Friday, May 30, 2014

Brockley Max Festival

This year's Brockley Max festival starts tonight with live music by the Brockley Station murals from 5 pm, and a gig at the Ladywell Tavern. Between now and the 7 June there's lots of arts, music and other events happening, many of them free.

Tomorrow's events include a guided tour of Brockley & Ladywell Cemeteries which will 'introduce some of the people memorialised in the cemeteries, including poets, musicians, war heroes, educationalists and sportspeople. During the two-hour walk they’ll also show off some of the flora and fauna. Meet by the Ladywell Cemetery entrance on the corner of Ladywell Road and Ivy Road. 2.30pm to 4.30pm' (Saturday May 31st).

Full details of all events here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Maya Angelou in South London

So long Maya Angelou (1928-2014), who died today. The great African-American writer is featured in a mural on a wall by Brockley station, somewhat the worse for wear at the moment, with words from her poem 'Life don't frighten me at all':

'...Tough guys fight
All alone at night
Life doesn't frighten me at all.

Panthers in the park
Strangers in the dark
No, they don't frighten me at all.

That new classroom where
Boys all pull my hair
(Kissy little girls
With their hair in curls)
They don't frighten me at all.

Don't show me frogs and snakes
And listen for my scream,
If I'm afraid at all
It's only in my dreams.

I've got a magic charm
That I keep up my sleeve
I can walk the ocean floor
And never have to breathe.

Life doesn't frighten me at all
Not at all
Not at all.

Life doesn't frighten me at all.

photo by Ben Sutherland

Her words also feature on the war memorial in Kennington Park,  in memory of over 100 people who were killed when a bomb landed on their shelter there in 1940: 'History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again'.

So yes, her words are woven into the urban fabric of London. But what of her visits here?  London certainly played a part in her life. She met one of her husbands, Paul Du Feu, at a party in London in 1972 (he had previously been briefly married to Germaine Greer). Another of her significant relationships was with Vusumzi Make, a South African activist with the Pan Africanist Congress who she met in 1961, and with whom she visited London in that year where he was attending a conference in London. in 'The Heart of a Woman', Angelou says that they stayed at 'a one-room apartment which the PAC kept near Finsbury Park' and that 'London air was damp, its stone buidings old and grey. Colorfully dressed African women on the streets reminded me of tropical birds appearing suddenly in a forest of black trees'.

She also performed on a number of occasions at the Lewisham Theatre, now the Broadway Theatre, in Catford and indeed became a patron of the theatre. The BFI database includes a 1987 Thames TV programme 'Maya Angelou in Performance', a 'Show featuring poet, author, dancer and university professor Maya Angelou from the Lewisham Theatre in South London. The best selling author filled a 1,000 seat theatre for a poetry recital'. I have also found a reference to her performing at Lewisham on April 30 1988. At his blog,  Stephe Meloy recalls seeing her there twice: 'I was blessed to have seen Maya perform her one woman show in Lewisham Theatre in Catford. On stage she was everything I dreamt she would be... The auditorium was packed full of adoring fans, inspired by her message of strength, valour, love and hope'. We also know that at some point in the 1980s she visited a feminist bookshop in New Cross - Bookplus was at 27 Lewisham Way (perhaps this visit coincided with one of her Lewisham appearances).

If anyone has any stories or memories of Maya Angelou in London, please comment.

London Bus Garage Models

Perhaps a bit of a niche product, but if you're stuck for a present for the public transport enthusiast in your life you could always buy a model card building kit of Catford bus garage...

...or Nunhead bus garage (now demolished - was at 20 Nunhead Lane):

(all from Kingsway Models)

NHS Pay Protest at Lewisham Hospital, St Thomas' & St George's - 5 June 2014

On 5 June health workers across the country will be taking part in a day of action protesting the Government’s decision to refuse a 1% pay rise to the majority of NHS staff. The pay rise was  recommended by the Independent NHS Pay Review body but rejected by Conservative Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Many health staff will now have faced a four year pay freeze, at a time when the cost of living has continued to spiral upwards.

Among the protests are a series of events outside local hospitals called by South London branches of the Royal College of Nursing. Nurses and their supporters will be protesting between 10 am to 2 pm on the day outside:

St Thomas’ Hospital, Lambeth
St George’s Hospital, Tooting
University Hospital Lewisham

More details from

RCN are not the most militant of unions, when they are taking to the streets you know feeling is running very high in the NHS.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Will we build again? - thoughts on radical housing

I went to some of the Radical Housing weekend in New Cross last month (26th April), one of a series of events across London from the Radical Housing Network. The day of talks at Cafe Crema in New Cross Road was packed, and I caught Owen Hatherley talking about the history of Council housing in the 20th century. Mr 'militant modernist' is of course a defender of the bold vision that created mass housing that was genuinely affordable, and if some of the big Council Estates with their tower blocks ended up as hellholes he would put that down in most cases to cutting corners in construction, poor maintenance and poverty rather than architecture. After all, as he pointed out, big tower blocks are now being built all over London to a broadly similar design, but now marketed at the wealthy. And ironically the size of some of these 'luxury' flats is less than the typical space in many 1960s and 70s Council flats.

I also caught the beginning of a talk by architect John Broome about self-build housing in Lewisham. This is an interesting topic which I will return to another time, but Owen was obviously taken by it because in his first column this month in Architects Journal he wrote about it:

'A spirit is haunting Lewisham. It is the spirit of self-build the London Borough of Lewisham... Colin Ward, Nicholas Taylor and Walter Segal between them secured several council-owned sites for self-build colonies, given over to council tenants for shared ownership. The result was small developments of houses made outrageously cheaply from modular components, which managed, in their system of construction and ownership, to close the usual divide between designer, consumer, contractor and worker.

They all still stand, heavily altered by their residents - as was intended - although the Segal system means that they look a lot more ‘architectural’ in their ordered, elegant expression, than most self-build schemes tend to. As a social project they were only a partial success: like so many of the famous-architect-designed council flats, these houses have often been sold on at about 10 times their original value...

But where it gets interesting is that some of the self-builders are trying again - at a site in Ladywell, also in Lewisham, which they hope to secure for a ‘zero waste, energy plus, carbon negative social housing project’, with custom-designed houses, under the management of the local authority. If they get it, then maybe these ideas can return from the private to the public, where they began' (full article here).

One thing that Owen's talk made me ponder was how much expectations have been lowered in the past 30 years or so about what is possible in housing. Today even in avowedly radical housing circles the focus is often on what can be done at the margins - self-build, housing co-ops and squatting empty buildings. All valid but it takes for granted that the resources and power to actually build on a large scale remain with developers and landowners. The most that can be demanded it seems is a higher level of social housing alongside big private developments- or bigger reservations for the poor. It is considered unrealistic to propose that a major development could be undertaken that didn't start from the premise that 'affordable housing' is only possible as a planning gain from large scale private building. As for questioning whether classes and inequalities are inevitable in the first place, well forget it. Affordablity is seen as a technical measure related to square metreage, not a function of low incomes.

Yet, as Owen showed in his talk, through much of the 20th century people who were hardly revolutionaries oversaw the compulsory purchase of land and buildings from the wealthy to build homes at low rent in huge numbers. This included the award winning Lillington Gardens Estate in Pimilico (now a Conservation area), built on land compulsory purchased by Westminster in the 1960s. A South London example would be the Kingswood Estate in Dulwich, built on land compulsory purchased from the Vestey family in 1956 by London County Council. 
Why this happened is open to debate - there was certainly a fear of social unrest, if not revolution, in the aftermath of the First World War and to a lesser extent the Second World War. Also industrial employers needed workers in cheap housing to keep wages down, leading to massive housing developments such as in Dagenham to serve the Ford factory.

Beresford House on the Kingswood Estate in Dulwich
(photo by Will Faichner at Flickr)
Not everything Councils did was great - in some cases good (or at least salvageable) housing was declared derelict and needlessly demolished. But if mass low cost housing was possible then, why not now? It is not as if large amounts of public money are not already being poured into subsidising private housing development - Hatherley noted that the state is underwriting many luxury developments by investing hugely in infrastructure (roads etc.) in areas like the area around the Olympic village or Greenwich peninsula. If we want to get really radical with housing perhaps we need to raise our sights. Why not, for instance, come up with alternative housing plans for vacant sites like Convoys Wharf and fight for them with the same energy some people have put into plans for building boats there?* It is politics not some inevitable 'economic reality' that says that the initiative must remain with private developers.

(*not a criticism of the Lenox campaigners, they have been good at fighting their corner, but there are lots of other people around who could be focusing on the housing side of Convoys Wharf)

Friday, May 23, 2014

New Cross Gate Temporary Bridge - one day we will miss it

Yes it was a pain at first having to walk the wrong way up the platform and over the rickety temporary bridge to get out of New Cross Gate station, but haven't we grown to love this scaffolding masterpiece, first installed last September?

 One day we will miss its sounds of rattling metal and footsteps, and its fine views...

...including a view of the space next door where the materials for the new walkway and stairs are being stored and assembled, part of the 'Access for All' programme which will also include three lifts at the station.

The new structure is already taking shape...

Here's a section being lifted into place by crane last weekend:

Another section was delivered yesterday, temporarily blocking New Cross Road:

(I took all the above photos, except bottom one by James Holland)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

South East London Women Oppose the Nuclear Threat (1984)

1984 was a busy year for the movement against nuclear weapons. American cruise missiles had been deployed in Britain, and there were protest camps at the US bases at Greenham Common and Molesworth. Cold War tensions were rising, and many people worried that a nuclear war was a real possibility.

Thirty years ago, Thursday 24 May 1984, was marked as International Women's Day for Disarmament, and was marked locally by what Peace News reported was  'a small but colourful march to Lewisham Common' organised by South East London WONT (Women Oppose the Nuclear Threat).The women only march started from The Albany, Deptford.

The Museum of London has a WONT leaflet from this period in its collection. It starts of with the statement that 'Lewisham has declared itself a nuclear-free zone,  but Government predictions show that a nuclear attack on Croydon could kill over 90% of Lewisham people. Of these the vast majority would die slow, painful deaths from radiation, with no medical help available'. 

The leaflet goes on to express the radical feminist perspective that was dominant amongst the women's peace movement at Greenham and elsewhere: 'Toys for the Boys... we see the nuclear threat as the ultimate expression of male aggression'.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Joan Littlewood (and Brendan Behan) in Blackheath

This year is the centenary of the birth of Joan Littlewood (1914-2002), one of the most influential figures in 20th century British theatre. Among many other things she founded the radical Theatre Workshop and directed iconic plays including Shelagh Delaney's A Taste of Honey and Oh What a Lovely War (1963).

Joan Littlewood - not sure when this photo was taken, possibly when she visited a Durham coal mine for BBC in 1938.

Littlewood was born at the Clapham Maternity Hospital, 41 Jeffreys Road, Stockwell and lived as a child at 8 Stockwell Road. In the 1950s and 1960s she lived in Blackheath with her partner Gerry Raffles. The 1958 electoral register has her listed as 'Joan Raffles', though I don't believe they actually married (she had earlier married Ewan MacColl, and was Kirsty MacColl's godmother).

1938 electoral register

They lived in the Mill House, an 1832 mansion on the Heath that was converted to flats at the time:

The Mill House Blackheath
(photo by APVG at Flickr)

 To protect their privacy in the late 1960s they had a plastic wall designed by Guy Hodgkinson at the bottom of their garden, as featured in a 1969 magazine:
From 'Design' (March 1969)

Littlewood played a critical role in the career of Irish playwright Brendan Behan. In September 1958, Behan stayed  in Blackheath. According to 'Brendan Behan: A Life' by Michael O'Sullivan, 'Littlewood had offered Brendan the use of her home to finish The Hostage', which she was directing at Theatre Royal Stratford.  Behan 'spent most of his time in The Dragon pub in Blackheath. He had an uncannny knack for finding like-minded boozers wherever he was in the world'. Not sure whether the Dragon is the George & Dragon on Blackheath Hill - not the nearest pub, but maybe that was the point as his drinking didn't go down well with Littlewood and Raffles who were worried whether he would finish the play on time.

Brendan Behan in Blackheath
(by Oswald Jones) - possibly in the Crown

Fun Palaces

In the early 1960s Littlewood, along with the architect Cedric Price, conceived of the idea of the 'Fun Palace', a never realised building that would be a ‘laboratory of fun’/‘university of the streets’ based on mass participation in art and science. Littlewood’s motto was “Everyone an artist, everyone a scientist.”and the original fun palace design said:  'Choose what you want to do – or watch someone else doing it. Learn how to handle tools, paint, babies, machinery, or just listen to your favourite tune. Dance, talk or be lifted up to where you can see how other people make things work. Sit out over space with a drink and tune in to what’s happening elsewhere in the city. Try starting a riot or beginning a painting – or just lie back and stare at the sky'.

Writer Stella Duffy* proposed reviving the idea of Fun Palaces to mark Littlewood's centenary, and on 4-5 October this year there will be at least 80 free 'pop up fun palaces', with the Albany in Deptford not only hosting one of them but also helping to organise the national programme (check map for your nearest event). Duffy's co-director is Sarah-Jane Rawlings, who helped to launched Meet Me at the Albany, the Albany’s artist led day club for the over 60s. 

(*Woolwich-born Duffy is of course the author of the great South London novel 'The Room of Lost Things' (2009) set around Loughborough Junction where she lives)

[thanks to Rosalind Hardie - - for finding Littlewood's address and pictures following my request on twitter]

Monday, May 19, 2014

Goldsmiths student facing deportation

Goldsmiths Fine Art post-graduate student Laura O'Dochartaigh is currently facing deportation and is trying to raise funds to pay for legal fees for her fight to stay in the UK - where her son was born. She says:

'Our family and private life have been seriously disturbed by the UK Home Office. They have now extended the removal order to 23 of May, 2014. This ordeal began when we received wrong counsel from our previous solicitor stating it was OK to leave the country while we had a pending appeal. We visited my parents who had not seen their grandchild in months. Upon return I was detained and held at Heathrow Terminal 3 with my breastfed 1 year old. This was the beginning of a arduous and expensive journey through the legal system to try and stop Border Control and to exercise our Human Rights.

Both my husband and son, born in the north of Ireland, have the right to demand our family not be separated. We have started a new case but the Home Office is still refusing to withdraw the deportation order.  We need to raise enough funds to cover the massive legal expenses we have had to incur. Our savings have dwindled and we can no longer afford to continue this battle' (Donate here)

Laura's case is sadly not unusual - a reminder that behind all the political 'tough talk' about immigration are real people being forcibly separated from friends and family.

Music Monday: Kate Tempest

Brockley-born Kate Tempest has been around for a while - first mentioned on Transpontine back in 2008 when she was performing as Excentral Tempest. But in the last year or two she's made a real breakthrough, including winning the Ted Hughes poetry prize last year for her 'Brand New Ancients' epic performance poem.

She's got a new album out today on Big Dada Recordings, recorded with producer Dan Carey at his Streatham studio: 'Everybody Down is something like a “novel rhyme” – twelve ‘chapters’ telling one long, complex story... Tempest takes the tropes of the hip hop story – drugs, money, gangsters – and brings them to life in a whole new way, a London way, but also a completely personal way, where she inhabits the different characters and shows the boredom and fear in their lives rather than some faked glamour, shows more than anything their need for love'.

The official launch is at Corsica Studios at the Elephant and Castle tomorrow night, but she previewed it last Tuesday at the Birds Nest in Deptford.

Kate at the Birds Nest last week - photo by @amybodiam
New single from the album, the Beigeness, is out now:

Also check out this in-depth interview from last year on Australian radio show Late Night Live with Phillip Adams:

Friday, May 16, 2014

Crosswires Festival: Kit & Cutter at the Albany

A sunny Saturday of music at the Albany on the May Day bank holiday weekend (3rd May), with Kit & Cutter returning to Deptford to put on an afternoon and evening of folk-tinged sound as part of the Crosswires Festival.

London Sacred Harp singers made a Joyful Noise Unto The Creator with heavenly harmonies that made the hairs stand up on my neck. Is beautiful music evidence of a benificent God, or is our attribution of it to the angels an example of humans projecting the best of our achievements on to the Divine? You decide!

Nick Hart and Tom Oscar-Moore were among the musicians in a traditional music session in the cafe at the Albany.

A couple of member of Pigeon Heroes sang outside in the garden. There was more later, but unfortunately I had to leave.

I've never seen the garden at the Albany looking so lovely or well-used. It's a bit of a shame that, as Deptford Dame reported a while ago, the Albany is planning to sell the land to developers to build on (assume this is going ahead). I do understand the pressure on cash strapped voluntary organisations to sell off their assets to make ends meet, but it will be a long term loss.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Lewisham First World War Resisters

Today is apparently International Conscientious Objectors Day, marked around the world each year on 15 May to commemorate those who have refused to fight in wars.

Lewisham have launched an interesting and rapidly developing 'London Borough of Lewisham in the First World War' wiki, which includes information about local war resisters at that time. They have identified 'twenty-three men from Deptford and ninety-nine men from Lewisham who were conscientious objectors', with details of some of them (more to be added).

I will just mention one of them for now - Albert Edward Allen of 1 North Terrace, Fairlawn Park, Sydenham, 'a carpenter and trade unionist' and 'member of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners'. He told the Military Service Tribunal in 1916 that 'he had conscientious objections to all war, especially this war because of the scientific slaughter that was going on and to taking human life either directly or indirectly. He disputed the right of any government to say whether he should take part in warfare and said that he was not a member of any religious body and objected on moral grounds'.

He was conscritped into the army but refused order and was court martialled. As an 'absolutist' who refused not only military service but any civilian work supporting the war effort, Allen spent the remainder of the war in  'a cycle of disobeying orders, being sentenced to a period of hard labour in civilian prison and on discharge being handed back to the army for the cycle to recommence. From 1916 to 1919, he would serve three sentences of hard labour in Wormwood Scrubs, Wandsworth, Brixton and Portsmouth prisons. He was one of 120 absolutists who were sent to Wakefield prison'.

Check out No Glory and the Real WWI for more on commemorating the hidden histories of the war to end all wars.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Louise Michel: a Paris Communard in South London

The International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam is probably the most significant archive of radical movements in Europe. Recently it has made accessible large parts of its archives in digital form, including the papers of Louise Michel.  This has enabled me to solve something that has been bugging me for a long time - where did she live in South London? As I wrote here before:

'Louise Michel (1830-1905) was a celebrated figure in 19th century French politics, an anarchist who fought at the barricades in the Paris Commune of 1871 and was subsequently exiled to New Caledonia. Returning to France in 1880 she was frequently in conflict with the authorities, and decided to flee France for London in July 1890, shortly after being arrested following May Day riots'.

 According to Edith Thomas's biography, Louise Michel lived at one point at '79 Arspley Terrace' in East Dulwich, an address I have never been able to find, but I now think may have been an error.

Louise Michel
I believe that Louise Michel's first visit to London was in 1880. After being released from New Caledonia, a French colony in the Pacific, she and other amnestied Communards were taken to Sydney, Australia, from where they travelled on the mail ship 'John Helder' to London. As the ship waited in the fog in the Thames Estuary to be guided to port, French exiles in London made their way to greet it in small boats, singing Communard songs to their comrades (Butterworth, 2011, p.62). On this occasion, Michel only stayed for a couple of days before returning to Paris, but she mentions that with her friends she smuggled five cats from Nouméa (capital of New Caledonia) 'down the gangplank in London' and that 'Once in London, in front of a fire, with an enormous bowl of milk my friends brought them, they began to stretch out, yawning' (Michel was a big animal lover).

In 1883 she returned to London on a speaking tour, where among other things she visited a workhouse in Lambeth. Her account in her memoirs shows that she had become quite a Londonphile: 'London! I love London, where my exiled friends have always been welcomed, London, where old England, standing in the shadow of the gallows, is still more liberal than the French bourgeois republicans are'. All this despite the weather - 'the black London winter on which a cloud of fog floated. Raindrops condensed in an unceasing mist and now and again came in broad sheets... a frozen evening in the large, cold meeting hall in front of a cold and correct audience drawn from the grand neighbourhood of immense palaces under which the wretches have holes like animals. But despite that, I felt an impression of human honesty persisting regardless of the accursed chains that people interminably fasten on each other' (Michel, p.148)

She did flee to London in 1890 and apparently stayed here until she returned to Paris in 1895, but she continued to spend time living in London on and off until her death in 1905. She definitely lived for some of the earlier period at 59 Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square - an area where many radical refugees hung out. The earliest reference I have to a definite address n East Dulwich is from August 1894, when Louise Michel sent a letter to the artist Lucien Pissarro (son of Camille) from '15 Ardley Terrace, East Dulwich' (this letter is in Ashmolean Museum collection).

The IISH archive includes a letter written in 1897 or 1898 in Michel's own hand with this address: 15 Ardley Terrace, Placquet Road, East Dulwich:

There is also the envelope of a letter written to her here in July 1898. People do make mistakes when writing addresses which causes problems for later historians! This one does read more like Ardsley, and I wonder the 'Arpsley Terrace' false trail might have arisen from copying such a mistake. 

Placquett Road no longer exists, but the 1893-96 Ordnance Survey Map shows that Placquett Road was the East Dulwich end of what is now Copleston Road, which at that point hadn't been extended to join up with Copleston and hence renamed. Note that what is now Oglander Road was then Wildash Road. It seems that the houses on Plaquett Road were demolished and replaced with new housing in 1900s, so the building that Michel lived in is no longer there.

Thomas mentions that Michel was visited in East Dulwich by a number of French journalists and by fellow Communard Charles Malato, who found the then 62 year old Michel surrounded by cats, dogs and a parrot that cried 'Long live anarchy!'. Michel was 62 in 1892, so that would suggest she was living in East Dulwich by then, and perhaps at the Ardley Terrace address. She may also have been at that address when in December 1893 a United Press representative interviewed 'the notorious woman Anarchist, who occupies a little house at East Dulwich, a suburb of London' (New York Times, 19 December 1893):

'A union of the strong against the weak has existed since Governments existed. The masses can unite equally against a common enemy. They may rise like the springtide of the ocean, and overflow the world' (Louise Michel, interviewed in East Dulwich, 1893)

Houses at East Dulwich end of Copleston Road, originally Placquett Road

Thomas gives another East Dulwich address in her book, stating that when Michel returned to London in December 1899 'She was still living in East Dulwich at this point, though no longer at 25 Chesterfield Grove' - so she must have lived at the latter, still standing and in fact recently sold:

25 Chesterfield Grove, East Dulwich.
Thomas also states that Michel moved again in March 1900 to 'to join Charlotte's father at 8 Albion Villas Road, Sydenham'. Charlotte Vauvelle was Michel's long term nurse and companion, and her father was Auguste Vauvelle. The 1901 Census for 8 Albion Villas lists Auguste, Charlotte and her brother Achille, with Louise Michel as 'boarder' described as 'authoress. Achille Vauvelle is listed as a 'Chromo artist' (i.e. chromo-lithographic printer) - he later worked with Waddingtons.

The house in Albion Villas is still standing:
8 Albion Villas today

Finally the archive has some letters sent to Louise Michel at another address in December 1903, 53 Dahomey Street, Mitcham Lane.

This is now Dahomey Road, Streatham SW16. Must admit I haven't been there, but from Google streetview, I think this is the house:
53 Dahomey Road SW16
Louise Michel died in Marseille in 1905, this picture shows her in bed in Toulon in the previous year, with Charlotte Vauvelle at her side:

Here's a flyer form October 1896 for a meeting of 'London Anarchist Communists' to 'bid farewell to Louise Michel and Pietro Gori on their departure to America on a lecturing tour' (Gori was an Italian anarchist poet). The meeting at the Club & Institute Union Hall in Holborn also featured the prominent anarchists Errico Malatesta and Sebastian Faure, as well as Tom Mann (later of Brockley), one of the leaders of the 1889 dock strike in London.

Speaking to some friends at the Radical Bookfair at the Bishopsgate Institute last weekend, we came up with the idea of doing something over the summer to mark Louise Michel's time in the area, possibly linked to some kind of Sydenham/Forest Hill radical history walk finishing with a picnic and some Communard songs. Let us know in comments or by email if you're interested.

Update September 2015:

In August 1897, Louise Michel spoke at a public meeting in Southwark Park in support of anarchist prisoners in Spain (Reynolds's Newspaper, Sunday 08 August 1897):


Butterworth, A. (2011), The World That Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists and Secret Agents, London: Random House,p.62.

Michel, L. (1981), The Red Virgin: memoirs of Louise Michel, Alabama: University of Alabama Press.

Thomas, E. (1980), Louise Michel, Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1980.

[updated July 2020 - earlier version wondered whether current houses in Copleston Road included Louise Michel's former Placquett Road house, but comment pointed out that street seems to have been rebuilt since she lived there]

Monday, May 12, 2014

Music Monday: Blue Rose Code - The Ballads of Peckham Rye

New Cross-based Scottish singer Blue Rose Code (Ross Wilson) has a new album out next month,   'The Ballads of Peckham Rye'. We featured him at Transpontine before in 2012, since then he has released his well received debut album, North Ten (2013).

As the sleevenotes to the new album mention: 'The title arrived courtesy of Muriel Spark’s novel The Ballad Of Peckham Rye, with its central character – a “disfigured, dastardly, mendacious Scotsman, possibly also the devil incarnate”, in Ross’ words – who appears out of nowhere, turns this sleepy south London village upside down and then leaves'. The sleeve also includes the quote attributed to William Blake about seeing 'a tree filled with angels' on the Rye, and in fact Ross shares a birthday with Blake.

The songs were 'penned largely on post-midnight runs around Peckham Rye Common', so yes there's a local connection. But this isn't a an album of 'local songs for local people' it's much more ambitious than that, featuring some great musicians including bassist Danny Thompson - who has played with Nick Drake, Richard Thompson, Kate Bush and John Martyn. Ross's voice has been compared to Martyn or the early Van Morrison.

The first single, out on 19 May, is One Day at at Time, with vocals from singer Kathryn Williams. The album is being launched in London on Wednesday 4 June at St Pancras Old Church.

I asked my more emotionally literate other half to describe the album and she used the words gentle, genuine, timeless, intimate, keeps calling you back... check it out.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Ex-Dulwich College 'fascist' seeks your protest vote

Channel 4 news reported this week that when UKIP leader Nigel Farage was a pupil at Dulwich College in the early 1980s teachers complained about his appointment as a prefect on account of his apparent 'fascist' sympathies. A letter written in June 1981 to the college head by teacher Chloe Deakin states that the matter had been discussed at a staff meeting where: 'Another colleague, who teaches the boy, described his publicly professed racist and neo-fascist views; and he cited a particular incident in which Farage was so offensive to a boy in his set, that he had to be removed from the lesson. This master stated his view that this behaviour was precisely why the boy should not be made a prefect. Yet another colleague described how, at a Combined Cadet Force (CCF) camp organised by the college, Farage and others had marched through a quiet Sussex village very late at night shouting Hitler-youth songs'.

Some other interesting details in that report- the letter states that the head often told the 'senior boys' that they were 'the nation's future leaders' - what a horrible thought in this case. It also mentions that during the Brixton riots - just 6 weeks before this prefect row - Dulwich College 'offered its facilities freely to the forces of law and order'. Apparently parts of the College grounds were used as a base by police in April 1981.

Whether Farage has moderated his views since or just got better at concealing them I don't know, but his publicly professed position is still essentially that of the most reactionary, Powellite fringes of the old school establishment. The kind of thing you imagine old generals, Monday Club Tory MPs and public school headteachers coming out with while drunkenly fantasising about a military coup in the 1970s.

Yet somehow this privately educated right wing stockbroker with his very big house in the country gets to be presented as some kind of 'common man' alternative to the status quo. Writer Tony Parsons has said that:  "I've felt that politicians are just completely removed from any kind of life experiences in a way they weren't when I was growing up" and complained about the lack of opportunities for social mobility for working class kids. Fair enough, but what's that got to do with Farage and UKIP, who Parsons says he will be voting for in forthcoming elections

I can only assume Parsons has taken too many blows to the head down at the boxing gym to think straight. Back in 1977, he was a bit clearer, coming to New Cross to oppose the National Front march in what became known as the 'Battle of Lewisham'. He once said that his relationship with Julie Burchill started that day- "I gave her a flick knife and my telephone number. I think she threw away the number and kept the knife.". His 2005 novel 'Stories we could tell' includes an account of that day, with Parsons writing:

'Flags waving, bricks flying, policemen on horses riding into the crowds, the battle lines ebbing and flowing - screaming, righteous chaos all around. Orange smoke bombs on Lewisham High Street, the air full of masonry, dustbins, bottles and screams, taunts, chanting. The sound of plate-glass windows collapsing.... This wasn't about some little style option - the choice between long hair or spiky, flared trousers or straight, Elvis or Johnny Rotten. It was about a more fundamental choice.... the choice between evil, hatred, racism, xenophobia, bigotry, and every­thing that was their opposite'.

Friday, May 09, 2014

UKIP's vanishing poster in New Cross

UKIP's election poster in New Cross hasn't done too well this week. This graffiti appeared earlier this week - it reads 'Stay out of South London, racist UKIP scum':

Last night, the poster was torn down. In his interesting review of the elections in Lewisham, Bob from Brockley writes: 'doubt many of my readers would even consider a vote for UKIP so I won't bother to tell you not to vote for their nasty, isolationist anti-politics. I'm fairly optimistic that, despite UKIP's worryingly high national polling results, the demographics of inner London (young population, confidently multicultural) play against them here. UKIP's stronger chances are in the Euro elections, for which the whole of London (including the outer London "Boris bagel" where they are performing well) is a single constituency returning eight MEPs: UKIP got 11% of the vote last time (one MEP)'.  

Meanwhile Hope Not Hate reports that some Independent candidates standing in Council elections might not be all they seem. Tess Culnane is standing as an Independent in Downham Ward, where she has previously stood for the National Front having earlier worked for the British National Party.  Michael Barnbrook, standing for the Bexley Action Group, was previously a BNP candidate too.

(Thanks to Chris for bottom picture, top one from @theblackjacobi)

Update 13 May:

More work on the New Cross UKIP poster seems to have simplified it further to as straight 'No':

Photo from @wigglymittens in twitter

The UKIP poster on Queens Road has also had some attention:

Meanwhile, spotted on a Lewisham lamppost:

Deptford Dockyard Closure Announcement

The announcement of the closure of Deptford Dockyard, as reported in Welsh newspaper County Observer and Monmouthshire Central Advertiser, 15 August 1868. It mentions that 'The yard employs 800 artisans, 250 of whom have been already discharged or otherwise drafted to other yards, leaving 650 to be similarly dealt with', and that three boats remained to be finished HMS Curlew, HMS Spartan and HMS Druid, the latter the final boat built there, launched in 1869. The Dockyard site is now the projected location for the controversial Convoys Wharf development.