collection of old English customs: and curious bequests and charities, extracted from the reports made by the commissioners for enquiring into charities in England and Wales' by H. Edwards (1842):

'By a decree of commissioners for charitable uses, dated 4th March, 6th James I [1609] it was decreed, that the owners of three parts of land, whereof one was called Lady Crofts, should from thenceforth for ever deliver and distribute, every Good Friday, amongst the poor people of Deptford, all the bread which might be made and baked of half a quarter of good wheat; and should likewise yearly deliver, at Whitsuntide, half a load of good green rushes, and at Christmas one good load of new grass straw, in the pews of the church at Deptford [St Nicholas Church].

The land charged is Brookley farm. By an order of vestry, 17 April, 1721, it appears that William Wilkinson offered 21s. per annum for the time to come, in lieu of pea straw and rushes, which offer was accepted, and since the year 1744, 10s. has been received in lieu of the half quarter of wheat. The two sums of 21s. and 10s. are regularly paid and distributed in bread'.

So it looks like some Brockley farmer swapped their straw supplying duty for cash during the 18th century. I'm not sure that will do - come on SE4 people get to your farm. The decree does say 'for ever' after all.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Solstice Parade

This evening's Night of the Beasts Winter Solstice Parade in New Cross was a lot of fun with about 100 people of all ages taking part, many of them in improvised animal costumes. One contingent started out from New Cross library, joining up with the rest outside the Telegraph pub on Dennetts Road. From there the procession made it's way through Telegraph Hill Park and around the nearby streets, ending up at the Hill Station Cafe in Kitto Road for an impromptu party.

A bear enters the park

Mabel and Sam from Brockley-based Theatre/Puppetry Company Wooden Fingers

Music outside the Hill Station Cafe

(my camera was playing up so I didn't get pictures of some of the costumes, including the big ones at the front - if you've got any good pictures of them let me know)

There but for the

Ali Smith's novel 'There but for the' (2011) is set in Greenwich, where a guest turns up for supper, locks himself into a spare room and refuses to leave. Middle class dinner parties are a bit of an easy target, and the hosts conform to every stereotype, talking of 'Upgrading to Blackheath...soon as the market picks up sufficiently' and being too worried about their vintage interiors to take decisive action like kicking the door down.

But not all the characters are so one dimensional or unsympathetic, I liked the wise-before-her-time child who wanders the streets of Greenwich bamboozling strangers with her intelligence. There's a discussion about the Cutty Sark which chimes with my concerns about the ersatz heritagisation of Greenwich: 'The child assures Jan that the ship will definitely be reopened to the public as soon as they remake it because nowadays you can do pretty much anything including remake something historic after it's burned down'.

Greenwich Park and St Alfege's church also feature in the novel, as does the foot tunnel: 'The Thames is brown and green today. It changes what it is every day. No: every minute. Every second. It is a different possible river every second, and imagine all the people under the water walking across to the other side and back to this side in the tunnel right now, because under the surface there is a whole other thing always happening'.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Night of the Beasts

Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice, and there's going to be a Night of the Beasts Winter Solstice Parade in New Cross, starting out at New Cross People's Library at 4:30 pm or the Telegraph Pub in Dennetts Road at 5:00 pm followed by a procession around the streets ending up at The Hill Station cafe in Kitto Road.

If you can dress up as animal (or just bring a cuddly toy), carry a lantern or play a musical instrument so much the better. There will be an opportunity to sing songs celebrating animals or the turning of the year at the end.

Happy Hanukkah and Solstice to all Tranpontine folk, we'll get around to Happy Christmas later in the week!

(see here for an account of the Summer Solstice parade)

(update: for pictures of Night of the Beasts see here)

Roger Moore: South London James Bond

Well a bit of excitement last week about Daniel Craig filming the new James Bond film in Deptford. But the real South London James Bond is undoubtedly Roger Moore.

As recalled in his autobiography My Word is My Bond, Moore was born in 1927 at the Maternity Hospital in Jeffreys Road, Clapham. He lived in Aldebert Terrace, then in Albert Square in Stockwell (number 4, then number 14). He went to Hackford Road Elementary (later Durand Primary) and then Vauxhall Central School.

As a teenager he hung out at the Astoria in Brixton and the Locarno ballroom in Streatham, snogging on Streatham Common afterwards. With his first wife Lucy Woodward (also known as Doorn Van Stein) , the daughter of a Streatham cab driver, Moore moved into a room in her family home at 16 Buckleigh Road, Streatham in 1946.

By 1952 Moore had started acting, and was invited to a party in St Mary's Mount, Bexley at the home of Dorothy Squires. At the time Squires was one of the biggest singing stars in the country, and 13 years years Moore's senior. Before long, Moore had divorced Doorn and moved in with Squires (Moore and Squires pictured below). Moore went on to star in the Saint as Simon Templar, then took on the role of James Bond in the 1970s - starting with Live and Let Die in 1973.

By this time Moore had long since moved on from South London. Squires - who he left in 1961 - stayed in Bexley until her mansion burned down in 1974.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Ed Gray - London Souls

I went along to London Souls last week, an exhibition of prints by Ed Gray in The Crypt Gallery under St Pancras Church opposite Euston Station.  Gray, who was recently interviewed on the Robert Elms show on BBC London, mainly paints London street scenes.

I had a quick chat with Gray - in fact he made me a cup of tea - and it transpires that he lives in Rotherhithe, worked for several years as an art teacher at St Thomas Apostle secondary school (Nunhead/Peckham) and is represented by GX Gallery in Camberwell. So unsurprisingly there are plenty of South London settings - Camberwell Green (pictured below), a nightbus in Old Kent Road, a Paddy Power bookies on Walworth Road, Brockwell Park Lido, London Bridge, Electric Avenue, Salsa dancing at The Loughborough Hotel (Brixton) etc.

Really though it's London people rather than buildings that are at the centre of the paintings, walking about, working, snogging, commuting, eating, drinking... all kind of Hogarthian but without a sense of any moral judgement.

London Souls is open until 22 December 2011, 10am-6pm, admission free (great space by the way, proper old crypt with piled up gravestones etc.)

South London Shellac

My friend Richard Sanderson (Hither Green-based musician) shared his fine collection of 1930s records with me last week, with their sleeves historical documents of South London record shops in that era.

The Musical Box (proprietor G.H. Papworth) was at 254 High Street, Lewisham

Wallace was at 111 & 113 New Cross Road ('opposite free library')

L.R. Robin was at 96 and 98 East Street, Walworth.

Saunders & Fortescue had branches at 251 Rye Lane, Peckham and 135 High Street, Lewisham. They sold bicycles and prams as well as records.

Richard plays his records on this rather fine wind up gramophone.

He was using it as part of a sound performance at the 10th December lanch party for  issue no.4 of the surrealist journal Patricide, held at Massive Little World. This is in one of the railway arches behind the Deptford Project railway carriage cafe.

The event included 'Richard Sanderson with an amplified toothbrush and wind-up gramophone, poetry by Daniel Lehan and Jazz Poetry accompanied by improvised trumpet, bass and drums'. It was concluded by Sonic Egg, which featured an egg being boiled to an improvised soundtrack including a man playing guitar with a mannequin's foot. Or as Patricide reported it 'the Elite were soft boiled in egg form before being dashed against a wall'.

(by the way Grace Pailthorpe, later a British Surrealist painter, worked in New Cross during the First World War, as previously discussed at Transpontine).

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Band of Holy Joy at the Montague Arms

The Band of Holy Joy are surely one of the greatest bands ever to have been associated with New Cross. In the late 1980s they were fairly massive on the indie scene with their lush Brechtian/Brelish/folk-tinged tales, but they split up in 1993.

Next week, on Thursday December 22nd, they are playing at the Montague Arms. Obviously if you loved them then you will want to see them now. But apart from nostalgia, why bother? Well since they reformed they have been putting out some fine new music - their new album How to Kill a Butterfly (Exotic Pylon records) got a 4-star review from Mojo.

I saw BoHJ several times in their heyday (including at both Town and Country Clubs), and  have seen them once since they got back together, playing at The Windmill in Brixton a few years ago. I thought singer Johny Brown acually sounded better at the latter. Rather like The Pogues, their music was always 'mature' - back in the day they were young musicians singing as if they old men and women looking back on lifetimes of passion and regret. Now maybe they've grown into the songs!  

Friday, December 16, 2011

'Flasher' in New Cross and Brockley

There have been further reports of a man exposing himself to women in the Brockley and New Cross area. The Friends of Telegraph Hill Park report:

'The Friends of the Park committee has been notified by Telegraph Hill's Safer Neighbourhood Team (SNT) that a series of criminal offences have taken place recently in the Lower and Upper parks, as well as on Kitto Rd and Jerningham Rd [SE14], with a man exposing himself to both young and older women'.

Similar incidents came to light at Brockley Central in October of this year, with Siobhan reporting:

'I live on Breakspears Road in Brockley and I just want to raise awareness to anyone who lives in the area and walks home late at night. Over the last 3 months myself and my friends have experienced 3 very similar incidents of two men walking Breakspears road and exposing themselves to us. We have reported each incident to the police but I was shocked when my Landlady mentioned that it had happened to someone she knew 2 years ago'

This led to a flurry of reports of similar stories:

'I had a similar incidence on Gordonbrook Rd in Ladywell late Friday night about a year ago. The man in question was on a bicycle'.

'Happened to me and a friend too, a couple of months ago, at the bottom of Upper Brockley Road'.

'About 6 months ago a couple of friends and I were flashed twice while walking home from New Cross, about 1 or 2am I think. First on Barriedale and then, a few minutes later, on Millmark Grove'.

'A couple of months ago I was flashed at repeatedly by a man from his house on Harefield Road'.

'I've seen people flashing on Breakspears road on three different occasions, all on friday nights/saturday mornings at 3.30am approx. Its the same two guys each time. One man (looks average height, white, 30's, carrying weight on his belly) is always lying on the footpath with a hat covering his face and his trousers and underwear at his ankles (this has happened three times now and it has been at the Lewisham way side of breakspears road). There is a second guy (tall, slim, arab, 30's), once seen him totally naked with just runners and a hat on and he followed me and my friends up the road to our house and waited outside and watched us go in. Last Friday night, as it was quite cold out, he was dressed in a tracksuit, with a peaky hat covering his face but he had the whole crotch of this tracksuit bottoms cut out so he was totally exposed. He walked straight past us, didn't look at us but seem quite shifty and not very confident in what he was doing. This is not a spontaneous/in from the pub, bit tipsy looking for a laugh/practical joke. If anyone is considering walking Breakspears late at night, be in a group and prepare yourself for the flashers'.

Eastlondonlines has also reported on this:

'Megan Constable, 20, a student at Goldsmiths College, has experienced the same man exposing himself to her twice. She said: “I encountered the flasher once on Jerningham Road and again down Millmark Grove. We were walking down the road when we noticed this man laying in a front garden bollock naked with just a hat on. We were a little stunned but assumed it was just some man passed out. When we turned the corner he came running down on the opposite side of the road to us in just his hat and an anorak jacket waving his willy at us. I felt threatened and intimidated, I was also afraid to say anything in case he turned violent or had a weapon handy. I think this man is disgusting, he gets his kicks out of being an exhibitionist and intimidating young people at night'.

It wasn't until after Brockley Central broke this story that the police got round to releasing a press release  about it. As reported in the Newsshopper (2 November 2011):

'Detectives are appealing for help in finding a man who has indecently exposed himself to young girls. Officers have released an e-fit of the suspect who they say has indecently exposed himself in the Ladywell and Brockley area.  The first reported incident was on July 18 at around 4.30pm.

There have been further incidents with the latest on October 27 at around 5.20pm when he exposed himself to two young girls. He is described as white, between 5ft 6in and 5ft 10in, sometimes wearing a dark coloured beanie hat and carrying a dark coloured sports bag... Anyone with information should contact Lewisham CID on 0208 284 8340 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111'.

Another incident has been reported on a train from Hither Green to New Cross over the summer, as a result of which this CCTV image was released by police:

Presumably not all of these incidents involve the same man (though the pictured men look similar). Sadly there's more than one or two blokes who think this is OK.

That Joke isn't Funny Anymore

Mention of flashers usually provokes a lot of puerile Benny Hill jokes about raincoats, or even apologetics ('well they haven't actually done anything wrong', 'it's just a naked man what's the big deal?').

What's wrong is the implicit threat of sexual violence in men acting like this -'flashing'  is part of a continuum of sexual aggression and if not all flashers become rapists some certainly do. Here's another account from the comments at Brockley Central:

'My friend and I were coming home on Thursday 10.11.11 and a man passed us with his genitals hanging out, he then followed us to my front door as we ran inside and he masturbated himself in the front garden'

Does that sound like a joke?


This from Twitter - 'horrible. sounds EXACTLY like the loser that flashed me and my friends on jerningham rd in june'

This in comments: 'When we were in a ground floor flat on Jerningham Road, I had a man press his genitals against the window of our front room one night, then bang on the door - something other neighbours also experienced in 2009 (we all reported it to the Met.) Very distressing experience when home alone'

[13 January 2012 - a friend informs me that there was an incident in Kitto Road at about 7 pm last night, with a man exposing himself]

[23 February 2012 - from Brockley Central today: 'I just wanted to make you aware that I was the receiver of a flasher this morning on Brockley Road, right near the Esso petrol station at about 6am. I was walking from my place up to Brockley Station'].

[15 March 2012, East London Lines: 'A 46-year-old man has been charged with three separate counts of indecent exposure in a residential area of New Cross.  The Metropolitan Police have named the man as Senol Dervis Bayram, who lives in the Catford area. According to the police, all three incidents happened on Jerningham Road, with the first on December 3, 2011, and the other two in February and March of this year']

Ukemania in New Cross and Brockley

Way back in early 2008 Corrie, a then barista at Broca cafe in Coulgate Street (SE4), invited a few regulars to join her for a ukulele jam session in the cafe. Who could have predicted then that before long the uke craze would sweep like wildfire across the area?

From that session came Brockley Ukulele Group, spin-offs like Post-Puke and more. Among the early strummers was a teacher and a couple of parents from John Stainer Primary School. Before long the school had acquired its own set of ukes and children were being initiated into the mysteries of the one finger C chord.

Edmund Waller Primary School in New Cross has followed suit in arming its kids with those affordable and accessible stringed instruments.

In another ukeist coup the newly appointed vicar of St Catherines Church (junction of Pepys and Kitto Roads SE14), Rev. Sheridan James, is also of the four stringed persuasion.

It was at her instigation that last night there was a mass outpouring of ukemania at the Hill Station Cafe (next to the church) for the Ukulele Carol Jam. Over 100 kids and their parents squeezed into the cafe for the afternoon children's session, followed by about 20 adults in the evening strumming and singing along to Silent Night, Good King Wenceslas etc.

Meanwhile back at BUG...

Brockley Ukulele Group is having an open practice day this Sunday, 18th December at the Amersham Arms (just over the road from New Cross station). If you are over 18 (sorry, pub has strict admissions policy) and fancy joining in with some songs all you need to do is bring yourself and a ukulele. They'll be there from 5pm until 7pm in the upstairs room (stairs lead up from the corridor between the front and back rooms).

BUG also report: 'Due to an ongoing baby boom in the band, we are looking for at least one new female band member - ability to produce tuneful sounds from mouth more important than ability to produce tuneful sounds from uke (though willingness to work on the latter is desirable...)'. For more information email

Thursday, December 15, 2011

New Cross 13 by The Blackstones

Nice new soulful reggae track from The Blackstones commemorating the New Cross Fire in 1981: 'New Cross 13, perish in a fire, 30 years ago and still nobody knows'. The track was co-produced by Sir Collins whose son Steven died in the fire.

Steven was a DJ, part of the Prophecy sound system crew that started out in Lewisham in the late 1970s from the merger of The Mighty Observer and members of Hi Jah Fi sound system (Papa Levi was also with Prophecy before joining Saxon).  They played at venues including Lewisham Boys Club, the Grove Centre in Sydenham, Platform One in Forest Hill and the Black Bull in Lewisham (more info at Mr Shorty's site). As well as Steven Collins, two other members of the Prophecy Crew died in the fire,Gerry Francis and Lloyd Hall.

'New Cross 13' is released on Strike Force records.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Riot research

The Guardian has been reporting in the last few weeks on some of the ongoing Reading the Riots research into the summer riots, with some interesting material on what happened in South East London.


'....Gang members were certainly present in many of the disturbances. In some cases they may have played an important role, though there is little indication that they were responsible for orchestrating the riots. Most importantly, the suggestion that 13% of people involved in riots were gang members – based on "intelligence" from those arrested – is almost certainly an overestimation. Rioters said they only occasionally saw people involved who they knew to be affiliated to gangs; in the main, respondents were struck by the breadth of people from all parts of their community who joined together. That sense of unity also affected the small numbers of gangs involved. They suspended rivalries for the duration of the disturbances. For those used to local hostilities – sometimes defined by postcode – it was an unprecedented sight...

The irony did not escape some of those involved. "You know it was the one time everyone was helping each other out. It had to be robbing Foot Locker!" said one 17-year-old who looted in Brixton. "I saw people from Brixton, different areas who would have literally hated each other but they was literally sticking together when they was going in there, like holding the doors for each other, like going in there getting stuff. I was thinking it was, 'What? I swear you don't even like each other and yet you're helping each other out?'" She added: "In the sickest way possible it felt good."

 26-year-old Croydon man described seeing a crowd of young men from miles away arrive in the area. "These youths actually came all the way from New Cross," he said. He described his feelings as they got involved. "'I know that we are beefing, yeah, but for this moment in time, let's eat together.' Let me elaborate. Eating means, let's go and take advantage of this situation." (Guardian 6 December 2011)

Violent arrests in New Cross

"Around 3.30pm on Monday 8 August I was aware that things were starting to happen. I think I went on Twitter and had a look and there seemed to be a bit of stuff and I saw some mention of Peckham. What really alerted me: there was a massive amount of sirens, like I've never heard before. So I went out on my bike. I must have noticed that there was something happening in Lewisham. Just to see what's going on. To bear witness to it, as much as anything.

I met someone walking up and they said: 'You don't want to go down there; it's all kicking off.' There's a road, I think it's Lewisham High Street, that goes off from the town centre towards Catford. There was a line of police; they were just saying: 'You don't want to go down there.' There is a jeweller's right opposite the fire station in Lewisham and I saw some people trying to break the shutters – I think unsuccessfully. But they were trying quite hard. They were calm.

There was a few pockets of people who weren't involved in it at all. It was just sort of quite a good place for them to be, I think. Then a few people were attacking a bus that was trying to turn round because the police were stopping it going through. There was somebody attacking the window of the driver's side and … I sort of walked down and I tried to, rather than saying anything directly to anybody, I tried to say generally: 'That's probably not a very good idea. The bus driver's probably not the person you want to be attacking.'

On Lee High Road there was a group breaking into a small off-licence type shop. There was people going in, grabbing a two-litre bottle of Coke, walking out, putting it down, realising he didn't have something to go with it, so went back in, got a bottle of Lambrusco. And I'm thinking: 'Do they really need that?' … Again, not covered up, but there was no police in sight.

So I cycled back along New Cross Road and as I was going further along here, just by the Sainsbury's, suddenly there was a couple of vans with lights on. Instead of carrying on and turning right I thought I'd cut through the Sainsbury's. There was a young black man being arrested who was lying face down, cuffed, with one officer on top of him, completely motionless. So this man was lying on the ground, face down, and this other riot officer basically jumped on the back of his head with his knees. And he screamed. It was quite painful, obviously. I saw a stream of blood coming down. So I was absolutely incensed. And another one standing who was being arrested. And he was screaming about how he had been hit on the legs and he was in pain because he had been hit on the legs with a baton. So the officer arrested me for obstruction...' '(A self-employed man, 39, who was arrested for obstruction and remanded in custody, Guardian, 8 December 2011)

Women in the riots

'On the third night of riots, two 20-year-old women made their way from Brixton to Peckham, egged on by friends and pings on their BlackBerrys. Once there, they saw an abandoned police car. Within minutes a petrol bomb was sailing through its window."One of my friends … just said: 'Let's fuck it up,' because there was no one there, there was nothing to be seen, and all our faces were covered as well," said one of the women, who lives in Westminster. "We kind of just went in on it. And then one of my [male] friends came at the last minute and just petrol-bombed it. So, quite satisfying."

The women stood watching as flames engulfed the car. "It felt good, that police car, it felt really good," she said. Asked why she had attacked it, her friend, from Lambeth in south London, said: "We just thought like it was kind of, not for a good cause, but in the beginning it was to protest about the [ways] we're being treated by police and that nowadays."

...The young woman who had delighted in the anarchic moment when the abandoned police car in Peckham had been petrol-bombed, who felt "the government needed a waking call … they deserved it" said she felt no remorse about what they had done, hoping the "message" they had given would not be ignored.

"It felt like all us youths were pulling together, like just trying to make a point really. It's sad it got to the point where it did riot, where something had to be done for us to be kind of heard," said the 20-year-old from Lambeth. She added: "There were other ways we could've gone about it – it did get a bit out of hand at the end – but still, I think we were still heard. We were still recognised, like, and I think it was worth it." (Guardian, 9 December 2011).

In other local riot news, a 32 year old woman from Clapham was convicted last week of being a getaway driver for people taking a TV from Currys in New Cross during the riot. Three young men from the New Cross area, and another from Catford were previously jailed for burglarly in relation to the looting of that Currys.

update 19 January 2012: a 25 year old woman from Casella Road in New Cross has been jailed for attempted burglary for hitting the window of the Joseph Annell Beauty Salon (Lewisham) with a metal pole during the riots. A 31 year old woman from Downham was jailed for 13 months for the same incident (more details at East London Lines)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Did you ever have a dream?

There aren't many songs that mention Penge to my knowledge, let alone ones by great songwriters. But in 1967, on the B-side of his single 'Love you till Tuesday', David Bowie recorded a song called 'Did you ever have a dream?'. Not one of his best maybe, but that little corner of SE London does get a mention.

...And did you ever have a dream or two?
Have you ever woken up one day
With the feeling that you'd been away?
If the girl that you dreamed of last night
Had the same dream, in the very same scene
With the very same boy, hold tight
It's a very special knowledge that you've got, my friend
You can travel anywhere with anyone you care
It's a very special knowledge that you've got, my friend
You can walk around in New York while you sleep in Penge
I will travel round the world one night
On the magic wings of astral flight
If you've got the secret, tell me do
Have you ever had a dream or two?
Have you ever had a dream or two?

(more Bowie in South London stuff at Transpontine)

Telegraph Hill Skate Park... Again

Last year there was an almighty row (or if you prefer, a healthy democratic debate) about proposals for a skateboarding facility in Telegraph Hill Park in New Cross. Eventually a compromise was agreed of locating it next to the existing football tarmac area at the Pepys Road side of the lower park (the area shown fenced off below), as this would have the minimum impact on green areas. The decision to go ahead was signed off by the Mayor of Lewisham a year ago in December 2010.

A couple of weeks ago, notices appeared stating that the work was finally starting, and the fencing was put up around the site. But the works have not yet started, with contractors apparently called off following a letter objecting to the work sent to the Council by some people involved with the Friends of Telegraph Hill Park.

They are claiming that the planned works are for a larger facility than that agreed previously, cutting further into the bank. For the Council, Martin Hyde (Green Space Regeneration Manager) has responded that while it is larger than the proposed skate park project first discussed last June, it is a similar size to the scheme supported by the Telegraph Hill Assembly in September 2010 and then approved by the Mayor. 

The matter will be discussed at a Friends of the Park meeting at 7.30pm tonight - Tuesday 13th December - at the Hill Station (Kitto Road, SE14).

In any event, the Council have stated that having undertaken appropriate structural surveys, they are reassured that the bank's stability will not be affected by the works and that the works programme will be going ahead as planned. Hopefully work will be able to start again soon so that by next spring there will actually be somewhere to skate rather than endless talk about it.

[update 14 December 2011: contractors are back on site and work is continuing]

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Comes to Brockley

It's cold, it's dark. it's December. There is a full moon above, and mulled wine to keep you warm. Yes it's officially that time of year, and in case you needed any reminding there was the Brockley Christmas Market in Coulgate Street (last Saturday).

Music was in the crisp winter air courtesy of, among others, my old strumming companeros Brockley Ukulele Group. Their seasonal fare included 'It's cold outside' (it was) and a fine version of Half Man Half Biscuit's 'Its Cliched to be Cynical at Christmas' - 'Make a noise with your toys, and ignore all the killjoys' (quite right too).

Saturday, December 10, 2011

James Bond in Deptford & New Cross

Film crews were out and about in New Cross and Deptford yesterday and last night, with various road closures. What were they up to? The clue was in the car being filmed - an Aston Martin DB5 of the kind featured in 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger.

Yes, they were filming the new James Bond movie Skyfall, and Daniel Craig was spotted behind the wheel. Judi Dench has also been spotted. Filming has been reported by the Sainsburys on New Cross Road, and on Childers Street/Arklow Road in Deptford. Seemingly the film crew are set up in the car park of the Den (Millwall FC).

Bond fan site MI6 has pictures and more detail. Looks like they are going for the gritty South London railway arch vibe. Filming is continuing so watch out over the weekend.

Update (2 November 2012): well I haven't seen the film yet, but people who have tell me that Bond and M drive along New Cross Road in an Aston Martin (yes you can see The Venue, New Cross Inn). And the Aston Martin is kept in a railway arch in Deptford, off Arklow Road - shown in trailer below.

Friday, December 09, 2011

117 Lewisham Way

At Utrophia (120 Deptford Hight Street) this month there's an exhibition/series of events called Deptford Soil 'an exhibition of work by local artists whom have an affiliation with the McMillan Herb Garden, a non profit making organisation who run creative workshops for young people in the Deptford area.The exhibition celebrates differing aspects of Deptford culture and illustrates the personal creative processes born from residing in SE8'.

Tomorrow night (Saturday 10th, 7 pm start) they are showing some films with live music, including:

- Hide and Seek - a 1972 Children's Film Foundation production set in Deptford and starring a young Gary Kemp.
- Deptford's 'Jack in the Green' 2006-2011
-'Gone House Ghost House/117 Elegies' 2005 - a split screen with live sound track from RABBIT.

Free entry.

I saw Rabbit performing  live with the '117 Elegies' film at the Old Police Station in New Cross back in March (pictures below are from that performance). The film documents 117 Lewisham Way, a Victorian villa demolished in 2006 and known in its last period as 'The Elephant House' when squatters living there decorated it with an elephant art work salvaged from Goldsmiths.

The film was made by David Aylward and Tom Scott-Kendrick, the musicians in Rabbit. The duo rehearsed at the house, as it was Tom's family home when he was growing up. Essentially the film consists of shots of various details around the house - the staircase, the windows, the door handle, rust, crumbling brick. It's quite poignant, a record of years of labour and living that had created a space soon to be swept away.

The house was built in 1849/50 on what had previously been grazing fields rented out to a farmer (Samuel Shepherd) and owned by Augustus Hamilton. It was originally known as Durham Cottage, and its first occupants had moved in by April 1850. This was a family, Mr Jabez Garrett, his wife and their son and two daughters aged between 1 and 7. There were also two servants, aged 23 and 14. Mr Garrett was a 32 year old warehouseman (wholesaler) in Woolwich and had been involved with the business since his early twenties. By 1861, the Garretts had moved out and Elizabeth Hawkins, proprietor of houses, moved in with her 18 year old son, Henry Young, a lighterman (operating small boats to offload merchandise from large ships onto shore).

Ten years later, in 1871, the house was lived in by a family made up of Mary Jennings, 45 and wife of an unnamed civil engineer, with her widowed sister Frances Harley, 50, one young niece still at school, Mary Ann Spicer, and another niece it would appear, also called Mary Ann but with a different surname and possibly a servant. By 1888, the house was occupied by Andrews William, a tobacco pipe-maker.

Four years later, in 1891, a larger family moved in, with 47 year old Herbert Tiffin, a Solicitor’s clerk, his wife Eliza, daughter Florence (24) and sons Charles (22, also solicitor’s clerk) and Herbert (17, clerk to a grocer). There were also four smaller daughters, aged 10 and up. Ten years later, in 1901, Mr Edward Berryman, 45, printer engraver and stationer, had moved in with his wife Sandra, of the same profession, their 13 year old daughter and their one servant. During this time, the Cottage was renamed Withdean Lodge, probably after a place in nearby Surrey.

In 1907, a Miss Pearce moved in, possibly with William A Brunfield, whose entries appear regularly over the next few years, and possibly with a Frederick Pearce, furniture dealer, who may have been her son as his first entry in the records only appears in 1925. At roundabout this stage, the house was divided into two units, 117 and 117a Lewisham High Road. Up until 1930, 117a was occupied by Agar Francis, FRHS, seed merchant but additional entries also appear for Alfred Alvarez (1910) and, subsequently, Arthur Edward Brown and Robert William Anderson (1921).

In 1930, the entries for 117 disappear and one must assume that the house was left unoccupied for a short while. 117a disappears for good and there is no more suggestion thereafter that the house was divided into two. By 1931, Walter and Minnie Jane Booth moved in with Ada Janes, and two additional entries were recorded in 1938 for Giles Winnifred and, in 1947, with Walter apparently gone (war casualty?), two lodgers, Frederick Sibley and Eleanor Vanner.

For a period in the Second World War, the house was used at the South East London Synagogue when the synagogue in New Cross Road was destroyed by a Nazi bombing raid (see earlier post).

Michael and Rosemary Scott moved in in 1953, and had a succession of student lodgers over the years. Tom tells me that these were often art students from Goldsmiths, as his mother was an artist herself. He thinks artist Bridget Reilly may have stayed there for a while, and the Lewisham-born painter/forger Tom Keating is reputed to have done some of the decorating.

After the family moved out, it fell into further disrepair having a final flurry as the squatted ‘Elephant house’. Most people didn’t realise what they were losing until they saw it being demolished in November 2006 – replaced with a block of flats (see pictures at Brockley Central). But you can at least see it on film on Saturday night.

(thanks to Claude St Arroman for sending the historical research on the house's history of occupation.  The two house photos were sourced from Flickr so long ago I can't remember where I found them. If they're yours and you would like a photo credit let me know)

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Elephants on the rampage in New Cross

There are many hazards today in the New Cross Road, but being attacked by elephants is no longer one of them. Not so in the days when the New Cross Empire music hall stood on the corner of Watsons Street and New Cross Road (more or less opposite Addey & Stanhope School), as these two stories show:

‘Seized by an Elephant’

'Mr Thomas Race, of Speedwell Street, Deptford, who is 62, was walking past the New Cross Empire last night when an elephant which was to appear in a turn there and which was standing in a passage seized him round the waist with his trunk and threw him to the ground. Mr Race was taken to the Miller Hospital, Greenwich, and detained’ (Times, January 10 1934)

‘A Trunk Call'

'A five-year old elephant escaped from the New Cross Empire in south-east London yesterday. It was recaptured by circus hands in New Cross post office. An assistant at the post office said: ‘We had quite a queue of old-age pensioners. There was a loud trumpeting, and through the swing doors appeared an elephant. Our queue disappeared like magic into telephone boxes and on, to and over the counter. We didn’t lose even a stamp’ (Times November 16 1951)

Incidentally there are some fantastic 1930s family photos from Deptford at Lewisham Family Album, as I have mentioned before. There is mention there of circus animals sometimes being kept at Murray's Alley stables off Comet St, Deptford - either for circuses up on Blackheath or for the New Cross Empire. Somebody commenting there recalled 'Circus Elephants were once taken through the grounds of Speedwell and Comet House from the Murrays Alley Stables, I think to the New Cross Empire for the stage circus. One Elephant charged into the New Cross Post Office and a person was tragically injured. I think that was in the late l940's. Most of the children in the flats followed them through the grounds'.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Lewisham Natureman Mural

I love this mural which popped up recently at the end of Cressingham road (SE13), by the railway bridge. Intriguingly it says underneath 'To the legend of the Lewisham Natureman'. Anyone know what that refers to? Nice little detail, there's a Lewisham crown logo at the bottom with a daisy growing out of it. 

At his Wildcornerz site local artist and psychogeographer Jack Thurgar refers to 'The mysterious city explorer, specimen collector and shaman Solomon Wild... Both online and in real space i look for any trace of him. He is thought to be connected in some way to a strange old legend of 'The Lewisham Natureman', thought to have its roots in South East London's local graffiti scene. The Lewisham Natureman has never been seen and is only represented by a small carving, that can be found [normally hidden] in the wastelands, train sidings and rivers of the borough. This has given way to the belief that this character is not human at all but actually a spirit of the wild; a contemporary Green Man or Hern the Hunter, wandering in the wild, no-mans lands of south london. Some say Solomon is studying / hunting this legend, others say they are the same character'.

I suspect that Solomon Wild and the Lewisham Natureman are alter-egos springing from the artist's mythopoetic imagination (or shamanic journeying if you prefer), rather like Southwark's John Constable/John Crow. But that's all good. There's loads of interesting stuff at that Wildcornerz site, including films of wandering up the River Quaggy and this piece filmed on last June's Summer Solstice in wasteland off Baring Road, SE12:

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Led Zeppelin exhibition in Greenwich

The Flood Gallery is a newish shop/gallery in Greenwich Market that specialises in music and cinema posters.  At the moment they have an exhibition entitled 'IV at 40' to mark the 40th anniversary of the release of Led Zeppelin IV, with a series of specially commissioned posters inspired by tracks on the album.

Must admit I'm not big on Led Zep or heavy rock generally, and I will spare you my pro-feminist critique of the 1970s rock art aesthetic. But this is very well-executed and if you do like Led Zeppelin you'll probably love it.

As an owl enthusiast I was obviously drawn to this image by Chicago-based artist Dan Grzeca inspired by the track Four Sticks (yes, the song does mention an owl).

Updated : by coincidence on the same day I posted this I received notification that Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones is going to be in Greenwich this Thursday 8 December 2011 receiving an Honorary Fellowship from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Jones went to boarding school at Christ's College in Blackheath, and sang in the choir in the Painted Chapel, Greenwich when he was at a school - where the ceremony takes place on Thursday morning. Choreographer Matthhew Bourne, who attended Laban when it was still based in New Cross, is also receiving an award.