Thursday, November 26, 2020

Je Suis Music at The Paradise Bar (1999)

News this week that The Royal Albert Pub (460 New Cross Road) has changed hands - it is one of a number of pubs previously run by Antic which have been taken over by Portobello Brewing. The start of another chapter in the history of this long established pub and sometime music venue (see previous posts for some of its history)

I found this flyer for a night out there in April 1999 when it was in its incarnation as the Paradise Bar. A note in my diary records that I went there with my late friend Katy Watson for 'Je Suis Music' a 'self-proclaimed pop-retro kitsch night' with DJs Joe Egg and the Futurist Girls playing 'a never-ending stream of 1980s pop', lots of Fun Boy Three, Smiths, Heaven 17, Soft Cell and Aha. All with the lit up multi coloured disco dancefloor. It was one of a range of campy nights put on by Joe and Nervous Stephen, including French Disko and Pretty in Pink themed nights (not to mention the Belle & Sebastian fanfest 2000 Troubled Teenagers which I've mentioned before)

There was a Pop Culture Quiz which me and Katy won, she took the Suede CD prize. I would still get the music questions right but not sure about the TV ones!


(It was a strange weekend, on the Saturday I had been on a demonstration about the war that was raging in Yugoslavia and a nail bomb had gone off in Brixton, planted by a far right activist as the first of a series that also targeted Brick Lane and the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho). 

Monday, November 23, 2020

New Cross Fire Station: a short history

New Cross Fire Station, in Queens Road SE14,  was built in 1894 and has survived two World Wars and a threat to close it from Boris Johnson.

For much of the 19th century what fire service there was in London was privately run by the London Fire Engine Establishment or by local volunteers. Locally there was a Prince of Wales Volunteer Fire Brigade, based in Henry Street, Hatcham (now Briant Street SE14). An 1864 report noted that they had been called out 39 times between April and November of that year, showing 'how much a fire brigade was needed in this now densely populated neighbourhood' (Kentish Mercury, 19/11/1864).  The following year the Metropolitan Fire Brigade was established by the Metropolitan Board of Works before being taken over by the new London County Council in 1889.

New Cross was one of the first  fire stations to be built by the LCC. It is a grand building with what Historic England describe as a 'romantic, château-like exterior' (it is now a Grade II listed building). When it was built the practice was for all firemen (and in those days they were all men) to live on site. So the station included flats for the married officers and a dormitory for the unmarried ones. 

There was also a stable block for the horses that pulled the fire engines. Nowadays people tend to look back nostalgically to the days of horse drawn transport, but it could be just as dangerous as motor vehicles. A fireman from New Cross station,  E.R. Watts was killed after horses pulling his vehicle bolted on Old Kent Road (Hull Daily Mail, 26/3/1910).  In 1899 a cyclist was trampled to death after being knocked off his bike by horses pulling a bus in Queens Road opposite the fire station (Portsmouth Evening News, 5/9/1899).

With a permanent community on site in those early days, there was plenty of socialising as well as fire fighting. In 1903 for instance there was the fourth annual 'Firemen's Ball at New Cross' for 200 guests, with  dancing ' kept up with much zest until the early hours of the morning'. In the same week 200 children 'had tea at the station, and were afterwards entertained with cinematograph pictures and 'Punch and Judy' (Kentish Mercury - Friday 09 January 1903). A few years later 'An excellent evening's entertainment' at the station included dancing and turns from 'prominent vaudeville artistes' including Arthur Lloyd and W.P. Dempsey. Once again 'a right merry time was spent until the early hours' (Music Hall and Theatre Review, 7/4/1910).

A plaque outside the station, unveiled in 2018, commemorates George Arthur Roberts BEM (1890-1970). Born in Trinidad, he was lived through the Battle of the Somme as a First World War solider and later became one of London's first black firefighters, serving at New Cross Fire Station throughout World War Two.  In the 1930s he was one of the founders and a member of the Executive of the early civil rights organisation the League of Coloured Peoples (whose President, Harold Moody, lived at 164 Queens Road). 

Firefighters from New Cross took part in the first national fire brigades strike in December 1977 - a photograph from the time shows a New Cross placard saying 'we thank the public for all your support'

In 2013, New Cross was listed in a report of stations being considered to be permanently closed by Boris Johnson as part of his spending cuts while Mayor of London.  After much opposition, New Cross was spared though others at Southwark, Downham and Woolwich were closed.

Over 125 years countless fires have been extinguished and lives saved by the firefighters at New Cross, long may it continue.

(Banner at New Cross Fire Station, 2013)

'We save lives not banks!' - firefighters at New Cross during the national strike about pensions in November 2013

Thursday, November 05, 2020

Greentea Peng at Rivoli Ballroom

Greentea Peng is the latest singer to have graced the legendary Rivoli Ballroom in Crofton Park, recording a performance of her song Hu Man for the 'Later... with Jools Holland' show on BBC. She's following in the footsteps of other Rivoli artists like.... Florence Welch, Oasis, Elton John, Tina Turner, Kylie, Idris Elba, well everybody really (just check some of them out here).

Greentea Peng (Aria Wells) grew up in Bermondsey and I think may now live in the Brockley area, so this was home SE London ground.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Jane Austen passes through Deptford & Blackheath

I love the notion that as the main road between London, Kent and the Channel, what is now the A2 has been travelled by so many historical personages and movements - everyone from royals to revolting peasants have passed along the Old Kent Road, New Cross Road, Deptford and up to Blackheath and beyond. So I am pleased to be able to add the novelist Jane Austen to the list confirmed to have passed through.

On June 15 1808, Austen wrote a letter to her sister Cassandra describing her journey from London to visit her brother's family at Godmersham Park - located between Canterbury and Ashford in Kent:

'My dear Cassandra,—Where shall I begin? Which of all my important nothings shall I tell you first? At half after seven yesterday morning Henry saw us into our own carriage, and we drove away from the Bath Hotel; which, by the by, had been found most uncomfortable quarters,—very dirty, very noisy, and very ill-provided. James began his journey by the coach at five. Our first eight miles were hot; Deptford Hill brought to my mind our hot journey into Kent fourteen years ago; but after Blackheath we suffered nothing, and as the day advanced it grew quite cool. At Dartford, which we reached within the two hours and three-quarters, we went to the Bull, the same inn at which we breakfasted in that said journey, and on the present occasion had about the same bad butter.

At half-past ten we were again off, and, travelling on without any adventure reached Sittingbourne by three. Daniel was watching for us at the door of the George, and I was acknowledged very kindly by Mr. and Mrs. Marshall, to the latter of whom I devoted my conversation, while Mary went out to buy some gloves. A few minutes, of course, did for Sittingbourne; and so off we drove, drove, drove, and by six o'clock were at Godmersham'

The Bath Hotel in London was situated on Piccadilly on the site of what is now the Ritz.  Plainly travelling by horse-drawn coach was a slow business, with the journey from here to Godmersham taking some ten and half hours - though this did include stops at the Bull Inn in Dartford and the George Inn in Sittingbourne, both of which are still standing if you want to recreate this journey!  The house at Godmersham Park is still there too - and it features along with Austen on the ten pound note.

Another letter from 1796 mentions a plan to visit Greenwich.  Her brother Francis Austen was in the Royal Navy and rose to the rank of Admiral of the Fleet, so no doubt was familiar with Deptford and Greenwich.

Another South London location is mentioned in a letter from 1811: 'who should I meet but Mr. Moore,  just come from Beckenham. I believe he would have passed me if I had not made him stop, but we were delighted to meet. I soon found, however, that he had nothing new to tell me, and then I let him go.'  There was a strong connection between parts of Austen's family and Beckenham. Her dad's cousin Frances Motley Austen (1747-1815) was born in Beckenham, with his mother Ann Motley and grandfather Thomas Motley - a prominent landowner in Beckenham.  So it seems likely that Jane Austen was in touch with relatives in Beckenham, though it is not known if she ever visited there. 

Source: The Letters of Jane Austen

Thanks to JaneAustenCork for mentioning this journey on twitter

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Socialist Sunday Schools in South London

Socialist Sunday Schools were set up in the UK from the 1880s as a secular alternative to the Church-run schools which many children were sent to to. By the time of the First World War there were hundreds of them across the country, with a National Council of British Socialist Sunday Schools Union having been established in 1909. There was even a 'socialist ten commandments' - give or take some dated gendered language I think these mostly still hold up!

There were several such schools in South London. The following 'Socialist Sunday School Union Directory' from the newspaper 'Justice' (28 September 1907) , includes Catford, Deptford, Lambeth and Southwark. At other times there were also groups in Croydon, Peckham and elsewhere.


The first mention I have come across of the Peckham group comes from the  Clarion newspaper (28 January 1899): ‘the Peckham Socialist Sunday School had a treat, which we hope will encourage many to take up the work of teaching the young. About 80 little folk sat down to tea. Singing, games, recitations, &c., were engaged in, and before going home each child had a gift from the heavily-laden Christmas-tree'.

The School must have closed for a period, because on 14 May 1904, Justice (paper of the Social Democratic Federation) reported that the ‘Peckham Socialist Sunday School started three weeks ago. We took 50 children to the Park on May Day. They were not all scholars, but we hope all Socialist parents in the neighbourhood will send their children Sundays at 3:30 to 33 High Street, Peckham’.

Later in the same year it was noted that the School had ‘moved to more commodious premises at Chepstow Hall, High Street, Peckham. We have now room for 50 more scholars and can do with a lot of money. All communications, postal orders, bank notes & C. to C.J. Woodward, 6 Oakley Place, Old Kent Road SE’ (Justice, 8 October 1904).

Another apparent gap in continuity presumably followed as in 1907 the Labour Leader reported that Peckham SSS ‘is to be opened on Sunday next, October 13th, 1907, at 3 pm, and all local socialists are invited to attend, and, if possible, to bring some children with them. The hearty co-operation of all Socialists is needed the make the school a success’. The venue was still Chepstow Hall, which seems to have become a cinema in 1909 before closing in 1916, with the  building now demolished. The entrance was in Sumner Avenue  (Clarion, 11 October 1907). A SSS was still running there a year later but now listed in Justice as the Camberwell SSS with secretary being W H Rittman, 105 Kirkwood Road (Justice 5 September 1908).


The Deptford Socialist Sunday School (SSS) was reported in 1907 to be meeting every Sunday at 3 pm at 231 New Cross Road with its secretary William F. Lenny, 130 Amersham Vale, New Cross (Justice 23 November 1907). Meetings continued through 1908, though Mr Lenny’s address is now given as 19 Czar Street, Deptford (5 September 1908). Shortly afterwards they seemed to have moved venue to the People’s Hall on Deptford Broadway at 11 am with Lenny still involved but also Superintendant A H Stokes, 4 Nynehead Street, New Cross (Justice 7 November 1908).

The People’s Hall was at the bottom of Tanners Hill at the junction with Deptford Broadway. A former Auction mart, it was opened as the Broadway People's Hall in 1889 as part of a Christian mission to the working men and women of Deptford (Kentish Mercury, 8 March 1889), with space for some 500 people. There seemed to have some controversy over its later use for non-religious purposes. ‘Deeply Grieved’ wrote in the Kentish Mercury (7 May 1909) complaining about both the Socialist Sunday School and plans to rent it out to a cinema company - ‘surely some steps should be taken at once to put a stop to this kind of thing’.

This prompted a reply from William F. Lenney: ‘It is quite true that Sunday school is held every Sunday morning in the hall, under auspices of the Deptford Branch of the Social Democratic Party. My connexion with the school for the last two years enables me to inform "Deeply Grieved” that the nature of  the teaching imparted is strictly in accord with the third of the Socialist Commandments which is as follows - "Make every day holy by good and useful deeds and kindly actions” . I, too, am "deeply grieved,” and "also pained” to read of single citizen who disagrees with the sentiment contained therein. I might also inform "Deeply Grieved ” that the sixth commandment runs, "Be not cowardly; protect the feeble and love Justice.”' (Kentish Mercury, 14 May 1909 - the name is spelt Lenney here rather than Lenny as in other sources).

The Palace Cinema, which opened in the building in 1909, perhaps squeezed out other users including the Sunday School. They certainly continued for a while but in 1913 it was reported that  ‘The children of the Deptford Socialist Sunday School have been unable to meet for the last eighteen months for want of a meeting place. This has now been obtained for them, for which furniture is required. May I behalf of the children, appeal to any readers of "Justice" to help them financially in this matter? All moneys received will be duly acknowledged by,—Yours fraternally, Mrs. Coppock, Superintendent of School, 1 Sprules Road, Brockley, S.E. (Justice 1 March 1913).

The Cinema itself closed in February 1915 and the building is now the Musicomplex recording studio (20 Tanners Hill):


The Lewisham SSS were meeting in 1910 at the Clarion Social Club based at 57 Brownhill Road, Catford. It was here that ‘The children of the LSSS gave their entertainment Cinderella to the Deptford Sunday School’ in March 1910. The Lewisham Women’s Socialist Circle were also meeting at the club on Tuesday afternoons (Clarion 1 April 1910) and other activities included a chess and draughts club, whist drives, and a Thursday dance (Clarion 3 Feb 1911).

57 Brownhill Road, Catford - once home of the socilalist Clarion Social Club
(assuming house numbers haven't changed since 1910)

The Socialist Sunday School activities sometimes extended to adults. In January 1910 Lewisham SSS hosted ‘a successful Socialist reunion at Ennersdale Road LCC Schools’ with a programme including ‘musical drill, a cantata entitled Cinderella, games and dances in which both young and old participated, interspersed with songs, recitations and instrumental selections by comrades’. Seemingly there was an adult class with recent subjects including The Peasants Revolt and Thomas More’s Utopia. The honorary secretary was listed as Reg C Cater, 1 Tugela Street, Perry Hill, Catford (Labour Leader, 21 January 1910).

Linked to the Lewisham SSS too was a youth group, the Young Socialist Peace Crusaders: 'our comrade Redding, of the Lewisham Socialist Sunday School, 18, Penner Road. Sydenham, is on the track of all those who denounce the wrong sort of Boy Scout Movement and don't help the Young Socialist Peace Crusaders, a branch of the S.S.S. work which is now receiving special attention from the London S.S.S. Union. The function of this section is to organise sports, first-aid classes, nature study and woodcraft, camping out, etc. etc., for our Socialist lads and lassies. They surely should not lack helpers now. There is sure decay in any movement built on negatives. The " Red " affirmation of the solidarity of the human race is the living vital necessity of the " White " prohibitions of the Peace Movement. Let every C.O. lad who had a good time as a boy be out to secure good times for these others—his disinherited brothers and sisters—as part of his I.L.P. duty' (Labour Leader, 7 August 1919). 

The ILP was the left wing Independent Labour Party, who by this point seem to have taken over from the Social Democratic Federation as the main link between the Sunday Schools and the wider socialist movement. The ILP was associated with conscientious objectors in the First World War, hence the reference to C.O.s - and we know that one Lewisham Sunday School teacher, H.J. Carrick (33 Thurston Road) did apply for exemption from military service in 1916.   Interesting too to hear of this initiative to create an alternative to the Scouts, who were seen as militarist/nationalistic. It was within this same part of  SE London that the first groups of what became known as the Woodcraft Folk were founded shortly after, prompted by similar concerns about Baden-Powell's scouting movement. 

The Lewisham school was still going in 1922 when Edward Harby of the Quaker Society of Friends ‘who has been working on famine relief’ was scheduled to speak at a meeting organised by LSSS with the address given as 98 Glenfarg Road, Catford (Daily Herald, 16 March 1922).

A London Excursion

Sometimes the different groups in South London got together, as shown in this report of a 'London Excursion' in 1909: 'a most enjoyable day was spent at Riddlesdown on September 4. Eleven schools were represented, and we sat to tea 320 children and 120 adults. Considering their previous isolation we think the result will greatly strengthen the London movement. The sports were carried out in a most heroic manner. The tug of war shield went to the Croydon School, who beat Camberwell in the final. The shield for the school with the most wins has to be run off on Peckham Rye on Sunday, 8th at 11 a.m., in a 14 year old race of 200 yards between Lewisham, Battersea and Crystal Palace Schools, who had each three wins to their credit. Owing to the wet the drill was held in the Dance Pavilion, when over 120 children delighted the audience with their musical drills to the accompaniment of the Clarion Military Band (Justice 25 September 1909).

Sunday, October 11, 2020

'Prince Andrew Didn't Kill Himself'

Some anticipatory conspiracy theory - this sticker spotted today on a lamp post opposite Skehans Pub in Gellatly Road  SE14. 


Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Deptford's runaway slaves

The Runaway Slaves project based at the University of Glasgow is gathering information from one key source: adverts placed in 18th century British newspapers offering a reward for the return of black people who had run away. Some runaways were working as household servants, others on ships. All were treated as property to be captured and brought back to their owner.

Searching on the database, I have found 18 adverts which mention Deptford, covering 23 runaways - summarised in the table below.

As an example here's an advertisement placed in the the 'Public Advertiser' on 13th March 1759. Two men, Thomas Douglas and Theodore Legrass, are said to have 'run from on board the Trueman at Deptford'. This was a ship docked at Deptford, with the runways 'belonging to Capt. Nicholas Comyn'. Another advert from the same year mentions another runaway from the same ship, with the information that 'whoever apprehends the said Negro Slave and brings him to Mr. Comyn, at his House in Paradise Street, Rotherhith, shall receive three Guineas'.

Taken together these adverts tell us something about the relationship between Deptford and slavery. Firstly with its docks and shipyards, Deptford was a point on the maritime network linking the key sites of enslavement in Africa, the Caribbean and America. Adverts mention ships at Deptford bound for or from Jamaica, Barbados and Maryland.

Secondly, Deptford was a place to escape and to hide. Escaping from ships at sea is very difficult, when they reach land there is a window of opportunity and quite of a few of these cases relate to people leaving ships while moored at Deptford. Those escaping may have hoped to get on board another ship and leave the country - a couple of adverts mention runaways potentially making their way to Gravesend for this purpose. Or they may have decided to try their luck 'disappearing' in London. One advert mentions that 'it is imagined they are still in the neighbourhood of Deptford', suggesting that this was a place where black people could stay without immediately standing out - there were certainly other black people including former slaves living locally at this time.

Finally, these adverts show how large parts of society in Deptford and elsewhere were implicated in slavery and this case in the hunting down of runaways.  The newspapers printing adverts, the coffee houses and pubs where slaves or information were to be brought (the Angel and Still pub in Deptford is mentioned), the docks and the ships were all involved one way or another. In the case of a ‘little black Indian Boy' in 1772, the advice was simply to  'bring him to the Porter of Deptford-Yard'.




‘a Negro man of middle stature, well set, full face, speaks very broken English’


‘Deserted Sunday the 25th of this instant Sept. from the Ship Maryland Merchant, lying at Deptford Red-house’ [the Red House, later the Victualling Yard, was located where the Pepys Estate now stands]

‘A Negro Boy about 12 Years old, call’d James Pancridge’


‘Went away from his Master Captain Jonas Hanway, Commander of Her Majesty’s Ship the Tilbury at Deptford’ [HMS Tilbury was a Royal Naval ship built at Chatham dockyard and launched in 1699 and broken up in 1726]

‘A Black, by name Harry, about 21 years of Age, his Head half shaved, a cut in his Face by the kick of a Horse, bandy Leg’d


'Run away from on board the S[a]muel, R. Holland Master from Barbadoes then lying at Deptford'

‘a Negro Man named Lime-house, aged 32 Years, born in Guinea, smooth faced, with short thick Fingers, about 5 Foot 6 Inches high’


‘Run away the 9th of September last from on board the Ship Alexander, lying in the lower Wet Dock near Deptford’

‘an Indian Black named Will Ralph, aged about 18 or 20 Years, middle sized, wearing his own Hair which is inclin’d to Curl’


‘Run away the 3d Instant from on Board the Ship Arden lying at Deptford and bound to Maryland…  Whoever brings him, or gives Notice where he is, (so that he be taken) to Captain Richard Read Commander of the said Ship at his House in Rotherhith, or to Mr John Bodicoate next Lloyd’s Coffee-house in Lombard-street, shall have 10 s. Reward’.

‘A Well-set Negro, commonly call’d Sugar, Aged about Twenty Years, Teeth broke before, and several Scars in both his Cheeks and Forehead’


‘absented from his Master, whoever secures him, and gives Notice to Benjamin Maynard at the Angel and Still at Deptford shall have a Guinea Reward’

‘a black Indian Boy…  He has a Scar in his right Cheek, a Piece out of one of his Ears, and a dark Coat with Brass Buttons’.


‘went from his Master, having robb’d him, whoever will give Notice to Mr. Brook’s, Cutler in Mark-lane, London, Mr. Hyate’s at Deptford’

‘a Black Maid, named Flora, alias Lucy, aged about twenty Years, mark’d betwixt the Eyes and on her Chin with small black Strokes, much blacker than any other Part of her Face, likewise on her Arms, after the Manner of the Country from whence she came’


‘absented from Mrs. Cuming, in Union-Street, Deptford, the 26th of May last’

‘a Negro Man, named Yok, speaks French, and very little English, low of Stature, bow legged. Also, another named Peter, of middle Stature, speaks French and English’


‘run away from the Ship Nevis Planter…  Whoever will bring the above Negroes on board the said Ship at Deptford, or give Intelligence where they may be had, shall receive two Guineas per each’

‘Negro Slave, named Theodore, speaks the French Tongue, born at Martinico, about 5 Feet 6 Inches high, had on when he run away a blue Jacket, and a green one under, wearing a Hat and Wig’


‘run away on Sunday Night the 11th inst. from on board the Truman, now in Mess. Well’s Dock, Deptford… Whoever apprehends the said Negro Slave and brings him to Mr. Comyn, at his House in Paradise Street, Rotherhith, shall receive three Guineas Reward with reasonable Charges…It is imagined he may attempt escaping on board some of the Foreign Ships now in the River; the Clearing Officers at Gravesend are requested to examine the said Ships’

‘a Negro Man, named Thomas Douglas, belonging to Capt. Nicholas Comyn: he is about 25 Years old, 5 Feet 6 Inches high, well-set and well-limbed… And at the same Time for Theodore Legrass, who run away from the said Ship’


‘Run from on board the Trueman at Deptford… Whoever apprehends the said Negro Man, and brings him on board the said Ship, will be paid Ten Guineas…It is imagined they are still in the Neighbourhood of Deptford’

‘the following Negro Men, viz. Boatswain, Johnny Mass, Jack Black, and Harry Green; they are all stout able young Men, about 5 Feet 8 Inches high, and had on when they went away blue Jackets’


‘absented themselves yesterday from on board the Ship Hampden, Richard Mackenzie, Commander, while she lay repairing in Stanton’s Dock, near Deptford… it is imagined they are gone down to Gravesend, and will endeavour to get away in some outward-bound Ships’.

‘a Negro Man, named Peter, about 5 feet 10 Inches high, pitted with the Small-pox, speaks good French, (but no English) had on a blue Jacket and blue Cloth Cap, checked Shirt and Woollen Drawers, has Several Scars on his Back, and a large Scald on his left Foot’


‘Run away on Friday last from the Snow Montresor, Alexander Claxton, Master, lying at Deptford’

‘a Mulatto Frenchman, about 35 Years Old, of a dark Complexion, five Feet nine Inches high, named John Peter; he had on a Pair of new Duck Trowsers, Canvas Frock, blue Jacket, and wears a brown Grogoe; he says he is a Dutchman, but can't speak the Language; talks a little English’


‘ran away on Friday the 11th instant, from on Board a Hulk at Deptford’

‘A  Negro Man, well known by the Name of SAM BLACK, aged about Twenty-four Years, five Feet, one or two Inches high, much pitted with the Small-pox, of the smaller Kind, a remarkable flat Nose, jolly, and is well limbed; he had on when he went away, a brown Fustian Coat, with a red Collar, and broad metal Button, a red Cloth Waistcoat, Plush Breeches, Stone Buckles in the Knees, Silver Shoe Buckles, and old laced Hat, and a black Bob Wig’


‘Deserted from his Majesty’s Ship Leostroffe, Capt. Stirling, at Deptford’

'a Negro Man, named QUAO; speaks bad English, a stout Fellow, with large Feet, and four or five Scars on his Forehead, wearing a blue, white or red Jacket'.


‘run away, the 18th Instant, from on board the Ship Lyon, Laurence Irvine, Commander, now lying at Deptford, bound to Jamaica’

‘a Black Boy, the Property of Mr. Andrew Lucy… He is about four Feet nine Inches high, has long Hair, is well made, and speaks English well; has on a light coloured Great-coat, brown Waistcoat with mixed Lace, blue Breeches, and a black Velvet Cap’.


‘run away this Morning, and is supposed to be near the Parish of St. James’s, Westminster, or some Part of London, Highgate, or Deptford’.

‘little black Indian Boy, about 11 or 12 Years old, with black Hair cut short. He had on when he went away a blue Jacket, with red Cuffs and Collar, blue Cloth Breeches, with red Button-Holes’


‘If any Person can give Account of him so as he may be found again, or bring him to the Porter of Deptford-Yard, they shall be rewarded for their Trouble. And if any Person harbours him after this Advertisement they will be prosecuted as the Law directs’

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Hither Green 1988: a strike against the far right

I guess everyone knows about the 1977 anti-fascist Battle of Lewisham, less remembered is the 1988 fight by a group of  workers against the employment of a far right activist in a local unemployment benefits office. Malcolm Skeggs had been a long term leading activist in the racist National Front (including standing for them as an election candidate) and then in the British National Party. After apparently being sacked from a job in Lewisham Council, he got a job at the Hither Green office of the Department of Health and Social Security. When workers there got wind of this they raised objections about somebody with his views working there and having access to claimants' personal records. They were threatened with disciplinary action for refusing to work alongside him.

In April 1988, members of the Civil and Public Servants Association (CPSA) at Hither Green walked out on indefinite strike. There were daily pickets of the office, and a 1,000 strong demonstration in support of the strike in May. A regional day of action called by the union saw 20,000 CPSA members go on strike at DHSS offices and job centres across the London area on 26 May 1988. The strike came to an end in June after DHSS management moved Skeggs from Hither Green to a staff training centre at Hinchley Wood in Surrey.

Here's a few contemporary reports found via Sparrows Nest archive and Marxists Internet Archive:

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Millwall Murals and nearby street art

A stroll today around the area by The Den, starting with checking out the recently refreshed mural of Millwall FC legend Neil Harris, under the railway arch on Zampa Road SE16.  I featured the mural here way back in 2012, recently it has been looking run down and then was painted out earlier this year. But last month original artist wizywig restored it to its former glory (in fact it's bigger than the original).

Directly opposite is a new (June 2020) Millwall lion mural by prolific local signwriter/artist Lionel Stanhope - responsible for all those railway station names painted across South London as well as that Ian Wright picture in Brockley. Unfortunately today there was a big van parked right in front of it so I had to use this image from Network Rail.

The club and the ground have a certain international reputation, attested to by the stickers from clubs/ultras from around the world to be found on nearby lampposts. Here's a few examples - on the left we have 'Working Boys Front' which I think is something to do with Torpedo Moscow. Underneath that is a classic Millwall 'No one likes us, we don't care' sticker, above a GKS Katowice (Poland) one. On  the right we have Norwegian team Løten Fotballklubb, above a 'Periferia Sud Livorno' seemingly from ultras associated with Italian team AS Livorno ('periferia sud' means something like 'South suburbs', kind of equivalent to 'South London'. 

Next to the Neil Harris mural there's a few stickers on the railway bridge sign. Next to something from reputedly extreme right wing stickerists 'Millwall Berserkers' (definitely not to be confused with 'Millwall anti-fascists') is one from Bayern Munich ultras,  like Livorno ultras known for their left wing sympathies. Their sticker adapts Karl Marx- 'Fussball proletariat vereinigt euch verbandsstrukturen zerschlagen' ('football proletariat unite against the association structures' which seems to refer to UEFA and other football authorities).  Also a sticker showing Margaret Thatcher with her celebrity friend Jimmy Saville and the word 'disnonce' (in lettering reminiscent of punk band Discharge's logo, go figure).

On the other side of Ilderton Road from the new Den, fans of another South London team have left their mark

The railway bridges and arches are an irresistible canvas for graffiti and street artists - 'refugees welcome' has been painted on that same bridge on Zampa Road (still visible today, though photo below was taken in March before the tree blocked out the view of the ground).

On Cold Blow Lane the ancient early 1970s T.Rex graffiti that was still visible back in 2008 is long gone, but new stuff goes up from time to time, the most recent being this topical Black Lives Matters/FTP image of a skeletal cop.

Meanwhile round the corner on John Williams Close, on the site of the old Den, mattress artists have been at work with these kissing fish:

(all photos taken by me, 15 August 2020 unless otherwise stated).

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Hilly Fields Jazz Police?

Summer evenings this year have seen some remarkable gatherings on Hilly Fields. In the area by the park's stone circle - an ancient monument dating back to 2000 - a group of young jazz musicians have been playing improvised sessions watched by people relaxing on the grass. I believe the sessions have mostly been on Monday nights, though there was also one on July 12th linked to the Black Lives Matter event in the park that day.

Last week though (Monday 3rd August) the session was ordered to stop by the police. It is unclear whether this was due to concerns about Covid 19 regulations, licensing issues or a complaint about noise. The  musicians have a lot of support locally,  as expressed in one facebook comment: 'This event is something very special, the atmosphere is out of this world. Was taken out of London and floating on air. Smiles all round, warm energies, dancing to the amazing music on the air. Seeing the musicians all buzz off one another is incredible. Such a shame if it's shut down now'. The photo below, by Cath Dupuy, shows the scene last Monday before the event came to a premature end.
(photo by Cath Dupuy)

Hopefully a way forward can be found to enable something to continue, for now the musicians are considering taking their talents elsewhere (I have come across similar gatherings on Peckham Rye). 

The bigger picture for me is how amazing it is that in 2020 there should be a vibrant, multiracial community of young musicians playing jazz for an appreciative public! South East London is recognised internationally as a centre for this new movement that has spawned Ezra Collective and Catford's Moses Boyd among many others. A while ago Kate Hutchinson wrote up  'A sweaty night out in London's new jazz scene' in the New York Times (19 October 2018):  'In a tiny converted railway arch south of the River Thames, a mosh pit had formed in front of a three-way brass-off. The house band played from the floor, as if it were a punk show. Other musicians crowded around, waiting for their turn... In London, a new generation is challenging jazz’s stuffy reputation as the conservatory-honed noodlings of middle-aged musicians for affluent — and seated — audiences'. The night featured was a Steam Down session at Buster Mantis bar in Deptford.

As John Lewis highlighted recently in The Guardian, this new 'cosmopolitan vision of jazz' is very much shaped by 'The multicultural nature of London'. Key scene figure Shabaka Hutchings notes that it incorporates influences from  'Dub, dancehall, calypso, soca, Afrobeat, highlife, township jive, nyabinghi – all put through the filter of rave and house and hip-hop' (Add some township jive! How London's jazz scene set itself apart, Guardian, 27 May 2020). Many of the musicians are from South London,  either by origin and/or having studied on the influential jazz course at Trinity Laban college in Greenwich/Deptford.

You really have to go back to  the acid jazz clubs of 1980s/90s  or maybe even the jazz raves of the 1950s to find anything like a similar energy. And when was a jazz event last stopped by the police?  Punk gigs, grime nights, reggae blues parties and acid house raves have all felt the force of the law in the last thirty years, but let's face it jazz couldn't get arrested.  Surely there can be no surer sign of the rebirth of cool! 
(photo by @SwanAroundPhotos)

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: