Thursday, May 31, 2012

Jubilee parties and protests

So in case you haven't noticed it's the 60th anniversary of the Queen coming to the throne, with various jubilee events happening. Must say I can count on one hand the number of houses I have seen displaying union jacks, though a few pubs and shops have them up.

I was a kid in the Silver Jubilee 1977 and there did seem to be a bit more enthusiasm, though even then the pro-royal consensus was a bit of a myth - most famously The Sex Pistols had a massive hit with the incendiary 'God Save the Queen... she ain't no human being.. they've made you a moron'. The song was of course banned from the radio but I recall driving my mum mad singing 'No future for you'. Last weekend in Southwark Park, artist Rachael House staged Apathy's a Drag - recreating with model boats a related moment from 1977, when members of the Sex Pistols entourage were arrested during the Jubilee after playing a gig in a boat on the Thames.

Apathy's a Drag in Southwark Park
(picture by Controlled Weirdness)

This time round many people will no doubt join in street parties, but not sure that should be taken as a whole hearted endorsement of the future role of the monarchy. Other than just wanting an excuse to party, the main sentiments underlying this Jubilee seem to be nostalgia, retro kitsch and in some cases affection for an old celebrity called Elizabeth Windsor.

In Deptford there's a Jubilee Street Party from 2 pm on Saturday 2 June at The Old Tidemill School in  Frankham Street complete with Saxon Studio International Sound System and various bands including Bastion. They are at pains to point out that 'THIS IS NOT A LOYALIST EVENT - THIS IS A COMMUNITY EVENT CELEBRATING THE PEOPLE, ART AND MUSIC OF OUR COUNTRY - ONE AND ALL WELCOME'.

In New Cross there is a Jubilee Street party on Saturday in St James Road from 2 p to 6 pm, organised by New Cross Learning with St James School and The Hobgoblin pub.

There's also plenty of explicitly Anti-Jubilee stuff in South London. More than 500 people have signed up on facebook for a 'New Cross F**k the Jubilee Street Party' on Sunday afternoon - venue to be announced. A Never Mind the Jubilee picnic is also planned for Brockwell Park on Monday the 5th June.

And on the South Bank of the Thames by Tower Bridge, Republic are planning to stage the largest republican protest in living memory on Sunday 3rd June, timed to coincide with the Queen sailing by on her Thames pageant. The event will start at 12 noon, with the main focus being between 3 and 4 pm. Speakers will include Peter Tatchell, Joan Smith and Owen Jones. Meet by the 'Scoop' next to City Hall.

Of course it's not a proper Jubilee - the kind mentioned in The Bible involved freeing slaves and cancelling debts in a 50 year cycle. That would be more like it than an extra day's bank holiday.

River Ravensbourne

In the past couple of months I have been to both ends of the River Ravensbourne

It rises from the ground at Caesar's Well in Keston in the Borough of Bromley...

...and then feeds a series of ponds.

After flowing through Bromley, Lewisham and Deptford, it joins the River Thames at Deptford Creek:

Here the landscape is quite different from where it started, with building sites along its banks and remains on the Thames shore, at the point it joins, of hundreds of years of industrial activity. Beautiful in its own way of course!

Update: on Thursday June 21st (10am to 4pm) Lewisham Rivers and People project are organising a Ravensbourne Expedition (Source to Mouth) - an epic 12 mile walk. Meet at Keston Ponds Car Park (off Westerham Road)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

History Corner: Southwark Bakery 1895

From the anarchist communist journal Liberty (May 1895), an article describing 'An Anarchist's visit to a London Bakery' - a Wholesale Cake Factory in Southwark Bridge Road. Said anarchist was looking for work, but decides not to take the job after talking to the workers there about the pay and conditions. The young women tell him that they 'had been at work since six o'clock in the morning, and that they expected to leave about eight or nine o'clock that night, but frequently they worked longer being just allowed time to snatch what food their scanty wage would permit them to buy'.

The foreman boasts that he 'can get 10,000 short-breads out of one of these girls (with the aid of macinery) in a day' .

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Deptford High Street

'Deptford High Street' is a new site which does just what the name suggests in terms of coverage.

Deptford is already one of the best served parts of London for blogs, what with Deptford Dame, Crosswhatfields, Deptford Misc, Old Deptford History etc. (see links on right). But there's always plenty more to cover and Deptford High Street has already had some good in-depth posts such as an interview with Deptford Wives illustrator Mike Hall and an article about the Midi Music Company. I was quite jealous that they beat me to it with a piece on Jeremy Deller's Jerusalem film (recently featured in his exhibition at the Hayward Gallery), which includes footage of people dancing in Fordham Park at the 1993 Deptford Urban Free Festival.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Music Monday: Ode to South London

Leon Rhymes of duo Too Many Ts has composed Ode to South London, a rap featuring puns on various Transpontine locations - e.g. 'foraging for florets of Brockley and its Walworth it'. The video was shot variously in Deptford, New Cross, Brockley, Ladywell, East Street, Old Kent Road, Greenwich, Tooting, Battersea, the Horniman museum and many other places.

Too Many Ts are on the line up for The Big Red Sessions on Tuesday 29th May 2012, a night of free music taking place in The Container - a truck trailer fitted out for performance at The Big Red Pizzeria, 30 Deptford Church Street, London SE8 4RZ (next to The Birds Nest pub)

Also taking part are Shanel Brown, Nick Capocci, Jean Genie’s Massive Hugs and Jamie Fisher. Doors open 7:30 pm, performances start at 8 pm (further details here). Drinks and pizza available of course in the big red bus.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

New Cross and Camberwell Radical History Walks

Past Tense, who publish a range of radical history pamphlets, are organising 'a mini-programme of guided walks, exploring subversive, rebellious and social history in four areas of London'. The Summer/Autum 2012 London Radical History Walks will include:

New Cross and Deptford, Saturday 9 June - ramble through the history and music of the local area, starting out at 2 pm outside the Hobgoblin pub opposite New Cross Gate station.

Hammersmith, Saturday 8 July - meet 4 pm outside Hammersmith Underground (Hammersmith and City line), Beadon Road, W6.

Bloomsbury, Sunday 9 September - meet 3 pm outside the cafe in the middle of Russell Square, WC1.

Camberwell, Sunday 7 October - meet 2 pm on Camberwell Green by the corner of Camberwell Church Street.

All the walks are free, last about an hour and a half to two hours and end up in the pub.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Dish and The Spoon - new Nunhead cafe

I had my first coffee last weekend at The Dish and The Spoon, and very nice it was too.

The new cafe is at 61 Cheltenham Road SE15, which I guess you could call south Nunhead (up towards Peckham  Rye on the 343 and 484 bus route).

The Dish and The Spoon opens from 7:30 am in the week, and 8 am at weekends, so perfect for that coffee and pastry hit on the way into work.

I like the decoration, with the wooden cut out images of foxes, deer and owls.

More information on facebook, where they say: 'The Dish & the Spoon is a Cafe/Deli in Nunhead, South East London. Serving highly regarded, Dark Fluid Coffee, roasted a few miles away in Grove Park. Tregothnan Tea, grown in Cornwall, in the UK's only tea plantation & the high quality Jaz and Juls Hot Chocolate. We serve a range of deli goods including British Territorial Cheeses, Ham & Charcuterie from Moons Green Farm in Kent, made in the style of continental charcuterie such as Saucisson & Chorizo. Daily bread is from Paul Rhodes of Greenwich. We are also very family friendly with room for childrens play, baby change, booster seats, high chairs & steps for small people in our bathroom. Friendly, well behaved dogs also welcome inside'.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Holland and Barrett Pickets

(look away if you want to maintain your illusion that a shop that sells vegetarian scotch eggs must be beyond criticism)

Last Saturday, the movement against workfare schemes (compulsory unpaid work for the unemployed) once again targeted Holland & Barrett stores locally, the company being a significant participant in the scheme. In protests called by South London Solidarity Federation, a group of people first picketed the Blackheath branch of the chain and then headed into Lewisham shopping centre where they briefly occupied the shop there before being removed by police and security (full report here).

A similar action on 31 March 2012 targeted the Catford branch of the store (pictured, from The Void).

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

History Corner: 1912 Nunhead Tragedies

A hundred years ago, the Old Nun's Head pub was the scene of a bitter inter-family dispute. The story in the South London Press was headlined 'Nunhead schoolgirl's escapade - Publican's daughter's trip to Southend on stolen coppers' (SLP 26 April 1912).

In the children's court at Tower Bridge, twelve year old Nellie Hazell was 'charged by her mother with stealing 20 shillings in coppers from the bar... Mrs Hazell stated that on April 15 she missed four 5s bags of coppers from the bar, and on the same day Nellie did not return from school. On Saturday she heard that Nellie had given herself up at Southend-on-sea'. A few weeks previously she had apparently taken a trip to Hastings in the same way.

The consequences for Nellie were serious. The Magistrate recommended that she be remanded 'with a view to the girl's committal to a school'

Death in police custody

Shortly afterwards another resident of Nunhead Green died in police custody.  Alfred Lockyer (33) 'a carman of 13 Nunhead Green' was arrested for being drunk in charge of a furniture van outside the Duke of Cambridge pub in Hooks Road, Peckham.

Taken to Peckham police station, he was found in the evening to be 'insensible'. His father had come to bail him out, but was refused permission to see him. The Divisional Surgeon ruled that he was 'fit to remain in the cells'. The next morning, a doctor was called for again and Lockyer was moved to Camberwell Infirmary where he died from a fractured skull.

The cause of the injury was not established, and the Coroner refused permission for an acquaintance of the dead man to speak; 'The jury returned a verdict of Accidental death, and added that no blame attached to the police. Lockyer's father complained that the affair was 'shocking' ('Nunhead Man's Death in a Cell', South London Press, 24 May 1912).

Monday, May 21, 2012

Robin Gibb and the Hither Green Disaster

Many of the obituaries for Bee Gees singer Robin Gibb, who died at the weekend, mention that he escaped death  in the Hither Green rail crash. On 5 November 1967 a  Sunday evening express train from Hastings to London derailed shortly before the train crossed the St Mildred's Road railway bridge, between Hither Green and Grove Park railway stations. Most of the carriages overturned, two of them having their sides torn off. 49 people died.

Robin Gibb was on the train, along with his fiancee Molly Hullis. They were returning from visiting her parents in Hastings. Gibb recalled 'the carriage rolled over and big stretches of railway line came crashing in straight past my face'.  At the time he was only 17, but the Bee Gees had already had their first big international hit earlier that year - New York Mining Disaster 1941. He reflected: 'If our hits were not making so much money, I would not have been able to buy first-class tickets. Most of the people who died were in the second class compartments, which had no corridor to protect them'

Recovering immediately after the crash, Gibb wrote the song 'Really and Sincerely':  'It doesn't mention anything about a train crash but it does reflect the mood I was in' (quotes from The Bee Gees: Tales of the Brothers Gibb by Andrew Hughes).

Later in 1967, The Bee Gees played in Lewisham at  a charity show in aid of the Hither Green train disaster fund.

Music Monday: A.L. Lloyd

As mentioned here before, the famous folk song collector/ singer/ writer A.L. 'Bert' Lloyd (1908-1982) lived in Greenwich at  16 Crooms Hill for much of his adult life. A new biography has been published, and later this month there's a free talk coming up by the author at Goldsmiths in New Cross.

'Goldsmiths Popular Music Research Units presents The Life and Music of A.L. Lloyd.

A talk by Dave Arthur to coincide with the publication of his book Bert: The Life and Times of A.L. Lloyd (Pluto Press).

Small Hall Cinema, Richard Hoggart Building Goldsmiths College New Cross London SE14 6NW/   Tuesday 29 May, 5.00pm, followed by drinks. All Welcome.

Folk singer and folk music collector, writer, painter, journalist, art critic, whalerman, sheep station roustabout, Marxist, and much more - this is the story of A. L. (Bert) Lloyd's extraordinary life.

A. L. Lloyd played a key part in the folk music revival of the 1950s and 60s, but that is only part of his story. Dave Arthur documents how Lloyd became a member of the Communist Party, forceful antifascist, trade unionist and an important part of left-wing culture from the early 1930s to his death in 1982. Following his return from Australia as a 21-year-old, self-educated agricultural labourer, he was at the heart of the most important left-wing movements and highly respected for his knowledge in various fields.

Dave Arthur recounts the life of a creative, passionate and life-loving Marxist, and in so doing provides a social history of a turbulent twentieth century.

Dave Arthur is writer, painter, singer and instrumentalist (guitar, banjo and melodeon), writer of plays for stage, community and puppet theatre and Director of the Society for Storytelling'.

Goldsmiths library houses the A.L. Lloyd Collection and Archive, as well as the Ewen McColl archive, must get down there some time and do some SE London folk music research.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

New Cafes for New Cross?

I notice that work is being done at the former Come the Revolution cafe at 465 New Cross Road. A sign outside says 'Cafe 465 coming soon'. The previous cafe there, associated with Lewisham People Before Profit, closed in March this year amidst recriminations with disgruntled staff complaining about working contracts and the owner blaming the state of the economy (the workers held a public meeting at the Amersham Arms to air their grievances).

Meanwhile at the other end of New Cross Road (number 106), work is proceeding on The Cottage Project. They say  'We are currently renovating the derelict New Cross Tandoori... The New Cross Project will be a creative cafe space, full of tasty food, good coffee, making, baking, art, talks, projects and exhibitions. It is the brain child of designer Osian Batyka-Williams who loves constructing things for people and weaver Holly Berry who loves to plant, bake and make. The Cottage project will welcome local artists, families, students, revolutionaries and the old and wise'. Here's a short film of work in progress:


Friday, May 18, 2012

Lewisham Pensioner Book Sale

Lewisham Pensioners Forum have another of their periodic book sales coming up on Sunday 20th May, with a huge range of books at bargain prices. Venue is The Saville Centre, 436 Lewisham High Street, SE13 6LJ (not far from Lewisham Hospital).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Odyssey in Deptford

In June, Teatro Vivo will be staging an interactive promenade performance of the Odyssey throughout Deptford, 'an interactive adventure that will start at the Albany and then take the audience on a journey around Deptford as the audience discover what happened to Odysseus. They will comes across Gods and Goddesses, Monsters and Nymphs, death and desire as well as seeing parts of Deptford in an unusual way'. It will take place from 7th - 23rd June 2012 (ticket details here).

Sounds good, but you don't have to just go and see it - you could take part. Teatro Vivo is looking for people from the local community to join them as part of our Community Chorus. They say 'Help us tell this epic story and gain skills in performance, improvisation, song writing and do something a little bit different! Are you outgoing, interested in acting, singing, playing music or working behind the scenes? We are looking for people of any age over 18 that want to join us in creating an epic adventure. Interested? email or call Sophie on 0773 3134701'.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

History Corner: Resisting the National Front 1980

In 1977, the famous Battle of Lewisham occurred when a march by the extreme right wing racist National Front from New Cross to Lewisham centre sparked fighting between anti-fascists, the NF and the police. But sadly this was not the end of the NF in South London. In 1980 there were two marches in quick succession, one in Southwark and one in Lewisham.

The NF march in Southwark took place on Sunday 2 March 1980, despite an earlier unsuccessful attempt by Southwark Council to get it banned. 'Around 1,000 Front supporters took part in the march from Wyndham Road, along Camberwell Road, to Camberwell Green, turning left in to Peckham Road, along Lyndhurst Way to residential Holly Grove [in Peckham] for an open air rally. The marchers - mostly teenage skinheads... chanted "National Front is the white man's Front, join the National Front". There were roars of "N---er Lovers" and "Kill the reds" whenever the few onlookers - mainly from windows - shouted anti-Front slogans' (South London Press 4 March 1980). The leader of this motley crue of racists was then NF Chairman Andrew Brons, who spoke at the rally at the end. He is now a BNP Member of the European Parliament.

The NF speak outside derelict house in Holly Grove 1980,
© Jim Rice,

A similar number of anti-racists turned out to oppose the march, with the counter-demonstration called by Southwark Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (SCARF)*. But they were prevented by the police from getting near to the NF: 'Hundreds of officers threw a cordon around them as they gathered outside the London College of Printing, Elephant and Castle... The organisers were informed of the progress of the march by motorcyclists riding between the two rallying points... Some marchers headed for New Kent Road only to be turned back by lines of police'.  Police also cordoned off all side roads along the route, banning pedestrians and traffic. There were ten arrests (SLP 4 March 1980). At one point 'A group of demonstrators started running, trying to get ahead of the escorting police, and scuffles broke out. Several policemen were bowled over' (Times 3 March 1980).

The Lewisham March

On Saturday 12 April 1980, 100 NF marched from Clapham Junction to Wandsworth High Street. The following weekend they moved on to Lewisham. The march there has been called after Lewisham Council refused the NF permission to use a Council building for a meeting during its Greater London Council election campaign for its West Lewisham candiate Lynda Mirabita.

The route of the NF march on Sunday April 20 1980 was kept secret until the last minute - it went from Forest Hill to Catford where 'A rally was held in a confined areas bordered by Catford greyhound stadium, a railway embankment and bridge, a second railway line and a canal' (Times 21 April 1980). According to the South London Press (22 April 1980):  'Estimates varied between 250-700 NF marchers - mostly young skinheads - against 1,000 counter marchers. Marquees were put up in Hilly Fields for the 4,000 police drafted in for the day'. The police used similar tactics to those employed in Southwark: 'The Anti Nazi League grouped its supporters by Lewisham Town Hall but they were unable to reach their target because police had cordoned off all side streets along the route... mounted police prevented counter-demonstrators breaking through a cordon at Holbeach Road. About 50 protestors tried to reach the Front marchers by cutting across the Private Banks Sports Ground and a football match was temporarily halted as police rugby tackled the demonstrators on a pitch... Another group, armed with spanners patrolled the streets in a car searching for Front members'.

The St Pauls riot in Bristol had taken place just before the Lewisham march, and The Times reported (21 April 1980): 'After the march several hundred of the Anti-Nazi League counter-demonstrators suddenly turned and charged down Lewisham High Street. A few bottles broke against windows to cheers and a brick smashed a tailors shop window. Some youths, mainly black, changed 'Bristol, Bristol' as they ran... Mounted policemen were sent through back streets to cut of the charging youths.' Five people were arrested when police found four petrol bombs in a car in Lewisham High Street, and in a trial later that year four teenagers were jailed for six years each for possession of the petrol bombs which the prosecution claimed they had intended to use against the National Front (Times October 22 1980).

In total 72 people were arrested on the day of the demonstration, the majority of them counter-demonstrators. The police tactics were criticised by Christine Trebett of the All Lewisham Council Against Racism and Fascism: 'Police were present in enormous numbers and prevented the counter-demonstrators reaching the National Front by sealing all routes to the march and threatening arrest to those who tried to break through; counter demonstrators in Brockley Rise were lined up against the wall and people leaving the local public house were prevented from going home. At about 4.00 pm the National Front were diverted into the Catford stations and the counter-demonstrators started to march towards Lewisham. The police lost control and started to run along the main road, driving vans fast along both sides of the carriageway; the police then formed up and drove back the demonstrators, kicking and knocking down any who resisted and making arrests. The police were particularly violent towards the women demonstrators' (report to West Lewisham Labour Party, 1980, included in 'Modern Britain since 1979: a reader', ed. Keith Laybourn and Christine Collette, 2003).

A racist GP in New Cross

Shockingly, a local GP addressed the NF march at the end: 'Dr Robert Mitchell, who has a surgery in Queens Road, said yesterday he would advise his patients against mixed marriages only if asked for advice. He also believed in repatriating black people. Dr Mitchell polled 1,490 votes when he stood as National Front's Parliamentary candidate in Deptford last year'. Lewisham Labour Councillor David Townsend said 'We must take an urgent look at how a doctor with such appalling views can be allowed to practice in such a racially sensitive area as New Cross' (SLP 22 April 1980).

The following March, the NF proposed to hold a provocative march past the scene of the New Cross Fire but this, and a planned counter-demonstration, was banned by the Home Secretary (Times, 5 March 1981).

Racist attacks

Marching wasn't the only thing NF activists were up to at that time. In May 1980 the sometime chair of Southwark NF, Kenneth Matthews, was jailed for six years for a plot to burn down Union Place Resource Centre. This workers co-operative printshop was on Vassall Road near the junction with Camberwell New Road (next to the Union Tavern pub), and printed lots of radical literature.

Matthews(aged 44) lived in Lorrimore Square SE17 and worked for Southwark Council as a dustcart driver. Stephen Beales, another NF member, was jailed for 3 years for the same offence and for petrol bombing a club used by Irish people in Lorrimore Sqaure. A third member of the gang was sent to Borstal (South London Press 22 May 1980). They had been caught outside Union Place with petrol, thunder flashes, and wires intending to make an electronically-detonated petrol bomb (Times 23 May 1980).

Not long afterwards, three other men were jailed for a violent racist attack on a black van driver at East Greenwich service statin (SLP, 10 May 1980)

*The Ruinist found some SCARF graffiti from that period still visible in 2009 in Amelia Street, Walworth - can you still see it?:

Monday, May 14, 2012

Music Monday: Kozzie - Blue Borough Grime

One of the biggest grime tracks at the moment and a potential crossover hit (judging by amount it gets played on Rinse FM) is Yeah! by Kozzie, produced by Preditah. Kozzie's from Lewisham and has been around for a few years now, at one time he was part of the group Ardest Barrers along with other local grime artists Slaughter and Mischief.

Lewisham gets a nod in this new track as he says something like 'I'm from the Blue who rep the Borough, but 90% are cowards'. When and why did Lewisham first get known as the Blue Borough? According to Urban Dictionary 'Blue Borough is slang for the London Borough of Lewisham in South East London. Lewisham is called Blue Borough because: The logo for Lewisham is blue. The dustbins are blue. The street signs are blue'.

Technically it's not actually the dustbins that are blue, but the street litter bins are. Of course it's a bit confusing for those of us who also know central Bermondsey by the market as 'the Blue' (as in by the Blue Anchor pub).

Anyway there's a lot of grime/rap talent in the Lewisham area and indeed over at It's a Madness (mixtape blog), DJ Kenny Allstar is proposing a compilation called 'The Grass is Bluer on the Other Side'. Artists associated with the Blue Borough who he lists include:

Essentials Crew

P Money
Little Dee
Merky Ace
Don Strapzy/Dru Blu
Tommy Bones
Mack Wasey
Young Adz
Benjamin A.D

An actual Blue Borough  bin

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Pete Pope

Well-known Deptford community activist Pete Pope died last Friday. He had been ill for some time with cancer. I met Pete a few years ago when he and I were involved with others (including the also departed Paul Hendrich) in planning the Lewisham '77 events to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the anti-National Front protests in the area. Various meetings took place in the Marquis of Granby.

Others who knew him well will doubtless have lots of stories to tell. He was particularly active around housing and regeneration issues in the Deptford area, including the campaign against Lewisham Council evicting tenants and selling off the Aragon Tower on the Pepys Estate to private developers (the sale went ahead, with the tower later featured in the BBC documentary The Tower). In fact Pete's face is one of those staring out to the Thames from the Wall of Ancestors sculpture at the base of the Aragon Tower. 
Pete Pope

The sculpture by Martin Bond was first unveiled in 1997, but was recast and repositioned in 2006. It features local  community faces from the time as well as historical figures associated with Deptford. Pete is the face in the top left,  with Tony O'Leary to his right. Below Pete is Shirley Steward and next to her is Grinling Gibbons. The other panel (not pictured) also includes Olaudah Equiano and Catehrine of Aragon, among others.

 Pete was also involved with Convoys Opportunity (along with Deptford Misc blogger Bill Ellson and others), campaigning against turning the Convoys Wharf site into a luxury housing development. While their specific proposal for a cruise liner terminal on the site came to nothing (though something similar is now planned for Greenwich peninsula), the questions they raised about using that site for the benefit of the community and acknowledging its maritime history are still very pertinent.

As part of the campaign, Pete dressed up as Nelson on a barge sailing by the site  in May 2005: 'No more Penthouses... Convoys Opportunity unveiled its new charter for the former Convoys Wharf deep water moorings at Deptford on Monday. Sailing past on Thames barge Lady Daphne, campaigners invoked the area's maritime history and were accompanied by Henry VIII, Lord Nelson and Cardinal Wolsey.The protesters are calling on Lewisham Council to reject plans to build 3,500 new homes in three tower blocks up to 40 storeys high on the site' (Newshopper, 17 May 2005 includes blurry photo of Pete as Nelson).

I found this old Deptford TV film of him at the weekend and stuck it up on youtube. It was made in 2007 by Gopi Sastri, Ellie Walton and Salim A. Syed and features Pete talking about regeneration -  'this so-called regeneration process has been grinding across Deptford for the last 20 years'. 

Update: - funeral details: Pete Pope will be cremated on Friday 15th June at 10:45 am in Hither Green Cemetery. There will be a bike ride from there back to the Dog and Bell in Deptford in his honour where there will be  a wake.

On Sunday the 24th June friends will be gathering in the Birds Nest Deptford from mid afternoon to process with his ASHES  to Halfpenny Hatch bridge astride Deptford Creek around 4 30 pm to sprinkle him over the out going high tide , and then returning to the pub to celebrate one of Deptfords finest. All welcome' .

Friday, May 11, 2012

Nick Drake in SE London?

I love Nick Drake, so was very excited when I stumbled across a series of photographs purporting to be of him in New Cross. They were taken in 1970 by Keith Morris (1938-2005 - obituary here) as part of the shoot for the Bryter Later album. The caption says: 'Taken high above New Cross and overlooking the industrialised Thames estuary'. Only trouble is you can't see the river from New Cross, and there aren't any hills by the river in Deptford either. So where were these pictures taken? Presumably somewhere in SE London, maybe more Charlton/Woolwich way or even further East?

Any idea where were they taken?

 ©  Estate of Keith Morris
 ©  Estate of Keith Morris 
 ©  Estate of Keith Morris (this image was used in Mojo, March 2012)

 ©  Estate of Keith Morris

 ©  Estate of Keith Morris

Update Sunday 12th May: debate in comments and on twitter has swung between the location being Maryon Park in Charlton and  the churchyard of St Mary Magdelene in Woolwich. I think the former now looks more likely, specifically the area of the park known as Cox's Mount/Gilbert's Pit above the railway tunnel. Clincher for me is this 2010 picture taken from there by  Stephen Craven showing what is now the Industrial Estate in Charlton down below. Also somebody who used to live in the houses in Woolwich Road next to the park reckons they are the houses shown.

Compare also this 1905 picture from Ideal Homes - 'New Charlton and Charlton Vale from Cox's Mount, Maryon Park.  The typical "School Board for London" school on the right is Maryon Park School, opened in 1896 and now part of Greenwich Community College.  The road running towards the river is Hardens Manor Way with the "Lads of the Village" public house about half way down on the left. This pub is now called the "Thames Barrier Arms", named after the Thames flood barrier (opened 1983) which crosses the river at the left of the picture. The large factory on the riverside is Siemens Brothers Telegraph Works.Behind the factory can be seen the masts of the "Warspite", a training ship for boys run by the Marine Society':

So why did the photographer choose this location? I wonder whether there's a connection with Blow-Up?  Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 film famously used the park for key locations. The central character in the film is a photographer loosely based on David Bailey. And in the mid 1960s Nick Drake photographer Keith Morris served an apprenticeship with Bailey - he would certainly have been aware of the film, wonder whether his involvement went any further?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Pensions Strike

Today saw civil servants, health workers and other public sector workers taking action against deteriorating pensions - changes which can be summed up as 'pay more, work longer, get less'. It wasn't as big an event as the strike last November which also included teachers, local government workers and university staff, but nevertheless up to 400,000 people are estimated to have taken action. 

I came across pickets at Kings hospital in Camberwell (pictured) and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission in Tooley St SE1; I gather there were also people out at Lewisham College, Catford Job Centre, the Kaleidoscope child development centre (Rushey Green Road) and no doubt many other places in SE London. A demonstration headed into central London from St Thomas' Hospital.

Elsewhere in a not entirely unrelated protest up to 30,000 police officers marched against cuts - police sergeant tweeter Rob Jackson reported last night that 'Over 100 Lewisham officers will join other Met Colleagues for the March against police cuts'. Hardened strikers and protesters with experience of being pushed around by the police can be forgiven some schadenfreude, and may not feel inclined to rush to support them. But whether we like them or not, we shouldn't lose sight of the political significance of  the police marching against the policies of a Conservative government on the same day as other public sector workers.

It sometimes feel sthat we are living through a re-run of the 1980s. The Thatcher Government of that period destroyed industries, threw millions on to the dole and ruthlessly deployed its forces against opposition. But however much it was hated by many, it also maintained its domination by winning the active support of parts of the population including many working class and  middle class people who felt their living standards were rising. The police were obvious beneficiaries, but they weren't the only ones. The difference this time round is that there is virtually no 'positive buy in' to the Government. Hardly anybody feels that they are better off, the most the Government can rely on is a widespread despair about alternatives and fuelling a brooding resentment against 'better off' public sector workers. Even it were true that public sector pensions are better all round (they are for some, but not for everybody), making them worse won't help people working in the private sector. In fact the worse conditions are for public sector workers, the less private sector employers will have to do to compete and attract staff - so conditions are likely to deteriorate all round.

(if you've got any other South London strike/protest news, please comment)

(Brixton Blog covers the strike in Lambeth, Big Smoke has pictures of London protests, Lewisham teacher Martin Powell-Davies covers some local action; Harpy Marx has pictures of the demo at St Thomas')

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

History Corner: the New Cross Boys

Gangs are not a new phenomenon. In his book Gangs of London (2010), Brian McDonald mentions numerous South London teenage gangs from the 1950s: Balham Boys, Brixton Boys, Bermondsey Boys, Borough Boys, Rotherhithe Boys, the Elephant and Castle Boys, Wandsworth Boys, Lambeth Boys (yes it was a bit of a boy thing!). Then, as now, there was sometimes violent conflict between gangs - in 1953 for instance a gang fight on Clapham Common led to the death of 17 year old John Beckley.

New Cross Boys

According to McDonald, 'perhaps the largest of London's 1950s teenage gangs, the New Cross Boys... roamed from Canal Bridge to Deptford, causing mayhem at Millwall Football Ground, youth clubs, cinemas and dance halls. The only noted puncher among them was Freddie 'Ginger' Simmonds, who gave a creditable performance in a stand up fist fight with future gangster Eddie Richardson. This occurred on a snow-filled pavement outside the Trocadero cinema at Elephant and Castle, after a snow ball fight got out of hand... In a clash with rivals from Peckham's Goose Green, over 200 teenage youths fought running battles over a period of three days in 1956'.

In another of his books, Elephant Boys, McDonald mentions a fight involving the New Cross Boys in the New Cross House pub.

Deptford Red Hands

He also mentions 'An earlier Deptford gang, the Red Hands, so named for the red armband that identified members, came unstuck in 1926 when one of their team was stabbed to death after attacking a rival Rotherhithe Boy. William Shillibeer, aged fourteen, was convicted of the manslaughter of thirteen-year old Albert Hannah'.

This case was discussed in Parliament after the trial in March 1927, with  Frederick Pethick-Lawrence MP asking 'the Home Secretary whether his attention has been drawn to the remarks made by Mr. Justice Acton in the trial of William Arthur Edward Shillibeer, of Rotherhithe, at the Central Criminal Court, for murder, to the effect that it was quite clear that he was in the first instance wantonly and gratuitously insulted and provoked by a gang of boys gathered together for such purposes, and afterwards assailed by a number of those boys, who gave every indication of an intention to act together in attacking and doing violence upon him'.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

More New Cross Street Art

Three pieces from New Cross Road:

This window poster includes a link to
If you follow that there's a whole gallery of stuff seemingly by Seven, including
some pieces featured here before.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Music Monday: The Red Flag

As you enjoy your May Day bank holiday lie-in, spare a thought  for the people who brought you not only this holiday, but also the weekend and a working day of 8 hours or less. The Monday after the First of May was first declared a bank holiday by the Labour government in 1975, but the celebration of May Day as a workers holiday goes back to the international campaign by the workers movement for an eight hour working day in the 1880s.

In 1886, clashes between police and strikers during a May Day strike in Chicago left dead on both sides. Despite an international campaign protesting their innocence, four anarchists were hanged for their part in the events. What's that got to do with South East London? Well the Chicago events were an inspiration for the composition of the famous socialist anthem 'The Red Flag', and it was written on the train to New Cross. Arguably no other song written locally has been sung by more people - including of course at the end of Labour Party conferences. It is a song that has soundtracked moments of heroism and of betrayal, glorious deeds and terrible crimes - but praise or blame the singers not the song!

Jim Connell 

The author, Jim Connell (1852-1929),had worked as a casual docker in Dublin before being blacklisted for his trade union activities. On moving to London he became active in the Irish Land League and the socialist movement, including the Deptford Radical Association. As secretary of the latter, Connell wrote to the playwright George Bernard Shaw inviting him to stand for Parliament in Deptford (he declined, but his journals mention that he met Connell)

Connell wrote the song while heading home from a Social Democratic Federation meeting to 408 New Cross Road, where he lived at the time (he lived there from at least 1888 to 1891, when he was recorded there on the census). Later he lived in Crofton Park/Honor Oak, where a plaque now commemorates himat 22a Stondon Park SE23, where he lived from 1915 to 1929.

Connell wrote books including "Confessions of a Poacher" and "The truth about the Game Laws". He learnt his poaching skills in County Meath, but continued to use them while living in London - he was fined for poaching at Woolwich and Croydon  - thanks to Hayes Peoples History for this information).

Jim Connell
In another brush with the law,  he was also one of many men questioned in relation to the Jack the Ripper murders: 

'Connell, an Irishman, born in 1852, went for a walk in Hyde Park with Martha Spencer, and alarmed her when he began to talk about Jack the Ripper and lunatic asylums. Connell said that when the Ripper was caught he would turn out to be a lunatic. Spencer, of 30 Sherborne Street, Blandford Square, and described as married, went to the police with her suspicions about Connell, and he was brought to Hyde Park police station at 9.40 p.m, 22 November 1888 and questioned. However, when able to prove the correctness of his address and respectability, was allowed to leave. Connell lived at 408 New Cross Road, and was a draper and clothier. He was described as 36 years old, 5ft 9"tall, with a fresh complexion and a long dark brown moustache, he was wearing a soft felt hat, a brown check suit, an ulster with cape, red socks and Oxford shoes' (Jack the Ripper: A Suspect Guide - Christopher J. Morley, 2005).

Connell died in Lewisham Hospital in 1929.

The plaque at 22a Stondon Park Road, SE23
(photo from Plaques of London)

Future Prime Minister Gordon Brown unveils the plaque in February 1989
(photo from Lewisham Heritage)

The Red Flag in New Cross and Deptford

The Red Flag was taken up as a socialist hymn more or less immediately, including in the area where it was written. During the General Strike, the Deptford Labour Choir led the singing of the Red Flag at a strike meeting attended by thousands on May 9 1926 at the New Cross Empire. As people left the meeting there were clashes with police (Deptford Official Strike Bulletin). As covered here before, the 1932 'Red Flag Riots' in Deptford were sparked by the police arresting people singing the song in Deptford Broadway.

Of course it is part of the repertoire of local socialist choir The Strawberry Thieves, and indeed they sang it in New Cross Road in 2002 during a Radical New Cross and Deptford history walk/talk I gave as part of that year's May Day Festival of Alternatives. I have also sung a version of it to the original tune (see below) at a May Day event at Brockley Social Club, and one drunken night a few years ago sung it with a couple of other people outside the house on Stondon Park Road on the way back from a Lewisham bloggers drink at the Honor Oak Tavern (apologies to the neighbours).

I gather that that at St Paul's Church in Deptford this weekend, the congregation sang Fred Kaan's hymn 'Sing we a Song of High Revolt', written to the tune of The Red Flag (Maryland/Tannebaum) and combining Connell's sentiments with the Magnificat: 

'By him the poor are lifted up: 
He satisfies with bread and cup 
The hungry folk of many lands;
The rich are left with empty hands.
He calls us to revolt and fight
With him for what is just and right
To sing and live Magnificat
In crowded street and council flat'

My favourite version of The Red Flag is Robert Wyatt's recording from 1982:

Billy Bragg and Dick Gaughan have recorded a version with the original tune:

How I wrote the Red Flag by Jim Connell

Here's Connell's own account of the song's composition, as published in the socialist newspaper The Call in summer 1920. I have reproduced it from South London Record (South London History Workshop, no.2 1987) 

The Editor asks me to answer a few questions about “The Red Flag”, and I will do so. The song was first published in the Christmas number of "Justice," 1889, which paper was then edited by Harry Quelch, and it immediately became popular. "Justice" then, was published on Thursday, and the following Sunday the song was sung in both Liverpool and Glasgow. 

The Editor wants to know my “source of inspiration” This reminds me that Bruce Glasier wrote to me shortly after it first appeared that the song was a "real inspiration." I cannot, like some of the old Jews, say that I was inspired by the Powers above. Nobody would believe me if I said so. I may, however, try to explain how the song came to be written.

One thousand eight hundred and eighty-nine was the year of the London dock strike. It was the biggest thing of its kind that occurred up to that date, and its leaders, H. H. Champion, Tom Mann and John Burns - aroused the whole of England by the work they did and the victory they won. Much occurred, however, before that to elevate me.

Not many years previously the Irish Land League aroused the democracy of all countries. I am proud to be able to say that I founded the first branch of the Land League which was established in England. This was the Poplar branch and I remained its secretary until the League was suppressed, and was a member of the executive during the whole of the time. Those who played a prominent part in the business never knew when they were going to be arrested and indicted for murder.

About the same time, the Russian Nihilists, the parents of the Bolshevists, won the applause of all lovers of liberty and admirers of heroism. Under the rule of the Czar, which many Englishmen would now re-establish if they could, the best men and women of Russia were deported to Siberia at the rate of twenty thousand a year. Young lady students were taken from their class-rooms, and sent to work in the horrible mines, where their teeth fell out, and the hair fell off their heads in a few mouths. Nobody could possibly fight this hellish rule with more undaunted courage than did the Nihilists, women as well as men.

It was my privilege to know Stepniak, himself one of the greatest of the Terrorists. I was in his company the night he was accidentally killed at a level crossing on a railway. His book, 'Underground Russia’ produced a greater effect on me than any ‘revelation’ ever produced on a devotee. I was indeed "raised above myself" by the dauntless courage of Vera Sassulitch and the "endless abnegation" of Sophie Perovskaya.

There happened also, in 1887, the hanging of the Chicago anarchists. Their innocence was afterwards admitted by the Governor of the State of Illinois. The widow of one of them, Mrs. Parsons, herself more than half a Red Indian, made a, lecturing tour in this country soon afterwards. On one occasion I heard her tell a large audience that when she contemplated the service rendered to humanity, she was glad her husband had died as he did. Yes, I heard Mrs. Parsons say that. The reader may now understand how the souls of all true Socialists were elevated, and how I got into the mood which enabled men to write "The Red Flag."

The editor wants to know how and where it was written. In a train between Charing Cross and New Cross, during a fifteen minutes' journey, the first two stanzas, including the chorus, were completed, and I think I may say the whole of the song mapped out. After I got home, I wrote more, and little remained to be done after that. Next day I made some slight additions and alterations, and the day following I sent it on to Quelch.

As far as I can remember, I never wrote a song in such a short time before or since. Tom Moore confessed that every one of his "Irish Melodies" cost him a "month's hard labour." My experience of writing amorous verses is somewhat similar. I may inform the reader (in strict confidence) that, although I left Dublin at an early age, I had already written a loves song to nearly every barmaid in the city. All those cost me much time and trouble, and were hardly ever appreciated. I suspect I could never rise to the level of the girl's estimate of herself. Woman, lovely woman, "with all thy faults, I love thee still."

There is only one air which suits the words of "The Red Flag," and that is the one I hummed as I wrote it. I mean "The White Cockade." I mean, moreover, the original version known to everybody in Ireland 50 years ago. Since then some fool has altered it by introducing minor notes into it, until it is now nearly a jig. This later version is the one on sale in music shops to-day, and it does not, of course, suit my words.

I suppose this explains why Adolphe Smith Headingley induced people to sing "The Red Flag" to the air of “Maryland." "Maryland" acquired that name during the American War of Secession. It is really an old German Roman Catholic hymn. It is church music, and was, no doubt, composed, and is certainly calculated to remind people of their sins, and frighten them into repentance.

I dare say it is very good music for the purpose for which it was composed, but that purpose was widely different from mine when I wrote "The Red Flag." Every time the song is sung to "Maryland" the words are murdered. The very slightest knowledge of elocution will show that the words are robbed of their proper emphasis and tone value and meaning when sung to that air. The meaning of the music is different from the meaning of the words. Headingley might as well have set the song to "The Dead March in Saul".

Did I, when I wrote it, think that my song would live? Yes. The last line shows I did." "This song shall be our parting hymn." I hesitated a considerable time over this last line. I asked myself whether I was not assuming too much. I reflected, however, that in writing the song I gave expression to not only my own best thoughts and feelings, but the best thoughts and feelings of every genuine Socialist I knew. Anarchists, of course, included. I decided that the last line should stand. 

The people's flag is deepest red, 
It shrouded oft our martyred dead, 
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold, 
Their hearts' blood dyed its every fold.


Then raise the scarlet standard high. 
Within its shade we live and die, 
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer, 
We'll keep the red flag flying here. 

Look round, the Frenchman loves its blaze, 

The sturdy German chants its praise, 
In Moscow's vaults its hymns were sung 
Chicago swells the surging throng. 

It waved above our infant might, 
When all ahead seemed dark as night; 
It witnessed many a deed and vow, 
We must not change its colour now. 

It well recalls the triumphs past, 
It gives the hope of peace at last; 
The banner bright, the symbol plain, 
Of human right and human gain. 

It suits today the weak and base, 
Whose minds are fixed on pelf and place 
To cringe before the rich man's frown, 
And haul the sacred emblem down. 

With head uncovered swear we all 
To bear it onward till we fall; 
Come dungeons dark or gallows grim, 
This song shall be our parting hymn. 

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Saint Etienne - South London band slag off South London

There's an interview with Saint Etienne in the Observer today to promote their new album. As discussed on Transpontine before, band founders Bob Stanley and Pete Wigg grew up in Croydon. And indeed they dicuss in the interview heading from there to the bright lights of New Cross in search of a London night out: 

'Childhood friends Stanley and Wigg were so in thrall to the capital they'd all but lie to themselves to feel part of the city. "The cachet of London was such that we used to go to pubs by the nearest stop that had a London postcode, because Croydon had a Surrey postcode," Wiggs remembers. "So we'd go to Norwood and New Cross, just to go to the pub. 'We're out in London tonight! Going uptown!"'

 But then Bob Stanley really puts his foot in it: 'And in the great psychic divide marked by the Thames that separates one sort of Londoner from another, they come down firmly on one side. "South London's not really London, is it?" Stanley says. "It's just an endless suburb. Also, there's obvious musical heritage in the bits of London I'm drawn to – Joe Meek in the Holloway Road. And Muswell Hill always seemed like a grimy place from the Kinks."

Oh dear. The band's musical reference points have always been centred round the 1960s. They have made some great music, but sadly that same 1960s Soho template makes for a narrow vision of London. Moving beyond The Kinks and Joe Meek, there's also obvious musical heritage in many parts of South London: reggae sound systems and lovers rock from New Cross and Lewisham, late 70s pub rock and early new wave from Deptford and Greenwich (Squeeze, Dire Straits etc.), dubstep from Croydon... I could go on, but you could just look through this blog for many other examples.

Saint Etienne's best song took its name from a Croydon based paving company. Getting back in touch with their South London roots might not do their songwriting any harm.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Painting London - Matthew Baker

Painting London is an exhibition of paintings by Matthew Baker, opening this week at Le Garage, 115 Dulwich Road, Herne Hill, SE24 (4th to 12th May).

Nice picture of the changing rooms at Brockwell Park to get you going:

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Fowlers Troop 2012

Deptford Fowlers Troop did their annual May Day procession yesterday, featuring the Jack in the Green, musicians and various outlandish costumes. They started out in Southwark Street, went over London Bridge and around the City (where I took these photos) then back over the Millennium Bridge to Bankside.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

May Day Horse Parades

May Day greetings everyone, looks a bit wet right now to go and wash your face in the morning dew but hopefully it will have cleared up a bit by the time the Deptford Jack in the Green procession gets going later - not in Deptford or Greenwich this year, but around north Southwark and the City. They will be starting off around noon at The Wheatsheaf (24 Southwark Street SE1) and end up around 4 pm at The Charles Dickens, 160 Union Street, London, SE1 (full route here). On the political end of May Day, there will be the usual march in Central London and a day of action against workfare targeting companies involved.

From my pamphlet 'May Days in South London' (2011), here 's some information about a largely forgotten May Day custom - horse parades.

Horse Parades

A final group of workers associated with May Day was those working with horses. May Day 1860, saw  'the decorations of horses belonging to the several railway companies and other large establishments' in South London. The annual procession from the South-Eastern Railway Company from the Bricklayers Arms on the Old Kent Road 'created some sensation in the locality' with the streets crowded and the horses 'preceded by a band of music'. In the evening 'a supper was provided for the drivers, presided over by the principal officials, at which about one hundred sat down'. However another custom had already faded away by this date: ‘The procession of mail-coaches which formerly drew such crowds to witness at the General Post-Office on May-day, no longer exists’ (South London Chronicle 5.5.1860).

An annual May Day parade of horses was held in this period at Wellington Wharf, Lambeth by Eastwood and Co. Ltd. The event had outgrown the Wharf by 1899 when it was moved to Battersea Park and featured nearly a hundred 'gaily bedecked' horse drawn vehicles. In the same year St Olaves Board of Works in Bermondsey agreed to give 5 shillings to each carman and dustman in its employ for the 'parade of horses on May 1' (South London Press, 6 May 1899).

Local Council workers also held a parade. In 1892 ‘the Bermondsey dustmen and other servants of the Vestry turned out with twenty-two teams’, and prizes were awarded to the most effective of them' (The Graphic, 7 May 1892).

Bermondsey Horse Parade 1892
(The Graphic, 7 May 1892)

This event was still taking place at the turn of the 20th century: 'On Tuesday the annual May Day parade of the horses belonging to the vestry of Bermondsey was held. Twenty four horses, with their carmen, paraded in Spa Road... at the conclusion of the judging, the parade was continued through the streets of Bermondsey until 1:30 pm, the carmen being given the remainder of the day as holiday'. Prizes were awarded for the best cared for animal (SLP, 5 May 1900). In 1920, May Day horse parades were put on in Lee by employees of Mr. A. Manchester, horse and steam contractors (based at Dacre-Park) and at the Whitbreads bottling store in Lewisham, the latter a revival of 'a popular feature before the war' (KM, 7.5.1920).