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

Friday, December 27, 2019

Kylie Minogue at the Rivoli

Kylie's Secret Night, shown on Channel 4 over Christmas 2019, showed everyone's favourite Aussie pop star staging a surprize night for fans, hosted by Alan Carr. And where better to do it than the Rivoli Ballroom in Crofton Park, where so many others have trod - Rihanna, Lana del Ray, Elton John, Tina Turner, Oasis, Florence and the Machine, er the Brockley Ukelele Group and all the rest (check out previous posts for details).







Saturday, December 21, 2019

'your discovery was my land, my discovery is your borders'

'Freedom of Movement II' is a poster-based work by Glasgow-based Iranian artist Iman Tajik, recently displayed in the window of the new building on the corner of Borough High Street and Marshalsea Road SE1. Referencing the 1951 UN convention on refugees it proclaims 'your discovery was my land, my discovery is your borders'.  According to the artist the work explores the ‘right to travel as a human rights concept, encompassing the right of individuals to travel from place to place within the territory of a country, and to leave the country and return to it’. The bird featured, an avocet, knows no borders as it migrates between Europe, Africa and Asia.

I wonder whether the artist was aware that this building at 180 Borough High Street - which now houses Fora workspace - occupies what was until recently the site of the Overseas Visitors Records Office where 'foreign nationals' registered with the police, and that in a building on the site before that Marcus Garvey once rented a room.


The work featured in the Better Bankside 'From the other side' of exhibition displayed in local windows during October 2019.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Villages Brewery birthday

Villages brewery in Deptford is three years old and celebrating this weekend with a party. Must admit my visit to the Villages taproom in Resolution Way last weekend was my first. The brewery/bar is in one of the railway arches there, and as well as serving their own brews they are hosting music sessions, quiz nights etc.


I was there for the visit of the Fowlers Molly Dancers who were touring Deptford drinking establishments - they have been practicing at Villages.




Monday, December 09, 2019

Music Monday: High Flying Birds video in Crofton Park & Lordship Lane

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds' 'Wandering Star' single has a Christmas-themed video that sees a Santa coming to the aid of a desperate shoplifter.  The shop used in the video is actually Jay's Budgens in Crofton Park (400 Brockley Road SE4, by the Brockley Jack pub).


In the video Santa and the shoplifter are chased by a security guard and escape on to a nearby housing estate. There isn't actually such an estate next to Budgens, this scene was filmed a couple of miles away on Southwark's Lordship Lane Estate. Norman Court, which is opposite the estate on Lordship Lane SE22, can be seen as Santa runs down the alley



Budgens, December 2019 - the shop front isn't actually shown in the video


Saturday, November 30, 2019

New Lewisham 1977 Mural (and the Clifton Rise toilets)

A new mural was unveiled last month at Goldsmiths commemorating the August 1977 'Battle of Lewisham' when anti-fascists mobilised to oppose a march by the far right National Front from New Cross to Lewisham. Designed by Ted Low in collaboration with local community groups, the mural is a montage of images from photographs taken on the day - including the 'All Lewisham Campaign Against Racism and Fascism' banner and clashes in New Cross Road and Lewisham town centre.


At the centre of the mural, holding a megaphone, is Darcus Howe. At that time editor of Brixton-based Race Today magazine, he was to play an important role in the movement after the New Cross Fire a few years later in 1981. The image comes from a photograph by Syd Shelton showing Darcus Howe standing on top of the public toilets on Clifton Rise.


Another photo taken around the same time facing in the other direction shows the crowd on New Cross Road, with New Cross Inn behind the speaker and across the road the site of what is now The Word Bookshop on corner of Laurie Grove (somebody in front row holding up a cassette recorder - would be great if tape of speeches still exists!).


The toilets get a mention in an Irish Times (13/8/1977) report on preparations for the demonstration : 'A public convenience in Clifton Rise, Deptford is to be used as a cell-block if there is widespread violence, the attendant, Mr Ron Edwards, has been told. Right-wingers would be led to the Gentlemen and Left-wingers to the Ladies'. The same report mentioned that 'For the first time police will have the use of special riot gear, heavy duty plastic shields and helmets'. The mural includes an image of the riot shields in use in Lewisham town centre, their first deployment in the UK outside of Northern Ireland. But with thousands of anti-fascists blockading Clifton Rise, any plans to use the toilets (if true) must have been abandoned.

The mural launch at Goldsmiths on 26 October 2019 also included a reception with reggae DJ set from Tessa Pollitt, former bassist with The Slits. 


There were a view veterans from 1977 present, including photographer Homer Sykes whose work is also featured in the mural. A collection of his photographs from the day has been been published by Cafe Royal Books.


According to the radical philosopher Alain Badiou, a feature of a historically significant Event is that it inspires a kind of 'fidelity' amongst those inspired by it, a loyalty to its purposes that is ongoing rather than a historical memory of a frozen past. Lewisham '77 has certainly inspired such fidelity, with a series of local events to mark its 30th anniversary (in 2007) and 40th anniversary (in 2017) explicitly relating the 1977 demonstration to contemporary struggles against racism and the far right.

Dr John Price, Head of the Department of History at Goldsmiths, said: “This vivid public artwork, commemorating an important event in the history of anti-fascism and anti-racism in the UK, will stand as a permanent reminder of what can be achieved when communities come together to resist and oppose bigotry in all its forms. The Battle of Lewisham was south London’s Battle of Cable Street and it is fitting that both events are now marked with commemorative plaques and major pieces of public art.” The mural is displayed on the side of the Goldsmith library on Lewisham Way.

There's lots about Lewisham 1977 on this blog, my main reflections on it are in an article I wrote for Datacide magazine: Lewisham '77: myth and anti-fascist history. For everything else at Transpontine scroll through here

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Southwark Spain Shop: anti-fascist shop in 1930s Walworth Road

Edith Tudor-Hart (1908–1973) was an Austrian photographer who studied at the Bauhaus. Born Edith Suschitzky, she came from a left wing Jewish background and fled rising fascism to move to London having married Alex Tudor-Hart in 1933.  They lived for a while in Brixton where she had a photography studio. Alex became a GP and later went to Spain during the Civil War as part of the anti-fascist British Medical Aid Unit. Edith developed her practice as a documentary photographer, not to mention apparently helping to recruit Kim Philby to spy for the Russians.

A recent display at Tate Britain features some of her work, along with photos by her brother Wolfgang Suschitzky (a photographer and cinematographer who worked on the 1971 film 'Get Carter' among others). Both of them captured/constructed some great images of London life, but one image in particular caught my attention:


Tudor-Hart's image shows something called the 'Southwark Spain Shop', with the caption stating that it was taken in 1937. As the shop in question is covered in posters there is quite a lot of information in the photograph itself. Messages include 'Spain is fighting for you', 'Buy a tin of food, we will send it it Spain', 'Arms and food for Spain', 'Please step inside and see what Spain means to you'. It is obvious that the shop is in support of the anti-fascist side in the then-raging Spanish Civil War. But where was it? And what was the local context for the shop?

In terms of location there are some clues in the photograph. Posters on the seemingly vacant property next door advertise a dance at Manor Place Baths, situated off the Walworth Road and a major venue for public meetings, dances as well as swimming.

To dig further I spent some time looking through the online archive of the Daily Worker from this period, the newspaper of the Communist Party of Great Britain. It took a while, but I have confirmed the address. A report in the Daily Worker states 'Outstanding features of Southwark's Spain fortnight, which began yesterday, are a meeting at Manor Place Baths, February 13 and a dance at the same place a week later, and the opening of a Spain shop at 174 Walworth Road SE17'. The date of this article is 7 February 1939 so pretty sure that the date on photo caption is incorrect (of course it's possible that there was another shop in 1937 but seems unlikely and there's no trace of such in the Daily Worker).

A few days later the same paper advertised the 'Aid Spain' meeting at Manor Place Baths on 13th February with Ellen Wilkinson, Fred Copeman (Lewisham volunteer with the International Brigades) and Langdon-Davies, with an appeal to 'Bring food, clothes, money to meeting and to Spain Shop, 174 Walworth Road. Volunteers needed day or eve'. The same issue mentions another Spain Shop in Hackney at 122 Upper Clapton Road E5, as well as a 'Meeting for Spain' at Bermondsey Town Hall, also on 13th February to 'Welcome back International Brigade convoy' (Daily Worker, 11 February 1939). There was also a 'Help defend Spain in S.London!' rally at Lewisham Town Halll on 20th February (also with Copeman as well as Vernon Bartlett MP), and at Greenwich Baths on 10th February, like the Bermondsey meeting to 'Welcome International Brigade Convoy' (Daily Worker, 10 February 1939).

174 Walworth Road was just around the corner from Manor Place Baths, just up from the still standing Tankard pub at number 178 on the corner of Amelia Street.  The 1953 Report of the Medical Officer of Health for Southwark shows that 174 Walworth Road was one of a number of ‘unfit and insanitary premsies’ demolished in 1953'

As is clear from above, the Southwark Spain Shop was just one aspect of a wider local anti-fascist Spanish solidarity movement which was of course part of an international movement that witnessed people travelling from many countries to join the fight. There are many other references in the Daily Worker to local events in this period, here are some examples:

- Southwark Amalgamated Engineering Union held a public meeting ‘Support Spanish Medical Unit’ showing the films ‘Defence of Madrid’ and Call to Arms (DW 20/3/1937)

- ‘Southwark! Support Spain by coming to CP Dance, Friars Hall, Blackfriars Road. Tonight, 8.0. Ritz Revels Band. 1s’ (DW 20/3/1937).

- 'With the object of rousing support for a Spanish Medical Aid Committee... Southwark Communist Party  is organising a meeting to be held at Manor Place, Walworth Road on April 5, at 8 pm. All Southwark workers are urged to attend' (DW 30/3/37)

- 'Lambeth and Southwark Ambulance for Spain - Meeting, Victory Place School, Walworth. Tuesday, May 25, 8 pm. Speakers: G.R. Strauss MP, Councillors L. Styles, Searson and Gillian' (DW 24 May 1937)

‘Lambeth and Southwark Ambulance for Spain – Dance, Sat. May 29, 7:30 to 11:30, Henry Fawcett School (opp. Horn’s), Kennington Road’ (DW 28/5/37)

‘Southwark and Lambeth Spanish Medical Aid Committee – demonstrate to Trafalgar Square from Kennington Church, Sunday July 11, 2:00 pm (DW, 10/7/37)

'Southwark supporters of Spain's fight have formed a branch of the International Brigade Dependants' Aid Committee... "Inspired by or 15 Southwark comrades who are fighting in Spain and in memory of J.B.Dunbar, who gave his life fighting for democracy in Spain"' (DW 27/1/1938)



'Southwark Aid Spain Dance, Manor Place Baths, Walworth Road tonight. 1s. Appearance of Teddy Joyce, Mayor of Southwark, Geo. Isaacs, G.A. Strauss, Lewis Silkin. Licensed Bar. 26 valuable prizes, including overcoat, frock, watches, table lamp etc' (DW, 25/11/38 - same issue also mentions Communist Party meeting on same day at Brockley Co-op Hall on 'Spain and Chamberlain's policy'.

Update: on twitter @catford_se6 has noted this old photo of the Tankard on pubmywiki. On the right of the photo you can see the stonework of the shop and the barbers pole visible on the shop photo - there was a Scott Hyman, hairdresser, listed there in 1915.



Related posts:

Bill Alexander, Sydenham International Brigadier
Jessica Mitford in Rotherhithe (and Esmond Romilly in Spain)

[The Edith Tudor-Hart photography show is at Tate Britain until 6 pm Sunday 17th November 2019, admission free]

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Deer in Brockley (2019) and Catford (1928)

I was delighted by reports over the summer of a muntjac deer being spotted in the Telegraph Hill/Brockley area. Specifically in August there were apparent sightings in Dalrymple Road, Endwell Road and in a garden on Telegraph Hill close to New Cross railway cutting from where Jack Cornish posted an image on twitter. One hypothesis is that the railway line acts as a wildlife corridor along which deer could move into the city from the countryside.



It would be great if deer could run wild and free in this part of the world Any deer at loose in London today would probably find it quite a frightening experience. Nothing really new in that – we mentioned here before about a deer jumping through a front room window in Hither Green way back in 1915. Here's another sad tale this time from 1928:

'Deer hunt through streets: London flower seller’s capture (Irish times, 26 March 1928)

A young deer, torn and bleeding, suddenly appeared in the streets between Catford Bridge and Rushey Green, London, last Saturday. Chased by dogs, it jumped over walls and railings, and ran through gardens in front of houses. It was eventually captured by a flower seller named Haylor who, carrying it under his arm, got on a bus and took it to Lewisham police station.

Because of the deer’s severe injuries, thought to have been caused by jumping through barbed wire, it was handed over to a butcher to be slaughtered'.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Capillary Tissues

Capillary Tissues, sound performances in the APT gallery and studio of artist Victoria Rance as part of the Deptford X festival, 2nd November 2019.

Lia Mazzari/David Bloor/Charlotte Law:


Costumes by Victoria Rance.


Offerings to goat god Pan and the Goddess alongside Deptford Creek


Phil Maguire /Mark Lyken/ghostly cassette technology:


David Bloor/a box of tricks:



Monday, October 28, 2019

Music Monday: The Drezone - 'End of Summer Blue' on Hilly Fields



SE London musician The DreZone has many talents - multi-instrumentalist, DJ and professional singer who can be found performing tributes to Prince and Stevie Wonder among others. He also writes and produces his own material, his latest song released yesterday to coincide with the turning of the seasons and the end of British Summer Time. 'End of Summer Blue' is a lush slice of classic melancholic soul which put me in mind of 'What's Going On?' period Marvin Gaye (yes Marvin, the guy who danced in Deptford!).

The video was filmed in Hilly Fields, so joining the illustrious company of several other Hilly Fields songs and videos.

The DreZone is on facebook and all the usual channels.




Thursday, October 24, 2019

Long live the White Hart SE14

I've fallen back in love again with the White Hart in New Cross Gate recently. This iconic pub has been overlooking the historic junction on the old Watling Street/New Cross Road for 150 years or more, in fact I gave a whole talk about this spot in Telegraph Hill Festival a couple of years ago that is far too invovled to go into here.

I think the first time I went in the pub itself was back in the mid-noughties in the company of the late Paul Hendrich and others. In those days the pub was under the management of local character Ken Linwood, there followed a few years in which he tried to turn it into a strip club etc. I didn't agree with all that, but hey keeping a pub going in the middle of a busy road in SE London is difficult so it was easier to criticise than to see a way forward.

Since then pub has been refurbished but without losing its soul. Most recently it has faced an apparent threat from the people who own the bulding - the Wellington Pub Group have wanted to redevelop the upper floors of The White Hart into residential flats. Experience elsewhere has shown that when this happens new residents soon start complaining about noise and late nights and restrictions on the licence threaten the viability of the pub. Back in August though Lewisham Council turned down the planning application after more than 3,000 people signed a petition against the plans. Hopefully Patrick and Joseph Ryan, who currently run the pub, can keep it going for the foreseeable future.



I love the Irish music session there on Sundays (2 pm to 4 pm),  last week there were five fiddles, two flutes, a whistle, a guitar, a bodhran and an accordion and there were sublime moments when all of these meshed together perfectly. Irish sessions are one of the great gifts of London pubs to the world (see a bit of history and my limited involvement in scene here), so everywhere that these are still happening needs to be appreciated and nourished.




Another great London pub tradition is the Sunday roast, and the White Hart certainly delivers there. The vegetarian option is a very reasonably priced nut roast in filo pastry served with potatoes, carrots, kale and a massive yorkshire pudding.


The pub now gets pretty busy on a Sunday, with the session at 2 pm followed by the pub quiz round 5 pm - so they do eventually run out of food, but thankfully not beer.

The only improvement I would like to see is a reinstatement of the stag statue on top of the building, shown here in 1912. Then nobody would have any excuse for not finding this fine pub.












Sunday, October 20, 2019

Brockley Stickers 2019

Some stickers around Brockley photographed yesterday. We have:

Jewish Antifascist Action
Never Seek Permission - pigeon-themed, artist is on insta as @neverseekpermission
Extinction Rebellion - climate change rebels
esse -SE London crew who did a zine I think
3 Hangers - retro clothes sellers
I should not be here - photo zine and t-shirts, image is from 1984 Sisters of Mercy E.P. ‘Body & Soul’


.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Extinction Rebellion on Blackheath

Last weekend (17-18 August) saw local supporters of the climate change movement Extinction Rebellion stage a series of protests, workshops and other events in Greenwich and Blackheath.

The weekend started on Saturday morning (17/8/2019) with a  couple of hundred people joining a procession from the Cutty Sark in Greenwich, up through Greenwich Park and on to Blackheath.




'Towards the Common'

A key local focus is opposition to the planned new Silvertown Tunnel river crossing, which campaigners say will simply increase traffic. On 9 August 2019 a protest blocked traffic in the Blackwall Tunnel area.

In Greenwich park


Briefly stopping the traffic on the A2 across Blackheath


Tents set up on Blackheath for the weekend gathering (scene also of the Climate Camp ten years ago)

'South East London Rebel Rising'
Local Extinction Rebellion groups have now now been established in Lewisham, Greenwich, Southwark, Lambeth, Bexley and Bromley.  Along with other groups across the country they are now planning for a major action in central London in October

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Deptford Island Disco


At APT Gallerty, Creekside SE8, 'Deptford Island Disco' includes 'Deptford Island Discs', inviting people to select their own songs and tell us why.


Careless Whispers, Being Boring, Yeah!, I was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar

For what you dream of, Push the Button
River by Joni Mitchell