Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It was Christmas Eve Babe in the Drunk Tank

... or at least it felt like it by the time I left the pub - Skehans on Kitto Road. It's a good local pub, and not surprizingly was crowded with people of all ages on the night before Christmas. Keith Richards lookalike Steve Boltz was playing a set of mainly sixties songs, from Arnold Layne to Dylan's She Belongs to Me.

Earlier on the jukebox they'd been playing some good music - including Egyptian Reggae by Jonathan Richman - and some terrible music - including Donny Osmond and the Bay City Rollers. The latter reminded me of the strangest encounter I've had in that pub - a couple of years ago I had a drunken conversation with somebody who claimed to have just missed out on fame with the Bay City Rollers as he'd been in a band with them all before they became successful. Must admit I was sceptical, but when I checked later I found that the details (names etc.) he'd given me were all correct. So maybe his story that not long before he'd brought an old friend for a drink in Skehans was also true - none other than Les McKeown himself, former teenage heart-throb and BCR lead singer. What next, David Cassidy in the Hobgoblin?

Well that was Christmas Eve. Not sure of final New Year's Eve plans but I know I'm not planning to spend too much time outside in this temperature. Will probably make it up to Telegraph Hill Park for midnight - if you haven't been there before, there's usually quite a crowd at the park's highest point by the tennis courts watching fireworks going off all over London. Not sure when this started - it's definitely been happening every year since the turn of 2000, but I can't remember whether it was happening before that.

It's also the closing party at Moonbow Jakes in Brockley tonight, sad occasion, New Year's Day will see that place empty.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Fire at St Catherine's, Hatcham, 1913 - a Suffragette attack?

[post updated, 15 March 2021]

St Catherine's Church at the top of Pepys Road was seriously damaged in a fire on May 6 1913. At the time it was widely reported that campaigners for votes for women had started the fire. The photo below from the New York Times, May 18 1913, was accompanied by an article which stated that the fire was caused 'presumably by a suffragette “arson squad”'.

The report in The Times includes the vicar, Rev. Howard Truscott, blaming the fire on 'the work of suffragists or of incendiaries':

London Church Burned - Cause of the fire unknown (Times, May 7 1913) 'The church of St. Catherine, Hatcham, situated in Pepys-road, New Cross, was practically destroyed by fire shortly after noon yesterday, and the damage, which is partially covered by insurance, is estimated at several thousand pounds. The walls and centre-arches are not seriously injured, and it is hoped that little will have to be expended in their restoration. At half-past eleven the vicar, the Rev. H.J.H. Truscott, visited the church and found everything as usual, but half an hour later he was amazed to see the building in flames. He states that the gas was turned off securely and that the heating apparatus had not been used for a fortnight. This would lead to the belief that the fire was the work of an incendiary, and it has been suggested that suffragists are responsible…. The church occupies a commanding position at the top of Pepys-road, and is a landmark for many miles around. It was erected about 20 years ago at a cost of £18,000 by the Haberdashers Company… 

The fire was first noticed from Aske’s school by an employee who immediately gave the alarm. The vicar hurried to the building with the intention of saving the more valuable ornaments and furniture, but the flames were so fierce in the chancel that he was obliged to give up the idea of entering that part of the church. He was able, however, to get into the vestry, from which he removed the registers and church documents to a place of safety…. The sight of the burning church attracted large crowds. The firemen were greatly handicapped in their work owing to the fact that the water had to be pumped a considerable distance up the hill… About 5 o’clock the fire was under control, and when the firemen were able to enter the building it was apparent that the outbreak occurred near the organ… The side chapel was practically intact and also the stained-glass windows, which are situated at the far end of the building. Many of the oak pews in this part of the church had not been burnt. The vicar informed a newspaper representative that he was convinced that the outbreak was the work of suffragists or of incendiaries. He said “ Last night I noticed two women and a man hanging about outside the church, although there had been no service. I went away for a short time and when I returned they were still there”'.

The crowd views the ruins. From Diane Atkinson, The Suffragettes in Pictures, 
Museum of London, 1976

Fire brigade inside the church, Daily Mirror, 7 May 1913

Update March 2021 - while it is clear that suffragettes were widely blamed for the fire at the time, nobody seems to have been prosecuted for this and until recently I wondered whether it could have been a convenient story to distract from other possible causes, such as negligence. I had not found any mention of it in the suffrage press. However  I have now found the fire included in an end of year summary of 'the more serious attacks on property which have been attributed to Suffragettes during the year 1913' (Suffragette, 26 December 1913). This refers to 'St Catherine's Church, Hatcham, burned down', on the day when a Woman Suffrage Bill was defeated in the House of Commons. The very next day a bomb was found in St Paul's Cathedral and a week later St Anne's Church in Eastbourne was damaged . This was a period when suffragettes started fires in public buildings, including churches where clergy were seen as hostile to their cause. It does then seem highly likely that the St Catherine's fire was caused by suffragettes.

'The Suffragette, 26 December 1913 - read full issue at LSE Archive

Some doubt was cast on this at the time One contemporary account stated 'Mysterious fire not traced to suffragists', and reported that 'investigations failed to reveal any trace of the Suffragists having been in the building, and the fire brigade officials appeared to disregard the suggestion as highly improbable' (Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 9 May 1913). However, a couple of weeks later the Evening News reported that 'a copy of the Suffragette for April 25 was found thrust between the leaves of some music in the organ loft, where the fire undoubtedly started' (Evening News, 24 May 1913).

In a strange twist to the story, the vicar received widespread publicity for later claiming that in the previous year he had received a letter from an astrologer in Paris warning that 'In May 1913, on the 6th, you will lose something particularly dear to you'. He also drew attention to the 'strange escape' of a book during the fire: 'The strangest incident, in Mr Truscott's view, is the manner in which the keepsake, a valuable Service book on the vicar's table, escaped destruction. Conducting The Evening News representative into the ruined building, the vicar pointed to an unburned spot on the desk in front of his own charred and blackened seat. Though the edges of the desk itself were blackened all round, one little space in the centre preserved unharmed a paper pasted on the wood giving a list of notes for services. On this paper the book had rested, and in the midst of the fire and the deluge of water had sustained no damage. Not a spot marred its crimson cover, and the leaves were as clean as though the volume had been purchased yesterday'  ('The Astrologer's warning: remarkable coincidence in Hatcham Church Fire', Evening News, 24 May 1913).

Front page news in Daily Mirror, 7 May 2013 -  'Fire yesterday practically destroyed St Catherine's Hatcham, one of the finest and largest churches in South London. Locally, it is being asked, "Is it the work of suffragettes?" and the vicar, the Rev. H.J.H. Truscott, who is a relative of Sir George Wyatt Truscott, a former Lord Mayor of London, is certain that incendiarism has been committed... The building crowns Pepys-road, New Cross, and it is a conspicuous landmark in South London'

Monday, December 29, 2008

Mods in South London

Where were the South East London mod clubs?

A friend (Mick H.) has told me that he used to go El Partido club in Lewisham (8-10 Lee High Road) in the 1960s, a place he remembers being frequented mainly by young Jamaicans as well as some local white mods. King Ossie Sound played out there regularly. Other guests included Jimmy Cliff and the Duke Reid Sound System from Jamaica (both in 1966) and Bo Diddley in 1965.

George Austin recalls at Ska2Soul: 'music was a mix of Ska, Blue Beat and American Soul/Motown. The Club was on two floors, it had a small stage and very low ceilings just the place for live acts. Usually with two sound systems, one on each floor. Upstairs Duke Reid played with his home made sound system tucked away in a small corner, it was a large box, stood about chest height, which housed the amp with a single record deck on top. It had a selection of small lights on the front. The sound was turned down at the end of each record as it was removed and replaced with another disc, a large record box stocked with the latest sounds stood by the side, it's lid open displaying the contents. Speakers stacked up to the ceiling in each open room, pumping out the sound, using about 200 watts. The smell of hash in the air people dancing everywhere'.

There was also the Savoy Rooms in Catford (75 Rushey Green), originally a 1950s ballroom and known in the 1960s as the Witchdoctor. At some point the downstairs was named Mr Smiths, and I've also seen it referred to as the Black Cat - a later incarnation? The Rolling Stones, The Who (April 1966) and Desmond Dekker (1969) all played there. There is a delightful poem called The Savoy Rooms by Marie Marshall, in which she recalls being 'thirteen trying for sixteen in the court of the mohair miniskirt'. In March 1966, a man was shot dead in the club in a gangland battle involving members of the Richardson gang (including Frankie Fraser)

I've also seen mention of the Glenlyn ballroom in Forest Hill (15 Perry Vale - later Crystals Snooker Club) - the Kinks, Stones, Byrds and The Who all played there too.

Interested if anyone's got any memories of these or other places - happy to host any scanned photos, flyers or newspaper clippings people may have lying around too.

See related posts:

The Who in South London
The Mistrale Club in Beckenham - 1960s/1970s
The Green Man in Blackheath - 1960s jazz, r'n'b and Manfred Mann
The Fellowship Inn in Bellingham
Soul City record shop in Deptford

‘God, it's so f**king Croydon!'

My previous post on Kirsty MacColl got me thinking about Croydon and one of my previous posts on the subject, Suburban Relapse. Checking out the links on the latter I realized that a key article referred to no longer exists - since it was on Tony Malone's late lamented now deleted Slightly Lost in the World blog. Anyway I've found a copy of it on the useful Internet Archive, so have decided to republish it as written by Tony in September 2005:

Ok, After my post about Brockley where I live, I decided to do one about the soulless, concrete homage to pure capitalism that occupies a rather innocent spot hidden behind Crystal Palace on the south edge of London. Croydon. Where, I am ashamed to admit, I have my design studio.

Kirsty MacColl, whom grew up in Croydon, once added it as number 5 in her top 50 things she hates, adding she hoped it would all be "blown up" someday. David Bowie said in an interview in 1999: “It was my nemesis, I hated Croydon with a real vengeance. It represented everything I didn't want in my life, everything I wanted to get away from. I think it's the most derogatory thing I can say about somebody or something: ‘God, it's so f**king Croydon!’”.

If asked my own quote on Croydon would be along the lines of: "Concrete, Suburbia and Nestle! such an uninspiring combination" or words to similar effect. After such recommendations, I decided it was not worth investigating further, but I did anyway...

Croydon, originally the seat of the Arch Bishop, and an important city in Surrey, was only officially part of London in 1965, when the London boundaries we're widened as the city grew in the post war boom, a previous expansion in boundary in the early 1900s saw areas such as Deptford and Peckham join London from leaving Surrey, so this process is nothing new.

Old Croydon is all but gone. The area was devastated during world war one and two, as it's nearby airfields and munitions factories were targeted. The 50s, 60s and 70s saw croydon reborn as a concrete new town, quickly establishing itself as a center for commerce and trade. Being located on several rail mainlines and it's "new" architecture made it attractive for large multi-national companies to settle there. (Even east croydon station is branded with "Welcome to Croydon, The home of Nestlé", as if you needed further warning.)

Croydon Council, despite being landlocked and with no more than the odd stream, still operate a LifeBoat service, maybe in case anyone should want to rebuild the once heavily used, Croydon Canal, which I'll blog about in the future, as it turns out my own back garden in Brockley was once the site of the Lock Keepers cottage 200 years ago! Unimaginable now!

Croydon's saving graces are it's fun Tram Network, my studio, and 'South End' the most densely populated area for restaurants in the UK. (over 200 in under a mile)I'm perhaps being a bit harsh, Croydon is updating itself, new facilities are being added, it's shopping is a quite good, and less busy, alternative to the west end, offering the same variety of shops and three shopping centers. Ikea is there, which perhaps is its saving grace.

It's other, and to be honest, the reason I don't mind working there, is it is home to the best cycling shop in london. Geoffrey Butler Cycles, a racing and road bike specialist. And where most of my wages end up going!

Kirsty MacColl

It's that time of year when Kirsty MacColl's voice seems to be coming out of every radio and pub jukebox, singing along with Shane MacGowan on The Pogues' Fairytale of New York. It's also a time to remember her tragic death, killed by a speedboat while swimming with her kids in Mexico on 18 December 2000.

A compilation released after her death is entitled 'From Croydon to Cuba', and she did indeed grow up in South London in Beech Way, Selsdon, going to Monks Hill Comprehensive School (later re-named Selsdon High School). She started out in a pub rock band, the Tooting Frootis, later re-named The Drug Addix. The latter put out a 1978 EP on Chiswick Records which includes the South-London suburb referencing Addington Shuffle. It was recorded at RMS Studios in Clifton Road, Thornton Heath, which Kirsty later used for some solo material (incidentally The Monochrome Set and St Etienne also recorded there).

Her final album, the Latin-infused Tropical Brainstorm (2000) was also partially recorded in South London, at her long-time collaborator Pete Glenister's studio in Bermondsey.

Kirsty had an ambivalent relationship with her father, the folk singer Ewan MacColl, as he split up with her mother shortly after her birth. But it is clear that the adult influences on her childhood included some interesting people who lived in South East London at the time. Most important was her mother Jean Newlove (married name Jean MacColl), a dance teacher who had been assistant to Rudolph Laban (later the inspiration for the Laban Centre in Deptford). Ewan MacColl and his new partner Peggy Seeger lived in Cromwell Road, Beckenham. Also signficant was Kirsty's godmother, Joan Littlewood, who had founded the Theatre Workshop with Ewan. She lived in Blackheath and used to take Kirsty for walks in Greenwich Park.

An MA scholarship in Kirsty's name was established at Goldsmiths College in 2001.

Anyway here's Kirsty with the Pogues on St Patrick's Day 1988 (at the Town & Country Club in Camden):

Source for most of the above: Kirsty MacColl: the one and only by Karen O'Brien (2004). Incidentally this book includes a photo entitled 'Kirsty... with the Drug Addix at the Venue, New Cross, south London, 1978'. I'm pretty sure the Venue wasn't called by this name until the end of the 80s - previously it was the Harp Club. So presumably this is a mistake - there was also a place called The Venue in Victoria around that time, maybe the photo was taken there.

See also: Suburban relapse; Shiraz Socialist on Kirsty.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Waiting for the wall to fall

I've been to a couple of cold places this year - to Berlin in October and to Crystal Palace park this morning. But it's not just the climate they have in common. Both also feature monstrous blocks of concrete decorated by graffiti artists in an attempt to humanise them. The difference is that one was installed by a repressive regime to control people moving from one part of the city to the other - the other seems to have no purpose at all. Can anyone explain the Crystal Palace 'wall'?
The Crystal Palace 'Wall'

The Berlin Wall

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mr J.G. Reeder of Brockley

Mr J.G. Reeder is the private detective hero of a number of stories by the phenomenally popular inter-war novelist Edgar Wallace. Reeder is an expert in financial crime who proclaims himself to 'have the mind of a criminal', all the better to move through the murky underworld of 1920s London.

Perhaps of most interest to Transpontine readers, he lives on Brockley Road. In fact the fictional location can be narrowed down further, as we are told that from the window of his home, the Daffodil House, 'he regarded a section of the Lewisham High Road and as much of Tanners Hill as can be seen before it dips past the railway bridge into sheer Deptford'.

J.G. Reeder is a fan of 'transpontine drama' no less, liking nothing more than a melodrama where 'to the thrill of the actors' speeches was added the amazing action of wrecked railway trains, hair raising shipwrecks and terrific horse-races'.

He is also enamoured of his Brockley neighbour, Miss Margaret Belman who he treats to a guided tour of South London: 'They crossed Westminster Bridge and bore left to the New Kent Road. Through the rain-blurred windows J. G. picked up the familiar landmarks and offered a running commentary upon them in the manner of a guide. Margaret had not realised before that history was made in South London. "There used to be a gibbet here-this ugly-looking goods station was the London terminus of the first rail­ways- Queen Alexandra drove from there when she came to be married - the thoroughfare on the right after we pass the Canal bridge is curiously named Bird-in-Bush Road..."'.

As for the neighbourhood, 'if there is one place in the world which is highly respectable and free from the footpads which infest wealthier neighbourhoods, it is Brockley Road'.

Edgar Wallace knew the area well. He was born in Greenwich (at 7 Ashburnham Grove) in 1875 as the child of an unmarried actress Pollie Richards, and then brought up by adoptive parents in Deptford. There is an Edgar Wallace Close in Peckham, where he went to school. He was one of the creators of the King Kong story.

All quotes from The Mind of J.G. Reeder (1925). There is also a second collection of stories, Mr J.G. Reeder Returns, which I haven't read. The Mind of... was made into a film in 1939, as well as as a 1960s TV series.

Writing on the Wall

Seemingly a revival of political graffiti in the area. Adverts for the new KitKat senses bar have been defaced at various points in SE London, including this example in Adelaide Avenue - now featuring the slogan 'Riot not Diet! Give us a break' (see Green Ladywell and Blackheath Bugle for others). The objection is to the advertising slogan 'Good will to all women: 165 calories', rephrased by one critic as Merry Christmas you fat cows, love from Nestle.

Meanwhile in New Cross I spotted two painted renditions of the slogan 'Solidarity with the Greek popular uprising' this week, at the bottom of Pepys Road and Jerningham Road. Both have already been removed, but possibly prompted some travellers on the A2 to ponder events in Greece since the shooting dead by police of 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos on 6th December.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

London Prayers

I've noticed a number of notices around New Cross inviting people to a 'Neighbourhood Prayer Watch' at the Barnes Wallis Centre. It says 'Come and pray for God to take control of the welfare of the Kender area, from gun, knife and other crimes common in London'. With a 13 year old arrested in New Cross for possessing a gun I can understand their motivation, even if I think that it's people's action rather than divine intervention that will make a difference. Still I guess even an atheist could accept that a prayer can be a collective affirmation of a wish, and therefore a step towards people trying to put this wish into practice.

When I saw Jon Savage's recent Joy Division documentary I was struck by the words of the Civic Prayer for Manchester: "Grant us, O God, a vision of our City, fair as she might be; a city of justice, where none shall prey on others; a city of plenty, where poverty shall cease to fester; a city in community, where success shall be founded on service, and honour be given to worth alone; a city of peace, where order shall not rest on force, but on mutual respect. Hear the silent prayer of our hearts as we each pledge our time and strength and thought to speed the day of her coming beauty and righteousness.”

It made me wonder if there are similar prayers for London, or even for particular areas like Deptford. In his excellent book Night Haunts, Sukhdev Sandhu describes the nuns at Tyburn Convent praying for London's souls in their Night Adoration vigil every evening. But it is not just Christians who pray for the protection of the city and its people - I am told for instance that members of the Pagan Federation performed a 2004 London protection ritual that involved driving a candle round the M25 (they also did something on the circle line, with a broom instead of a candle). In the same year, Dragon Environmental Network did something similar at Green Angels in Southwark, creating a London protection bindrune (pictured). There was also a Hindu protection mantra and prayers from Jews, Muslims and others at a vigil for the victims of the 2005 London bombs.
So are there any South London specific prayers (e.g. blessings for particular places)? They could be from any spiritual tradition or even secular humanist verses.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Moonbow Jakes: an appreciation

According to Brockley Central, Moonbow Jakes coffee shop/bar in Brockley may be closing - although it doesn't seem certain. John (the owner) has been at it for seven years or more so if he fancies doing something else or if it's no longer working out for him, that's his decision. But Moonbow has had a positive impact not only on Brockley but on New Cross and (briefly) on Catford, and would certainly be a loss to the area if it closed.

The first Moonbow Jakes was in New Cross Gate, on the corner of Goodwood Road where the Rising Sun Cafe is now. The (in)famous 2004 Standard article 'Welcome to the New Hoxton', referred to the 'legendary Moonbow Jakes's cafe, the main young artists hang-out where you can sip segrafredo coffee (the best espresso beans from Italy, apparently)'. Well I wasn't a young artist, but I did hang out there, especially when it also had the record shop downstairs. Both had a small but significant role in the New Cross music explosion, as places to meet, chat and distribute/pick up flyers.

The New Cross place was still open when the second Moonbows opened in Brockley, but closed soon after - I believe there were planning constraints in turning the former into a viable bar as well as a coffee shop. The much larger Brockley place with its later evening opening has been a place not only of liquid refreshment but of numerous interesting encounters and occurrences, with music, performance and other events. Our very own Skitster gave a talk there in 2006 on Ghosts and Monsters of South East London, and the year before I gave a short talk there on the history of May Day in South London as part of a Strawberry Thieves May Day event.

Moonbows bravely attempted to extend the decent coffee wave into Catford too. The cafe there didn't last too long, and closed in 2005 - but not before it had been name-checked in a song by local band The Ubernators (then at Haberdashers Askes school I believe). Their song 'Tell it Like it is' starts with the line 'Catford born and Catford bred, no not Lewisham that's what I said' and goes on 'we used to have a gun shop now we're Moonbow Jakes' (Moonbow Catford was indeed in a former gun shop).

People may argue about who does the best coffee in Brockley, as unlike when Moonbow opened we now have a choice. As I like the other places too, I'm not going to compare - my experience is that most places locally with an espresso machine can do a really good coffee (though not always consistently). But one thing that Moonbow has had the edge on is its choice of music - if, like me, you judge a place's music by how many times it plays The Smiths or Belle & Sebastien!

Anyway this is an appreciation, not an obituary, so get down there while you still can - and maybe help keep it open for longer. I am sure we haven't heard the last of Moonbow Jakes.

Download Ubernators - Tell it Like it Is

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Savage Messiah Launch in Peckham

Savage Messiah is a London zine by Laura Oldfield Ford, each issue featuring her drawings and psychogeographical reflections on a city of squats, punk, free parties and urban dereliction. She is doing a series of events to launch Issue 10 ‘Abandoned London: drifting through the ruins’, including one tomorrow (Wednesday December 17th) at the squatted London and Brighton pub, Queens Road, Peckham, SE15 .

It's part of a wider event happening there tomorrow, Find Yourself Lost in the Neutral Zone. There's live bands (including English Martyrs and Social Reform) performance, art, short films, zine stalls and food and drink from 2 pm to 1 am.

Monday, December 15, 2008

South London Redhead Insurgency

2009 will be the year when red-headed young women from South London conquer the world.

First up, there's La Roux, featuring Eleanor Jackson from Brixton. She pronounces herself 'totally obsessed with 80s music'. You don't say! The video for their Quicksand single even looks like a Duran Duran pastiche.

Then from Camberwell, there's Florence and The Machine. I've mentioned Florence Welch here before, but the new single Dog Days are Over is particularly excellent, video filmed in Dulwich Woods.

(links updated 2018)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Teletubbies House, SE5

In New Church Road, Camberwell, there's a partially demolished council block with a bed suspended from the ceiling, complete with some Teletubby toys. I guess this could be some Camberwell art student effort, but I prefer the idea that the builders spontaneously decided to create this installation. Anybody know any more?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Brockley in the Rain

The weather couldn't have been much worse for Brockley Christmas Fair this afternoon. It rained more or less non-stop. I don't know what impact that add on the stallholders, but there seemed to be a steady flow of people braving the elements.

The musicians were also not deterred. Brockley Ukulele Group played a short festive set, including Last Christmas and Fairytale of New York. The Strum Pets (Corrie and Dominic) made their public debut. But all were upstaged by the Santa Claus and his helpers from John Stainer Primary School - Brockley Ukes: the Next Generation.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Brockley Christmas Fair

Don't forget tomorrow (Saturday), it's the Brockely Christmas Street Market. Coulgate Street (next to Brockley Station) will be pedestrianised for the day, and there will be stalls selling Christmas gifts from 12 noon to 6 pm, plus live music. Brockley Ukulele Group are playing at around 3 pm - Santa will also be singing , and children and parents from John Stainer Primary School. Not sure who else, but there's definitely more! There will be a Santa's grotto and lantern making for kids, minced pies and malled wine and the Xmas lights will be turned on by actor Patrick Baladi - best known as Neil in The Office, who can forget that dance?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Camille Pissarro's Lordship Lane Station

In an article in Saturday’s Guardian, writers reflected on the stories behind their favourite works in the Courtauld Gallery. Julia Neuberger selected Camille Pissarro's Lordship Lane Station, Dulwich (1871) . I have mentioned this painting before - the bridge from which it is painted still stands in Sydenham Hill Woods. Neuberger writes:

'This painting reminds me of my time as rabbi at South London Liberal Synagogue. Though the station no longer exists - it was part of the old Crystal Place high-level railway, serving the crowds who went to see the Crystal Palace exhibition centre in Sydenham - there are many just like it stretching from Herne Hill to Honor Oak and all stations south-east. Pissarro has evoked brilliantly the spread of suburban London. There was huge demand in the 1870s and 80s for respectable housing for clerks who hurried into London every day on the railway. They wanted all mod cons - and they got them, in row after row of identical red-brick houses. The painting shows the houses sketchily, narrow and dark, with little differentiating one from another.

If you walk up and down those same streets of Sydenham and east Dulwich now, only the different names of the identical houses stand out - Mapledene and Ashhurst, Rose Cottage and Oak Lodge - as well as the subtle differences in the stained glass in the front doors. No doubt these "differences" were meant to make their owners and renters feel that they were getting something "unique", rather as all apartments are described as "luxury" these days. But the careful attention to detail in these touches contrasts surprisingly with the fact that many of these houses were poorly built - put up in a hurry in the face of demand and the developers' desire to get rich quick...

...So here is an anti-establishment figure, looking at the spread of London, home of the empire and capitalism, southwards and eastwards. For someone who hated the bourgeoisie, these suburbs epitomised it. He rebelled against the "development" he saw, painting it darkly, with the train rushing though. The impermanence and speed of life is here, as is his life of constant change, always on the move. I look at this painting and see a man shocked by the spread of London's tentacles, saddened at the loss of green spaces, seeing darkness envelope a district formerly filled with light'.

Interesting, but I am not sure I completely agree with this. Pissarro was politically radical, but was he anti-urban? Undoubtedly something was lost with the spread of London into previous areas of countryside, but then as now it's misleading to present the suburbs as this homogenous mass of bourgeois householders just because a lot of the houses look similar. Lots of socially diverse and interesting lives have been lived in those Victorian terraces, and while it is true that some of the building was rushed and slipshod a lot of that housing is still in better conditon than much of what was built later in South London.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

V for Vendetta

I posted a while ago on a panic that gripped Greenwich and Deptford in 1775, with people fleeing in a rainstorm in fear of the area being swallowed up by an earthquake. I was reminded of this when re-reading Alan Moore and David Lloyd's V for Vendetta (1988). The story is set in an alternative present-day London, where war and catastrophe has been followed by a fascist dictatorship. There is a scene where the heroine, Rose, recalls looking out over a flooded London from her home in Shooters Hill.

Deptford also gets a mention as the site of the Deptford Marsh Clearance Project and later of rioting and looting, while 'Brixton and Streatham are quarantine zones'.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Livesey Memorial Hall

Brockley Ukulele Group played a gig last Saturday night at the Livesey Memorial Hill on Perry Hill (Lower Sydenham). We did a 'uke box' set, where people shout out what song they want us to play from a list - as it was a charity gig, we got people to pay for the privilege of hearing songs like The Cure's Friday I'm in Love, Prince's Kiss and Love Goes to Building on Fire (Talking Heads). Dads Aloud played too, and the evening raised £2800 for Kids Company and Smile Train. BUG are doing another Uke Box night at the Amersham Arms in New Cross next Sunday night, 14th December - admission free.

I've never been to The Livesey Memorial Hall before - it's a grand building which like the Livesey Museum on Old Kent Road and Telegraph Hill Park owes its origin to the South London gas magnate George Livesey. The Hall was originally built as a social club for people working in the adjacent Bell Green gas works, which closed in the 1980s.

Even more remarkable than the building itself is the war memorial outside, unveiled in 1920 and listing employees of the South Suburban Gas Company who died in World War One (World War Two dead were added later). It seems to depicts the angel of victory triumphing over a serpent of evil. There's also a Rupert Brooke quote (you can probably guess which one): 'if I should die, think only this of me: that there's some corner of a foreign field that is forever England'.
(photograph by fitz3xl at flickr)

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Brighton Vigilantes in New Cross, 1945

Life magazine has recently released its excellent archive of photographs on to the internet via Google. There are some astounding images, but searching the collection under 'New Cross' throws up just one hit - this photograph of 'Harry Cowley (C), Harold Steer (L) and Ernest Bradley (3R), leaders of the Brighton Vigilantes, arriving at the New Cross Gate railway station' in August 1945.

The Brighton Vigilantes were a group set up at the end of the Second World War to take direct action for the homeless - expropriating empty buildings to rehouse the families of ex-servicemen. In effect they pioneered the post-war squatting movement. As a result of their initiative, the Government gave local councils the power to requistion unused residences. Harry Cowley, who founded the group, was also involved in fighting fascists in the streets of Brighton.

All of which begs the question - what were they doing in New Cross in 1945? The obvious answer would be that at that time you could get a train direct from Brighton to New Cross, so they may have just been passing through on a visit to London. There were housing seizures in London on similar lines to the Brighton Vigilante movement, but I don't know whether this spread to South East London - anybody know more?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Secret Societies at SELFS

Next week at South East London Folklore Society:

'Why do secret societies have such an appeal? What do they believe, and where do their beliefs come from? Freemasonry, Rosicrucian and Neo-Templar organisations, the various offshoots of the Golden Dawn and the OTO - do any of them have any genuine claim to be the true successors to historical movements? Does it matter if they make up their own histories, as well as their myths and rituals? What are the connections, if any, between John Dee, the Royal Society, Aleister Crowley and Wicca? And does the Priory of Sion, star of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and a certain third-rate thriller, actually exist?

Can David Barrett possibly answer all these questions and more in just an hour? Probably not, but he'll have a damn good try. David V Barrett is the author of, amongst others, The New Believers: A Survey of Sects, "Cults" & Alternative Religions, A Brief History of Secret Societies, and the forthcoming Atlas of Secret Societies. He is a frequent contributor to Fortean Times magazine, and has written for many other newspapers and magazines, mainly on esoteric religion and history'.

Thursday, December 11, 2008, 8 pm at The Old King's Head, Kings Head Yard, 45-49, Borough High St, London SE1.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Band of Holy Joy/Test Department

We've enthused about The Band of Holy Joy here before, arguably the best band to come out of New Cross in the 1980s. Good to see they are busy again - in fact they are doing a cabaret/theatre piece, Troubled Sleep, at Chat's Palace in Hackney this week (5 December). Good too to see BoHJ singer Johny Brown getting a four page profile in The Wire magazine (December 2008), expounding on influences including Brecht, Behan and Burroughs.

Brown now lives in Stoke Newington, but in the interview he recalls that in the 1980s 'we were rooted in New Cross. Test Department and [UK comedian] Vic Reeves, they were our peers'. In the mid-1980s, he was sharing a house in Nettleton Road with another band, Test Department, who he compares with BoHJ; 'Test Department were incredibly masculine ... and we were extremely feminine. We were about romance, about a Britain that was fading away, contrasted with a reality that was quite dark. But there was definitely a spirit shared. Test Department were polemic where we were quite poetic, personal, romantic, the way we saw things. But then again, personal is political. They were out on tour with the miners during the strike, and you can't get more personal than people's lives being affected like that... It was totally opposite to Test Department, who were in training upstairs being militant. We were downstairs on drugs writing these really weird dirges. It was chalk and cheese'.

In terms of the local scene, Brown remembers 'there was lots of cheap housing in New Cross then, lots of squats and housing association houses, and there was Goldsmiths College too. [Test Department's] Angus was top boy at Goldsmiths, so it was mix of squatters, students, genius guys and general misfits. Vic Reeves was a very informed guy, with this art background and he was a really brilliant musician, very much an improvisor, working with people like Steve Beresford way before he made his hit record. The very first music I made when I came to London was with Brett [Turnbull film maker], Vic Reeves and his girlfriend Lucie Russell, and a guy called George on saxophone. We used to do this beautiful free rolling stuff with this cheap and nasty yellow and black plastic Wasp synthesizer. Of course everybody eventually moved away'.

(Thanks to John at Uncarved for letting me know about this article)

Monday, December 01, 2008

Transpontine TV Locations

Once upon a time, whenever you saw a film crew on the streets of Lewisham or Southwark you knew it was probably The Bill or London's Burning looking for a suitably gritty urban location as well as providing work as extras for South London's huge reserve of sporadically employed actors.

Times have changed... but not very much. Today it's likely to be Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes (saw them filming this off Southwark Park Road earlier in the year) or BBC's 'aren't our security services wonderful?' drama Spooks. Last week's episode featured a chase through Surrey Quays Shopping Centre involving rogue MI6 assassins - I kept expecting them to break off the chase and pop into Tchibo to buy a bargain torch/bottle opener/toolkit combo - very handly for secret agents. Mysteriously in the programme the Shopping Centre had an underground carpark - either for dramatic effect or there really is a hidden subterranean world beneth Tescos. There was also a scene in a car breakers in Deptford where I once went in search of a part for a Vauxhall Corsa.

If you're bored of identifying locations, there's always Eastenders star spotting - I've seen two of the cast around Surrey Quays (Lauren and Shirley).

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Antifa gig tonight

There an anti-fascist benefit gig tonight at the Old Buddhist Centre Squat, Carlisle Lane SE1 near Waterloo.
Bands include Suspenders (from Bilbao), S*Control (Italy), Bottle Job (London), Pozitivni Deviance (Czech) and UK anarcho-dub stalwarts Radical Dance Faction.

New Cross resumes BNP-free status?

Another twist in the BNP 'membership list' saga. As mentioned in comments on this site, the only listed member for SE14 was found to be a person who stood for the Greens in Telegraph Hill ward in 2006 council elections. Lewisham Greens put out a statement saying that he was no longer a member of their party and that "The policies of the Green Party and the BNP could not be further apart. The Green Party has long fought for equality for all and there is no room for anyone in the Green Party who holds racist views."

But in yesterday's South London Press, the man 'denied supporting the BNP despite his name appearing on the leaked membership list'. He claimed that 'There were plenty of BNP sympathisers where I once worked and they could have put me on the mailing list as a joke. I am not a member of the BNP nor am I a sympathiser of their policies. I still support the Green Party and although my membership has lapsed, I may well rejoin the party in the future.'

This is certainly plausible - I know of left wing activists who have received mail from fascist organisations because somebody mischievously sent their contact details saying they were interested in joining. I certainly hope this is true as it would mean that New Cross can join Deptford and Kennington in the South East London roll of honour of areas without a single BNP member.

In the mean time Bob from Brockley has picked up on this with a post on Fascism Watch: (South) London highlighting some of the apparent weirdoes on the BNP list and the fact that this undercuts the party's claims to be just a bunch of ordinary white folks. I agree with him about the obvious German military history obsessives, but I wouldn't make a big deal of the few self-proclaimed pagans on the list. Most pagans I know are firmly anti-racist and I have known some militantly anti-fascist witches and even odinists. Same goes for Christians on the list, hardly representative of the position of most church-goers.

At Harry's Place, contributor Brett (who obviously lives locally) bemoans the fact that he may have 'voted for a nazi by mistake' in the Telegraph Hill election. Well Brett, maybe you didn't...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Crystal Palace Fiction

The title story of Shena Mackay's new collection, The Atmospheric Railway, takes its name and some of its subject manner from a short-lived Victorian railway line in Crystal Palace (the author grew up in Blackheath and went to Kidbrooke school),

Crystal Palace magazine The Transmitter has identified a couple more novels set in that part of London. A recent one is Karen McLeod's In Search of the Missing Eyelash, set in Penge and Crystal Palace. Of greater vintage is The Young Visiters (sic) by Daisy Ashford, published in 1919 but apparently written by the author when she was 9 in 1890, a comic tale with much of the action set in Crystal Palace, or rather in the Crystal Palace.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

More Monty Music

Another of Kelvin's monthly 'Girls with Bikinis' events last night at The Montague Arms (not that there are ever any girls in bikinis there - I mean, in this weather?).

Brockley Ukulele Group opened with a short set culminating in a version of Kanye West's Gold Digger - well Mr West is always tirelessly looking for new musical directions so maybe after his current techno fixation he will move on to small stringed instruments of Hawaiian origin.

Next up, Shiva are still at school in New Cross but are already making a fairly awesome racket, covering Klaxons' Atlantis to Interzone and Jimi Hendryx as well as playing some of their own material.

Steve Bowditch did a comic turn in a pirate hat, singing a few seafaring songs like 'In the Navy' and the even ruder Sailor's Blues - opening line 'woke up this morning, with a penis in my hand' (not his). The Optics sang some fine songs - without the tap dancing accompaniment this month - and talented local singer songwriter/guitarist Keith Morkel also performed tracks from his new Moves on Silence cd.

Unfortunately I had to leave before Blue Heat 550, maybe next time...

There's more bluesy action at the Montague tomorrow night - Thursday 27th November - when The Little Devils, Teenage Men and I Scream - U Scream are playing. 8:30 start, £3 in.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Music at Cafe Crema

Some good Saturday night music sessions happening at Cafe Crema in New Cross Road. Last weekend, Tragic Roundabout from Brighton played. Kind of folk-ska-ragtime stomp with accordion, banjo, clarinet, guitar, bass and drums. It all got so lively that the tables got pushed aside for some serious dancing. Highlights included versions of 'Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue', the great Sheffield folk song 'Don't you want me baby' and 'Una Paloma Blanca' - revised with the lyrics 'you are a Northern wanker' - which I guess covers most of the country for a Brighton-based band. There was a 'win-a-CD-dancing-competition' won by a girl with an elephant puppet on her hand - personally I thought using props was cheating, but hey...

The weekend before there was a New Orleans, New Cross 'Acoustic Honky-Tonk jam' (pictured), basically a gathering of passing musicians around the piano (plus guitar, sax, banjo, ukulele and my contribution, the mandolin) working through songs by Johnny Cash (Folsom Prison Blues, Ring of Fire), Hank Williams (So Lonesome I could Cry, Lost Highway) and The Clash (Bankrobber, I Fought the Law). All this plus Train to Skaville. Put me in mind of Bob from Brockley's recent comment (after Jools Holland) about South London as Britain's Mississippi Delta).

Anyway more to come at Cafe Crema over the next few weeks:

- November 29th - Bobby Valentino: 'Hot Club de Paris-style playing Bobby has played with many, many bands, including the Alabama 3 and Billy Bragg. That's his fiddle on the Bluebells Young at Heart' (as established in a famous court case; he was also in 1970s Deptford new wave outfit The Fabulous Poodles). Not to be confused with US R&B singer who has tried to nick his name - cheeky bastard (though maybe unintentionally, your honour)! £6.

- December 6th: another New Orleans, New Cross jam - all welcome, bring your instruments. Free.

- December 11th - The Woodsmen - country-noir-hillbilly blues. £6,

-December 16h - The Delegators - jumping rocksteady/ska. £6.

It's all occurring at 306 New Cross Road in case you haven't been there before.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

It was a dark and stormy night...

Spooky stories in East Dulwich next week:

Terrify evenings of chilling ghost stories, in the safety of the fireside at the Crystal Palace Tavern. We are gathering together our favourite scary stories, and our favourite scary people to tell them - it's Jackanory with a nightmarish twist. Less of a performance, more of a night in the pub the way it should be on a dark Autumn evening. With the haunted tones of Paul Arendt, Chas. Early, Zoe Gardner, Frog Stone, Cicely Giddings, Faultless or Torrance, and others. Warmth, candlelight, dutch courage and the shivers. Join us.

FREE (a hat will be passed around), 8pm - 9.30pm, Thursday 27th November (then 4th &11th December) at Crystal Palace Tavern, Crystal Palace Road. Further details:

Friday, November 21, 2008

French Radical Choirs in Brockley

Local socialist choir The Strawberry Thieves are hosting ‘Entente Chorale’ a gathering of radical choirs from London and France next month. As well as The Strawberry Thieves, London choirs will include Raised Voices and Red & Green, while from France there will be Les Joyeux Mutins (from Lille), La Bande a Rose (Amiens), Les Josettes Rouges (Le Havre) and Choralternative (Rouen).

There will be a free public concert on Saturday 6th December (8 pm) at Myatt Garden School, Rokeby Road, SE4 and open air singing the next day along the south bank of the Thames from 11 am to 1 pm at various points including Tate Modern and City Hall (call them on 07940 539 393 on the day to find where they are).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

BNP in South East London Update

Last night's post about the BNP membership list underestimated the number of members across South East London - the original version of the list was in lots of different sections and I missed some. Various other versions are out there now which are easier to search.

It now seems that there are 102 BNP members in the SE postcodes areas, a worrying number but my earlier point about their lack of significant presence in London remains. Yes Deptford is a BNP free zone, and there is only 1 each in New Cross and Walworth. Further out there are larger clusters though - particularly in Eltham. Complete breakdown is as folows:

SE1 (Bermondsey) - 5
SE2 (Abbey Wood) – 1
SE3 (Blackheath) - 6
SE4 (Brockley) -4
SE5 (Camberwell) – 6
SE6 (Catford) - 3
SE7 (Charlton) -2
SE8 (Deptford) – 0
SE9 (Eltham) – 17
SE10 (Greenwich) - 2
SE11 (Kennington) – 0
SE12 (Lee) – 1
SE13 (Lewisham) – 2
SE14 (New Cross) -1
SE15 (Peckham) – 5
SE16 (Rotherhithe) - 5
SE17 (Walworth) -1
SE18 (Woolwich/Plumstead) - 7
SE19 (Upper Norwood/Crystal Palace) - 4
SE20 (Anerley/Penge) - 6
SE21 (Dulwich) – 1
SE22 (East Dulwich) -2
SE23 (Forest Hill) – 6
SE24 (Herne Hill) – 3
SE25 (South Norwood) -5
SE26 (Sydenham) – 3
SE27 (West Norwood) -1
SE28 (Thamesmead) - 4
Not a lot of interesting detail in the list of local members, other than the fact that one SE18 member is Sean Pearson, who stood for the Conservatives in a 2006 local election in Greenwich Glyndon Ward and was until last year chair of the Swinton Circle - a group on the far right of the Tory Party (Malcolm Redfellow has more on this as well as some hilarious extracts from the list).

Some interesting as well as dubious comments to earlier post and also over at Brockley Central. One suggestion is that after the initial turmoil, the BNP might benefit from the fuss if they can present themselves as victims - there was a member on the news complaining about living in a 'fascist state' (oh my aching sides - read some history) - never mind the fact that it seems likely that the list was originally published by one of their own in a faction fight between wannabe fuhrers. The BNP are also getting lots of publicity, and will try and use the stories about teachers, police officers etc. to show that they are full of upright members of the community (actually there are only a handful of members named for any particular job).

There is some risk of this, and we certainly can't rely on the BNP continually shooting themselves in the foot. Still at least their opponents now know where to look out for them.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

BNP-free zone

No doubt there is consternation in the ranks of the far-right tonight as somebody has published what purports to be the entire membership list of the British National Party on a blog (they weren't so concerned when Redwatch was posting pictures and personal details of anti-racists). Naturally I was curious to see if any of my neighbours are card-carrying racists so did a search under postcodes. Good news is that the whole of New Cross/SE14, Deptford/SE8, and Brockley/SE4 seems to be a BNP-free zone as far as members are concerned. Other areas have only one (Bermondsey/SE1, Catford/SE3) or two (Peckham/SE15). In fact out of around 10,000 paid up members there's only about 26 across the whole SE London postcode area. No room for complacency mind, activists might be few and far between but that doesn't mean there isn't a reservoir (or possibly cess-pit) of support out there.

See also BNP in South East London Update.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Angel of the Thames Hoax & The Brockley Connection

We have mentioned here before the 'phenomenon' of the 'Angel of the Thames' - the supposed sightings of an Angel on the river, particularly from the South Bank. In our earlier post and subsequent comments we cast doubt on the story, but were unclear about the balance between credulity, confusion and deliberate hoaxing.

It now seems pretty clear that the whole thing was a planned hoax, part of an attempted 'viral marketing' campaign for a charity event last year. In fact the basic story was largely debunked on a sceptical forum in November 2006, which demonstrated that:
- an alleged Slovakian TV interview with TV presenter David Grant about a supposed angel sighting was false - the STV logo was incorrect, the reporter had a made up name and the title picture was actually of St. Basils in Moscow, not a site in Slovakia.

- every website associated with this was registered in the second half of 2006, with no prior references existing outside of these 5 or 6 new sites to previous sightings (and from my perspective as a local historian with an interest in folklore, I would be very surprized that neither I nor other people I know researching this kind of stuff had ever heard of the so-called Thames Angel before).

- the Angel of the Thames site gives prominence to an 1865 etching of the construction of the Thames Embankment apparently showing a sighting of an Angel by construction workers. This picture is clearly and crudely faked - the same picture without the photoshop angel is on the Thames Embankment page at Wikipedia:


So who was behind this hoax? A comment to our earlier post has pointed us in the direction of a children's charity called 'Global Angels' - the suggestion seems to be that the idea was part of a marketing exercise for a music event the charity planned last year at the London Eye - close to the supposed sightings - called '360 degree revolution in Kindness'. I am not sure whether this ever actually took place - I can't find any reference to it other than as a planned event (e.g, in this article from 2006).

If you go into the Angel of the Thames website and view the source code (in Internet Explorer go to 'view' and then select 'source') you will be able to see the following in the keywords section: 'globalangels, 360, apparition, spooky, sightings, sighting, london eye, revolution in kindness, angel on the thames'. David Grant, who supposedly saw something while filming, is a sponsor of the charity, hosting its launch at the private bank Coutts & Co.

So, case closed? I think so, but it's not necessarily the end of the story. Thanks to some uncritical reports in the press, the story of the Thames Angel is now out there, perhaps being passed on as folklore by people unaware of its dubious provenance. Perhaps too, the tale will shape people's perceptions so that they interpret unusual experiences/hallucinations by the Thames as sightings of an Angel. So don't be surprized if future sightings crop up and the story develops a life of its own.

What about the ethics? The charity appears to be raising money for some worthy causes and I guess a prank is relatively harmless. On the other hand putting deliberate lies into the public sphere should not be taken lightly - I think when people do stunts like this the least they should do is hold up their hands and publicly acknowledge what they have done to prevent these lies becoming a matter of record. So come on Global Angels, come clean!

Oh yes and the Brockley connection... Global Angels was founded in 2003 by Molly Bedingfield, with her offspring Daniel and Natasha Bedingfield on the board. The family used to live in Manor Avenue, Brockley, indeed it was here that Daniel recorded his best selling debut album. More intriguingly the Bedingfields seem to have been members of the Pentecostalist Hillside Church - perhaps not averse to encouraging a literal belief in the tangible existence of Angels!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Rough Pub Guide

The Rough Pub Guide by Paul Moody and Robin Turner is 'a celebration of the Great British Boozer' featuring fifty examples of pubs that 'boast a maverick energy or independent spirit lacking in these days of homogenised chain pubs and gastro-makeovers'. At least one of the authors lives locally, with Paul Moody apparently a regular at the Asylum Tavern, SE15.

Most noteworthy for Transpontine the pub identified as the Number One is of course The Montague Arms, SE15. There are some good photos of the interior, including the penny farthing bike and various stuffed animal heads. Peter Coyle has been landlord since 1967, as well as drummer in house band 'The Two Petes'. He recalls that Paul McCartney once visited in the 1980s: 'He'd met Jim Davidson on the plane and, after Jim had told him about the pub, he insisted they come straight from the airport. Paul got up and played loads of hits'. Wow so now we know that an ex-Beatle, Mark E. Smith, Nick Cave, Shane MacGowan, the Gang of Four and... er... myself have all been on that stage.

The other South London pub included is the Charlie Chaplin at Elephant and Castle. I went there once for a drink on my way to the Ministry of Sound - not one of my top pubs but undoubtedly in the rough category! In that immediate locale I prefer The Rockingham Arms, a Wetherspoon's pub where only this week I sampled a range of cheap Polish beers.

Along the way the authors also reflect on themes including the joys of the jukebox, pubs in the movies and the 'pre-emptive death-knell' for the pub. Yes, pubs are closing at an alarming rate, but 'there's still plenty of places out there that defy the prevailing 'anti-pub' forces - all you have to do is look for them and then cherish them'. Locally its not too late yet for the White Hart and the Walpole Arms - threatened with being replaced by a private members strip club and a hotel respectively, but in New Cross and Deptford we have lost the Arrows (Pomeroy Street), the Royal Archer (Egmont Street), the Dewdrop Inn (Clifton Rise) and the Duke of Albany (Monson Road). The sharp-eyed reader will notice a photo in the book of another local casualty, the recently closed London and Brighton in Queens Road.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Put your hands up for Detroit

Detroit techno pioneers Juan Atkins and Underground Resistance are touching down in South London at the Coronet at Elephant and Castle on 21st November. I don't very often get to weave in Detroit techno into the South London Transpontine narrative so indulge with me while I point in you in the direction of the marvellous UR track Jupiter Jazz (1993):

Chai's Garden

New Cross's newest blog comes courtesy of my favourite local Thai Restaurant - Chai's Garden on the corner of Kitto Road/Gellatly Road. The restaurant is behind Skehans Free House, but this is no 'Thai food in a pub outfit'- the restaurant is in its own space in a converted coach house behind the pub. If you haven't got time to sit in, they also have a good takeaway menu (now with a 10% reduction). There's not too much at the blog as yet, but it includes the menu, directions, photos and the intriguing story that the noodle dish Pad Thai was actively promoted by the government in the 1930s as part of a Thai nationalist effort to steer people away from Chinese culinary influence.

Walpole Arms to be demolished?

An application has been made to Lewisham Planning for permission to knock down the Walpole Arms in New Cross Road and replace it with a new hotel. The 60-bedroomed five-storey hotel would replace 403 to 407 New Cross Road – including the pub (photo of pub below by Ewan M at Flickr).The full application is on the Lewisham Planning website. It is intended that there would be a restaurant on the ground floor. There is also some more detail on the architects’ site, Kennedy Twaddle -their impression of what it would look like is show below:

Consultation is now open, with a planned decision date of the 6th February 2008.If you would like to comment on this application please send an email to planning@lewisham, including the Application Number (DC/08/70131/X), your name, address, comment and reason for interest.
The Walpole dates back to at least 1881 and seems to have originally been known as the South Eastern Distillery (until around 1915). The pub featured in a case at the Old Bailey in 1884 when a man was convicted of using dodgy counterfeit coins at the Centurion, the South Eastern Distillery and the Royal Albert. There is still some nice Victorian tiling inside. As well as food and drink, the pub has hosted music sessions and at one time a Polish night.
It might not be my own favourite New Cross pub, but the thought of another pub disappearing from the area makes the heart sink.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Frightful Hobgoblin stalks throughout Europe

Peter Linebaugh, my favourite radical historian, gave a talk last night at Goldsmiths on 'The Invisibility of the Commons'. Linebaugh's best known books - The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the Eighteenth Century and The Many-Headed Hydra: the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (which he wrote with Marcus Rediker) - are essential background reading for understanding the history of Deptford as a key point on the Atlantic network of ships, sailors and slaves. Paul Gilroy - whose excellent Black Atlantic is also a key text in this respect - was in the audience and contributed to the discussion.

Linebaugh's current concern, as outlined in his new book The Magna Carta Manifesto, is with the history of the commons, and the ongoing struggle to defend and even extend collective access to the means of susbsistence, production and reproduction against enclosure and privatisation.

I liked the way Linebaugh - an American in London for a short visit - managed to weave two New Cross places into his talk. He mentioned the Hobgoblin pub, noting that in the first English version of the Communist Manifesto the opening lines were translated by Helen Macfarlane as "A frightful hobgoblin stalks throughout Europe. We are haunted by a ghost. The ghost of Communism" (later translated as "A spectre is haunting Europe. The spectre of Communism"). Incidentally Helen Macfarlane's 1850 translation appeared in the journal The Red Republican, edited by the Deptford-born radical Chartist George Julian Harney.

He also mentioned the Viva Zapata cafe on Lewisham Way, referring to Zapata's role in the 1910 Mexican revolution - one result of which was Article 27 of the Mexican constitution which provided for ejidos or common land and water. This right was taken away shortly before the 1994 introduction of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the USA, Canada and Mexico - which in turn sparked the 1994 Zapatista uprising.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Dark Man to Bring them Luck (Greenwich 1938)

A late contribution to Black history month, this story comes from the Mercury in the summer of 1938 (sorry I didn't write down exact reference, it was in July or August):

Sister Brides Carried from Church: a 'Dark' man to bring them luck

'Three months ago, whilst visiting a public-house in Greenwich, Mr Charles Lawrie of 8 St Alfege Road, Charlton, became friendly with a man of colour who played the piano and sang in the saloon bar. Bearing in mind his marriage in the near future to Miss Annie Leach of 12 Finch House, Church Street, Deptford, whose sister, Miss Caroline, was also being married at the same church, and at the same time, to Mr Thomas Wentworth, of 100 Warwick Street, Deptford, Mr Lawrie cultivated his friendship with the musician, Mr George Williams, and asked him if he would play at the double wedding reception. This he agreed to do, and suggested, too, that as a token of 'good luck' he should carry the bride from the church to the waiting car.

And so, on Saturday, when the double wedding took place at St Alfege's Church, Greenwich, he fulfilled his promise, carrying the brides across a pavement crowded with cheering people...

Mr George Williams appeared in the recetn Drury Lane production of 'The Sun Never Sets'.

Interesting story, suggests a number of things - a superstition about 'dark' men bringing good luck (I have heard of this in relation to New Year's Eve, but not in relation to weddings); black people in South London being treated as something of an exotic novelty (otherwise why report this in the local paper?); an example of a local black musician making a living in the 1930s from a mixture of West End shows and playing in the pub (would love to know what pub, but the story doesn;t say). The original story does include a photograph, but my copy is too poor to reproduce.