Monday, June 22, 2020

Deptford Colour Bar 1958

Today is Windrush day, commemorating the arrival of Jamaican migrants in Britain on the Empire Windrush on this day in 1948 and the wider impact of people of Caribbean origin in this country.

The recent plight of some of these migrants in the Windrush scandal has rightly been condemned, but the fact is that generation faced racism from the moment they stepped onto British soil. This shameful, but not untypical example, is from Deptford in 1958. The landlord of The Robin Hood and Little John pub, Peter Sparkes defended his policy of a  'no drinks for coloured people' on the basis that 'My customers just don't like coloured people'. Condemning this 'pub colour bar', Deptford Labour MP Leslie Plummer noted that there were 'several hundred West Indians living in Deptford' (The People,  13 July 1958).

The pub was in Deptford Church Street. It closed in 1970 and was demolished in 1977.

This was not an isolated example - as late as 1965 there were demonstrations outside the Dartmouth Arms in Forest Hill against a similar ban on serving drinks to black people (see previous post on this).

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Black Lives Matter at Telegraph Hill Park

The railings around Telegraph Hill lower park in New Cross - specifically on Erlanger Road and Kitto Road SE14 - currently feature cardboard placards from the latest phase of the Black Lives Matter movement that has exploded worldwide following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

It's not just in the USA that people of colour have died at the hands of the state, which is why the movement has gained such global traction. A whole section of the fence in Erlanger Road includes placards each with the name of somebody who has suffered in Britain.

The names include, among others,  South London reggae MC Smiley Culture who died in disputed circumstances in a 2011 police raid and Cherry Groce who was disabled for life after being shot during the 1985 police raid that sparked the Brixton riots of that year. 

Remembered too is Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian electrician shot dead by police at Stockwell station in 2005.

The current wave of protests in Britain really got going last Saturday (May 30th) when hundreds of people marched down Rye Lane and on to Peckham Rye. The movement returns to South London tomorrow, Sunday June 7th, with a planned demonstration at the US Embassy in Battersea from 2 pm.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Peckham Rye Women's Liberation & the 1970 Miss World Protest

50 years ago the 1970 Miss World pageant in London was famously disrupted by feminists opposed to it objectification of women. Anti-apartheid protestors also demonstrated against the inclusion of South Africa in the contest. The anniversary has been marked by both a BBC documentary ('Miss World 1970: Beauty Queens and Bedlam') and a fictionalised movie, 'Misbehaviour', starring Keira Knightley.

Both documentary and movie frame the event in a similar way, suggesting that despite being in different camps on the night both protesters and contestants were being swept up in the social changes of the period with for instance a black woman winning Miss World for the first time. The movie incidentally features many scenes filmed in the Rivoli Ballroom in Crofton Park, where the contestants are shown rehearsing for the big night.

Rhys Ifans as Eric Morley, filmed in Rivoli Ballroon in Misbehaviour (2020)
Clara Rosager as Marjorie Johansson (Miss Sweden) stomps out of the Rivoli
Both documentary and film credit the idea of demonstrating against Miss World to the Peckham Rye Women's Liberation Group, and in a number of articles promoting the movie Jan Williams and Hazel Twort from the Peckham group are named as the inspiration (e.g. Daily Mirror, 6 March 2020).

The Peckham Rye group seemed to have been formed in 1969. In London Women's Liberation Workshop newsletter Issue 4 (August 1969) 'Janet Williams from the Peckham Rye group wrote an article about the formation of the group. Her account illustrates a growing feminist awareness many groups probably followed. The Peckham group grew out of a one o'clock club. At the first three meetings, some of their husbands attended and they largely discussed problems with childcare. At the fourth meeting Juliet Mitchell came to speak about women's oppression. After this the group decided to exclude men and change the focus of their discussions from child care to more general theorising about women's oppression' (this summary of the article comes from Kelly Coate, reference at bottom of this piece - I would be interesting in reading the whole article if anyone has it).

Several of the members decided to disrupt a public meeting at Goldsmiths College: 'It had been advertised as an open debate on revolutionary ideas, with the participation of left-wing underground personalities . . we stood up and demanded the meeting should hear us on, and then discuss, the oppression of women. We were booed loudly and asked to strip, told we needed a good fuck, etc. However, we went on to hold the 300 people in the hall to our subject for over an hour'. (Janet Williams, London Women's Liberation Workshop Newlsettter, no.4 , August 1969).  I believe this was the free festival at Goldsmiths organised by Malcolm McLaren and others in July 1969, discussed here previously, which featured R D Laing, Alexander Trocchi and other 'underground personalities;.

The Peckham Rye group were one of four London groups who rotated the editing/production of the women's liberation magazine Shrew, set up in 1969 (see Bazin, reference below).  The following year they were also involved with the first national women's liberation movement conference at Ruskin College in March 1970 where a  paper on 'Women and the Family' was written and presented by Ann Bechelli, Hazel Twort and Jan Williams from the Peckham Rye group

The first demonstration against Miss World was actually held outside the event in 1969, the following year they decided to up the ante and infiltrate the audience in order to disrupt more directly. In the aftermath Jan Williams was interviewed in The Observer (22 November 1970) and described as ‘30-year-old South London housewife Mrs Janet Williams’ who declared: ‘The protest had been planned for a number of weeks. As far as we are concerned it was a great success’.

According to Frankie Green at the interesting Women’s Liberation Music Archive 'in March 1972 women who’d met through Women’s Liberation and the Gay Liberation Front women’s group gathered at the council flat of Hazel Twort, a founder of WLM and the Peckham Rye WL group, and began the first feminist band to come out of the movement (to the best of my knowledge): the London Women’s Liberation Rock Band'. Twort played keyboards in the band. I believe she died in 1998.

Jan Williams died in 2010, her obituary in The Guardian is here.


Victoria Bazin (2016) Miss-Represented? Mediating Miss World in Shrew Magazine, Women: A Cultural Review, 27:4, 412-431,

Kelly Coate, The history of women's studies as an academic subject area in higher education in the UK: 1970-1995.

Friday, May 01, 2020

Deptford Jack in the Green 1889 & 2020 (and a frightful death at Camberwell)

There will be no May Day demonstration or procession of the Deptford Jack in the Green this socially distancing May Day. The Jack though has been spotted in garden somewhere in South London...

I wrote a whole pamphlet about the history of May Day in South London a while ago, which you can download here. I'm still finding new nuggets though, especially now that you can search newspapers online - that pamphlet was the result of many hours in libraries and archives.

Here's a report I hadn't come across before of the Jack in the Green in Deptford in 1889 (from Woolwich Gazette - Friday 03 May 1889):

'A wild scene of revelry was witnessed in the streets of Deptford on Tuesday night. A motley band of present day Bacchanals kept up the festivities which have, from time immemorable. been observed at the advent of 'That very merry month of May, For music made, so poets say'.  The revellers were, indeed, as merry as could be and their music was— well, loud. Round a conical wicker work frame, prettily dressed with flowers and leaves, and which was carried on the sturdy shoulders of an outwardly invisible being, the dancers careered. "Jack in the Green" was fain to join in the fun and skoppadiddle-like he would at times spin round with amazing rapidity upon his well shod feet. The fantastic dresses and curious masks of the merry men and rustic maids were well worth seeing, and brought to mind recollection of the Nini Moulins of Parisian routs in the carnivals of gay July. Merrily sounded the drum, and shrill shrieked the fife as the Broadway was crossed. Round about "Jack" the dancers skipped, and when the throng came within the far reaching rays of a chemist's crimson globe, it was possible to imagine the weird effect of the scene so graphically described by Poe in "The Dance of the Red Death."

The Deptford Jack is also mentioned in a rather sad 1886 report of a child abuse case: 'Joseph 0'Hara, 32, of 48, Charles- street, Deptford, was charged with violently assaulting his daughter Rose, aged ten years, by beating her. The child said that that morning, about eight O'clock. she was sent for a haddock. She went to look at a "Jack-in-the- Green" and did not get home for two hours. Her father then put her on the bed, and caned her... She had a very severe beating [and] The neighbours were "up in arms " against him... Mr. Marsham remanded the prisoner in custody, and sent the child to the workhouse (Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper - Sunday 02 May 1886).

A Jack in the Green in Camberwell had even more serious consequences in 1879, leading to a child apparently being frightened to death in Camberwell: 'DEATH THROUGH FRIGHT. On Saturdav Mr. W. Carter held an inquiry at the Lord Raglan, Camden-grove, Peckham, respecting the death of William Thomas Coker, aged nine years, of 78, East Surrey-grove, Camberwell. From the evidence of the mother it appeared that on Saturday a "Jack-in-the-green" was dancing in the road, which frightened her children very much. A few minutes afterwards a man dressed in a burlesque costume, with his face painted red, came into the passage, where deceased was, and directly the child saw the man he gave a scream and fell backwards, When picked up it was found that he was vomiting blood. A doctor was sent for, but the child died soon after his arrival. Medical evidence having been given showing that death had resulted from the rupture of a blood vessel caused by fright, the jury returned a verdict of 'Death from natural causes' (Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper - Sunday 18 May 1879).

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Covid-19 street art, volume 1

Covid-19 might have led to physical distancing but, as many have observed, the need for social communication and organisation has never been more apparent. In  this post I am focusing on one aspect of that - public expressions relating to the pandemic as seen on the streets of SE London (examples mainly from Brockley/New Cross/Nunhead area unless otherwise stated). There is a wave of spontaneous street/folk art bubbling up in windows, pavements, hoardings and many other places.

The first wave of creativity accompanied the launch of community self-help/mutual aid. The first public sign of this was the launch of the Lewisham Covid 19 Mutual Aid facebook group on March 12th, a good ten days before the Government implemented a lockdown. Soon flyers were dropping through letterboxes and posters going up all over the place, as people set up local groups at neighbourhood and street level. Today there are well established networks in most areas, there is lots of informal checking in on neighbours and co-ordinated responses to requests to pick up shopping and medicines, along with more ambitious efforts such as delivering food parcels to those who need it most (such as the scheme being run from Telegraph Hill area). If in some streets there hasn't been much need to go beyond setting up a whatsapp group, it is good to know that the support is there when required. Here's a couple of early examples of leaflets, from Telegraph Hill and Brockley respectively (click to enlarge).

'If you're self isolating you are not alone' (Telegraph Hill leaflet) 

'Need the support of your community during Covid-19? We can help' (Brockley leaflet)
The key visual image of pandemic street art has been the children's painting of a rainbow, displayed in a window as a general expression of hope. This seems to have started in Italy and spread internationally.

Some people have taken the rainbow on to another level - here's a balloon arch from Waller Road SE14:

Another international trend has been the bear hunt - strategically placed teddy bears for children to spot when they are out and about with their parents during their exercise stroll. This bear is giving thanks not to just emergency services but to food producers, shop workers, delivery people and... cats:

In Britain over the last couple of weeks the rainbow has merged  with another key trope - support for people working in the National Health Service. Here's some chalked examples:

Ravensbourne Park
Ivydale Road
'thank you NHS & Key workers - stay safe' (Ivydale Road)

NHS on Gellatly Road, opposite Skehans pub
 Elsewhere there have been banners, like this one:
'Thank you NHS' - Frendsbury Gardens, Honor Oak Estate (detail below)

Rushey Green - 'Care for each other'
The 'Trees on the Green' sculptures at Rushey Green have been decorated with pictures from children and staff at St John Baptist Primary School in Catford.

Similar sentiments have been expressed in street art pieces like these:

'We are blessed to have the NHS' - Geoffrey Road, SE4 (by Harry Blackmore)

NHS superhero, Hilly Fields
These graphic outpourings of support for NHS workers have been matched by public cheering on Thursday nights at 8 pm (for three consecutive weeks so far). In many places people have been clapping and generally making noise from their doors and windows. On my street in SE14 it has got busier and noisier over the three weeks, with banging of saucepans and even a couple of trumpets. It is both a gesture of solidarity and an affirmation of community, the only time in the week when we get to see our neighbours in any numbers.

I've seen some remarks online to the effect that what frontline workers in the health service need is better pay, more funding and Personal Protective Equipment, rather than cheers. But these need not be mutually exclusive. What is being shown appreciation on Thursday nights is not the limitations of the top down, under-resourced NHS with its various hierarchies and bureaucracies but the value of care and the principle that it must be there for all regardless of wealth. And of course respect for those shouldering the risk of providing this while many of us stay at home (not that this is limited to the NHS, let's not forgot teachers, social workers, care home staff etc.).

Many other people are having to travel to work and mix with colleagues because their employers have rather dubiously classed their work as essential. The reluctance of some companies to prioritise the health of their staff and customers by closing was highlighted at Wetherspoons pub chain, before they were forced to close by lockdown restrictions. This sticker from staff at the Brockley Barge highlighted their campaign for 'real sick pay now':

'Living wage for Brockley Barge staff'
Now with so many places closed we have become familiar with notices on doors explaining their position. This one is from the Old Nun's Head pub looking forward to reopening when 'this absolute bastard of  a virus has finally buggered off':

If ordinary politics seems to have been temporarily put on hold, it will no doubt return. A global pandemic affecting people everywhere might open the way for planetary humanist responses,  but equally it could be the precursor to a climate of blame in which various 'others' are held responsible. There are questions about what labour gets valued, how health and care services are resourced, what kind of 'normality' do we want to go back to? There has been some political graffiti locally but there will be a lot more political debate and controversy to come. 

'Pandemic to class war - don't trust Boris' - Lewisham town centre

'Covid futurism - economy of care - universal basic income - bury capital'
(the closed Black Horse and Harrow pub in Catford - most recently 'The Ninth Life')
And of course once again we are thankful for the success of our fight to stop the Government from closing Lewisham Hospital. The fallacy of reducing hospital services to a bare minimum with no capacity to respond to surges in illness has surely been exposed once and for all. Lives are being saved today at Lewisham as a result of the thousands who marched and campaigned back in 2013.

'Save Lewisham Hospital' campaign thanking NHS staff last month and
 calling for 'personal protection equipment for them now'
A message from some Lewisham staff - 'I stayed at work for you. Please stay at home for me!'

Monday, March 09, 2020

'We demand the right to live a little longer' - The 1937 Bus Strike in South London

The London Bus Strike in 1937 saw Transport and General Workers Union members walk out demanding a reduction in the length of their working day from 8 to 7.5 hours. 30,000 bus workers were employed by the the London Passenger Transport Board (made up of private companies), and the strike was solidly supported, starting on 1 May. The Daily Worker summarised the strikers' case:

'"We demand the right to live a little longer" With this unanswerable claim the London busmen support their claim for a 30 minute reduction in their working day of eight hours... That the health of busmen is affected and their lives shortened by existing conditions of labour is not an exaggerated claim, but a plain statement of fact... during the five years ended 1935, 3,785 busmen left the industry... Of these 877 died at an average age of 52, while 1,006 were discharged through ill health at an average age of 46 years... This is the story of speeding up. To safeguard their health the bus-men ask that their working day be reduced by 30 minutes. In making this moderate claim the workers point out that the safety of millions of people, whose lives are daily placed in their hands, is bound up with the winning of this claim. The employers maintain that the claim cannot be met on financial grounds, yet last year alone a profit of £7,474,000 was made by the undertaking' (DW, 30 April 1937).

The Central Bus Committee of strikers called for tram and trolley bus workers to join the strike, but the Union Executive, headed by Ernest Bevin, refused this and called off the strike after four weeks without the main demand being  met.

In South East London, the union seems to have been organised in two areas. Division A1 covered the bus garages at Camberwell, Nunhead and Old Kent Road.  The Daily Worker reported on some of the activities that kept the strikers occupied:

  • 'men are well occupied with concerts and whist drives. Mass  meeting on Friday at the Co-op Hall, Rye Lane (DW 14 May 1937)
  • Cabaret and dance at Oliver Goldsmiths School, march  from Camberwell to Peckham planned (DW 20 May 1937)
  • Demo planned from Wren Road, Camberwell Green. 'free hair cut service by local talent instituted in Nunhead' (DW 21 May 1937)
  • 'The boys are all in good spirits. Holding cricket match this afternoon, Peckham Rye and a concert on Friday at the Co-op Hall' (DW 27 May 1937)

Division A3 covered the garages at Plumstead, Sidcup, Catford and Bromley. Activities here included a 'Splendid demonstration to Lewisham' from Eltham Green (DW 20th and 21st May 1937).

The site of the old Nunhead bus garage on Nunhead Lane, near to Peckham Rye:

A plaque on the building reads: 'On this site stood a Garage for the Steam buses whichh the National Steam Car Company Limited opened in 1911. The Clock tower is a replica of the one which existed until 1999' 

Nunhead Bus garage seems to have been quite a militant workplace. Workers there were active in the 1926 General Strike, with the Camberwell Strike Bulletin (10 May 1926)  reporting that 'On Sunday morning, about 400 strikers from the Nunhead Bus Garage paraded in military formation to the Central Hall, Peckham, where a Church Service was held. All the men wore 1914–18 War Decorations – many of them wearing as many as six medals'.  In 1935, an unofficial bus workers strike started at Nunhead and spread to involve 5,000 workers. The garage was closed by London Transport in 1954 though it continued as a private coach depot into the 1970s and was used as a location in the final series of  popular early 70s sitcom 'On the Buses'. The building was demolished to make way for flats in 1999.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Music Monday: King Krule on Peckham Rye with his pants down

The new King Krule album 'Man Alive' is out,  Archy Marshall has come a long way since hanging out on Deptford rooftops when first mentioned at Transpontine in 2013. He's playing Brixton Academy next month, though he did a more intimate gig at DIY Space for London (Ormside Road SE15) last week to raise money for the Blackheath tea hut, demolished when hit by a car recently.

South East London locations often get referenced in his songs and videos, as discussed here in relation to his 2017 album The OOZ. Peckham Rye featured on his 2015 side project 'A new place 2 drown' with his brother's photograph of a bench on the Rye gracing the cover.

The new album includes the track 'Comet Face' which starts of 'Woke up, Peckham Rye at half five,
Boy on the ground with his pants down,What happened to him in his past life?'. Great track that strangely put me in mind of The Pixies.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

New Forest Hill Street Art

New street art in Forest Hill on the South Circular put up last week on hoardings around former Co-op site on Waldram Park Road (apparently a hotel is being built there). Artists include @lionel_stanhope who did the banana (best known locally for doing all those area name signs under railway bridges- Brockley, Nunhead etc);  @thereevesone, @whoamirony, @jellyjartist, @ueya.streets and others.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Careless Whisper - a Peckham ballad

The late great George Michael may have grown up in north London and Hertfordshire, along with his Wham! mate Andrew Ridgeley, but who knew that one of their best known songs was written in Peckham?

As told in his recent recent book 'Wham! George & Me' (2019),  Andrew Ridgeley moved in with his then girlfriend and later Wham! backing singer Shirlie Holliman 'who had got a job working in an outdoor pursuits store in the West End. Her aunt lived in Peckham and was happy to rent her basement flat to us for next to nothing. It was a far cry from the thriving district it’s become since. Much more 'Only fools and horses' than artisan bakers and craft beer shops' (this was in 1981).

Andrew and George were working on some of their early songs at this point, most notably Careless Whisper which Ridgeley says they worked on at both George's house in Radlett and the Peckham flat.  And it was 'on the tatty sofa in that Peckham flat' that Michael crafted the lyrics to that song. Sadly the address isn't stated, if anyone knows please comment so that we can get a plaque put up there!

St/ George Michael spotted in the religious records section of Bromley Oxfam