Monday, August 31, 2009

Workers protest on Blackheath, 1890

There have been a number of mentions of Blackheath's radical heritage in the context of the current Climate Clamp there. We have mentioned here before it's connections with the Peasants Revolt, Jack Cade and the Kentish rising, Cornish rebels and Chartism. Here's another example, a report of a workers' demonstration on Blackheath in 1890:

'Yesterday afternoon about 3000 men, mainly labourers employed in the Royal Dockyard and Arsenal at Woolwich, attended an open-air demonstration on Blackheath, held 'for the purpose of bringing before the House of Commons the grievances of the Arsenal and Dockyard labourers, the most notable one being their starvation wage'. Processions, headed by bands and banners, made their way to Blackheath from Woolwich, Deptford &c., about 30 branches of the South Side Labour Protection League being represented.

Mr W J Brett, chairman of the Council of the League, presided. Mr F P Hammill, of the London Trades Council, moved a resolution declaring that the labourers of the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, who were in receipt of wages between 17s. and 21s a week, and constituted but one-eight of the whole number of labourers employed, were determined to obtain a minimum rate of 25s a week, as present they could not procure the necessaries of life. The resolution having being passed unanimously, Mr Quelch moved a resolution pledging the meeting to stand by the Arsenal and Dockyard labourers in 'their struggle for a living rate of wages' and to further extend and strengthen the organisation of South Side Labour Protection League as one of the best means of securing that object. The resolution was adopted with acclamation'

Source: The Times, April 5 1890. The 'Mr Quelch' referred to here is the Harry Quelch, a socialist who lived in Nunhead - see previous post on him.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Blackheath: Climate Camp 2009

More on this as things unfold.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Rowland Hilder

The landscape painter Rowland Hilder (1905-1993) spent a critical period of his youth in New Cross and then attended Goldsmiths College.

In an article in The Countryman (Autumn 1980) he described his formative years: 'I was born in Great Neck, Long Island, USA of British parents. Each summer I came with my parents to England where we stayed for two or three months. Much of that time I spent with my grandparents in Birling, Kent, so that at an early age I was introduced to the delights of the Kentish countryside and to sea travel on the great ocean liners. We returned to England early in 1915, sailing on the Lusitania; the last trip before she was finally sunk in the Irish Sea by a U-boat.I spent the war years in New Cross, London, from where I was able to cycle to the River Thames at Greenwich, and to make excursions to the Kentish countryside. My father was a keen amateur watercolour painter, so on his return from active service I had little difficulty in persuading him to let me attend the nearby Goldsmiths' College School of Art as soon as I was allowed to leave day school at the age of sixteen'.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Bibliography, as a child he lived 'above a tobacconist's shop in New Cross, London, which Hilder's father bought for his wife in case he did not return from the war'. Later he lived for many years in Blackheath and became a Professor of Art at Goldsmiths. He was well-known for his watercolours of the Kent countryside.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

RF Delderfield - another New Cross novelist

R[onald] F[rederick] Delderfield (1912 – 1972) was a popular historical novelist, several of whose works were filmed for TV in the 1970s and 1980s, including To Serve Them All My Days and A Horseman Riding By. Wikipedia has his birth place as Bermondsey, but the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography states that he was born at 37 Waller Road, New Cross.
Both agree that in 1918 his family moved to 22 Ashburton Avenue in Addiscombe, near Croydon - the background for his novels The Dreaming Suburb and The Avenue Goes to War.

The ghost of Delderfield now seems to have 37 Waller Road all to himself, as it appears to have been empty for a few years.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Brockley Fruit and Vegetable Market

Excitement mounts in Brockley as a new deli prepares to open. A hundred or so years ago people got their fruit and veg in a paper bag like this from J. Easton. 'Brockley Fruit and Vegetable Market' at 167 Brockley Road and 193 The Pavement (this is from the 1890s, click to enlarge).

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Nunhead Howard Marks Mural

Recent works in the subway of Nunhead station have put in some new white tiles:

During the work I noticed that an old mural underneath was exposed:

I happen to have some photos of the old mural when it was first painted in about 1998. As I recall the old corridor had lots of unofficial graffiti and the rail company approved a brand new mural. I assume that they didn't notice for a while that it featured the famous drug dealer Howard Marks - or at least that's who I assumed it was (check the photo).

On the other side of the corridor there was a reference to South London rapper Roots Manuva with the words 'The Prophets rise again... the wise will one day rise'. Not sure who the bloke with a beard was supposed to be.

Before long the murals had been tiled over, and now those tiles have in turn been replaced.
Anybody know anymore?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

London's Oldest Timber Structure

'London's oldest timber structure has been unearthed by archaeologists from Archaeology South-East (part of the Institute of Archaeology at UCL). It was found during the excavation of a prehistoric peat bog adjacent to Belmarsh Prison in Plumstead, Greenwich, in advance of the construction of a new prison building. Radiocarbon dating has shown the structure to be nearly 6,000 years old and it predates Stonehenge by more than 500 years...

'he structure consisted of a timber platform or trackway found at a depth of 4.7m (about the height of a double decker bus) beneath two metres of peat adjacent to an ancient river channel (image available). Previously, the oldest timber structure in Greater London was the timber trackway in Silvertown, which has been dated to 3340-2910 BC, c. 700 years younger.
Wetlands adjacent to rivers such as the Thames were an important source of food for prehistoric people, and timber trackways and platforms made it easier to cross the boggy terrain. The structure discovered at Plumstead is an early example of people adapting the natural landscape to meet human needs. The peat bogs which developed at Plumstead provided ideal conditions to preserve organic materials, which in other environments would have rotted away. The peat not only preserved wood, but also other plant matter - down to microscopic pollen grains - which can inform us about the contemporary landscape'.

More here and at Caroline's Miscellany. Quick we've found evidence of an ancient landscape let's build a prison on it - yes I know they wouldn't have found it if they hadn't been building the prison, but it still seems weird.

Friday, August 14, 2009

BUG in the London Paper

Brockley Ukulele Group's monthly Sunday Night Uke Box at the Amersham Arms got a mention in the London Paper yesterday (13 August) as one of the top '10 ukulele clubs and club nights in London'. The listing accompanied an article Time for anarchy in the ukulele which declared: 'Once the preserve of 50s comics and people called George (Formby, Harrison), the ukulele has long been regarded as a jokey bit of musical flotsam washed up from Blue Hawaii. But no more. These days the “bonsai” guitar is enjoying a boom, with iPhone apps, YouTube tutorials, club nights, and celebs from ­Kaiser Chiefs to Patrick Wolf lining up to applaud it'.

The next Uke Box at the Amersham Arms is scheduled for Sunday September 6th.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cycle powered cinema in Deptford

Oxfam and Magnificent Revolution show the climate action film, Age of Stupid, to 150 people at the Laban in Deptford last week - all powered by pedals:

Thanks to Green Ladywell's twitter feed for the link.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Palace Puma?

Time for another South London 'Big Cat' story:

'A puma or panther is on the prowl in Crystal Palace according to a journalist who spotted a big cat there on Saturday. The beast - dubbed the Palace Puma - was sighted in some woodland by journalist Helen Barrett, 41, who was out for a walk with her family.

They were so terrified that they fled from the “wild animal” - described as black and 5ft in length - after it approached them on a pathway between Church Road and Auckland Hill at 3.45pm. Mrs Barrett said: “It was quite alarming. At first we couldn’t believe what we were seeing. It was black, the size of a labrador, but walking like a cat. It had to be feline.”

... Mrs Barrett reported the sighting to police who searched the path and woodland parallel to Fox Hill, but said they could find no trace of a big cat.

(full story at This is London, 10 August 2009; previous posts on South London 'Big Cats')

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The only living video shop in New Cross

Video shops, like Record shops, seem to be gradually disappearing. Even their names suggest an earlier age, since 'video' shops no longer stock videos and vinyl is a minority line in many 'record' shops. There's just so much film on the internet, not to mention borrowing dvds from postal services like I Love Film, that actually walking down to a shop and picking one up can sometimes feel too much like hard work.

Still I do like browsing through the DVD cases, bumping into people and swapping recommendations and generally soaking up the world of film. Locally one of the few survivors is the excellent S+A Video Library at 301 New Cross Road (0208 691 9296), opposite the old Deptford Town Hall. It has a great selection of new, classic and foreign language films, and there always seems to be good music playing - The Smiths on my last visit. The great Homeview Brockley video store vanished in early 2007, now replaced by a bookies. So treasure this place - it might be use it or lose it. Why not start by cancelling your post/online dvd subscription, I bet you don't watch half of what comes through the door because you didn't spend the time to decide what you really wanted to watch.

Sunday, August 09, 2009


I made use of Lewisham's latest recycling service last weekend. On Saturday and Sunday mornings until 1 November there are collection points for garden waste only at four points around the borough so you no longer have to take it all the way down to Landmann Way next to the Millwall ground. On Kitto Road by Cafe Orange and three other places* there's a lorry waiting to receive your grass cuttings and unwanted branches (as long as they are less than 4 cm thick).

Things have certainly moved on since the days when the council dump was literally just a long pile of miscellaneous refuse. Still something has also been lost, namely the possibility of finding things. I am always amazed by the amount of seemingly useful stuff in the skips at Landmann Way, from speakers to furniture. Last weekend I saw somebody committing the ultimate crime of throwing piles of books into a skip. Gone are the days when you could help yourself or slip the workers a fiver. I know a lot of stuff genuinely gets recycled but much ends up in landfill or the incinerator.

I'm not arguing for a return to 'slumdog millionaire' style rubbish dumps but wouldn't it be possible to have a place in each area where people could leave things that other people might find useful?

Until then, there's always Lewisham Freecycle.

* The other locations are: Top of Riddons Road adjacent to Grove Park allotments; Laurence House Lorry Park, Catford and Girton Road Car Park, Sydenham.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Brockley Ukulele Group and Trev & Simon

Despite some minor technical difficulties which delayed getting going, the Brockely Ukulele Group gig at Jam Circus went well last night. My main concern with starting late is that it gives more drinking time and before you know it you're struggling to distinguish your B flat from you F# minor, but we still managed to pull off the very complex Daft Punk 'Harder Faster' cover.

The main excitement, as you can just about see in the above photo, was that sitting right in front of the band was none other than Trev and Simon, best known as the house comedians on Going Live! and Live and Kicking (late 80s/early 90s Saturday morning kids TV). Luckily I hadn't had so much to drink that I felt the need to demand that they sing one of their old Singing Corner folk parodies. But looking at some old footage on Youtube, I think I can say that they invented Flight of the the Conchords! Here they are with Jason Donovan and Nigel Kennedy:

BUG are playing at the Amersham Arms tomorrow (Sunday) night, admission free, the last appearance with the band for a while by Brockley ukeist and ex-John Stainer teacher Alex, who is leaving the country for a while.

Hilly Fields Bird Watch

Following Skister's query earlier this week about birds of prey on Hilly Fields, Sue at Green Ladywell has pointed us in the direction of the wonderful Hilly Fields Birdwatch, a whole blog devoted solely to bird life in that stretch of green and pleasant South East London.

The site confirms - with photographic evidence - that both kestrels and a sparrowhawk have been spotted there this year.

Twitchers/twitterers please note too that I have finally got round to changing the photo at the earlier post about Black Redstarts in Deptford. As Harry pointed out at the time, the picture I originally used was of a sub species not seen in this country.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Peckham Sunset

So we made it to the top of Peckham car park last week, meeting some of the Londonists in Frank's Bar for a drink and a wander through the Bold Tendencies sculpture park (followed later by an adjournment to the nearby Bar Story).

There was a very snotty review of the place by Matthew Norman in The Guardian, seemingly annoyed at having to come down here and not knowing his way around, hence 'an aimless drive around what would have been Del Boy Trotter's manor if they hadn't taken fright and filmed in locations as far from Peckham as Bristol and Brighton'. I think it was missing the point to review it as a restaurant - I'd say it was more of a bar with food (there was a more positive review in Time Out).

And it's not that hard to find unless you are totally clueless. Just get on the lift next to the cinema entrance, go as high as you can and then go out into the car park heading up to the top storey via the ramps. It's going to be there until the end of September.

Norman's scathing 'look at that view of the Gherkin and the London Eye. Imagine being 19 and into bad art, LSD and urban deprivation tourism. It's paradise!' was also a bit of cheap shot. I am usually at the front of the queue sniffing out 'deprivation tourism' - something a Guardian restaurant critic slumming it in a Peckham car park could probably be accused of - but there has been a largish population of art students and post-students around Camberwell and Peckham for many years.

I am sceptical about grandiose claims that initiatives like this can - or even should - fundamentally change areas like Peckham. What's going on on the top storey of the car park isn't going to have the slightest impact on the ground level of minimum wage jobs, knives and guns (I know there's more to Peckham than that, but let's not airbrush it away either). But with all its contradictions a space that has been off limits - car park users will know that the top storey has been closed for many years - is for a while some kind of zone of human interaction and sociability.

And whatever else you may think of the place, it's a fantastic vantage point for a Peckham sunset.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Bird of Prey

Hilly Fields Meadow area

This may be delusion or misidentification but has anyone else seen a prey of prey, possibly a kestral or sparrow hawk, swooping and floating lazily around the meadow area of Hilly Fields?

The family Skitster have twice seen a dunn or light brown bird with a fanned tail, moving like a bird of prey on the footpath by the meadow area of Hilly Fields, on the way down to Adelaide Avenue. We've seen it perching on the lamposts, possibly eviscerating it's lunch.

Update: Mrs Skitster found the Hilly Fields Birdwatch blog this afternoon, thanks also to Sue for pointing us that way, which is a good blog with some stunning shots of the kestral.

Bus workers occupy TFL office

Bus workers' protest in Southwark yesterday (more here):

London bus workers in the Unite union created a stir by invading Transport For London’s (TFL) office in Southwark today as part of a protest demanding central pay bargaining across all the city’s bus operators. Around 60 drivers occupied the foyer of the office waving flags, singing slogans about equal pay and dancing to drummers from Unite’s Justice For Cleaners campaign who had joined the protest in solidarity.

Inside the occupied office, one Unite official told cheering drivers, “If there is no equal pay, there will be no peace on the London buses. If TFL won’t listen, they will be met with strikes.”
Earlier in the day over 100 drivers had protested on the green at Marble Arch. Some union members had revealed boxer shorts carrying the slogan “stop the race to the bottom” in reference to the tendering system that is driving down wages and conditions as companies compete to cut costs.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

New Cross - Beau Geste

Caroline and Bill have both been pondering the Deptford origins of P.C. Wren, author of the oft-filmed French Foreign Legion adventure story, Beau Geste (1924). Apparently he was born Percy Wren at 37 Warwick Street, Deptford in 1875.

After he married his first wife Alice, they lived for a while in New Cross at 27 Ommaney Road. Bill mentions that the 1901 census has them living htere with their month old daughter Estelle Lenore (who later died aged 9).

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

No Border Folk

NO BORDER FOLK is an acoustic fundraiser tomorrow night (Wednesday 5th August) for London No Borders, a group fighting against migration controls.

It features Mondesir, Trent Miller & The Skeleton Jive, Jessica Grace and Luke Rosier and takes places upstairs at The Dog House, 293 Kennington Road, Kennington, SE11 6BY (nearest tubes: Kennington, Oval). Suggested donation: £4 waged, £3 unwaged., 7.30pm-11pm.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Charmz RIP

Another wasted life in South London.... 19-year-old Funky MC Charmz (Carl Beatson Asiedu) was stabbed to death at the weekend outside Club Life, Goding Street in Vauxhall where he had just performed at the Summer Vybz night as part of the duo Kid n Play.

Carl was from Norbury and went to Saint Francis Xavier College in Clapham before going on to De Montford University in Leicester. His friend Shadestar says: 'It sickens me and upsets me to say that this most probably UNFORTUNATELY wouldn't be the last time an event like this takes place in the streets of London. It's SAD and PATHETIC! If YOU think carrying a knife around for WHATEVER reason is OK, then YOU are part of the knife culture in London and it NEEDS to come to an END!' Sadly he's right, only last week there were stabbings in Peckham outside the R'n'B Nitespot which left two people critically injured.

Some friends have put together this tribute:

Briant Colour Printing Occupation 1972

There have been a number of recent workplace occupations by workers threatened with job losses and/or very poor redundancy deals - notably at the (ex-Ford) Visteon plants in London and Belfast, and the Vestas wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight. As reported yesterday, there was a short occupation of a South London children's home at the weekend.

Way back in 1972 a print shop in the Old Kent Road was the scene of an occupation for a year - and one that at least temporarily prevented the plant's closure. It ran from 21 June 1972 to 3 July 1973. The Times (24 June 1972) reported: 'About 150 employees started the 'work-in' at the Briant Colour Printing company, Peckham on Wednesday after the management announced the company was going into voluntary liquidation... the workers yesterday showed their determination to stay by moving in bedding and food'.

Apparently the workers had previously staged a 24 hour occupation in April 1971 to prevent the management sacking 60 staff, resulting in management postponing redundancies.

RandomPottins recalls that during the 1972 occupation workers used the equipment to print material in support of others strikes and struggles of the period, such as this poster for the Pentonville 5 (five dockers jailed under anti-strike legislation):

They also printed their own newsletter - there's a cover of one here showing what appears to be the gasworks on the Old Kent Road (not sure of the address of the print shop - anybody know?).

During the dispute, printers from Briant’s successsfully picketed a paper wholesalers plant in Tower Bridge Road for a month. It was owned by the Robert Horne Group of Companies – their logic was that Robert Horne - supplier of paper to Briant’s – was the chief creditor and was responsible for sending the firm into liquidation ‘The picket was very effective, reducing the flow of lorries into the factory, usually 40 to 50 a day, to one or two whose dirvers were willing to cross the picket line’ (Times 14 July 1972, 10 August 1972).

Various legal stratagems to remove the occupiers were successfully resisted. A court later heard: ‘Possession orders were obtained against seven defendants in January 1973, but they were not enforced because the liquidator feared that the enforcement would result in an industrial fracas and the destruction of valuable machinery’ (Times 28 March 1977) .

The workers ran the printing company as a going concern during the work-in which meant they were presumably able to pay themselves a wage. There were even discussions with a prospective buyer, David Brockdorff, to agree a deal that would retain some kind of workers' control: ‘The work-in has broken new ground by carrying into private enterprise the political basis on which the factory has been run by joint union branches. The plant will be run by a ‘management committee’ composed of representatives from three printing unions – the National Society of Operative Printers (Natsopa), the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades (Sogat) and the National Graphical Association (NGA) – and managers put in by the new owner’ (Times, 14.12.1972).

This deal fell through and in May 1973 the company was bought by Peter Bentley, although it seems not everybody kept their job. Then in November 1973 the new owner closed the factory, sending the 50 remaining employees redundancy notices and installing security guards to keep workers out (Nov 24 1973) .

I'm not sure if that was the end of the story - I've come across a reference to 'vicious attacks [by police] on pickets at Bryant Colour Printing in 1974' (I guess this could be an error in dating by the author). It would be interesting to know more. In 2002 there was a 30 year reunion in Clerkenwell for people who took part, but I don't know if anyone has ever written up the experience. Bill Freeman, a Communist Party activist, was a prominent figure during the occupation as 'Father of the Chapel' (the name for a printing shop steward).

The occupation led to a series of court cases about who should be responsible for paying rates on the building. Southwark Council argued in the Court of Appeal in March 1977 that the company liquidator should have paid up, but the Court rules that as the workers were in control of the factory, the company was not liable for rates (Times 28 March 1977).

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Children's Home Occupation

Staff occupied Orchard Lodge children's home in Anerley on Friday afternoon 'after being dismissed and being given less than two hours to collect their belongings and leave. About 45 employees occupied every room on the six-and-half acre site, including boys' dormitories and bathrooms, to prevent security officers from bolting shut the doors and windows'. The occupation ended at 10:30 pm on the same night after Unison officials arranged for negotiations to take place with the employers.

The former Southwark Council secure children's unit has been owned by the private Glen Care Group since 2006, and has been facing closure since the Youth Justice Board announced it was cutting the number of secure unit beds in England and Wales. More at The Guardian.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Straycation Cancellation: 2 August & Carnaval del Pueblo

From the SELFS list:

I am afraid we have to cancel Roy Vickery's 'Wonderful Weeds' walk which was scheduled to happen tomorrow [2nd August].

I am sorry but the walk clashes with the
Carnaval del Pueblo festival in Burgess Park. I am shall try to reschedule this walk for later in the year.

The Carnaval del Pueblo and the pre-festival procession from the Elephant & Castle down the Walworth Road is a true secret spectacle of south London and I’m happy to be shunted out by it.
I took some photos of last years procession and fortune-telling budgies.

I’m glad to say that the rest of Straycation is still on, details are below. Look forward to seeing some of you in Camberwell tonight.

Camberwell and Crowley

Straycation, South East London Folklore Society's walking festival, strolls off tonight with Scott Wood as your guide 'around the mythological sites of Camberwell. There'll be ghosts, folklore, saints and Aleister Crowley's father-in-law. Meet on Camberwell Green, junction of Camberwell Road & Camberwell Church Street'. It starts at 7 pm and there is no charge.

To whet your appetite, here's the tale of Camberwell's connection with the famous occultist Aleister Crowley.

In the last decades of the nineteenth century, the vicar of St Giles Church, Camberwell, was the Reverend Frederick Festus Kelly. He moved with his family from Paddington to there in 1880 and remained vicar for the next 35 years. His children, Gerald and Rose, played a major role Crowley's life.

Gerald Festus Kelly (born 1879) met Crowley at Cambridge University in 1898. They became friends and possibly lovers. After leaving Cambridge, Kelly moved to Paris and established himself as an artist. Crowley visited Paris in 1902, and it was via Kelly's connections that he met the sculptor Auguste Rodin and the writers Arnold Bennett and W. Somerset Maugham. The latter used his Paris encounters with Crowley as the basis for his novel 'The Magician' (1907).

In July 1903, Crowley met Gerald's sister Rose in Scotland. Seemingly to rescue her from a marriage being arranged by her mother Blanche, Crowley proposed to Rose. By the 17 August they were wed and the marriage was registered. The marriage of convenience soon became for real as Crowley fell in love with, in his own worlds, 'one of the most beautiful and fascinating women in the world'.

Crowley and Rose Kelly spent their 1904 honeymoon in Cairo, where Rose played a key role in the genesis of Crowley's best known work 'Liber Legis' (The Book of the Law). Crowley spent several days invoking ancient Egyptian deities and came to believe that Rose was relaying messages from the Gods to him, including one that he should wait in his temple on a given date and write down whatever he heard. Crowley did so, writing Liber Legis which he always maintained was dictated to him by Aiwass, his Holy Guardian Angel . Crowley came to regard Rose as a Scarlet Woman, in his postive sense of a woman in touch with the gods. He wrote several poems for her, including Rosa Mundi (Rose of the World).

Their marriage did not end happily. Their first child died of typhoid contracted while travelling around China, and Rose became an alcoholic. The couple divorced in November 1909, at which time Rose was back living in the family home in Camberwell. Rose remarried but died of alcohol-related causes in 1932. Rose Kelly and Aleister Crowley had a second child, Lola Zaza, but after the divorce Crowley rarely saw her. Gerald Kelly went on to become president of the Royal Academy, although by this point his friendship with Crowley was over.

Rose, Lola and Aleister Crowley

Crowley mentions a visit to Camberwell in his book Magick Without Tears: 'I remember sailing happily in to breakfast at Camberwell Vicarage, and saying cheerfully, in absolute good faith: "A fine morning, Mr. Kelly!" I was astounded at the reply. The dear old gentleman - and he really was one of the best! - half choked, then gobbled at me like a turkey! "You're a very insolent young man!" Poor, tiny Aleister! How was I to know that his son had driven it well home that the hallmark of English stupidity was that the only safe topic of conversation was the weather. And so my greeting was instantly construed as a deliberate insult!'

Source: Booth, Martin, A Magick Life: A Biography of Aleister Crowley (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2000); Crowley, Aleister, Magick Without Tears.