Sunday, August 21, 2016

'Incendiarism at New Cross' (1842) - was Louis XVII involved?!

An interesting account of apparent arson at a rocket factory in New Cross, from the Evening Mail, 9 March 1842. The location, given as Minerva House, seems to have been on what is now New Cross Road just up from the White Hart Hotel - as this was the location of the New Cross turnpike gate.

Also intrigued by the identity of the factory's owner, described as the Duke of Normandy. There is a report in the London Gazette from 1843, not long after this fire, of a 'Charles Louis Bourbon, Duke of Normandy, late of Minerva House, New Cross, Deptford, Surrey, Trader, Modelist and Machinist' being 'In the Gail of Horsemonger Lane' for debt. Clearly this is the same person, name sounds very distressed French aristocracy.


Late on Sunday night last the inhabitants residing in the vicinity of New-cross, near Deptford, were thrown into considerable alarm by the outbreak of destructive fire on some premises attached to the residence of the Duke of Normandy and Count Wallusee, known as Minerva-house, situated on the west side of the Old Kent-road, within a few yards of the New-cross turnpike-gate, which on inquiry was ascertained to be a manufactory carried on the Duke of Normandy for the construction of rockets, shells, and other implements of warfare.

The factory so called consisted of two back buildings, two floors in height, and occupied a frontage of about 35 feet, at the extremity of the garden in the rear of the dwelling-house, and they are said to have contained, besides machinery, a great quantity of valuable models of various missiles. For considerable time before the flames burst forth the police on duty in the immediate neighbourhood observed a strong smell of wood burning, and not being able to discover whence it proceeded, though at the same time convinced that fire must be kindling, they determined upon arousing the inhabitants residing near the near the spot, which was quickly effected, and shortly afterwards the fire was found raging in the upper floor of the premises.

The Duke of Normandy and Count Wallusee were soon at the fire, and in the course of few minutes a large number of the surrounding inhabitants came to their assistance, who exerted every effort to prevent the flames from spreading, but it was found wholly impossible to do so, in consequence of there being no water, and in very short time the principal part of the works was completely in a blaze. Immediately on the discovery being made, an express was started to the metropolis to give intelligence of the fire to the various engine stations, and in about half-an-hour several belonging to the Brigade, from the stations in Southwark-bridge-road, Morgan’s lane, Waterloo-road,  and Watling-street, with the superintendant of the force, Mr. Braidwood, arrived alongside of the burning premises. The firemen, however, not being able to get the engines to work for the want of a supply of water, they were but of little avail, but ultimately the fire was prevented from extending beyond the building in which it commenced and which is totally destroyed.

From what has since been ascertained, it appears beyond doubt that the fire was the act of an incendiary, who obtained entrance into the premises by means of a skeleton key, which was discovered by the police in the door of the factory, the approach to which was a narrow dark lane at the back, and from circumstances that have transpired it is expected that the guilty party  will in a few hours be in the custody of the police. About three weeks since the Duke of Normandy, in consequence of a threatening letter received, endeavoured to effect insurance on the property in the Sun Fire-office, but the directors declined the offer on account of the heavy sum which was required. The premises destroyed have only been erected  few months, and were wholly detached from any other premises.

The Duke of Normandy, in an interview with the reporter yesterday, said no one worked in the factory but himself, and that the whole of his improved rockets, models, and other important inventions, were destroyed. Several them had been highly approved of by Her Majesty’s Government, and it was their intention to have introduced them into the services, but some difficulties ensued respecting the treaty of which was required 60,000 which was required by by the noble Duke, and the offer was abandoned. He estimates his loss at upwards of 4,000'.

(not sure from the report what the unit of currency was - presumably pounds or guineas)

The Duke seems to have had an eventful life - and/or been a fantasist. In January 1845 it was reported that 'Charles Louis de Bourbon, commonly known as the Duke of Normandy' was subject of an alleged assassination attempt 'at his residence, Mulgrave House, Kings Road, Fulham'. The Duke claimed that  a bullet missed him by 'an inch or two'  and blamed the attack on 'Roman Catholics' who were 'against him for having lately abjured their creed. Three weeks previously  he had received a latter from a French priest, warning him of a plot to take his life, and he had also received two other communications informing him of a conspiracy against him amongst some Frenchmen'  (Royal Cornwall Gazette, 10 January 1845).

Update: in a comment to this post, Caroline has suggested that this character appears to be Karl Wilhelm Naundorff (1785-1845), a German watchmaker and weapon designer who styled himself Charles Louis de Bourbon and claimed to be heir to the French throne (i.e. Louis XVII as the child of the executed Louis XVI). In the 1820s he was accused of arson and counterfeiting in Germany - which maybe casts doubt on his claim that New Cross fire was started by others. He was deported by French authorities to England in 1836.

Naundorff - self-styled Louis XVII of New Cross

An 1893 book written on behalf of a rival claimant to the throne confirms that Naundorff was the 'Duke of Normandy' living in New Cross at this time, surrounded by a court of the 'subservient disciples of Minerva House'. The author suggests that 'The truth probably was that Naundorff caused the accident  himself, through some carelessness in handling the inflammable materials in which he was working' and that the arsonist angle had been developed for publicity purposes (see: 'The story of Louis XVII of France' by Elizabeth Edson Gibson Evans, 1893).  

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Lewisham health visiting threatened by Jeremy Hunt's cuts

Health visiting and school nursing services are facing cuts in Lewisham as a result of a £4.7 million reduction in the public health grant that the Council receives from central government. Lewisham Council is consulting on how it will make these cuts (consultation here - closes 14 August), and local NHS campaigners Save Lewisham Hospital have started a petition opposing the cuts. They say:

'What some of us might not know (or have forgotten) is just how essential children's community nurses and health visitors are. Children's services are not some non-essential, 'cuttable' part of the local health service. They are central to protecting our most vulnerable children from disease and neglect. They provide the bulk of our safeguarding and public health commitments, from cradle to adulthood. It is not the place of Lewisham Council to take these services away from the next generation, it is their duty to demand they are adequately funded. Please, for the skilled staff, vulnerable children and community, sign this petition, once again, demand to Save NHS Services in Lewisham, and keep your eyes peeled for any actions or demonstrations we may announce. At a time when the government and NHS England are stressing the importance of preventative and community services: WE THE UNDERSIGNED OPPOSE THESE CUTS AND URGE THE COUNCIL NOT TO ACCEPT THEM AND TO DEMAND THE RESTORATION OF AN ADEQUATE PUBLIC HEALTH GRANT FROM CENTRAL GOVERNMENT'.

Right as they are to oppose these reductions, I can't help feel they are falling into a Government trap by addressing this solely to the Mayor of Lewisham, Steve Bullock. Until last year the responsibility for commissioning (i.e. funding) of health visiting was managed within the NHS - which meant that the  buck stopped ultimately with the Minister for Health. The transfer of this responsibility to local Councils from 1 October 2015 was promoted as offering 'service sustainability' and 'maximum benefit for local people'. But no sooner did this transfer happen than local authorities were told that the funding for these services was being reduced, with Department of Health announcing cuts in November 2015.

In effect in many areas, Councils have been given responsibility for a service that currently costs x million and then given x million minus a big cut to fund it - all at a time when Councils are struggling to maintain services they were already responsible for. Cleverly, the blame for this can now be laid at the door of local authorities so that Jeremy Hunt can now say, 'well if you don't like it, blame the Council'. So yes, lobby Lewisham but also lets look beyond the local at the bigger picture of Department of Health cuts of £200m to the public health grant that are threatening health visiting and other community health services across the country.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

More Lewisham 1977 Photos from Anti-Fascist Demo

The London Metropolitan Archives Collage London Picture Archive, 'Collage' has lots of great photos from across the capital. The Lewisham section includes some photographs by Chris Schwarz from the anti-National Front mobilisation of August 1977 (sometimes  referred to as  the 'Battle of Lewisham'). Here's a couple of details from  the photos, full set here.
This is from the demonstration organised by the All Lewisham Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (ALCARAF), which gathered on Ladywell Fields - banners in photo include Indian Workers Association, Morning Start and Campaign for Homosexual Equality (Lewisham):
The march progressed down Ladywell Road and into Lewisham High Street. The 'Lewisham 24' graffiti on the railway bridge refers to the arrest of young black men in police raids in May 1977 - an action that sparked the cycle of events leading to the National Front march (see chronology here). Demonstrators are carrying 'One Race- the Human Race, Unite to Fight Racialism' placards, which I believe were produced by the Communist Party of Great Britain.


Monday, August 08, 2016

Free Nazanin Ratcliffe

Former Brockley resident Nazanin Ratcliffe has now been in jail in Iran for four months, having been detained while attempting to fly back from a family holiday there.  Her two year old child who was with her at the time is now with relatives in Iran while her British husband is in London campaigning for her release. It has been reported that she is in poor health having been kept for long periods in solitary confinement.
Nazanin lived in Tyrwhitt Road, with former housemate Clare Cowen supporting the campaign, including posters such as this one in the Hilly Fields café. Nearly 800,000 people have signed the petition calling on the British government to step up its efforts to secure her freedom.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Brockley Launderette Closing in Endwell Road (update: features in David Bowie video)

The Launderette in Endwell Road, Brockley, SE4 is to close. A sign in its window gives a closing date as Sunday 18th September 2016. I don't know why, businesses close and indeed open all the time for all kinds of reason, but as Dave Hill highlighted earlier this year launderettes in London are vanishing fast.

Of course the need for launderettes has diminished since their heyday, as domestic washing machines have became more widespread and even student accommodation nowadays usually has access to one. But as with the also disappearing high street banks and post offices, the fact that many people no longer need or use them is no comfort to those who still rely on them.   

Not sure what the plans are for the place - it's actually an unusual and quite grand building, anybody know anything about its history, or for that matter its future?

'Back in the mid-1980s, launderettes - or laundrettes? - became fashionable in a very mid-1980s way. A TV commercial set in one famously rescued the ailing sales of Levis and the film My Beautiful Laundrette captured a London mood of the time: a blend of cultural tensions, economic change and sexual possibilities. Shot on a shoestring in south London, it contains a scene in which a crowd of customers gathers outside, impatient to be let in. It’s hard to imagine any screenwriter dreaming up quite such intense demand for a London launderette today' (Dave Hill, London's launderettes are closing but their value and beauty remains, Guardian, 24 January 2016)

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) - filmed around Battersea and  Wandsworth

Update (January 2017): Bowie video filmed in the Brockley Launderette

The Brockley Launderette features in the video for David Bowie's No Plan, released posthumously in January 2017 on what would have been the singer's 70th birthday. The video, directed by Tom Hingson,  has the launderette rechristened Newton Electrical with a group of passers-by gathering to watch a bank of TVs showing a rocket launch,  Thomas Newton was of course the character played by Bowie in the film 'The Man who Fell to Earth', directed by Nicholas Roeg (whose son Nico used to live - and maybe still does - just up the road from the launderette). The sharp eyed may notice the 'Foxgrove Road' street sign placed outside the shop - the name of a road in Beckenham where Bowie once lived.