Thursday, July 29, 2010

George Melly on Transpontine

Thanks to Stephen Troussé on Twitter for spotting this letter by Don Locke in this week's London Review of Books:

'George Melly would not have agreed with Peter Gillman that the East London Overground runs from, rather than to, West Croydon (Letters, 8 July). Melly borrowed Henry Mayhew’s description of a gentleman crossing Waterloo Bridge and entering a ‘transpontine brothel’, and used the word to sum up what was so different about his band’s drummer: ‘simply the fact that he came from, lived in and was loyal to South London’. When the drummer discovered what the word meant he pointed out: ‘All you c*nts is transpontine.’ ‘He had logic on his side,’ Melly commented, ‘but he knew it didn’t work.’

Actually somebody once picked me up on the same point - that transpontine refers to the area on the other side of the bridge, so strictly speaking for someone based in South London, transpontine should refer to North London. But historically in London, transpontine has always referred to the southlands - usually used disparagingly but now proudly reclaimed!

The Bones go Last: Austin Osman Spare film

The Bones go Last is a blog documenting progress towards making a new film about the South London artist and visionary Austin Osman Spare (1886-1956).

Spare's South London movements were traced a few years ago by my friend Chris Jones, who organised a Austin Osman Spare pub crawl around some of his old haunts. As a child's Spare's family home was at 15 Kennington Park Gardens, and from 1916 to 1921 he lived at 298 Kennington Park Road. From 1921 to 1933 his home and studio was on the Tabard Estate at 52 Becket House, then he moved to a flat at 56a Walworth Road, near Elephant and Castle. This was destroyed in a German bombing raid in 1941. In the immediate aftermath he stayed for a while at the Newington Reform Club at 86 Walworth Road., and then moved to a Brixton basement at 5 Wynne Road.

Spare drew much of the inspiration for his portraiture from the faces of the Walworth Road and East Lane market. He also exhibited his work in local venues. As a child artist some of his drawings were exhibited in Newington Library. After WW2 he staged shows in local pubs including the Temple Bar in 1949 (286 Walworth Road), the Mansion House Tavern in 1952 (46 Kennington Park Road) and the White Bear in 1953 (138 Kennington Park Road).

106 years after his exhibition at Newington Library, there will be a major exhibition of his work next door on Walworth Road at Southwark's Cuming Museum. Austin Osman Spare: Fallen Visionary will take place from Tuesday 14 September 2010 to Saturday 13 November 2010.

The makers of the new films have put out a request for any photos or stock footage of South London Circa 1880 - 1950: 'Kennington, Walworth Road, Snow Hill [in the City], Brixton and Bourough are what we are after really, we are an amateur production and so cannot pay a fee, but the film will be shown at a Spare exhibition later in the year and will receive full credit. This would be greatly appreciated if you could help us'. If you can help contact them at

In the mean time here's a short psychogeographical ramble through some of the Spare's London - Spare Places by Jamie Gregory (2006):

Spare Places from Jamie Gregory on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Walworth May Day 1920

On May Day this year I gave a short talk at the Kit and Cutter folk club (at the Deptford Arms) on the history of May Day in South London. I didn't realize at the time that there's some great footage at the Pathe archive of Walworth May Queen festivities. These stills are from the 1920 newsreel, showing the crowning of a local girl as the May Queen, followed by a procession on a horse drawn cart accompanied by guides and scouts.

I am guessing that this was filmed in Browning Street, SE17 - as this was where the Browning Settlement was where this event happened.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Steve Harley : New Cross Gate Cockney Rebel

Steve Harley (1951-2024)

Glam rocker Steve Harley, who died in March 2024, grew up in New Cross Gate - to be precise at 37 Fairlawn Mansion, New Cross Road.  As Stephen Nice he went to Edmund Waller Primary School and Haberdashers secondary, where his classmates included Peter Perrett, later of The Only Ones

As he recalled in the Sunday Times (25/7/2010):

'In 1953 when I was two, my parents moved from a two-up, two-down in Deptford to a big flat, No.37 Fairlawn Mansions, in New Cross Gate. My father was a milkman, and I'd sometimes catch him cycling off to the depot at 3.30 am. But he also worked as caretaker of the block - there were five of us kids to keep in shoes, after all - which I think gave him a good deal with the rent. He was the hardest working man - which inspired me to take it easy.

I was the second eldest, with an older sister and three younger brothers. I shared with my brothers until I was 15, sleeping in bunk beds, after which I slept in the front room for a couple of years. There was a communal yard for the 48 flats to share, and we would play ball games and cycle. I also had my first ciggy in the cellars there. I was a pupil at Haberdasher's Askes grammar school, but between the ages of 3 and 16 I spent about four years at Queen Mary's Hospital, in Carshalton Breeches, as I had caught polio in the 1950s epidemic...

My parents ended up moving to Spain, and last year my dad came over for a visit. I drove him to New Cross Gate, and all the memories came flooding back. One day, I'd like to knock on the door of No. 37 to see who lives there. I want to know if anyone sleeps in that big front room'.

Wonder if he ever made it back to Fairlawn Mansions?

[post updated with news of Steve Harley's death, March 2024]

Here's Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel performing their biggest hit  'Come up and see me (make me smile)' :

Friday, July 23, 2010

קריסטל פעלעס - Jewish Norwood

Bob from Brockley wonders about coming across a flyer with the Hebrew letters for 'Crystal Palace' on it - קריסטל פעלעס. Can't throw any light on that, but there's certainly an interesting Jewish aspect to the history of the wider Norwood area. Most notably, the area was home from 1866 for around 100 years to the Jews' Hospital and Orphan Asylum (renamed The Jewish Orphanage in 1928 and in 1956 the Norwood Home for Jewish Children). Former residents remembered "We enjoyed swings, skipping-ropes, hoops, walks to the Crystal Palace, rambles among the lovely hills, dales and woods of Norwood, Dulwich and Sydenham" and "Pictures twice a week at the old Norwood Palace, and later at the Regal. Then there were the concerts at Brockwell Park, and the mad scramble back afterwards - to be rewarded with sweets when we arrived."

The orphanage was demolished in 1961 - it was replaced by the Norwood Synagogue, but this too closed during the 1970s I believe. Norwood still exists as a Jewish children's charity, but no longer has any particular link with South London. The old orphanage site in Knights Hill, West Norwood now belongs to Lambeth Council as Norwood Hall - for which there are ambitious plans to build a swimming pool and health centre, albeit dependent on uncertain government funding and planning permission (see update at West Norwood News blog).

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ben Pimlott Building: the best view in New Cross?

The best views in New Cross, with the possible exception of those from Telegraph Hill Park, are to be had from the Ben Pimlott building at Goldsmiths, opened in 2005.

The outside area by the famous 'scribble sculpture' is the best viewing point, with the London landscape framed by bits of curly wurly metal - here's the top of Deptford Town Hall:

Not only that, but it is all reflected in the glass of the building itself...

If you get the chance to take a look, I recommend it. It is generally open to the public during degree shows and similar exhibitions.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lewisham River & Nature Trails

Lewisham Council are arranging a number of nature walks and river walks with the aim of getting the people of the borough to “get to know the waterways and the green spaces in your area.”

All are free but some of the courses recommend you book by emailing Chris McGraw or phoning Chris on 07850 713 974. The list of events includes:

Friday 23 July, 2- 4pm
Discovering the Waterlink Way – a walk from Ladywell Fields to Lower Sydenham (part of London Discovering Places Weekend – meet by the café / ranger’s lodge).

Saturday 24 July, 11am- 1pm
Discovering the Waterlink Way. A walk from Bell Green to Ladywell Fields - part of London Discovering Places Weekend) Meet by the main entrance to Sainsbury’s Savacentre SE26 4PU.

Tuesday 3 August, 11am- 4pm
Training course: Trees in the urban landscape. A look at the trees of Deptford, wild and planted. Please phone or email to book.

Sunday 8 August , 2- 5pm
Training course: Wildflowers of urban areas. Wildlife in the streets and derelict places. Please phone or email to book.

Wednesday 11 August, 12noon- 4pm
Afternoon family event at Manor House Gardens (wading and wildlife in the Quaggy).

Friday 13 August, 11am- 2pm
Creekside low-tide wade. Please bring your own lunch for a picnic afterwards. Meet at Creekside Centre, Deptford SE8 4SA.

Tuesday 17 August, 7- 9pm
Bat walk at Beckenham Place Park. Please phone or email to book.

Thursday 26 August, 6-8pm
Walk from Grove Park to Beckenham Place Park. Finding the Downham tributary of the Ravensbourne. Meet at Grove Park Station.

And for the arm chair Lewisham nature enthusiast, we’re pleased to see that the TAGWORTS google map of Deptford wild flowers from the 2009 Deptford X festival. The map is probably still fairly correct for this year but the position of this years individual flowers may have changed.

Sea Monster in Tooley Street

In Mark Pilkington's recent talk at South East London Folklore Society, he suggested that military agencies had sometimes deliberately played along with UFO and related stories as a cover for their own clandestine activities. For instance he talked about the Lake Pend Oreille Paddler, Idaho's very own Loch Ness Monster, which just happens to frequent a lake used for many years for secret US submarine tests.

All of which makes me wonder, why is this particular sea monster in a flower bed in Tooley Street, SE1? Is it part of a plot to disguise dubious goings on in nearby City Hall? I think we should be told.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cafe Crema Summer

Cafe Crema (306 New Cross Road) is opening over the summer from Monday to Saturday ,10 am til 6.30 .

On Friday, July 23rd ( 1 to 6 pm) and Saturday 24th (10-6) they are having their annual 'treasure sale... A rather special little market stall selling gems from the Cafe Crema basement...Russian dolls/picture frames/outdoor patio heaters/ books/trinkets jewels and antique cutleryas well as shoes and boots from the 60s and 70s, dresses, hand made velvet lined curtains...semi precious beads.....some things might need a good polish others have already had one...oh yes, and a duck/chicken/rabbit hutch and run, in case any of you were needing one'.

Their next music event is on Saturday 24th July with another New Orleans New Cross piano jam. 8 til late. Free.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Floating Head at Brockley

Brockley Central has a good local ghost story from 1894, the tale of a man walking down Brockley Road and encountering 'the motionless figure of a man on horseback... Neither man nor beast was in the flesh. They were shadowy forms, but so distinctly did they show the man’s face under a three-cornered hat, his leather pistol pouches and the panting and swearing horse'. The story claims that hundreds of local people had made their way to visit the scene of the appearance on 'the lonely lane leading from Ladywell to Brockley Rise' - said lane is presumably the old Brockley footpath which ran (and still does run in parts) from Ladywell to Nunhead via Brockley, crossing Brockley Road by the Jack.

Here's another spooky local tale, from Real Ghost Stories by WT Stead (1897), this one featuring a floating head with green eyes and matted hair:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

South London Cuts News

As the reality of long promised cuts begins to dawn, the number of protests seems to be increasing. Last night there was a lobby of around 100 people outside Lewisham Town Hall where Council cuts were being discussed (see reports at Hangbitch and Deptford Visions). Seemingly Labour mayor Steve Bullock called protestors 'Fucking Idiots' (see Newshopper). Charmed.

Meanwhile a Lewisham Anti-Cuts Alliance is being launched in the Red Room at the Deptford Albany at 7pm on July 27th. An initial focus will be the planned closure of the Deptford Job Centre in November. There is also a proposal, discussed at Brockley Central, to launch a group to save the threatened Crofton Park Library. A Save New Cross Library group has been started on Facebook.

In Southwark there is a public meeting against the cuts on Monday July 19th, 7 pm at the Salvation Army, 1 Princess Street, SE1, with speakers from Southwark Pensioners Action Group, Latin American Workers Association and unions.

In education, universities are already cutting back on anything outside of a narrowly defined 'core business'. Nursery World reports this week on protests against the closure of the nursery at Goldsmiths in New Cross. There was a lobby of the Governing Body of South Bank University this afternoon to protest against the potential closure of LLLU+, its pioneering development centre for adult language, literacy, numeracy, dyslexia and family learning. A campaign has been launched to save it.

Some differing perspectives on the Mark Elms affair (highly paid headteacher at Tidemill School in Deptford) at Brockley Central and Bridget McKenzie.

Lambeth Country Show this Weekend

It's the annual Lambeth Country Show in Brockwell Park this weekend, bringing its unique mix of farm animals, craft stalls, fair rides and music. There's a good line up this year; on Saturday the sheep shearers will be accompanied by the Alabama 3 playing an acoustic set (at 2.45 pm), followed by Jazzy B's Soul II Soul sound system. Then on Sunday Saxon Sound System step up, joined at 4.30 by Tippa Irie.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Blackheath Morris out and about in Deptford

If you're out and about in Deptford on Thursday night (July 15th) you may stumble Blackheath Morris Men doing a "tour" of local pubs, starting off dancing at The John Evelyn (Evelyn St) at 8pm, then off to the Dog and Bell (Prince St) from 9pm.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

South London Anti-Fascists at Olympia

Continuing the occasional series on South London anti-fascists, we turn now to the British Union of Fascists notorious rally at Olympia in West London in June 1934. This was Oswald Mosley's first big attempt to hold a choreographed political rally along the lines of those deployed by Mussolini and Hitler, so it was very important to his opponents that it should not go according to plan. And indeed it didn't - not only did anti-fascist protestors in and out of the hall disrupt proceedings, but the extreme violence used by the BUF's stewards to eject hecklers showed the party's true face and scared away some of its wavering 'respectable' supporters.

Court reports show that a number of South London anti-fascists made the journey across town for the occasion, so let's just salute a few of them here:

- Charles Larry, 24, motor mechanic, Grenville Buildings, SE [not sure where this was], was charged with 'wilfully damaging an omnibus'.

- Alfred Goddard, 27, 'described as a bricklayer, of Longford Road, Camberwell, charged with insulting words and behaviour was fined 10 shillings'

- 'James Jeffereys, 20, described as a student, of Jerningham Road, New Cross was fined 10s for using insulting words, and 40s, for obstructing the police. A constable said that he was trying to disperse a hostile crowd around a man who was bleeding from a wound in the head. Jeffreys, who appeared to have adopted the role of leader, shouted: "Down with these dirty Blackshirts. Let us get together. Come on comrades, gather round". Jeffreys said that he asked the policeman why he did not do his duty and stop the obvious "beating up" that was going on before his eyes'. He told the court 'Fascists were hitting people about the head with fists and weapons, and were twisting their arms and forcing them out of the gates of Olympia'.

Source: The Times, 9 June 1934

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ernest Dowson Remembered

The local connections of the Victorian decadent poet Ernest Dowson have been covered at Transpontine before (born in Lee, died in Catford after spells in Paris and Brittany, buried in Brockley). His life will be celebrated on Monday August 2nd at 2 pm, with the unveiling of his restored grave in Brockley & Ladywell Cemetery.

There will be an introduction and a reading by Jad Adams, Author of the biography 'Madder Music, Stronger wine: The Life of Ernest Dowson, Poet and Decadent' followed by a memorial in the cemetery chapel, ending with a toast to celebrate the life of Dowson in the Brockley Jack Theatre.

I note that Ernest Dowson was familiar with the term Transpontine. In 1893 he wrote to a friend: 'Yesterday an advertisement in The Times was sent me, for a librarian, in a Public Free Library (under the Public Library Acts) ... I have been advised to apply for this, I fear, not very desirable post, and I have thought that if you, with your official signature of Librarian . . . could give me a testimonial, I might stand some chance. Could you consider me then, in a short missive a competent person to hand out dime novels to transpontine shop boys?' (source: Ernest Dowson, 1888-1897, reminiscences, unpublished letters and Marginalia, 1914).

The library in question was the (still open) Newington Library in Walworth Road - he didn't get the job. Transpontine proles like myself still frequent it.
(thanks to Mike Guilfoyle from the Friends of Brockley & Ladywell Cemeteries for the heads up on this)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Convoys Wharf - latest plans

This weekend I intended to go to the 'consultation' exhibition for the planned Convoys Wharf development in Deptford. Getting ready to set off on Saturday lunchtime I checked the times and realized that it was actually only open until 2 pm and I was going to miss it. It had also been open on Friday, but less than two full days for the public to see plans that will potentially transform the river front at Deptford is hopelessly inadequate. It was a similar story last December, when an exhibition on the Convoys Wharf site was only open for two days with no outside signage that I could see to inform the local residents who will be most affected that it was happening. On that occasion I did manage to find it after wandering around the site for a while (photos in this post were taken then).

Deptford Dame did manage to make it this weekend, and reports that the plans on display were not very informative. The site of the former Royal Dockyard has most recently been used by News International, but is now owned by Hutchison Whampoa who are proposing to massively redevelop it with 3,500 new homes (only 25% 'affordable') plus office blocks and bars. As DD points out it is proposed that there would be 2,300 car parking spaces which will significantly increase traffic on local roads. What community facilities, if any, will be provided is unclear. There is mention of a school, but if this is dependent on government funding to build it... well, don't hold your breath.

There is little to defend in the present site, an empty expanse of warehouses surrounded by a wall that blocks access to the river. From that point of view some would argue that anything is preferable, but that's hardly a reason to sit back and allow a global property developer to unilaterally impose its vision on this important site. What they have in mind seems to be a kind of identikit high rise office/flats/leisure complex of the kind that can be seen all over the world. How this connects to the needs and wishes of current and future Deptford dwellers, let alone to the history of the site, is another matter.

It's no surprize that a property developer should want to maximise profit by cramming in as much as possible on the site, and to focus the development on an affluent minority who can afford to purchase luxury riverside flats. It would be good for others though to develop alternative visions of how a space like this could be used, no matter how utopian, as a yardstick against which to measure what is being put forward. For instance, when the scheme was first mooted in 2000, Creekside Forum did set up 'Convoys Opportunity' to develop alternative plans for the site. They published a number of proposals, with a main focus on the site being a working wharf, including the idea of developing a Cruise Liner terminal there.

Looking along the river we can see that to a certain extent campaigns by local people have been successful in preventing the riverside becoming entirely corporate - for example in Rotherhithe, Surrey Docks Farm was preserved as well as council housing on the riverfront, while on the South Bank too there is substantial public space (including parks) and Coin Street social housing right by the river (not tucked away in a corner of the site as a concession to planning requirements).

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Anti-Cuts Lobby at Lewisham Town Hall

There's a demonstration outside a Lewisham Council meeting next Wednesday 14th July at 5:15 pm (at the Town Hall in Catford), called by Lewisham National Union of Teachers and others opposed to plan cuts in Council jobs and services. Libraries, Children's Services and Adult Social Care are amongst the areas identified for cuts - further details on the leaflet below (click to enlarge).

Of course it is true that Lewisham is being compelled to make cuts by big reductions in the funding it receives from national government. But that doesn't mean that cuts are inevitable. It is a choice that that the ConDem government is making cuts in this way, just as ultimately it is wider political choice by governments across the world to allow 'the market' to determine that people's wages, pensions and living conditions should be cut to pay for a crisis not of their making. And ultimately governments could be forced to make different choices if they meet enough resistance.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Song and stories tour of Bermondsey

From the One Eye Grey crew:

'Singer songwriter Nigel of Bermondsey and tour guide Chris Roberts are teaming up to deliver a walking tour with a difference. At every stop from Crossbones Graveyard in Borough to the Thames water front Chris will relate stories about the location and Nigel will perform a song from his album the Bermondsey suite. Both the songs and stories will reveal the history of area and some of the tragic tales associated with it. Expect giant shift shifting rats, hidden graveyards, buried rivers and lost industry. The tour will last roughly two hours and, although free, must be booked as numbers are limited.

To book a place on the tour please e-mail

For more information about Nigel please visit Chris edits the 21st Century Penny Dreadful One Eye Grey stories which will feature on Radio Four’s London season in late July'.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Ash - Kung Fu in the Venue

Irish band Ash filmed the live scenes for their 'Kung Fu' video at the Venue in New Cross:

I believe it was filmed in March 1995, when they played a gig there. Check out some of the other names on the flyer - Creaming Jesus, BMX Bandits, Headbutt, Prolapse, The Sultans of Ping and The Longpigs.

Monday, July 05, 2010

The Abuses of Enchantment

The always entertaining and erudite Mark Pilkington (of Strange Attractor) is talking at South East London Folklore Society this Thursday 8th July on 'The Abuses of Enchantment': 'How beliefs in UFOs, ghosts, vampires and other folkloric and supernatural phenomena have been exploited by military and intelligence operators. Mark Pilkington is the author of the forthcoming book Mirage Men: An Adventure into Disinformation, Paranoia and UFOs'.

It will take place as usual at The Old King's Head, Kings Head Yard, 45-49 Borough High Street, London, SE1 1NA. Talks start at 8.00pm, £2.50 / £1.50 concessions.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Happy Birthday Peckham Library - can we keep one in New Cross too?

Peckham Library recently celebrated its tenth anniversary, with kids from local schools producing some birthday messages that were displayed outside.

All of this reminded me that it must be getting on for ten years since we were first promised a new library in New Cross through the New Deal for Communities. The earmarked site in Briant Street is still a wasteland; the NXG Trust (which has superseded NDC) reports that : 'Despite getting planning permission for our development and putting three parcels of land together the project has been setback by the general recession and slump in the property market. All is not lost. We have a new developer, Building Better Health who have a great track record in building great new facilities for communities across London. They built the recently completed Waldron Health Centre in New Cross. They are convinced they can make minor adaptations to the existing design to make it feasible and we hope to sign a development agreement with them in the next few months.After that it will still take some years before we can have a completed new healthy living centre and all the new community facilities this area deserves'.

Building Better Health incidentally is owned by Meridiam, a property company in turn sponsored by AECOM (global engineering firm with US origins) and French financial institutions. So like other public services, whether we ever see a new library in New Cross looks likely to depend on the roulette wheels of the global market.

In fact as things stand, we may not even have the existing small library in New Cross Road - it is apparently one of a number of smaller libraries across Lewisham earmarked for possible closure as a result of Government cuts in funding to local authorities. Blackheath Bugle has the full story and links to a Lewisham Council report suggesting consulting on closing Sydenham, Blackheath, Crofton Park, Grove Park and New Cross libraries.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

New Mural at the Broca

New mural at the Broca coffee shop next to Brockley station. It has a bit of a Mexican day of the dead feel, doesn't it?

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Footballs flood Potters Fields

If you noticed lots of people walking around by Tower Bridge today holding footballs here's why. There was some kind of BT promotion happening at Potters Fields Park (SE1) with loads of balls being given away.