Monday, August 22, 2011

Deptford Citizen

The Deptford Citizen was a local paper published on a monthly basis from October 1931 to September 1939.

It was launched by Deptford Labour Party (with its HQ at 435 New Cross Road) and the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society, so its content was a mixture of socialist politics and adverts for co-op products. For instance, the co-op had its own cocoa works in Luton so there were adverts for 'Lutona Cocoa'.

One of the striking features is the listings which give a sense of the importance of the labour movement in local life at the time. For instance the first issue tells us that the local LP had six women's sections, and there were also six local co-operative guilds: Brockley Cross Women's, Brockley Men's, Deptford Women's, Deptford and New Cross Men's, New Cross Women's and Hatcham Men's. All of these groups were meeting on a weekly basis at venues including Hatcham Liberal Club, the Primitive Methodist Mission Hall in Besson Street and St Georges Hall in Shardeloes Road.

There was a Labour Party choir, a football team, a sports club, a swimming club and dances at Laurie Grove. One such event advertised in February 1932 featured Vic Filmer's Mitre Club Orchestra - Filmer was a well-known jazz band leader.

Free legal advice was provided at 435 New Cross Road by Mr. L. Silkin, 'Poor Man's Lawyer'. I assume this was Lewis Silkin, a solicitor who became Labour MP for Peckham in 1936 (his sons Sam and John also became Labour MPs). There were also summer outings - in 1933, Deptford Labour Party took 1800 children on a trip to Epsom Downs.

Reading it with historical hindsight it is sad tracing the drift through recession, the rise of fascism in Europe and on towards war. The paper seemed to have been to the left of the Labour Party leadership, with a sharp socialist analysis of events. An article in December 1931 denounced the coalition national government -which included national Labour leaders like Ramsay MacDonald - as 'a purely class government masquerading as "national" but really "capitalist"'. In April of the following year a headline read 'Capitalism causes war and poverty.'

As early as May 1933 the paper was warning that 'Hitler's fiends use mass murder and torture to smash German labour movement'. Bear in mind that in the 1930s both Lewisham Conservative MPs were cosying up to Hitler and Mussolini.

A report from the Spanish civil war in June 1937 warned prophetically 'Guernica in April 1937 may be London in April 1938'. And indeed by 1940 the air raids on Guernica were being repeated in Deptford and across the UK. With the outbreak of World War Two, Deptford Citizen came to an end.

There is a full set of Deptford Citizen on microfilm in Lewisham local studies centre, upstairs in the main Lewisham library.

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