Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mouse in Nettleton Road

We have chronicled before the various musical/subcultural connections with Nettleton Road in New Cross. Over at Green Galloway, Alistair has posted some information about Mouse (Sharon Beaumont), a Nettleton Road resident in the 1980s. Mouse played bass with various bands including Psychic TV, The Royal Family and the Poor, Fire & Ice and Feast of Hunger. She was also part of the Kill Your Pet Puppy zine collective, a poet and occultist.

Monday, January 28, 2008

New Cross on Acid

John Hutnyk at Trinketization reviews Russell Brand's autobiography 'My Booky Wook' and uncovers this tale of Brand's initiation into hallucinogenics: "Dean had acquired some acid, sheets of it; I'd heard tell of its qualities, of how it made you hallucinate and readdress your life and I thought, 'My God! This sounds extraordinary'. We went over to the YMCA after school, took some, and went back to his house in New Cross on the Tube. With or without acid, New Cross can be mind-bending, so it's the ideal venue to have something so fundamental as your perception of reality altered, because it just exposes everything - the world as you see it, even your own psyche - as a construction. All the things you believe to be true are thrown into doubt. And what's so ridiculous is the way that you take this extra-ordinarily powerful, potent drug: not in a hospital with someone making you sit down and have a glass of water, but on the way home from school with your daft mate, walking through New Cross all fragile and delicate". Brand was living in Bermondsey Street at the time.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Transpontine TV

I’ve put together a Transpontine playlist of videos on YouTube of music and songs linked to South East London. Take a look at:

Band of Holy Joy - What the Moon Saw (1985) – gorgeous song, the band recently reformed and when I saw them at the Windmill in Brixton last year they were fantastic. Cherry Red recently released a retrospective compilation, Leaves that fall in Spring (see review at Swedish Nurse).

Test Department – Total State Machine (1984) - awesome industrial assault from their Beating the Retreat album in solidarity with striking miners.

Conflict – The Serenade is Dead – live anarcho-punk action from 1985.

(the previous three bands all had connections with Nettleton Road in New Cross)

The Violets - Mirror Mirror (2006) – current Angular favourites.

Linton Kwesi Johnson – It Dread Inna Inglan (1979) - unaccompanied reading from dub poet, ex-Goldsmiths student and long time Brixton resident – ‘no matter what they say, come what may, we are here to stay inna Inglan’.

Squeeze - Up the Junction (1979) – from Top of the Pops, ‘I never thought it would happen with me and the girl from Clapham’. The SE London band played early gigs at The Oxford Arms in Deptford (now the Birds Nest).

Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine (1992) – The Only Living Boy in New Cross.

Shirley Temple (1936) – Old Kent Road – US child start goes cockney in the film Little Princess.

Brain of Morbius (2003) – I'm a Busy Bee and I'm loaded – big in New Cross and apparently massive in Hungary

June Brides (1986?) Every Conversation – live version of one of the greatest 1980s indie-pop songs. The band were based in Lewisham (lived in Courthill Road) and used to rehearse at studios off Creek Road in Deptford.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

New Cross Pigeon Painter

Edward Henry Windred (1875-1953) was a popular painter of racing pigeons between the wars. In the 1920s and 1930s, owners of prize winning pigeons would often commission a painting of them. Windred was one of the most prolific painters, and also ran a barbers shop in New Cross where he lived at 352 New Cross Road. People would bring their pigeons to the shop where he would paint them. Mark Hewitt has researched Windred's life and the various places his family lived at in South East London. He has also put together a gallery of some of his portraits.

Paul Hendrich Memorial

A date has now been confirmed for a memorial for Paul Hendrich, the New Cross activist, Goldsmiths College anthropologist and all round good bloke who died recently. It will take place on Saturday 9th February in the Great Hall at Goldsmiths College in New Cross, starting at 10:30 am. All who want to remember and celebrate Paul's life are welcome to attend. Afterwards there will be a reception at Lansdowne Youth Centre (278-280 South Lambeth Road) from 3 to 6 pm, where Paul used to work.

There was a story about Paul in the Western Gazette this week - Paul came from the West Country:

'The family and friends of a Yeovil man who "lived his life to the full" have paid tribute to him following his death last week. Youth worker Paul Hendrich, aged 36, was travelling home from work at Goldsmiths College in South London on his bicycle when he was involved in a collision with a lorry in Battersea Road just before noon last Wednesday. Mr Hendrich suffered internal injuries and was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital. While preparations are made for a memorial service in London on Saturday 9 February to celebrate his life with up to 400 people expected, those closest to him have described him as a "happy, smiling and caring man".

Born in Yeovil to Christine Hilborne and Peter Hendrich, he attended Huish primary and Preston community school before studying at Yeovil College. He was the first in his family to go to university and went to Alsager in Cheshire. He had two sisters, Fiona and Nichola, and a brother Stuart. Ms Hilborne, aged 55, of Westland Road, who works at Tesco, said: "He had such a good life. In 36 years he did 90 years worth of living."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lucky 7s at The Gowlett

Finally made it to the Review Bookshop in Peckham this week and it was well worth a visit - a good selection of fiction and art books, plus birthday cards and present ideas. As well as buying some books, as you do, I picked up a flyer for a regular Thursday night event at the The Gowlett Arms (Gowlett Road, SE15). Lucky 7s is 'a night dedicated to the 7" single', with punters encourageed to 'bring yer own, play yer own'. Basic rules are 1 deck, no mixing, maximum 7 each, if they like it. It runs from 9 pm to 12. I haven't checked out this night yet, but I can vouch for it being a good pub -CAMRA South East pub of the year 2005 - with even better pizza.

New Cross Inn Tonight

SOUTH EATS LONDON at the New Cross Inn tonight (Thursday 24th JANUARY), with 'Lime Headed Dog, featuring none other than Mr Joel Cox from super indie types Good Shoes , literate post punk thrills from Obvious Books, and the synth-sational soundscapes of My Panda Shall Fly. Still hungry? Dj Ariston and the Rough Disco bods will be spinning platters of tasty beats, and whats more its all free! free! free!! It'll pan out like this: 9.30pm: My Panda Shall Fly, 10.15pm: Obvious Books, 11.00pm: Lime-Headed Dog'.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Pure Bermondsey

Responses to an earlier post about pure collectors have led me to Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor (1861). It seems that in Victorian London there really was a job of pure finder or pure collector that involved wandering the streets picking up dog poo (pure) and selling it to the leather trade: ‘The pure collected is used by leather-dressers and tanners, and more especially by those engaged in the manufacture of morocco and kid leather, from the skins of old and young goats... Pure is also used by tanners, as is pigeon’s dung, for the tanning of the thinner kinds of leather'.

Self-employed leather workers, who bought the pure of the collectors, were said to ‘usually reside in small garrets in the poorer parts of Bermondsey, and carry out on their trade in their own rooms, using and keeping the pure there; hence the “homes” of these poor men are peculiarly uncomfortable, of not unhealthy'.

I think both of these jobs certainly qualify for inclusion in the worst jobs in history.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Her Husband was a Woman

Our earlier South London Drag post only considered men dressing as women. The Review bookshop in Peckham is holding a book launch/talk on women cross-dressing as men on Thursday 24th January (6.30). The author, Alison Oram, is a local resident. Here's the book blurb: "This pioneering study of women's gender-crossing explores the popular press to analyse how women's cross-gender behaviours and same-sex desires were presented to ordinary working-class and lower middle-class people. It breaks new ground in focusing on the representation of female sexualities within the broad sweep of popular culture rather than in fiction and professional literature. Her Husband was a Woman! exposes real-life case studies from the British tabloids of women who successfully passed as men in everyday life, perhaps marrying other women or fighting for their country.Illustrated with newspaper cuttings and postcards the book is a fascinating and essential resource for researchers and students, and an accessible study for the general reader."


Coming up at the Beaconsfield Gallery in Vauxhall from 2 to 9 February, 'Ten experimental sound artists are invited to explore in public the principles of self-cancellation in sound through conferencing, workshops and performance', featuring Mark & John Bain, John Butcher, Michael Colligan, Rhodri Davies, Benedict Drew, Robin Hayward, Gustav Metzger, Lee Patterson, Sarah Washington. Commissioned by Arika & the London Musicians’ Collective and developed with Beaconsfield. Events include:

- 2 Feb – 11am-4pm: SpeedDataRadio 2 – multiple round-table live-to-air mixdown on Resonance FM for artists, musicians, academics & enthusiasts (free but booking essential)
- 6 February – 2pm: Gustav Metzger – Art & Compromise lecture series (free but booking essential)
- 9 February – 8pm: Performances – oscillators, seismographs, harmonics, acid-action etc. (tickets £10/£8 concessions – limited availability)

Book for free events by contacting Beaconsfield on 020 7582 6465/ Buy tickets for 9 February via the Beaconsfield website, or by sending a cheque to Beaconsfield at this address: Beaconsfield, 22 Newport Street, Vauxhall, London, SE11 6AY.

The Secret River

Kate Grenville’s The Secret River won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for its author and was shortlisted for the 2006 Booker Prize. It is a novel about transportation to Australia, but it starts off in South London where its main protagonist, William Thornhills, is a Bermondsey-born waterman on the Thames. Various Borough and Bermondsey locations get mentioned. Most intriguing iss a reference to walking the streets ‘with a stick and a sack, gathering the pure for the morocco works. Pa carried the sack, young William was the one with the stick. Pa walked ahead, spotting the dark curl of a dog turd from his greater height... it was the boy’s job to push it into the sack with the stick... A full sack of pure was worth ninepence at the morocco yard. He had never asked what they used it for, only felt he would rather die than go on scraping the stuff off the cobbles of Southwark’. I have no idea what a morocco yard is or was - nothing comes up on Google for it – so would be interested in whether such a job ever really existed in Southwark or elsewhere, and if so to what purpose.

See also: Pure Bermondsey

Sunday, January 20, 2008

New Catford Blogs

...or at least blogs by people living in the Caftford area. The Man, The Myth, The Meehan includes a review of Friday night's will he/won't he turn up Skepta appearance at the Amersham Arms (he did, and according to Inspector Meehan 'there's not going to be any night this year that will top it').

Save Catford is an anti-gentrification site with a particular focus on the planned development at the old Greyhound Stadium site, and its lack of affordable housing.

Deptford Town Hall

Paul Hendrich, who died tragically this week, was passionate about Deptford Town Hall (a part of Goldsmiths College since 1998) and its relationship to the slave trade. The following is an extract from the draft of an article he wrote about it, the full version of which is due to be published in Anthropology Matters:

'Deptford Town Hall is “a memorable ensemble” in the Baroque style (English Heritage 2006). The souvenir brochure of the Town Hall’s 1905 opening boasts, “it will hardly be denied that in the whole of South London no more artistic and tasteful piece of architecture could be found” (Borough of Deptford 1905). It has an overhanging first floor supported by Doric columns. In the centre, above a cave-like entrance, is an oriel window in the first floor supported by atlantes, carved mermen or tritons. Four intricately carved statues of famous naval figures are set between the windows of the first floor. Each is complete with details of dress and a small wreath set below each shows variously their nautical tools, the accoutrements of faith and the spoils of war, piracy and trade. Sitting upon the main structure is an imposing attic pediment complete with a naval battle carved into it. A large four-sided clock turret further tops this. Sailing above the whole of this marvellous spectacle is a golden galleon serving as a weathervane.

The ship on top of Deptford Town Hall does not reveal its cargo. The four figures on the front of the Town Hall provide an answer. Sir Francis Drake is credited as the first captain to circumnavigate the world. However, it is remembered as only a footnote in most histories that in 1568 John Hawkins, accompanied by his young nephew and protégé Francis Drake and bankrolled by Elizabeth I, was able to ‘obtain’ between 400-500 West Africans and sell them in the West Indies . Such were the profits from this arrangement that they were soon repeated with Deptford and its renowned shipyards producing many of the vessels that were used in this commerce.

The second figure is not so well known outside of naval circles. Robert Blake was an Admiral who served under Cromwell, and this may be why, post-restoration, his achievements were not so well-reported in popular history books. In a series of naval battles in 1653 he defeated the Dutch Admiral Van Tromp to secure England’s monopoly over the Atlantic trade triangle between Europe, West Africa and the Americas. Blake was also the author of the Fighting Instructions, a textbook of naval tactics which were the blueprint for the English Navy’s supremacy during the age of sail. Cromwell went on to impose the plantation system on Jamaica, after ensuring its utility in Ireland.

The third figure, Horatio Nelson, is England’s most celebrated naval hero. He commanded the Victory at Trafalgar, seeing off Napoleon’s navy and losing his life in the process. There was much civic pride in Deptford for its association with Nelson. What is less well known is his extreme opposition to the abolition of the slave trade. In reference to William Wilberforce, chief amongst the abolitionists, he is alleged to have written from the Victory, that as long as he would speak and fight he would resist "the damnable doctrines of Wilberforce and his hypocritical allies".

The Royal Naval Dockyards were closed in 1869 ending Deptford’s 356-year association as “the cradle of the navy”. With the building of Deptford Town Hall the planners tried to capture the celebrity associated with Deptford’s past glories. They were also keen to maintain a link with the present. The final figure on the front of the Town Hall is the admiral. There is nothing to pin on the composite but we can see that at the apex of Pax Britannica in the early part of the 20th Century, the British navy was crucial in the subjugation of numerous peoples and ensured that the atlas was largely pink and blue'.

In a Whitstable charity shop yesterday I came across a copy of Arthur Mee's 'London: Heart of the Empire and Wonder of the World, published in 1937 as the capital city volume of his 41 volume The King's England'. Mee's description of Deptford Town Hall, set out below, shows exactly the uncritical delight in Empire that Paul Hendrich wanted to criticise - no mention of slavery here:

'Near by is the beautiful town hall richly decorated with symbols of the river and the sea, and with an elaborate oriel over the door. The pediment has a stirring relief of an old naval battle, and above is a balustraded clock turret with a weathervane model of the Golden Hind. Francis Drake is among the fine statues of British admirals on the front of the building, standing with a globe and loot from a Spanish galleon. Next to him is Admiral Blake carrying his broad brimmed hat, the figure 1652 marking the year he met Van Tromp. Nelson's statue bears the date of Traflagar. The last statue shows a modern admiral, with sextant and binoculars'.

See also Written in Stone: Black British Writing and Goldsmiths College by Les Back.

A racist attack in Brockley, 1960 - and the King of the Yodelers

The following story is from the Kentish Mercury, 26 August 1960. As well as documenting the violent racist prejudice suffered by black people in the area at the time, there is a remarkable detail in this story - the presence of Donn Reynolds (1921 -1997), a Canadian singer known as the King of the Yodelers: 'In 1978 Donn set the world record for the longest yodel by yodeling non-stop for 7 hours and 29 minutes. In 1984 he established the world record for the fastest yodel by achieving five tones (three falsetto) in 1.9 seconds'. Apparently in 1960 he was living in Brockley and a good neighbour too.

‘While a coloured man and his family slept, a gang poured petrol over his van and set it alight before running off. The incident occurred in Reservoir Road, Brockley late Sunday night. Canadian film actor and singer Donn Reynolds who lives opposite, saw the flames, raced across the road and with help from neighbours put out the fire before it could spread to the van’s petrol tank.

Owner of the van Mr Norman Taylor and his family moved into the road six weeks ago. Coloured families have been buying old property in Brockley over the past year, but Mr Taylor is the first coloured person to move into Reservoir Road. Two houses next to his are empty and local residents think it likely they will be taken by coloured people. Hile some white residents think it was the work of young ‘hotheads out for a cheap thrill’ others believe the outrage was intended as a warning to Mr Taylor and his friends to move out of the district’

Friday, January 18, 2008

Remembering Paul Hendrich

I can't believe that my friend Paul Hendrich is dead, but he is. He was apparently cycling from his home in Battersea to Goldsmiths in New Cross when he was hit by a lorry on Wednesday. He was just 36 years old, and leaves behind his wife Sasha and their one-year old daughter, Agatha.

I first met Paul a couple of years ago when he got in touch to interview me for a project he was doing about the former Deptford Town Hall, taken over by Goldsmiths College in 1998. Like me he had drawn the connections between its maritime statues and Deptford's links with slavery and colonialism. Unlike me he decided to do something about it, not only making it the focus of his Masters dissertation - the basis of an article to be published in the April issue of Anthropology Matters - but launching a campaign for Goldsmiths to publicly acknowledge this history in the context of debates about marking the abolition of slavery and the appropriateness of apologies and reparations. He was instrumental in organising an event at the Town Hall in June 2007 on 'Repairing the Trauma of History: What does an apology of substance look like?' which featured a group of people on the Sankofa Reconciliation Walk wearing yokes and chains attempting to make reparation for the acts of the seamen carved in stone on the front of the building.

Paul also organised a Town Hall Pirate society at Goldsmiths to have fun playing around with piracy while raising serious questions about an alternative maritime narrative from below. The photo of Paul here doing his Captain Hook pose was taken on a visit by the Pirates to the Island, where I met them to talk about the history and wonders of this New X traffic island.

In September 2007 he was involved in organising the Migrating University/No Borders events at Goldsmiths. We then worked closely together on the Lewisham '77 events, including a walk and a conference to mark the 30th anniversary of the anti-fascist demonstrations in New Cross and Lewisham. Paul's active opposition to racism carried over into his job, where he worked with young refugees. At the time of his death, he was preparing to sail to Arizona, USA to research the various forms of activism that have taken shape around undocumented cross-border migration of Mexicans into the US.

Sophie Day from Goldsmiths Anthropology department is right to say that 'Paul's enthusiasm, generosity, kindness and inclusiveness drew everyone he met into the broader issues that he was thinking about and working on'. He made many things happen, and everyone who knew him will also be mourning all the other numerous things he never got to make happen - he was always bubbling over with ideas. We never did find time to have those conversations about Brighton raves back in the day, the Yeovil music scene or contemporary americana (I believe Paul was learning to play the banjo) - we were always too busy planning and scheming.

Details of memorial here

Thursday, January 17, 2008

South London Drag

The recent post about Boy George, South East London’s best-known cross dressing icon, has got me thinking about drag. Whether Boy George was ever strictly a drag queen, as opposed to a man in a frock, is as open to question as the meaning of drag itself. As one its historians points out: 'Drag is about many things. It is about clothes and sex. It subverts the dress codes that tell us what men and women should look like in our organised society. It creates tension and releases tension, confronts and appeases. It is about role playing and questions the meaning of both gender and sexual identity. It is about anarchy and defiance. It is about men's fear of women as much as men's love of women and it is about gay identity' (Baker).

Until the 17th century, almost all actors were men so the stages of London’s South Bank were full of female impersonators like Edward Kynaston, of whom Samuel Pepys said he "made the loveliest lady that ever I saw in my life, only her voice not very good" (18 August 1660).

Later there was cross dressing in music hall and pantomime, particularly the role of the Pantomime dame. Dan Leno (1860-1904) was one of the most famous dames as well as the sometime Champion Clog-dancer of the world. Towards the end of his life he lived in Brixton (56 Akerman Road, SW9) and was part of the company that built the Oriental Palace of Varieties in 1896, a Camberwell music hall.

Post-Second World War drag acts 'in the noisy, smoky, crowded pubs of South London and docklands’ drag acts ‘'were joining the singers and local comics in the line-up of entertainers for a Saturday night’ (Baker). Who were these South London drag acts? Boy George mentions from his childhood (late 60s/early 70s) 'Bubbles the drag queen who ran a caff in Dulwich... Used to perform at the Valley Club in Dulwich and spent all his days dishing up sausage, egg and chips to navvies'. There was also George Pinaud, some-time Greenwich market stallholder and drag artist, who set himself up as the Pearly King of Greenwich and Deptford in 1958 (Binder).

Men like these have had a significant impact on South London in some unexpected ways. In the 1950s 'drag acts were a popular attraction in some working-class straight pubs. Some of these such as… (the) Vauxhall Tavern and Camden's Black Cap began attracting gay men in growing numbers to their shows, and by the late 1960s had slowly metamorphosed into gay pubs' (Baker). So perhaps Vauxhall’s current key position in London gay nightlife owes something to these men who weren’t afraid to put on a dress.

Sources: Drag: a history of female impersonation in the performing arts - Roger Baker (London, Cassell, 1994); Take it Like a Man: the autobiography of Boy George; Binder, Pearl, The Pearlies: a Social Record – Pearl Binder (London: Jupiter Books, 1975)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

No Pain in Pop

NO PAIN IN POP is a new New Cross-based record label. They've recently put out a compilation CD, available from Pure Groove, which we are looking forward to hearing.

This very Friday (18 Jan 2008) they are involved at the Amerham Arms in 'No Pain In Pop vs Deadly Rhythm' featuring... Skepta (Roll Deep / Boy Better Know), Bass Clef, Ebony Bones, Shitting Fists (Real Gold) plus DJ sets from These New Puritans, Mac 3000, the Cleft Paletteswith, No Pain In Pop and Deadly Rhythm DJs. £6/£5 NUS. Sounds like a very diverse night with a bit of grime, bit of dubstep and a bit of guitar noise.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Boy George and Jeremy Healy

In an earlier post we mentioned David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust concert at Lewisham Odeon, and Boy George’s appreciation of it. In his autobiography, Take it Like a Man, George expands ‘I spent the whole day hanging around Lewisham, watching the crowd well up. Hundreds of Ziggy and Angie clones. Girls in fox-fur stoles and pillarbox hats, boys in glitter jackets. Bowie was an alien. It was the most exciting thing i'd ever seen. The crowd were screaming... I was screaming too". Later he hung out with other fans outside Bowie's house at Haddon Hall, Beckenham, and states that 'When we got bored we went looking for Brian Eno's house' (anyone know where that was?).

(Boy) George O'Dowd’s parents met at the Duchess of Wellington, Woolwich, where his mum was working as a barmaid, and he was born in 1961 at Barnhurst Hospital, Bexley. His family lived at 29 Joan Crescent, Eltham, and later at the top of Shooters Hill by Oxleas Wood. He went to, and was expelled from, Eltham Green School. He became friends with Jeremy Healy, who lived in Kidbrooke and 'attended St Joseph's Academy in Blackheath where the Christian Brothers called him 'Satan's Imp' after he appeared at school with green hair.

Like many other soon-to-be punks, George was inspired not only by Bowie but what he terms the ‘freaky disco’ end of the soul scene in London. He went to soul nights at Greenwich Town Hall and The Black Prince in Bexleyheath where, in 1976, 'Some of the more full-on types were starting to wear plastic bags and trousers, feather earrings, safety pins on their clothes and in their ears'.

George and Jeremy Healy got jobs at Chingford Fruit Packers on the Woolwich Industrial Estate for three weeks but 'When they refused to let us leave early to see Patti Smith at the Roundhouse we all stormed out'. By the early 1980s Boy George was the world’s favourite cross-dressing pop star with Culture Club while Jeremy Healy had had hit records with Haysi Fantazee. In the 1990s they both became successful DJs – I remember seeing Boy George (who is a big guy) towering above the crowd at Turnmills and Jeremy Healy in a gold skirt on the beach outisde Cafe Mambo in Ibiza. The latter is now in line to be the next Mr Patsy Kensit.

Picture of Boy George (left) and Jeremy Healy

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Seeing is Believing - Harry Price

On at the Photographers' Gallery in London for a couple more weeks is Seeing is Believing, which 'explores photography's strong relationship to the non-rational, the unknown and the ethereal. It brings together vintage photographs from the archive of the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature, with work by seven international artists who share a fascination for the unexplained. Known as Britain's most famous ghost investigator, Harry Price (b. 1881, London) set up the National Laboratory of Psychical Research in 1925. This exhibition includes documentation of the Borley Rectory Haunting, the Crawley Poltergeist and various spiritual mediums'.

Harry Price (1881-1948) is a controversial figure. In the course of his research into the paranormal he exposed various hoaxes, but he has also been accused of faking evidence himself. Either way he was very much a local boy - at the age of four his family moved to 6 Amersham Road and in 1894 moved to 32 St. Donatt's Road in New Cross (later he lodged at 22 Harefield Road in Brockley). He attended Waller Road (now Edmund Waller Primary School) and Haberdashers' Aske's schools in New Cross, and claimed to have carried out wireless experiments on Telegraph Hill. When he became interested in spiritualism at the turn of the 20th century, he attended seances in Wickham Road, Brockley, and the adjacent Manor Road (now Manor Avenue).

In his autobiography Search for Truth (1942) he mentions frequent childhood visitst to 'Deptford fair-ground. We then resided at Brockley (almost a rural suburb!) and the fair was convenient for me. I have spent many nights watching the illusionists, hypnotists, conjurers, thought-readers, fortune-tellers, 'monstrosities,' fire-eaters, fakirs, quacks and mountebanks who performed there. I had my 'fortune told' many scores of times and, of course, it was different each time! But I have known cases where the - alleged - gypsy seer was uncannily accurate in forecasting the future. But this has never happened so far as I am concerned. It is possible that 'mediums' or clairvoyantes, with some good powers, do gravitate to the smaller fair-grounds, and occasionally score successes.'

He also recounts in detail his encounter with a local purveyor of the elixir of life: 'On Saturday evenings I frequently visited the market at Broadway, Deptford, and often watched a vendor of quack medicines selling his 'Titan's Tonic, double-distilled,' and guaranteed to cure everything from influenza to impotency. He was known to the habitués of the market as 'Old Isaacs.' He was a short, squat, purple-faced man, with red hair, a hemp-coloured walrus moustache, and had a dusty bowler hat jammed on the back of his head' (the full account is here).

Picture of Harry Price with 'spirit' - a photograph that Price proved had been faked.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Dancing Bear in Sydenham

The Beckenham Journal, 1 May 1882, reported some cases of animal cruelty heard at Greenwich Police Court. William Hollis, a Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Inspector, seems to have been very busy in the Sydenham area:

‘on Saturday April 8th, Jean Baique, 33, and Francis Faut, 30, Frenchmen, described in as bar-performers, were charged before Mr de Rutzen with cruelty to a bear, by beating it with sticks – William Hollis, an Inspector of the RSPCA, said on the previous afternoon he saw the prisoners with their bear in Dartmouth Road, Sydenham, surrounded by a crowd. One of the prisoners was leading the b ear by a chain, which was passed trough its nose, evidently causing it great agony, as blood was flowing. He also struck it a number of times on the shins with a stick thicker than a broom-handle, in order to make it stand on its hind legs and dance. With the last blow he broke the stick’ (they were fined 40 shillings)

‘Cruelty to a donkey at Sydenham: Patrick Horreghan, costermonger, of Deptford, was charged with cruelty to a donkey, in High Street, Sydenham. Inspector Hollis, of the Royal Society, saw the prisoner beating the poor animal with a stick which bore marks of blood that had been drawn by the blows, though the donkey’s skin. There were raw wounds on the animal’s shoulders. Prisoners was sentenced to 14 days hard labour’

There are bound copies of the Beckenham Journal on the public shelves at Bromley archives (upstairs in the central library). If like me you are not a big fan of shopping in Bromley but find yourself drawn there by necessity, browsing through these is a very pleasant way of passing half an hour.

Incidentally, the Forest Hill Society is hosting a talk by Steve Grinlay on theHistory of Forest Hill. It takes place at 7 pm on Wednesday, January 30th, 2008 at The Hob, 7 Devonshire Rd, Forest Hill, SE23 (more details from Robert here).

Lewisham Music Shops

This afternoon "I went to Staten island to buy myself a mandolin" (Joni Mitchell), or to be more honest I went to Lewisham to buy myself a guitar lead. But when I got there I found that Len Stiles, the only music shop in Lewisham town centre has closed down forever after 65 years. According to their website the building is to be redeveloped, though they are still trading from their warehouse in Kent.

They say: "As a customer of Len Stiles Music you are in the illustrious company of such people as Spike Milligan, Status Quo, Albert Lee, Mike Berry, Tommy Steele, Gordon Giltrap, Manfred Mann, Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings, Gary Brooker and many more". I know that in the shop they used to have a notice saying that Spike Milligan once bought a trumpet there and never finished paying for it, and in this interview, Milligan says "My mother bought my first guitar for eighteen shillings from Len Stiles’ shop in Lewisham High Street".

Thankfully Tune Inn in Hither Green is still going strong, so if you need a guitar lead you need to do what I did today and head down there.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Ernest Dowson: Lewisham Decadent

Ernest Dowson (1867-1900), in the words of his biographer, was a ‘poet and decadent’ who lived and died in the Lewisham area.

Dowson was born in his parent’s home, Gothic House, The Grove, Lee on 2 August 1867. After his father's suicide in 1894, his mother moved to 97 Quentin Rd, Lee where she killed herself the following year.

As a poet Dowson became involved with The Rhymers Club, whose poets included WB Yeats and John Barlas, an anarchist arrested in 1891 for shooting a pistol near the speaker of the House of Commons residence (Oscar Wilde stood bail). Wilde sometimes attended Club as did Edgar Jepson, whose lodgings in Harleyford Road, Vauxhall were sometimes used as a crashpad by Dowson after a night's drinking.

Dowson lived a short life of poetry, drink and poverty – he was turned down when he applied for a job at Newington Library in 1892, still open today on Walworth Road.

He died in February 1900 while staying at the home of Robert Sherard, a writer and former friend of Verlaine, who lived at 26 Sandhurst Gardens (now 159 Langley Road), Catford. He was visited there by the novelist Conal O'Riordan (living in Bromley) and the artists Charles Conder and Augustus John. His grave is in Ladywell cemetery.

Dowson is best known for the lines:

"They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream”.
Other famous phrases include 'gone with the wind', 'stranger in a strange land' and 'I've been faithful to thee in my fashion'.

A favourite quote of mine is the following: 'Give me the streets and the yellow gas, the roar of the City, smoke, haggard faces, flaming omnibuses, parched London, and the river rolling oilily by the embankment like the Styx at night when the lamps shine" (Dowson and Arthur Moore, A Comedy of Masks, 1893). There is a selection of his poems here.

Source: Madder Music, Stronger Wine: the life of Ernest Dowson, Poet and Decadent - Jad Adams (London: Tauris, 1990)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

SE14/8 - Let Love Shine

Anti-gun track by South East London rappers.

Controlled Weirdness

DJ Controlled Weirdness (Neil Keating) is a key South Londonist operating in the fields of electro/breakbeat/techno and various other sub-genres of the 'nuum . Neil has been involved in just about every electronic dance music scene since the mid-1980s (see here), from US raves to Dead by Dawn squat parties in Brixton. There's a strong sense of place in his approach though, with records like the Deptford Market Arcade Classics EP. Check out his myspace site, especially the great South London Bass track.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Horniman Museum and the Forest Hill Visions

New Year’s Day was spent walking the dog in Horniman gardens and then a quick visit to the café and museum. I haven’t been for a couple of years, it really is a fantastic place. The new aquarium is excellent, worth a trip to just to see the Moon Jellyfish floating in blue light. I am also a big fan of the collection of musical instruments from round the world, and I am looking forward to Utsavam, an exhibition of music and dance from India which runs there from 9th February with a programme of free events throughout the year.

The Horniman Museum was founded by the 19th century tea merchant Frederick Horniman, whose house stood in the grounds of the present building. Through his daughter Annie Horniman, it also also played a role in the unfolding of 19th century occultism.

Annie Horniman was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and it was through her that one of the Order's founders, the colourful Samuel MacGregor Mathers, was introduced to her father and appointed by him to help curate his growing collection. Mathers and his wife Moina Bergson were housed at Stent Lodge on his estate in Forest Hill in the late 1880s. The house was used 'to host metaphysical salons and evenings of psychic experimentation', attended by the Irish poet WB Yeats among others (Yeats was initiated into the Golden Dawn in 1888). Moina's vivid Forest Hill Visions were interpreted by her husband as past-life experiences.

Annie Horniman also helped found the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and the Gaiety Theatre in Manchester.

Source: Women of the Golden Dawn: Rebels and Priestesses: Maud Gonne, Moina Bergson Mathers, Annie Horniman, Florence Farr by Mary K. Greer

Monday, January 07, 2008

South East London Folklore Society

South East London Folklore Society has an interesting programme coming up this year of the weird and the wonderful, starting this Thursday with a talk by Fortean Times contributor Noel Rooney.

"10th January: Noel Rooney - Plant Alchemy: Lavender stones, crystals of sage. Angel water, and terra damnata. Mercury, sulphur and salt. Divide and unite. Can you start the great work from a window box?

14th February: The Bleeding Heart THIS IS A WALK, NOT A TALK. An anti-seasonal, 2+ mile trek across London from a site of demonic heartbreak to SELFS home via poltergeists, witches, black dogs, the sacred shrine to the outside dead in Southwark and more. Comfort food shall be provided at the Old King's Head at journey's end. Meet at Bleeding Heart Yard, EC1 at 6.30pm on Thursday 14th February. Nearest tubes are Farringdon and Chancery Lane.

13th March: John Callow - Familiar Things: Witchcraft, Royals & The Witch Dog. Familiar spirits were a particularly British aspect of Witchcraft. Perhaps none was so famous as 'Boye': the enormous white dog who accompanied Prince Rupert on his campaigns from 1642-44. Seen as a talisman, mascot, & victory bringer by the Royalists; and as an agent of the Devil, a shape-changing, Lappish witch by their Parliamentary foes: 'Boye' was equally celebrated and derided in print, painting, & pamphlet over the course of his short life.

10th April: Neil Arnold - Big Cats Around The Capital. Neil, the author of Monster! - The A-Z of Zooform Phenomena, will be giving the first ever talk on exotic felids and mystery cats roaming London and the outskirts, proving that such sightings are no mystery at all, but in fact evidence that such animals have been with us for centuries

8th May: Janet Dowling - Naming the Green Man of the Medieval Church. Janet Dowling uses story-telling and folklore research to reveal the identity of the Green Man in medieval stone carvings".

SELFS events take place at The Old King's Head, Kings Head Yard, 45-49, Borough High St, London, SE1 1NA. Nearest stations are London Bridge and Borough. Talks start at 8.00pm, £2.50 / £1.50 concessions. Contact:

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Lewisham Red Players

In Lewisham Local Studies library today I came across a reference to a 1930s radical theatre group locally called the Lewisham Red Players.

It seems that they were part of the Workers' Theatre Movement, linked to the Communist Party. According to Class against class: the Communist Party in Britain Between the Wars, (Matthew Worley, 2002): “Communist theatre groups had begun to appear throughouth the country by the turn of the decade. In London alone, ten such troupes, including the Red Star Troupe of West London, Red Radio of Hackney, the Red Magnets of Woolwich, the Red Front of Streatham, the Red Players of Lewisham, the Red Blouses of Greenwich and the Yiddish-speaking Proltet, existed by 1931’. South London was evidently a focus for this kind of theatre.

The Lewisham Red Players performed in Lewisham High Street and elsewhere, with their group chorus going:

“There is a word you mustn’t sat – revo-lution
All the same it’s on the way – the workers’ revolution
Every day the world turns round - revo-lution
A few more turns, it will resound - revo-lution
It’s coming here, it’s coming there - revo-lution
The ground is tumbling everywhere – the workers’ revolution”.

(source: Performance and Politics in Popular Drama: Aspects of Popular Entertainment in Theatre, Film and Television, 1800–1976, edited by David Brady, 1980)

The Red Players included in their ranks Charlie Mann, editor of the Workers' Theatre Movement journal 'Red Stage'. He was the son of veteran Communist and trade unionist Tom Mann, who lived in Brockley.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Give Blood

If you've made a New Year resolution to do something useful - or even if you haven't - why not donate some blood? It's free, saves lives, and leaves you with a feelgood feeling (and maybe a small bruise on your arm). The mobile unit was in New Cross Sainsburys yesterday and is in Lewisham town centre today. To find a session near you use the searcher on the the National Blood Service site. Generally its best to make an appointment but if you see them in your area you can just drop in.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Farewell Flying Ducks

Flying Duck Enterprises, the kitsch/retro shop in Greenwich, is closing at the end of January after 13 years of Elvis phones, 1970s magazines and Tretchikoff prints. They say 'we have really loved having our shop & enjoyed all our customers but recent changes to Greenwich especially the influx of chain stores has made us feel it's not where we want to be any longer sadly yet another independent shop on the high street bites the dust...'. There's a closing down sale for the next few weeks.

Another reason to to go to Greenwich vanishes, following the recent demise of Essential Music.

Witcomb Cycles

Witcomb Cycles in Deptford is the only bicycle framebuilder left in London and one of the very few in the country. They now have their own blog where they have posted a 1974 short film This Week in Britain: The Bespoke Bicycle. As well as lots about the bike workshop, the film also includes some brief 1970s Deptford street scenes.

Deptford 'post-colonial ruins'

The Minesweeper is a boat in Deptford Creek which has hosted various 'underground' film and music nights and other events. This floating venue is moored across the river from the Laban Centre. Last year it was damaged in a fire. Watch the 'Save the Minesweeper' video here.

The future of the boat fits nicely with the theme of an an article by Leon Jesse Wansleben on art, gentrification and change in Deptford. Living in Deptford's Postcolonial Ruins is on the Deptford Arts Network/Don't Ask Nothing/Art Dealers No! site. Wansleben asks: 'Are all the old spaces to be razed and replaced by new ones or are we to reinhabit? What is there worth keeping? If one looks at Creekside for example, there is precious little that will win an architectural award or a heritage listing, but it is vital. And it is vital that this vitality is recognised. While Deptford High Street may have a preservation order on it, what of the people who occupy it? Will it inevitably become Deptford Village, awash with city pads, cute conversions and fine art galleries? And is it inevitable that the artists will move out of their grubby-but-lovely studios into the next 'urban creative ring' defined by the sociologists, only to be bought out once again by the next set of developers?'. With a nod to Walter Benjamin, Wansleben urges us to be ragpickers in the ruins, re-animating the discarded and attempting to make change in Deptford on our own terms.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Walking the streets

Rob having completed his project of walking every street in Forest Hill (SE23), Wulf has now risen to the challenge and is planning to spend the next year doing the same for Hither Green and documenting on a blog - Wallking Hither Green.

South London Sounds

I've been posting a lot of historical stuff recently, as it's a New Year let's look ahead, or at least around, at some current South East London music. First up the nicely-named Nouvelle Croix, New Cross's number one '1930s Parisian gypsy swing' band. Pecknam is also a fan.

For something completely different, check out Matt Allcock's electronica project Lipsis - the Future Sound of Brockley.

Our old friends Butcher's Boy, often to be found at the 56a Info Shop at Elephant & Castle, have now added a drummer but don't worry it hasn't compromised their South Londonist lo-fi sound! Check out their myspace for video footage of them playing at the (now gone) Camberwell Squatted Centre.