Monday, July 27, 2020

Black Lives Matter - Croydon

Some more Black Lives Matter-themed graffiti/street art, this time from the skatepark in Wandle Park in Croydon.

'Stop killin' the mandem'

the River Wandle (more of a stream at this stage) in Wandle Park

Croydon has seen a number of Black Lives Matter protests in recent weeks, including this one at Park Hill on 13 June:

photo by @jamieaudsley
See previously:

More local Black History:

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Black Lives Matter in South London- 2 months on

Two months after the police killing of George Floyd in  Minneapolis on May 25th, the global wave of  Black Lives Matters protests continues to make an impact around the world. This is a quick overview of the last eight weeks in South London, where the current phase of the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK started in Peckham on 30 May 2020 with hundreds of people marching across the Common and down Rye Lane.

Peckham Rye, 30 May 2020 (photo by @katyG_LSL)
Probably the largest demonstration so far took place a week later on Sunday 7 June, with a huge crowd gathering by the American Embassy in Battersea before crossing over Vauxhall Bridge and marching on to Whitehall. It was one of the biggest demonstrations seen in London in recent years, perhaps in the region of 50,000 or more.  On the way there I saw streams of people walking towards it from different parts of London due to the limited Covid 19 public transport. 

Vauxhall Bridge, 7 June 2020
A feature of the protests has been the wearing of face masks and the predominance of home made cardboard placards, well everybody seems to have a cardboard box to hand in these days of endless deliveries due to shop closures. But there were some banners to be seen, and I was pleased to see a proud Millwall anti-fascists banner at Vauxhall.

Millwall anti-fascists, Vauxhall Bridge

It seems that most local parks and public spaces have had some kind of Black Lives Matter gathering, usually 100-200 people taking the knee - a sign of the reach of the movement beyond the usual places where protest happens. I mean it's not every day (or decade for the that matter) that there is a protest in Hilly Fields or Telegraph Hill Park.

Lewisham Police Station, 3 June 2020 (photo by Mark Thompson)

Hilly Fields, 13 June 2020
(photo by Melissa Jacques full report at EastLondonLines)

Burgess Park, 14 June 2020

Ladywell Fields, 27 June (photo from SUTR)

Telegraph Hill Park, 4 July 2020 (photo from @avocadamn)

Protests have also taken place in Mountsfield Park (Catford) and outside the Deptford Lounge, among other places.

Firefighters take the knee at Lewisham Fire Station (photo from @itslukecharles, 3 June 2020)
Black Lives Matters signs can be seen in many local houses, following the recent trend for NHS rainbow window signs. Here's a few examples from around SE14.

There's also some BLM/anti-racist street art and graffiti. 

'Black Lives Matter', Waldram Park Road, Forest Hill

'Fight racism, build unity' - Thames path, Greenwich peninsula

'Racists still not welcome' - Thames path, Greenwich peninsula
What will happen next remains to be seen, in terms of  public protests all movements have ebbs and flows in their momentum. But away from the streets, this phase has kicked of a widespread questioning in workplaces, homes, sports clubs etc. There is a sense that something has to change and that is not going away. 

See also:

More local Black History:

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Covid-19 South London Street Art, volume 2

Earlier on in the pandemic I did a post on Covid-19 street art in South London. In that first month of the lockdown it was all rainbows and chalk messages in support of NHS workers. Here's another round up of picture from May and June 2020.

Expressions of support for the NHS are still to be seen in plenty of places, including some fine rainbows.

'big up the NHS' - Lewisham town centre

Redecorated tank, off Mandela Way SE1

Deptford Cinema, Deptford Broadway

New Cross House, Laurie Grove SE14

NHS workers and patient on New Cross House by @deanio_x and @seen_k26 - perhaps reflecting on the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities and workers

Other key workers have also got some appreciation, such as bus drivers:

Bus stop, Honor Oak Estate

The weekly Thursday nights 'clap for carers' with people cheering from their doorsteps came to an end after 10 weeks with the first signs of the lockdown easing. There was a bit of an emerging strain between community celebration and state-sponsored show of national unity (e.g. politicians advertising their participation) - 'clapping is not enough' as a placard in New Cross put it.  Still the mass support shown for the National Health Service will make  it politically difficult to cut funding to it in the economic downturn ahead. 'Thank you NHS' doesn't mean 'thank you Government', as a billboard in Lewisham's Molesworth Street graphically illustrated:

'RIP 151++ key workers' 'Clapping is not enough'  -
Lewisham Way outside Goldsmiths

'Support NHS Staff ', 'SSP [statutory sick pay] for care home workers'
Lewisham Way outside Goldsmiths

These banners in Lewisham town centre urged people not to forget those at risk of Covid locked up in prisons and immigration detention centres:

'Social distancing in detention centres is impossible. Confirmed Covid-18 cases. Non one should fear hospital in risk of deportation'

A rainbow by artmongers has brightened up the railway bridge that on Aspinall Road, off Drakefell Road:

Of course the rainbow is also an LGBT+ symbol, as noted by whoever stencilled this message and some symbols on the railway bridge rainbow. On local social media forums there were some objections to this re-appropriation of the rainbow, but hey it's all part of the ongoing dialogue of street art.

The history of the LGBT+ rainbow flag, Aspinall Road bridge

South London Trans People,  Aspinall Road bridge

Some graffiti just reminded people not to get too carried away by fear... 

'it'll be OK', Lewisham Way

Love>Fear, Deptford

Fear is the Virus, Douglas Way, SE8

The community mutual aid that sprung up early in the pandemic has continued, in some cases becoming a highly organised system of food deliveries, as well as picking up prescriptions etc.  

'Nunhead Knocks' community support

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!'