Friday, May 30, 2008

1968 in South London (1): Students

There has been a lot of coverage elsewhere of the anniversary of 1968 – just as there was in 1998, and no doubt will be in 2018. Some people seem to have made a lifelong career on the basis of their late 60s press notoriety and standing next to Mick Jagger on an anti-Vietnam War demonstration. Clearly there were some historically significant events in 1968- the May movement in France, the massacre of students in Mexico, the Prague Spring, the beginning of the civil rights movement in the north of Ireland. Equally clearly, some fairly minor events in England have been somewhat over-dramatised by their nostalgic baby boomer participants. People do go on and on about the Grosvenor Square anti-war demonstration as if it was a bloody civil war, when in reality it seems to have been little more than a giant rugby scrum compared to the violence of, say the Miners strike in the 1980s or the 1990 Poll Tax riot.

So how was South London affected by the global wave of revolt? From what I’ve found so far, not too dramatically. There were some stirrings amongst art students following the occupation of Hornsey College of Art at the end of May. ‘A group of Hornsey students last night visited Goldsmiths College, New Cross, SE, to appeal for support’ (Times 1 June 1968), but there does not seem to have been an occupation at Goldsmiths itself. Later in the year ‘Sixty students from Goldsmiths’ College of Art, New Cross, SE, invaded Hornsey College of Art on the first day of its new term… They crowded into the corridors of Hornsey and chanted ‘We support you. We support you’. Hornsey college authorities called police, who dispersed the students and ejected them’ (Times, 5 November 1968).

There was a ‘sit-in by students’ at Croydon College of Art, with an occupation of ‘an annexe at South Norwood for six nights’ (Times 11 June 1968). The students don’t seem to have been too clued up on tactics though – they left the occupation unguarded and then were surprised to find themselves locked out: ‘Three hundred of them had left the annexe and were at the main college building for a meeting between deputations of staff and students to discuss the students’ grievances. When they returned to the annexe in Selhurst Road, South Norwood, afterwards, they found the doors locked and the building in darkness’ (Times 12 June 1968). Jamie Reid – who later designed Sex Pistols record sleeves – took part in the occupation, as did The Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McClaren.

If none of this was quite on the scale of events elsewhere in the world, the authorities were still interested: ‘The actions of a plain clothes police officer in visiting Goldsmiths College, New Cross… to discover the names and addresses of three students for inquiries into a forthcoming Vietnam rally, is deplored by Dr D.R. Chesterton, college warden, in today’s issue of Smith News, the college paper’ (Times 11 October 1968).

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