Thursday, February 27, 2014

White Panthers in SE2 - Abbey Wood and the 1970s counter culture

The White Panther Party was a radical and anti-racist organisation originally established in the Detroit area in 1968 with the aim of bringing together white radicals to act alongside the Black Panther Party. It had its roots in the counter-culture, with one of its founders being John Sinclair - manager of the proto-punk band the MC5. Its ten point programme declared:

  1. Full endorsement and support of the Black Panther Party's 10-point program and platform.
  2. Total assault on the culture by any means necessary, including rock and roll, dope, and f***ing in the streets.
  3. Free exchange of energy and materials—we demand the end of money!
  4. Free food, clothes, housing, dope, music, bodies, medical care—everything free for every body!
  5. Free access to information media—free the technology from the greed creeps!
  6. Free time & space for all humans—dissolve all unnatural boundaries!
  7. Free all schools and all structures from corporate rule—turn the buildings over to the people at once!
  8. Free all prisoners everywhere—they are our comrades!
  9. Free all soldiers at once—no more conscripted armies!
  10. Free the people from their phony "leaders"—everyone must be a leader—freedom means free every one! All Power to the People!'

Inspired by this example, Mick Farren and others established The White Panther Party UK. Some of its exploits were featured in the International Times, now available in a great online archive. Interestingly, its 'Central Co-ordination Chapter' was based in Abbey Wood, with the address given as 1 Conference Road, SE2. As well as the Abbey Wood chapter (which later became the Greenwich chapter), there were South London groups in Croydon and Bromley.

International Times, 1972

In March 1972, they staged a protest in Woolwich, as reported in IT (24 March 1972): 'On Saturday 11 March approximately 40 members of the White Panther Party- from Abbey Wood, Ilford, West London and Croydon and Bromley Chapters - took to the streets of Woolwich in SE London. The reason was to protest about the distortion and lies that appear in a local paper, the Kentish Independent. Incidents of the day were the surrounding of a police car by angry Panthers, forcing the pig to freak and drive away at high speed, and a visit to the local police station by brothers and sisters where all were ejected by the pigs within five minutes. During the rest of the afternoon the Panthers were followed by plain-clothes pigs. Copies of a handbill distributed on the day—"This paper is an enemy of
the people"—are-available from Abbey Wood Chapter, White Panther Party'

The Abbey Wood group was involved in squatting and ran a food programme, activities that seem to have led plenty of conflict with the police. IT reported on 6 April 1972:

'One of the main functions of the Party is to awaken the people and to teach them strategic methods of resisting the power structure, this has caused Party members/Chapters to come into conflict with the pigs, the principle confrontations being in Glasgow and Abbey Wood (South East London). In Glasgow the Panthers have been hassled by the pigs continuously, mainly due to the effectiveness of their legal-aid programme, which brought legal-aid to the kids on the streets. (Glasgow CID have the Party's 10-Point Programme on their office wall). In Abbey Wood most of the confrontation occurred during a series of squats last year, where on a number of occasions brothers and sisters were violently assaulted and threatened by the pigs. The Party has also done a good deal of community work—trying to provide viable alternatives to the present pig system. Chapters have their own local programmes: in West London, Abbey Wood and (soon) Glasgow, free food programmes operate; Glasgow Panthers have many of the street gangs as members and they recently got a rent strike together in Easterhouse; most Chapters have as part of their local programmes, drug education- pro life drugs like marijuana, hashish, peyote, pure LSD and mescalin, and anti death drugs like phony THC, downers, speed and smack that threaten our nation like a plague'.

A report by John Carding in International Times, issue 142, 17 November 1972, gave further details: 'The White Panther Party is committed individually and organisationally to the struggle of ALL people for liberation and self-determination, by any means necessary, and is prepared to accept whatever consequences that commitment brings… The main thing to be said is that essentially the Party is composed of freaks off the street like anybody else in the community, without any experience of political work except that gained from plunging ahead the best way possible...

Greenwich Branch (ex-Abbey Wood). Weekly free food programme is still operating after two years. Members are involved in local community TV station, Cablevision, and in the formation of a 24 hour Advice Centre in the near future. Croydon and Bromley Branch: Involved mainly with squatting activity at the moment, which has brought them into conflict with the local pigs. All of the London Branches have been participating in the formation of a self-defence programme'.

I have come across one issue of 'Chapter?', a magazine produced by the Abbey Wood White Panthers, seemingly in 1971. It's a remarkable 60 page zine with articles on a wide range of movements including the Gay Liberation Front, People not Psychiatry, the Black Unity and Freedom Party, the Schools Action Union and more. 

In terms of local activities they were clearly very busy. An article on the free food programmes describes twice weekly deliveries to 60 old people on Abbey Wood and Thamesmead estates, as well as a Christmas visit to Bexley Psychiatric Hospital. The article was written by Stephen Lemanowicz, grandly titled 'Minister of Welfare, Abbey Wood Chapter'.

Other Abbey Wood committee members included John Carding (Co-ordinator), Bob Brown, Ray Carne and Tom X. At this time there address was 18 Openshaw Road, SE2

They had arts and drama/street theatre groups that met at St Michael's Church Hall in Abbey Wood Road. They were involved in organising a Schools Liberation Front with pupils from Abbey Wood, Roan Boys, Crown Woods, Bloomfield and Picardy Schools, and their squatting activities included briefly occupying an empty building at 55 Raglan Road in Woolwich - reported in local press as 'hippies struggle with police in Plumsted eviction scene'. Several member were also arrested fly posting the footbridge on Bostal Manor Way.

Their social HQ seems to have been the (now demolished) Harrow Inn in Abbey Wood 'where yer local Panthers hang out'. There was a Deja Vu club there with 'live groups every Friday' and 'Head Disco Show' on Sundays.

The Harrow Inn was where the White Panthers put on some benefit gigs, including underground legends Hawkwind and Pink Fairies on 12 February 1971 - packed with 700 people - and Clarke/Hutchinson and Mighty Baby in April 1971

This sympathetic report of one of the gigs at Harrow Inn (seemingly from local paper, but can't find details) mentions that Clark/Hutchison were also supported by The Blackheath Foot and Death Men, 'a crowd of Hells Angels and Hippies from the Blackheath area' who enjoyed morris dancing and drinking. They still exist today as the Blackheath Morris Men.

Image below comes from article about White Panthers in International Times no.127, 6 April 1972 - it seems to have been taken on Plumstead High Street, corner of Riverdale Road - compare with picture below of scene today, police station has been rebuilt but houses opposite largely unchanged. John Carding, who wrote this article in IT, is the guy with round glasses.

Further update, 8 October 2021:

Courtesy of Richard Alexander on facebook we now have some images from issue number two of Chapter! (now with exclamation mark rather than question mark), seemingly from early 1972. The fine front cover photo shows members of the group with the Viet Cong flag flying outside their squat. Inside there is a detailed account of their squatting which states that they had a White Panther commune at 1 Conduit Street, Woolwich/Plumstead SE18 'with about 15 sister and brothers'. Running out of space they opened a second commune house at Griffen Road, Plumstead before moving on to Ennis Road and then a squattted 'mansion' in Burrage Road, and on to Plum Lane with various eviction dramas along the way. A quick google maps search shows that the cover photo was taken at Conduit Road SE18, the house still standing.

Left to right: Sean O'Brien, Keith Bailey, Ray Carne, Rob Wilton and John Carding

Conduit Road today

From Chapter no. 2 (1972) - thanks to various bands for playing benefits for White Panthers, in addition to those mentioned above this includes Steve Peregrine Took (founder member of T.Rex with Marc Bolan), Brinsley Schwarz (who played at the Harrow Inn) and the White Panther Street Band.

Would love to hear any memories/stories about this scene...

(interestingly Pink Floyd played a free concert in Abbey Wood park in 1967)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

New Cross Fire Memorial in Fordham Park

In Fordham Park, New Cross (Childeric Road end), there's a memorial to the victims of the 1981 New Cross Fire, with a bench set opposite it for people to sit and contemplate the memorial.

The memorial stone was installed in 2012 and lists the 14 young people who died as a result of the terrible fire on 18th January 1981 in New Cross Road. Fordham Park was where thousands of people gathered in March 1981 to head into central London on the Black People's Day of Action in response to the fire.

For more on the New Cross Fire see previous posts:

Monday, February 24, 2014

Derek Jarman on the South Bank

Twenty years last week (19th February) since the death from AIDS of Derek Jarman (1942-1994), film-maker, artist, writer, gardener and queer activist  There wasn't too much to mark the tenth anniversary of his passing, but back in 2004 me and some friends lit some candles and left flowers at Butlers Wharf SE1 where he once lived. Ten years later, there's a whole Jarman2014 season with events at the British Film Institute, Somerset House and elsewhere.

On Friday February 28th, Deptford Film Club is having a special showing of Jarman's 1991 film Edward II at St Nicholas Church in Deptford. A very special location, at the film is an adaption of Christopher Marlowe's play and the playwright is buried in an unmarked grave in the churchyard there, having been killed in Deptford in 1593. The film showing marks his 450th birthday, as he was born in February 1564. Further details at Deptford Film Club who say:

'Before the film starts, there’s radical 16th century pop from Deptford violinist Daniel Merrill, plus plenty wine and spirits. And we’ll be joined by Jody Graber, the child actor who played King Edward’s son, who will end the evening with a short Q&A. Based on Marlowe’s dramatisation of a true story. When King Edward II takes a male lover, Piers Gaveston, both his wife (Tilda Swinton) and palace officials are enraged – and plot to violently dethrone the king and dispatch Gaveston. Adapted by the radical British filmmaker Derek Jarman, the film contrasts the lavish 16th century text and setting with modern imagery of gay activists, riot police, yuppies and an unforgettable cameo from Annie Lennox'.

Jarman on the South Bank/Bankside

Jarman lived for most of the 1970s on the south bank of the River Thames, much of it then semi-derelict.  He had his first taste of riverside living in 1968 in  a house on the South Bank awaiting demolition, where he shared studio space with Peter Logan and the painter Tony Fry. Shortly afterwards he moved to a warehouse at 51 Upper Ground, near the corner of Blackfriars Road, a place that was to become 'a Mecca for London's avant-garde' with its parties thrown by Jarman with Peter and Andrew Logan. Guests at the farewell party in the summer of 1970 included Tennessee Williams and 'Ossie Clark, dispensing joints on the stairs'. Shortly afterwards the building was demolished to make way for the IPC Tower.

Next stop was 13 Bankside on the top floor of a riverside warehouse alongside Southwark Bridge. To cope with  the cold in the warehouse, Jarman famously set up a greenhouse for his bedroom. Bankside too became famous for parties, and for film showings as Jarman began experimenting with Super 8. In summer 1972, Jarman had to move again to make way for another demolition, filming a final walk of the area called 'One Last  Walk One Last Look'.

Jarman in Bankside studio
The following year, Jarman moved to a new home/studio in a semi-derelict warehouse at Butler's Wharf, next to Tower Bridge. Jarman lived on the third floor of Block A1, with neighbours including Andrew and Peter Logan. On the waste ground next door Jarman filmed the ritualistic fire scenes for 'In the Shadow of the Sun', with a fire maze, candles and flashing mirrors. The finished film was finally released in 1981 with a soundtrack from Throbbing Gristle. 'Jubilee' was also filmed locally in Southwark and Rotherhithe, and at the former dockside in Deptford where Jordan was filmed dancing round a fire including a burning Union Jack.

Parties at Butlers Wharf included the 1975 Alternative Miss World, which Jarman took part in as 'Miss Crepe Suzette' and one in 1978 when Adam and the Ants played. Jarman moved out in 1979. Revisiting the area in 1991, Jarman noted 'The money has gilded the heart of it... everything else is scrubbed all the fun vanished'.

Source for most of the above: 'Derek Jarman - A Biography' by Tony Peake

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Tensions rise as Deptford secessionists launch petition

With the world's media focused on the crisis in Ukraine and the possibility of regions breaking away, a secessionist threat closer to home has so far gone largely unnoticed, except in the pages of the Newshopper and local blogs. Some settlers in the far East of Deptford are attempting to break up the integrity of the historic area by declaring that they do in fact live in Greenwich! They've even launched a petition to have their postcode changed from SE8 (Deptford) to SE10 (Greenwich). They say:

'The border between Deptford and Greenwich runs along Watergate street (crossing Creek Road). The border of the SE8/SE10 postcode runs along Deptford Creek. Citizens in this area are consistently effected by late / missing deliveries, higher insurance premiums etc. We all pay a higher rate of Council Tax to Greenwich, yet we are treated by the world as Deptford because of the power of the postcode. In addition to this our property prices are held at artificially low levels due to this confusion'.

This statue on the Peter the Great monument at Millennium Quay
was making its feelings clear today, wearing a 'Welcome to Deptford SE8' placard.
I must admit I thought with its reference to 'property prices' this was actually a satire on estate agents' hype, especially when I read the comment by somebody in the Newshopper that "Everything about the area is Greenwich, except the post code." I was going to write a long withering critique of this absurdity, but luckily 853 blog has saved me the time and done so there. The short version is that for historical reasons Deptford has been split for over a hundred years between being administered by two Councils - now Lewisham Council and Greenwich Council. The complainants presumably live in the Greenwich Council-adminstered side, but that no more means that they live 'in Greenwich' than people who live in Plumstead, Eltham or Woolwich - which are also within the so-called Royal Borough of Greenwich.

Deptford militia prepare to repel Greenwich incursion

The boundary between Greenwich and Deptford is Deptford Creek (the clue's in the name) and despite the efforts of estate agents to suggest otherwise, developments like Millennium Quay on the west side of the Creek are firmly in Deptford FULL STOP. That estate is actually on the site of the old Deptford Power Station, and other bits of Deptford in the Greenwich Council area include Deptford Green and the ancient parish church of St Nicholas Church, Deptford. I don't see them being renamed anytime soon. 

A far more obvious solution to avoid future confusion would be to redraw the borough boundaries so that Greenwich Council's area finishes at Deptford Creek. As 853 shows, this was what was originally proposed last time boundaries were reviewed in the 1990s. The reason it didn't go ahead was that Greenwich wanted all of Blackheath, so as a compromise Lewisham and Greenwich Councils split both Blackheath and Deptford between them - in both cases with little or no regard to the coherence of these areas.

Update Sunday 23 February: easy as it is to knock the people behind this ill-considered petition, the real villains are arguably developers Telford Homes who have been marketing their development on Copperas Street SE8 (next to the Laban) as 'Greenwich Creekside'. The website repeatedly refers to Greenwich rather than Deptford, saying for instance 'Greenwich is one of South London's most fascinating and vibrant districts. Our Greenwich properties lie just minutes from some of the city's most significant historical buildings - and you don't just have to take our word for that, as UNESCO has listed Maritime Greenwich as an official World Heritage Site due to the historical importance of the area'. It seems that the petition was started by people living there, rather than Millennium Quay. The same facts apply - whatever the developer might say this side of Deptford Creek is Deptford. Where does the Laban Centre think it is? Its website gives its address as 'Creekside, Deptford, SE8'. Correct.

Telford Homes website advertises Greenwich Creekside development - yes, its in the London Borough of Greenwich
but it is also very definitely in Deptford SE8
A little more on the Peter the Great statue...

I used to share the disdain some local people have for the  Peter the Great statue, but have changed my mind after reading an appreciation at Doilum blog and realizing that it is supposed to be subversively absurd:

'into this came Mihail Chemiakin, a Russian sculptor relatively unknown inside the UK, to jolly up this vapid development with a statue of Peter the Great. Peter the Great lived by the dockyard for four months as a young man in the seventeenth century at the home of the writer John Evelyn, where he studied shipbuilding and other new technologies coming out of England at the time.

The resulting work, unveiled in 2001, is a bizarre and ugly piece of art. There are three separate pieces on the municipal plinth: an empty throne to the right, a fat, squat dwarf to the left, and in the centre Peter the Great himself, his booming chest comical in juxtaposition to a tiny, disproportioned head. This sculpture does not flatter its subject matter - it holds it in contempt.

Chemiakin was a dissident artist in Soviet Russia and was exiled to the United States in 1971. Upon Russia's return to artisitic freedom Chemiakin went back to his homeland, and apparently his comical, disrespectful effigies of public figures are everywhere. He expresses a very Russian attitude to authority that sneers at, debases and takes the piss out of those that have repeatedly driven his country to despair. There is no measured critique in the Deptford statue of Peter the Great; instead an off-hand disdain that makes a laughing stock of its subject. Its main point that the everyday passer-by feels superior to the silly figures that stand above them. It is informed by a Russian sense of humour that celebrates the collective, downtrodden self against authority'.

We live in cities you always see on screen: Medicating Lewisham

Yet another South London NHS reality TV show coming up. Hot on the heels of last year's 24 Hours in A&E (filmed at Kings in Camberwell) and Bedlam (filmed opposite it at the Maudsley), Channel 5 'have announced The Surgery: Medicating Lewisham, a series which will take us to the heart of the doctors’ surgery. By fitting a fixed camera rig to the consulting rooms of a local surgery in Lewisham we are given exclusive access to some of the 500+ patients who pass through St John's Medical Centre every day'.

Programme-makers Knickerbockerglory have been filming at the Centre on Loampit Vale SE13 for a four part documentary to be broadcast in the Spring.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Brits in Greenwich - time to rename the 02?

This week's BRIT music awards took place on the Greenwich peninsula, with Beyonce, Prince, Lorde, Katy Perry, Pharrell Williams, Nile Rodgers,the Arctic Monkeys and many others appearing on stage as performers and/or givers and receivers of awards. But you would never have got a sense that, like Leonard Cohen, Jay Z, Kanye West and Bruce Springsteen before them, these world-renowned singers and musicians were actually in a corner of South East London, a place once of marshland and riverside industries. Instead we were just told we were in 'the O2 Arena' or plain 'O2'

Corporate sponsorship of music venues is now not uncommon. Brixton Academy for instance has been successively branded as the Carling Brixton Academy and now the O2 Brixton Academy. But it has still very much maintained its identity, and is generally referred to by most people as just the Brixton Academy. With the Greenwich arena, O2 have gone a stage further so that the name of the venue is identical to the name of the sponsor. All traces of locality and place have been erased entirely. This seems to be a very deliberate strategy - in Dublin docklands the venue now on the site of the redeveloped Point Theatre is now named 'the O2', while in Berlin Friedrichshain there is the 'O2 World' arena.

The French anthropologist Marc Augé coined the term 'non-places of supermodernity' to describe spaces such as airports, motorways, supermarkets and leisure arenas. They are are 'non-places' in the sense that they appear to exist without reference to history or identity - functional spaces dedicated to the circulation of bodies for a single, prescribed purpose, they are anonymous to the extent that one airport, motorway or indeed O2 arena feels much the same as any other anywhere in the world.

None of these venues is owned or even run by O2. Greenwich and Berlin are both run by Anschutz Entertainment Group, the US-based sports and entertainment giant, while Dublin is run by its main global competitor, Live Nation. What O2 has done is to purchase the 'naming rights' to these venues.

The name 'O2' is itself a brand - the telecommunications company originally established by BT was bought out by the Spanish telecommunications company Telefónica in 2005. Paradoxically, its association with music venues has been so successful that it has arguably erased its own identity. I think a lot of people, when they hear the name 'O2', now think of music venues rather than phones (I do certainly).

I suspect that people will be making and performing music at the Greenwich peninsula site long after it has ceased to be called the 'O2' and probably long after 'O2' ceases to exist. So whatever the official name, lets start calling it a name that has some reference to its place in the world, at least the 'Greenwich O2' or maybe 'the Greenwich Dome' as some people do still refer to it. A small step to reclaiming it as a place rather than a 'non-place'.

Pharrell in Woolwich

The TV screening of the BRITS  featured short clips of fans being surprized in their daily life by their idols, including Pharrell Williams popping into a children's dance session. As reported in the Newsshopper, this took place  earlier this month at a Theatrebugs class at the Clockhouse Community Centre in Woolwich, where Pharrell fan Queen Allen was running a session.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Political Graffiti - 'Save our NHS' and 'Homes for the People'

Some recent political graffiti spotted round and about.

'Homes for the people not profiteers'
Next to the site entrance for the controversial proposed Convoys Wharf development 
on the Deptford riverfront (opposite the Dog & Bell on Prince Street, SE8):

'Save Lewisham Hospital from SERCO - Scrap PFI, put People Before Profit'
on hoardings around building site where once the Maypole pub stood in Endwell Road, Brockley

'Save our NHS'
on corner of Worsley Bridge Road SE26  and Station Approach (to Lower Sydenham Station)
In the background you can see the 1930s Dylon factory, facing demolition (as discussed at Sydenham Town):

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

London's Linguistic Wealth - a new world taking shape?

Multi-lingual wood carving in Fordham Park, New Cross
'One of the most complex, unique and fascinating aspects of London is its linguistic landscape. Its streets are rich with evidence that London is inhabited by people who speak and read many languages. Multi-lingual cacophony fills the air in all public places. Newsagents throughout London display an impressive range of of publications in a variety of scripts used by European and world languages. Business signs, service information, and adverts presented bilingually are a regular feature of the London scene'

There are many different forms of English itself in the city - Whistle and Flute dry cleaners (144 New Cross Road) derives its name of course from cockney rhyming slang for suit. Elsewhere there are signs reflecting African and Caribbean dialects of English.
Smokey Jerkey, New Cross Road

'The linguistic potential of London is a significant resource. Conditions need to be provided for future generations to develop attitudes that will enable them to make this potential beneficial to the city as a whole. Today nobody is truly monolingual. We are all exposed to different languages in education; on holidays; through film, media, music; we  use computer languages; we are exposed to signs and print in different languages on an everyday basis... The way London has embraced its cultural diversity inspires the thought that it cannot be too long before London also wakes up to the potential of its linguistic wealth'
( Dina Mehmedbegovic, '"Miss, who needs the languages of immigrants?" London's multilingual schools' in 'Education in a Global City: Essays from London', edited by Tim Brighouse and Leisha Fullick, London: Institute of Education, 2007)

Hong Kong City Chinese Restaurant, New Cross Road

Can Tho Vietnamese cafe, Old Kent Road

Kagyu Samye Dzong Tibetan Buddhist Centre, Spa Road SE16

For me 'linguistic wealth' isn't about turning this potential into economic value, but a social wealth that is freely available to everyone. Once you start to to pay attention to the range of scripts and languages in the city streets, let alone the different languages you hear being spoken, you are constantly struck by it. Children growing up in London are made aware from an early age of the range of symbols humans use to communicate, they may not be able to read all these scripts but they recognsise them as forms of language and in doing so they gain an understanding of how languages work, including their own main language. 

Polish biscuits and Jewish memorial candles (with Hebrew characters on box) in New Cross Sainsburys

In a world city like London, all parts of the world are represented in the city, and all its tongues are spoken. In Lewisham schools alone, pupils speak more than 170 languages (2012 figures). Is it utopian to see this multi-lingual metropolis as prefiguring a different kind of world human community, where all these languages and their speakers can coexist and intermingle in relative peace? Where these cultures and languages are not hermetically sealed entities but also through their proximity give birth to new forms of culture and language like 'Multicultural London English'? 

Maybe the future of the world is taking shape right now in New Cross Road, Rye Lane and Deptford High Street, and in the playgrounds of local schools.

Gracias - a Spanish name for 'English & Afro Caribbean Groceries' in New Cross Road
(formerly the Washline launderette)
Distribution of Chinese speakers in Lewisham schools 2012 - including Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien and other forms. 'Chinese-speaking children in Lewisham are heavily concentrated in North Lewisham, especially the East of Evelyn and New Cross, and in Lewisham Central wards'. Similar maps for other languages at Lewisham Joint Strategic Needs Assessment..

Monday, February 17, 2014

Music Monday: New Music Cities- South London

'New Music Cities - South London' is a nice short film directed by Jamie Jessett featuring local musical luminaries singing the praises of the Southlands. There's street scenes from Brixton and Peckham (by the library), and the green hill looking over London at the start is Nunhead Reservoir - next to the cemetery. Featured artists include Mount Kimbie, Kwes, Katy B (recalling bashment parties in Peckham and nights at Croydub) and Mirachu & Tirzah . Best quote is the opening one from Roots Manuva, who says:

'If I could duplicate the sound of South London it would sound like Irish music on top of Nigerian music on top of reggae on top of Gospel, cars with too loud sound systems going past, people speaking Urdu, Nigerian, Cockney, everything all going off at the same time'.

New Music Cities I South London from AllSaints on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 16, 2014


After all the dreadful weather of last couple of weeks, today has been a perfect sunny spring day. I saw a kingfisher (my favourite bird) while running along the Pool River in lower Sydenham, and lots of spring flowers in bloom in the churchyard of St George's in Beckenham.

The blossom is also out on the Japanese cherry trees - this one in Gellatly Road SE14:

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A violent storm in London, 1834

'On Tuesday last, the Metropolis was visited with a violent storm of wind and rain, which did considerable damage, principally in the suburbs. On the Thames, numerous tiers of shipping in the upper and lower pools broke from their moorings, and several of the colliers were injured. Two ballast-lighters went down off Deptford; but the men escaped, by jumping into their boats. A barge filled with barrels and provisions was driven against new London Bridge: she soon filled, and went down near Billingsgate. Three persons were drowned by the upsetting of a boat in Limehouse Reach. A coal-barge was swamped and sunk near Bankside' (Spectator, 4 January 1834).

Friday, February 14, 2014

Hanuman Mural in Camberwell

This mural, apparently showing the Hindu monkey-like deity Hanuman, is at 5 Camberwell Station Road SE5. A quick google search shows that it is (or maybe was) the office of Hanuman Solutions - an architect's practice I think.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Knocked 'Em in the Old Kent Road

Former Hollywood child star Shirley Temple (1928-2014) died this week. Once upon a long time ago she sang a South London song in 'The Little Princess' (1939), loosely based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Fallen on hard times as a servant girl, she searches the Veterans Hospital for her missing father, entertaining the inmates along the way with a few verses of 'Knocked 'Em in the Old Kent Road'.

Others who have sung the same song have included Marlene Dietrich in the 1950s. In 1954, 'Dietrich swept on to the "Night of a Hundred Stars" at the London Palladium with Noel Coward. The glamorous pals faked a cakewalk to "Knocked 'Em in the Old Kent Road", a number neither of them really knew, but nobody minded, for they raised £10,000 for the Actors' Orphanage' (Marlene Dietrich: Life and Legend by Steven Bach, 2011):

...Julie Andrews (in 1973)- this is awful -

... and best of all Fozzie Bear as a Pearly King in the Muppet Show (1978):

If all this is a terrible mockney/cockernee caricature, you could say the same about the original song. It was written in the 1890s by music hall star Albert Chevalier (1861-1923), with music by his brother Charles Ingle. Chevalier was born in Notting Hill to a French father and Welsh mother, hence his rather wonderful full name of Albert Onesime Britannicus Gwathveoyd Louis Chevalier.

Previously a professional actor, Chevalier specialised in writing 'coster songs' (costermongers were street sellers, especially of fruit and veg), using the costers' cockney slang. The full lyrics, with its tale of a Camberwell donkey being left in a will, are as follows:

Last week down our alley came a toff,
Nice old geezer with a nasty cough;
Sees my Missus, takes 'is topper off
In a very gentlemanly way;
"Ma'am," says he, "I have some news to tell,
Your rich uncle, Tom of Camberwell,
Popped off recent, which ain't a sell,
Leaving you 'is little donkey Shay."

"Wot cher!" all the neighbors cried,
"Who're yer goin' to meet, Bill?
have yer bought the street, Bill?"
Laugh? I thought I should 'ave died.
Knocked 'em in the Old Kent Road!

Some says nasty things about the moke,
One cove thinks 'is leg is really broke;
That's 'is envy, 'cos' we're carriage folk,
Like the toffs as rides in Rotten Row;
Straight, it woke the alley up a bit,
Thought our lodger would 'ave 'ad a fit
When my missus, whose real wit,
Says, 'ates a 'bus because its low."

When we starts, the blessed donkey stops,
He won't move, so out I quickly 'ops,
Pals start whackin' him when down he drops,
Some one says he wasn't made to go.
Lor ", it might 'ave been a four-in- and,
My old Dutch Knows 'ow to the grand,
First she bows, and then she waves 'er 'and,
Calling out we're goin' for a blow!

Ev'ry evenin' on the stroke of five,
Me and missus takes a little drive;
You'd say, "Wonderful, they're still alive"
If you saw that little donkey go.
I soon showed him that 'e'd have to do
Just whatever he was wanted to,
Still I shan't forget that rowdy crew,
'Ollerin' Woa! steady! Neddy woa! -

Another Chevalier song, The Cockney Tragedian mentions The Cut at Waterloo, opening with the line 'I used to wheel a barrow for my father down the Cut, until I saw a drama at the Brit what turned my nut'.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

'Riots Reframed' - film showing in New Cross

The riots of 2011 were generally presented as simply criminal behaviour by gangs of youths, with no other explanation required. The 1981 riots in Brixton and elsewhere thirty years before were reported in similar terms at the time, but nowadays no historian would deny that they were linked to policing, racism, poverty and other social and political factors. The process of reframing the 2011 riots has already begun, with some of the voices silenced in the post-riot clampdown now being heard.

'Riots reframed' is a documentary directed by Fahim Alam, who spent weeks on remand in prison before being acquitted of charges relating to the 2011 riots in Hackney. On Friday February 28th there will be a free showing of the film at Goldsmiths in New Cross, with a panel including the director as well as Les Back (Goldsmiths), Lez Henry (Nu-Beyond) and Ojeaku Nwabuzo.

It takes place in the New Academic Building - walk all the way through main building and come out the back and the NAB is on the opposite end of the college green. 6:30 pm start. All welcome.

See also:

Monday, February 10, 2014

Stuart Hall (1932-2014): Jamaican 'sugar at the bottom of the English cup of tea'

Stuart Hall (1932-2014), who died today at the age of 82, was surely one of the most important British-based thinkers of the 20th century. With a few others he pretty much invented 'cultural studies' and his work on multiculturalism and identity is cited throughout the world. He was visiting professor at Goldsmiths in New Cross in the 1990s, and delivered a number of influential lectures there, most notably  his 'Race: the floating signifier' (1997) where he criticises the idea that 'race' is a 'biological' fact.

My personal favourite Stuart Hall quote is from his 1991 essay 'Old and New Identities, Old and New Ethnicities':

'People like me who came to England in the 1950s have been there for centuries; symbolically, we have been there for centuries. I was coming home. I am the sugar at the bottom of the English cup of tea.I am the sweet tooth, the sugar plantations that rotted generations of English children's teeth. There are thousands of others beside me that are, you know, the cup of tea itself. Because they don't grow it in Lancashire, you know. Not a single tea plantation exists within the United Kingdom. This is the symbolization of English identity - mean, what does anybody in the world know about an English person except that they can't get through the day without a cup of tea? Where does it come from? Ceylon - Sri Lanka, India. That is the outside history that is inside the history of the English. There is no English history without that other history'.

In the late 1950s, Hall worked for several years at a school at the Oval, as he recalled in 2009 in At Home and Not At Home: Stuart Hall in conversation with Les Back (from Goldsmtihs):

'when I left university I came to London, I was editing Universities & Left Review [predecessor of the New Left Review], which had an office in Soho. I lived in South London in Clapham in the house of a wonderful old Trotskyist called Jock Haston, and I wanted to stay in London until I went home - still not quite deciding when I’m going. So I thought well, what can you do? Practically, nothing! I couldn’t then drive, so I couldn’t drive a milk float. You can teach. So I got a job in a secondary school as a supply teacher, and you’re sent round to different schools, but my school was unable to retain any of its supply teachers, or  indeed its teachers. So once I’d got in there they never let me go. I was a supply teacher in a school at the Kennington Oval, for quite a while, about three or four years, and I used to leave there, get on a train, go to Soho, and edit the journal, and go back on the night bus - try to wake up in time to get to the Oval for the opening of class'.

The school was a boys secondary modern, so I think may have been Kennington Boys School. I believe the house in Clapham where he stayed with Jock Haston was at 11 Larkhall Rise SW4 (at least that was Haston's address in 1958).

I found a great film on youtube of Hall interviewing CLR James (1901-1989, I think at the latter's then flat in Brixton at 165 Railton Road, SE24 in 1986.

- John Akomfrah's, The Unfinished Conversation, is a three-screen video installation investigating cultural, ethnic and personal identity through the memories of Stuart Hall. It is being shown continuously at Tate Britain until 23 March 2014 (admission free)