Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Death by Dancing: New Cross (1940) and Bermondsey (1903)

A couple of tragic tales of death by dancing, hopefully those going out on New Year's Eve can avoid such dangers.  The first relates to the New Cross Palais de Danse - still going today as the Venue in New Cross Road - the second occured at a Christmas party in Bermondsey.

'Witness 'jitterbugs' at inquest on girl who fell' - Manchester Evening News, Friday 24 May 1940:

Giving evidence at an inquest at Lewisham to-day, a young man stepped from the witness-box to give an exhibition of the “jitterbug dance” to the coroner, Dr. W. H. Whitehouse. A verdict of accidental death was recorded on Virginia Guidotti (19), Wickham Road, Brockley, London, who died in hospital. She had fallen while dancing the “jitterbug,” at New Cross Palais de Danse. Henry George Cox, of Park Hill Road. Deptford, said they danced the “jitterbug,” in which he explained they did “ all kinds of fantastic and funny things.” He then stepped on to the coroner’s bench and, locking his hands, went through various movements of the dance. At one stage, he said, the girl fell backwards on the floor and he fell on her.

The Coroner: It is peculiar. It sounds to me very vulgar.

Cox said that after the fall he suggested that the girl should have a glass of water and she said that she would be all right. Evidence was given that the management of the Palais de Danse had made efforts to stop the dance being performed.

'The Fatal Thirteen - Death from excessive dancing'-  South London Press, 3 January 1903:

Dr Waldo held an inquest at the Southwark Coroner's Court on Wednesday on the body of Mary Ann Cocklin, aged 35 years, the wife of a Bermondsey labourer. John Cocklin, the husband, stated that he and the deceased went to a Christmas party at the house of a relative on Christmas Day, and kept on dancing until after midnight. Deceased then lay down to rest, but awoke in a fright, screaming that three men were after her.

Dr Waldo: Had she been drinking any spirits?

Witness: No, sir, only port wine. We had nothing but port wine, any of us.

Dr Waldo: What happened when she came to herself again?

Witness: She went down stairs and resumed dancing to the music of an automated piano organ we had in the house. I next heard she was very ill, and that she had again gone to rest, but had turned giddy and fallen down the stairs.

Dr Waldo: How many?

Witness: The fatal 13.

Susan Poore, a neighbour, stated that she heard the deceased fall. She was taken to Guys Hospital, where she died the same day. The medical evidence showed that death was due to fracture of the thigh caused by the fall, which was the result of giddiness produced by dancing. A verdict was returned accordingly'.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Deptford Town Hall: commoning and history

I enjoyed the New Cross Commoners event at Deptford Town Hall last month (14 November) as part of the Being Human Festival. The aim was to host an  'an evening of open reading and discussions on the possibilities of commoning in New Cross, organised around the preparation and eating of food' with 'Bread and spreads... prepared and eaten by community groups, historians, academics and local people to explore the politics of access, place and eating together'.

The format was very simple - there was lots of delicious food cooked at the Field in Queens Road, or donated by sympathetic bakers, and people just sat around at tables eating, chatting and taking turns in saying a few words from the front.  People talked about commoning, plans for a New Cross food co-op, community energy, and about living as local residents in the streets around Goldsmiths. It was the night after the terror attacks in Paris, and a speaker from Kenya (a country no stranger to Islamist terror) pondered on how the simple fact of people from different backgrounds eating and sharing together represented the 'opposite of terror'.

I gave a quick overview of the history of Deptford Town Hall; here's my notes:

- The Metropolitan Borough of Deptford was formed in 1900 - the area having formerly been divided between the old counties of Kent and Surrey (a boundary marker survives on the green at the back of Goldsmiths).

- The Town Hall for the new Council was built between 1903 and 1905, and for much of the 20th century was at the centre of local political and social life. The building housed the Council Chamber where the Council met to make decisions, as well as offices where people would have gone to sort out housing and other issues. Many of the great and terrible events of the century echoed through this building.

- In the First World War, the Town Hall was used as an enlistment centre. In a one week period in 1915, 750 men joined up there, forming a Deptford  Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery that established its HQ at a disused Thames Ironworks site in Blackheath Road. Many of these men never came home from the war.

'From Deptford, Brockley and New Cross they came : recruits of an excellent stamp : mechanics, shopmen, clerks and labourers' - Lt.-Col. H. W. Wiebkin (1923),  Short History of the 39th (Deptford) Divisional Artillery: 1915-1918/

 - During the mass unemployment of the 1930s, the Town Hall (then with a Labour Council) welcomed marches of the unemployed. In 1932 two thousand unemployed workers met at  Woolwich, and marched with band playing to Deptford Town Hall. The marchers ‘all wearing red rosettes in their caps’ were put up at the Borough Hall, Laurie Grove, being given dinner, a mattress for the night and free use of the public baths. 

- On 29 November 1944 the Town Hall was damaged in the V2 rocket attack which killed 168 people on the site of the Woolworths store opposite.

- As migrants from the Carribean settled in the area from the 1950s they faced racist bans from some local pubs. The Anglo-Carribean Association was established to organise inclusive social evenings and they held events in Deptford Town Hall and elsewhere.

- Deptford Council was merged with Lewisham Council in 1965, so the building was no longer used as the Council HQ although it continued to be used for Lewisham Council offices and for various events. For instance, Lewisham Irish in Britain Representation Group held events there in the 1980s, such as a meeting in October 1987 where Annie Maguire spoke, a couple of years before her nephew Gerry Conlon and the rest of the ‘Guildford Four’ had their convictions quashed.

- Alex James from Blur recalls that on his 21st birthday in 1989, when he and other band members were squatting in a semi-derelict flat at 302A New Cross Road,  Damon Albarn 'climbed on to the roof of Deptford Town Hall next door and changed the time on the big clock, which stayed at the wrong time for several years' (Bit of a Blur: the Autobiography, 2010).

- The Town Hall came under Goldsmiths management from 1998. Of course, its history didn't stop at that point - since then it has hosted many interesting conferences, meetings and cultural events as well as being periodically occupied by students.

- In 2007, on the 200th anniversary of the slavery Abolition Act, Paul Hendrich initiated a discussion on the links between Deptford and slavery as embodied in the Town Hall building – statues outside include Francis Drake (who accompanied John Hawkins in 1568 to ‘obtain’ between 400-500 West Africans and sell them in the West Indies), Robert Blake (the head of Cromwell’s navy) and Nelson (who opposed the abolition of slavery). An event at the Town Hall in June 2007 on 'Repairing the Trauma of History: What does an apology of substance look like?' featured a group of people on the Sankofa Reconciliation Walk wearing yokes and chains attempting to make reparation for the acts of the seamen carved in stone on the front of the building.

I was pleased to see that on each of the tables at the New Cross Commoners event there was a Menu with a quote from my late friend Paul Hendrich, who wrote about the history of Deptford Town Hall and the relationship of Goldsmiths to New Cross in his article 'Charting a New Course for Deptford Town Hall' (Anthropology Matters, 2008).  Today (28 December) would have been Paul's 44th birthday, but sadly he was killed while riding his bike to Goldsmiths in January 2008. Paul called for us 'to overwrite the building with a new set of memories and meanings' and it felt like the New Cross Commoners were continuing that project.

'The work we need to do, then, is to overwrite the building with a new set of memories and meanings. The Town Hall retains its original jingoistic overtones, but these serve only for us to reject the imperialist nostalgia and to create a better-informed relationship with the building. The work of generating new meanings is already being done. One local resident, who wished to remain anonymous, supplied me with an alternative narrative for the figures on the front of Deptford Town Hall that plays on the legacy of sadness and regret. The resident said that, as penance for their past misdeeds, the souls of these noble seamen are trapped for eternity inside the statues. They are forced to watch the multi-culturalisation of New Cross and rue their past actions' (Paul Hendrich, 2008)

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Open the Window: soundscapes from South London to the World

For the third Christmas Eve in succession, Hither Green-based experimental/improvisational music label Linear Obsessional has released a compilation based on inviting submissions in line with a chosen theme. This year's premise was simple: 'open your window and record two minutes of what you can hear. Interacting with it live if you wish, or editing and processing the recordings later. From this concept has emerged this 85 track, 2 hour 50 minute compilation of extraordinary recordings from all over the world'.

There are many remarkable recordings on this global smorgasbord of soundscapes,  includes several recorded in South London:

Richard Sanderson - Playing - Hither Green features the Linear Obsessional founder playing melodeon over the sounds of children playing outside.

Anthony Osborne - The Story Of A Panic - Ladywell includes some rather scary sounding crows.

Steven Ball - Go From My Window - New Cross - the traditional folk song sung over the sound of the New Cross rain.

Phil Julian - 3 November 2015 - South Norwood - the familar South London sonic sweep of birdsong and airplanes.

Argument Club - Shipping Forecast - Lewisham - traffic noise and radio sounds.

Chris Jones - Drill_Byt - Peckham - processed drill noise.

Sean Dower - Taxi Argument - Bermondsey - the title says it all.

Neil Gordon​-​Orr - Gellatly Road 1940​/​1915 - New Cross - traffic, drone and the names of people killed in the street in World War Two - 'Gellatly Road is a short but busy street in London SE14. 75 years ago, bombs were landing on it. Recalling memories of those terrible times, the sound of today's traffic - usually annoying -appears vaguely heroic: the victory of the everyday over terror and horror'.

Steve Scutt - Somehow Window - Camberwell

Clare and Arthur Wood - Bedtime Background With Oompa Loompa Song- Lewisham

You can download the album, with  62 page booklet, at Linear Obsessional

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Elf Kid - Lewisham High Street Golden Boy

Elf Kid's Golden Boy namechecks Lewisham High Street, Deptford Market and Brockley with a video shot on Pepys Estate, Deptford High Street and Lewisham Town Centre. Out now on No Hats No Hoods records

Greenwich Peninsula History Talks

Greenwich historian Mary Mills  has a new book out. ‘Innovation, Enterprise and Change on the Greenwich Peninsula' looking at the history of the peninsula, its industries and how they brought change to both Greenwich and the world.

Mary is doing a couple of talks this week as part of the launch of the book:  on Wednesday 16th December 2015, 6.00-7.00 pm, at Greenwich Centre Library; and on Thursday 17th December, 7.00-8.00 pm at Blackheath Library.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Ladywell Baths: some history (post updated November 2017)

Lewisham Council has approved (November 2017)  a proposal for the semi-derelict Ladywell Playtower building  to be refurbished as a cinema by Curzon, due to open in 2020. A rival proposal from the Picturehouse/Cineworld cinema chain came second and had been the focus of an 8,000 strong petition 'Do not give our Ladywell Playtower to the union-busting Picturehouse / Cineworld chain!' - workers at the Picturehouse cinema have been in dispute with the firm over its failure to pay London Living Wage (unlike Curzon). It is not clear whether this was a factor in the Mayor's decision, but Lewisham has been actively promoting the London Living Wage. In any event there are already three Picturehouses within five miles of Ladywell - which will now host the borough's only dedicated full size cinema (architect's impression of new scheme below).

The Council's invitation of proposals for the site was prompted by another online petition in 2015 which stated:

'We the undersigned note that the Ladywell Baths (aka 'The Playtower') was listed recently by The Victorian Society as one of England and Wales's 10 most 'at risk' Victorian and Edwardian buildings. This highlights the failure of the Mayor and Council over many years adequately to prioritise the restoration of this building, a prominent and much-loved local landmark, to beneficial use - a total abdication of their responsibilities as owner and custodian of this fine public building. We call upon the Mayor and Council urgently to set in train a process and take all appropriate steps, in partnership with other interested public, private and third sector organisations and in close co-operation with local people, to bring the Ladywell Baths building back into productive use and so secure its integrity and future for the at least next 100 years'. Well I guess they have got what they wanted.

Ladywell Baths in better days... the tower is still there, but it lost its cone in the Second World War

Much of the building fabric remains intact if not in great condition, as an 'urban explorer' who  photographed the inside in 2015 found: 

photograph from slayaaaa at 28 Days Later

'Ladywell Baths were erected in 1884 to the designs of Wilson & Son and Thomas Aldwinkle, the latter a local architect who designed several bath houses of note. The builders were Hobbs of Croydon. The Ladywell Baths were built at a cost of £9,000 on a site procured by the vicar of the adjacent St Mary's Church. At the time, a local paper commented on the juxtaposition of church and baths that 'cleanliness was next to Godliness'. The site was chosen as it is on the main road into Ladywell from Brockley, Catford, Lewisham and Hither Green. 

Local vestries were first permitted to levy a rate for baths and washhouses under an Act of 1846. Largely concerned with the hygiene of the lower classes, however, the Act only permitted slipper baths, laundries and open-air pools until an amendment in 1878 encouraged the building of covered swimming baths. Few authorities adopted the Act before the 1890s, when baths began to flourish. Lewisham Vestry, however, was notably progressive and appointed seven Commissioners in 1882, whose aims was to obtain funds and land to build two swimming pools at Ladywell and Forest Hill. By 1900 public baths were not only being built in large numbers, but also with increasing elaboration. 

On 25 April 1885, the baths were opened by Viscount Lewisham, MP, who remarked that aside from the Paddington Baths (which do not survive), 'there were no others in London of that size'. The Forest Hill baths were opened the following week. The ceremony was reported in the Kentish Mercury of 1 May 1885, which described the baths as 'quite an ornament to the neighbourhood, standing in striking contrast to the ancient church behind it'. The charges for use were 6d for the first class pool and 2d for the second class. On two days a week the pools were reserved for ladies bathing'. 

Interesting the lengths Victorian authorities went to to embed class distinctions in architecture - in this case building two separate pools so that the semi-naked middle classes didn't have to swim in the same water as the great unwashed!

The pools were replaced by the 1960s Ladywell Leisure Centre, now demolished, and the building has been empty for at least ten years having last been used as a play centre and gymnastics club.


At one time Ladywell Baths was a significant centre for swimming, hosting Kent county swimming and water polo competitions and acting as the home pool for Lewisham Swimming Club. In 1906, the world half mile swimming record - then 11 mins. 37 seconds - was set at Ladywell by David Billington (Gloucester Citizen, 14 September 1906).  Eric Liddell, the athlete immortalised in the film 'Chariots of Fire', swam there as a school boy (David McCasland, Eric Liddell: Pure Gold). Edward Temme, the first man to swim the Channel in both directions, attended a gala there in 1927.

Edward W Stafford (1853-1915), a water polo player for Lewisham Swimming Club was one of the seven founder members of the Life Saving Society (later the Royal Life Saving Society), established in 1891 to train people in saving people from drowning, including initiating the Bronze Medallion for qualified lifesavers (James R McClelland, The Bronze Medallion and Lifesaving Story, 2016). Another member of the Club from this period was sometime Goldsmiths student Stephen Gabriel Dadd (1894-1915). He won the Club's 1,000 yards river race in 1911 (as well as running for Blackheath Harriers) and was killed in the Dardanelles during the First World War.

Local running club Lewisham Hare and Hounds - who later became part of the still thriving Kent Athletic Club based at Ladywell Arena - seem to have sometimes used the baths as a starting point
'A good field turned out for this club's 10 Miles Scratch race, and Sealed handicap, which was decided from the Ladywell baths yesterday. Result of scratch race - R.C. Harris, 64 min 10 sec; F W Coldwell, 66 min 45sec, second; F H Williams, 67 min 26 seconds, third' (Lloyds Weekly Newspaper, 23 January 1898).


Ladywell Gymnastics Club was founded at the Playtower in 1967 by Jim and Pauline Prestidge and became one of the top clubs of the 1970s, training Olympc gymnasts including Suzanne Dando and Avril Lennox. After moving to Lewisham Leisure Centre in Rennell Street in 1977,  it came back to the Playtower in 1996 prior to moving on to a purpose built facility at Bellingham Leisure Centre in 2004, where it continues to flourish.

The Baths were also used for social events and political meetings. Herbert Morrison spoke at a Labour Party rally for women there during the 1945 election campaign:

'It was a typical cross-section of the women of a London division that filled the main hall of the Ladywell Baths - housewives whose husbands work in the City; women shopkeepers, women who had taken time from work to hear their candidate, and a considerable leavening of young women who had just qualified for the vote. They listened to Mr Morrison with close attention and plain appreciation, and warmly applauded when he pressed home the point that all the reforms of housing, health, child welfare and security which women ardently desire could come to them only through a Labour Government in power' (Daily Herald, 26 June 1945).

The swimming pool is mentioned in E.Nesbit's children's novel The Wouldbegoods (1899): 'we boys can swim all right. Oswald has swum three times across the Ladywell Swimming Baths at the shallow end, and Dicky is nearly as good'.

(post first published December 2015, updated November 2017 with news of plans for building)

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

David Lodge on bullet holes in Brockley

The novelist David Lodge (born 1935) grew up in Brockley, living at 81 Millmark Grove from 1936 to 1959. He went to St Mary Magdelen Roman Catholic primary school in Brockley, and walking home from school during the Second World War he had a narrow escape:

'One afternoon we were a few hundred yards from the railway bridge that traversed Brockley Road just before Brockley Cross when a German aeroplane flew over our heads firing its machine guns, perhaps at a train on the line, though its main target was said later to be an anti-aircraft battery on Telegraph Hill... Some of the bullets hit the white-tiled walls under the bridge and left pockmarks which were still discernible the last time I looked, about fifty years later'.

I checked myself last week, and yes the bullet holes are still there more than 70 years after the end of the war.

Brickley Central

David Lodge's 2008 novel 'Deaf Sentence' is the tale of a recently retired academic at a north of England university coping with going deaf and his elderly father's dementia. Said father still lives in the house where the narrator grew up, situated in an area named 'Brickley', a 'drab segment of  south-east London' with 'its streets of squat identical terraced cottages on the flat bits, and larger terraced houses and tall detached and semi-detached villas on the hilly bits'.

The father lives in 'Lime Avenue', a setting clearly based on Lodge's childhood home in Millmark Grove:  'squeezed in on rising ground between a main road and the railway, and it leads nowhere except to the main road at each end. The houses on the railway side have back gardens which abut on to an unusually high and wide embankment' whereas on the other side of the street the gardens are 'raised up artificially on landfill contained by a high concrete wall' backing on to the main road.

'Brickley' also features in his novel The Picturegoers set in a local cinema, while his time at the St Mary Magadelen parish youth club - St Ignatius Social Club - inspired an episode in his novel Therapy.

Lodge's portrait of Brockley/Brickley is less than flattering, but as he notes in his recent autobiograpy:  'When I was growing up there after the Second World War Brockley was a declining, unfashionable suburb, though I did not perceive it as such. After I ceased to live there in 1959, as Goldsmiths College in New Cross grew in size and status it began to attract more sophisticated residents - teachers, artists, actors - and lately it has become almost trendy'.

(Source for all above, except Deaf Sentence quotes, 'Quite A Good Time to be Born: A Memoir: 1935-1975' by David Lodge, Random House, 2015).

Monday, November 30, 2015

Lewisham Support for Junior Doctors

So tomorrow's planned 24 hour strike by Junior Doctors in the NHS has been called off pending further negotiations after health secretary Jeremy Hunt backed down and agreed that he would not unilaterally impose a new contract on them. Junior Doctors and their supporters have been organising at local hospitals, including at Lewisham where banners were all ready to go... and will no doubt be brought out again unless there is some real progress on pay and conditions.

photo from Dr Tony O'Sullivan on twitter

Here's the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign statement on the dispute:

Junior doctors are the backbone of the NHS

The term “junior” is misleading – in fact the majority have
many years experience and constitute the main medical workforce in our hospitals.
They are the doctors who tend to you if you are admitted to hospital day or night, 24/7.

This Government is treating them shabbily. It wants to impose a new contract on them and refuses to negotiate. The doctors reject the new contract— it is both unsafe and unfair.

Unsafe because it removes the safeguards against doctors being forced to work excessively long hours, which will increase risk to patients.

Unfair because for many doctors it will mean pay cuts and/or even longer antisocial hours.

Junior doctors don’t want to strike. They have been given no choice as the Government has refused to listen to them. They want the Government to negotiate without preconditions and to remove the threat of contract imposition. Strike action is a last resort and has been planned so that patients are not harmed, with consultants providing emergency care.

If the junior doctors lose this battle then it will be harder to recruit to specialties like A&E which already suffer a serious shortage of doctors. Those who remain will be working more antisocial hours and be more tired; many will leave the NHS. If the junior doctors lose this battle then the Government will come for the nurses and other NHS staff next.

The junior doctors are now in the front line. They are defending a high quality NHS – one that is run by well-supported staff who are able to give of their best when caring for you. We urge you to support our junior doctors and to support all NHS staff and the future of our NHS'.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Dismaland to Wonderland

It didn't take very long for Banksy's Dismaland art exhibition, held over the summer in Weston-super-Mare, to be recuperated by some of those who the artist may have thought he was critiquing. I spotted this poster in Brockley last month, seemingly from property developers South London Land looking for potential local sites with the headline 'From Dismaland to Wonderland'. I first thought it must be satire, but I think it was actually chutzpah.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Debating Disarmament at Riverdale Hall, Lewisham (1984)

There are plans to turn Riverdale Hall next to Lewisham shopping centre into a temporary 'street food emporium' (as reported at Brockley Central) As a public space it has been underused in recent years but it has had its moments in the past - hosting Saxon Sound System and an Elvis Presley exhibition among many other events. 

At the weekend I went to the Imperial War Museum, primarily to see the excellent Lee Miller: a Woman's War, but also to see the exhibition of work by anti-war photomontage artist Peter Kennard. His iconic images defined the visual culture of the 1980s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and related movements, and I came across this poster there from March 1984: a Great Debate at Riverdale Hall featuring Jennifer Edwards of CND versus Lady Olga Maitland, Women and Families for Defence (a Conservative pro-nuclear weapons group)

Anyone remember this or other interesting events at this venue?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Whatever happened to Nunhead Reservoir? - public meeting

Nunhead Reservoir, on the other side of Brockley Footpath from the Cemetery, was one of the area's hidden gems. While nominally fenced off, it was easy enough to get into and dog walkers, lovers, runners and others would climb up its grassy banks and take in the great views of London. I should say for those who don't know it that the reservoir itself is underground and completely covered so there was no obvious risk to the water supply.

But early last year a massive new security fence was built, topped with barbed wire and not only preventing access but dominating the view from the surrounding area. I'm not sure what reasons have been given by Thames Water, the privatised utility company that runs the site, but there is a similar reservoir only a few hundred metres away that has a golf course on top of it (Beechcroft reservoir), so on the face of it there is nothing intrinsically unsafe about people moving around such sites.

Anyway there's a public meeting coming up to discuss this, next Sunday 22 November at the The Field, 385 Queens Road, SE14 5HD. The organisers say:

'If you didn't already know, Nunhead Reservoir is now surrounded by a high fence with barbed wire, patrolled by security guard and dogs.

Do you have a connection to Nunhead Reservoir?

Did you used to go there to hang out/ run around/ burn stuff/ do yoga/ walk dogs/ play rounders/ watch the sunset etc. before the new fence was put up?

Are you upset/angry/glad about the new fence?

Did you have your first date with your girlfriend/boyfriend there? Did the reservoir have any special significance to you?

Do you miss being able to go there? Did you dislike the noise and/or rubbish left by people spending time there?

Whatever your connection/memory/opinion, you are warmly invited to a public meeting with soup, bread and wine, hosted by the New Cross Commoners.

We will have an open discussion on Nunhead Reservoir – to share memories and think together about its past and future'

This meeting doesn't have a set agenda- the purpose is to get people who love the reservoir (or hate it!) together, and we will see what comes of this through that meeting. If you know people who have a connection please feel free to invite them'.

Starts at 7pm, there will be soup and wine too

See also article on this at New Cross Commoners for a bit more detail: 'Thames Water probably have valid reasons for doing this. But some locals are understandably upset that what by now is perceived as a common has been so suddenly taken away. There hasn’t, as far as I can tell, been any dialogue between Thames Water and Nunhead locals, so nobody is completely sure of the exact reasons for the new fence. The only new signs are to tell people that guard dogs patrol the area. There is no notice explaining why, even though Thames Water know that people regularly used to spend time there- that’s why they’ve built the new fence after all.

The reservoir is an example of a space which until its recent increased securitization has been paradoxically liminal in terms of its private/ public status.  It’s been used as if it were public, and yet its private status has allowed it to be outside of state control- free from the ‘city officials’ who might also try to control it. Wide open space in this way is always in demand, and yet it being above a reservoir it is at least protected from being bought and developed on as expensive flats. Because of these two powers- the state and the market (in the form of Thames Water) turning a blind eye, many different activities have been allowed to happen at the site'.

One of the things I wonder about places like this is that there's a kind of tacit understanding that people can be allowed to quietly break the rules as long as they don't broadcast the fact too loudly. The reservoir was in use as a semi-public space for years, but Thames Water seem to have acted once people started posting about online or even writing about in the Guardian (to be fair, the latter article didn't actually name the site).  

Chimpman also wondered on twitter whether Thames Water's action might have been prompted by an 'over-zealous' reading of the Government's Centre for Protection of the National Infrastructure's security guidelines.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Save Lewisham Hospital Conference

Well we might have saved Lewisham Hospital from closure of key services and downgrading in 2013, but NHS services everywhere are under threat from funding cuts and more. Next month Save Lewisham Hospital campaign is holding a conference at Goldsmiths in New Cross. They say:

'Why is our NHS under threat and what can we do to defend it?

Our NHS is under threat as never before: hospitals, GPs, mental health services are all struggling due to underfunding and lack of staff. Devastating social care cuts add to the pressures. Privatisation is causing worse care and wasting resources.

The NHS faces £billions of cuts annuallly. 60% of hospitals are in deficit, made worse by extortionate PFI debts. Many hospitals around the country are under threat of closure. NHS staff morale is low, with pay cuts and longer anti-social hours. The NHS, one of the best health care systems in the world, is being underfunded and broken up, and Tory politicians are claiming it’s unsustainable and calling for charges and more privatisation.

But we can fight back. From junior doctors to the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign and other campaigns around the country, it’s clear that we don’t just have to accept what is happening to the NHS.

Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign is organising a day of talks and discussions aimed at helping us understand better the threats facing the NHS.


Heidi Alexander, Shadow Health Minister and East Lewisham MP (will open the conference)
John Lister,London Health Emergency
Dr Gurjinder Sandhu, Ealing Hospital
Dr John O’Donohue, Lewisham Hospital
A Junior Doctor (person TBC)
Anne Drinkell, Community matron, West London
Dr Brian Fisher, Lewisham GP
Jane Mandlik, Lewisham Pensioners' Forum and Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign
Peter Roderick, Lawyer, Drafter of NHS Reinstatement Bill

Saturday, 5 December 2015 from 10:30 to 16:00, Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre, Goldsmiths University, Lewisham Way. New Cross SE14 6NW'

Monday, November 09, 2015

The Pitmen Painters and Panto

Coming up later this month (Tuesday 17 to Saturday 28 November) at the Brockley Jack, Bromley Little Theatre presents The Pitmen Painters by Lee Hall, directed by Pauline Armour. The play is the true story of a group of miners from the Ashington Colliery who in 1934 hired a professor to teach them a Workers Educational Association art appreciation evening class. He encouraged them to paint, and using pieces of old board and left over tins of paint they created art that represented their day to day lives, both underground and in their local streets and allotments. The Ashington Group went on to become nationally celebrated for their work.

Full details and tickets (£14, £12 concessions) at
or 0333 666 3366.

Telegraph Hill Panto

The Christmas Panto season  is also coming round soon, including Dick Whittington (4, 5 and 6 December) at The Telegraph Hill Centre. Tickets here: (£12, £6)

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Radical New Cross: Protest and dissent 1875 – 2015

As part of the 2015 Being Human Festival of Humanities, Goldsmiths is hosting a series of events this month on the them 'Radical New Cross: Protest and dissent 1875 – 2015':

'From radical parish priests to anti-fascist resistance, New Cross has a long history of radicalism, as will be demonstrated through a series of events, all based on current research projects. Made possible by a collaboration with local community groups, these events are designed to engage the public in an open and collaborative way. Using New Cross as an anchor to explore marginalised histories, groups will be able to start conversations, reveal forgotten histories and demonstrate the relevance of research in the humanities'.

Events include:

- Saul Newman on Post anarchism (12 November);
- Women’s Art library exhibition (14-15 November) - printmaker and street artist Aida Wilde will join archivist and artist Ego Ahaiwe to produce a new poster inspired by a collection of hundreds of posters from the women’s movements of the 1970s and 80s.
 -BANK panel discussion (14 November) - discussion and materials from BANK art collective, charting the organisation’s dissident journey through the boom of the 1990’s London art scene.
- Textile networks (14 November)  - open workshop for crafters, hackers and makers based around the Embroidered digital commons project, a collective artwork initiated by artist Ele Carpenter.
- Commoning in Deptford Town Hall (14 November): For one evening only, Goldsmiths’ historic Deptford town hall will host a feast prepared and eaten by community groups, historians, academics and local people.
- New Cross data tourists (14 November) - interactive walking tour of New Cross. Participants will be given a device developed by the to try out on the streets and public spaces of New Cross.
- The battle of Lewisham: united against fascism (15 November): the history and context of anti-racist and anti-fascist resistance and protest in and around Lewisham in the 20th century.
- Not the measure of us: Black Women, New Cross, ‘New’ Human (15 November) - 'bring along a small example of black radical memorabilia and some words, thoughts and ideas to create a collective installation'.

I hope to get along to some of this, including the New Cross Commoners event at Deptford Town Hall next Saturday - 'From 6pm food will be collectively cooked at the Field, at 385 Queens Road, New Cross. From 8 to 10pm we’ll be in the Deptford Town Hall Council Chamber, New Cross Road, SE14 6NW to eat and discuss. There would be an open mic round happening during the evening and we invite you to join and participate in the conversation and share your experience of the town hall, local area, food, and the relationship between Goldsmiths and New Cross. We are also inviting local groups and people to use the event at the end to ask for things and contacts they may need, announce local events and look for help. We look forward to seeing you there!'

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

The Kooples at the Rivoli Ballroom

French clothing line The Kooples is the latest to take advantage of the splendour of Crofton Park's Rivoli Ballroom for a film shoot. Their latest advert features a glamorous couple meeting up amidst a northern soul dancefloor.

For loads more at the Rivoli, including Lana del Ray, Jimmy Page, Oasis, Florence and the Machine etc. see the Transpontine round up.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Halloween Bikelife Rideout in South London

Last night someone mentioned on twitter that they'd just seen hundreds of motorbikes tearing down New Cross Road. A couple of minutes later I heard a wall of noise heading up my road, and looking out of the window there they were - every kind of motorbike, scooter, moped and quad bike, taking over both sides of the road, lots of wheelies, lots of people riding without helmets...

On twitter there were sightings of them all over the place... Streatham Common, Brixton Hill, Nunhead, Brockley, Ladywell, Blackheath, Charlton, the Old Kent Road. Reports too of fireworks being let off by bikers. It looks like they may have met up at Hilly Fields at around  7pm

So what was going on?

The first thing to say is that it didn't come out of nowhere. Some of you may remember that exactly the same thing happened this weekend last year, when hundreds of bikers met up in Sydenham on Halloween weekend and rode all round South London.  The Halloween rideout is a coming together of lots of people involved in the bikelife scene, a growing sub-culture of young guys (and it is mainly but not exclusively guys) doing stunts and generally getting their high speed two-wheeled kicks. To get a sense of this check out Bikelife TV

Bikelife is an international scene starting out in the US, and Halloween rideouts are also held elsewhere - check out this footage of the New York City Halloween Rideout 2011 for instance, a very similar event to last night's in South London. A quick search on youtube shows that there were Halloween rideouts last night in places as far apart as Tijuana (Mexico) and Tokyo.

In some ways this is just the latest incarnation of US/UK youth fascination with bikes and reckless behaviour, something that goes back through biker gangs, 1960s mods on scooters, 1950s 'ton up' rockers and Marlon Brando's Black Rebels Motorcycle Club in 'The Wild One'. As a recent Vice article noted, some of the new scene even gravitate sometimes to the mecca of British biker culture, the Ace Cafe on the north circular.

The second thing to say is it looks like a lot of fun and excitement for those taking part. Obviously its pretty thrilling taking over the streets for a night, something which cyclists also feel through their Critical Mass rides and which I even sometimes feel as a runner when a race closes down a road and hundreds of us get to run for once in the middle of the street. All the roads everywhere are dominated by cars, vans and lorries every day of the year, so part of me thinks why shouldn't some of the rest of road users have their moment? Maybe like London Marathon for runners or Ride London for cyclists, the streets of London should be closed once a year for bikers.

The third thing to say though is that it is a dangerous  pursuit. For those participating, it's their choice if they want to risk their own injury or worse, and plainly the danger is part of the thrill. But on last night's ride there was also some people who rode up on pavements, something that must have been very frightening for anyone walking along and could easily have caused a serious accident. So I guess liberal old me says have your fun but don't put other people at risk. Or as the commentator on one  bit of film from Streatham last night put it, don't be a ' idiot'.

It looks like the meeting point at 7 pm might have been at Hilly Fields:

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Devil of Deptford - a poltergeist tale from 1699

For Halloween here's a spooky story from late 17th century Deptford. 'The Devil of Deptford' is a pamphlet by the clergyman Edward Fowler.  According to the historian Peter Elmer,  the 'haunted' house in question 'almost certainly' belonged to 'Henry Godman (d.1702) who combined preaching with medical practice and had resided at Deptford since at least 1672' (The Miraculous Conformist: Valentine Greatrakes, the Body Politic, and the Politics of Healing in Restoration Britain, OUP, 2013). Looking at old maps I believe that Back Lane was near to Deptford Green about where Gilbert House now stands.

'The Devil of Deptford... being a true relation of the strange disturbances, ludicrous feats and malicious pranks of an evil spirit in the house of Mr G. living in Back Lane at Deptford near London, in April and May 1699. The truth whereof is known, and can be attested to by a great number of the inhabitants of that town...

there are evil spirits or devils, which do infest this lower world, and of which we have a fresh convincing argument in the following instance: all the particulars whereof were acted, not in the dark, or at midnight, but at Noon-day in the face of the sun, in the sight of a great many persons, and the effects thereof were felt by divers of the family

Upon Saturday April 25 1699... about Twelve a Clock at Noon, a stone was thrown against the parlour window next to the street, which breaking the glass came into the room.The boys that were in the street were charged with doing it, but they all denyed it; when instantly another stone was thrown, which broke the glass likewise... Soon after for many days together a great number of stones were thrown against the back and side windows next to the garden, seeming to come from the fields behind... At length they nailed strong deal board on the outside of the broken windows, after which the disturbance ceased from without, but began within the house. One time all the china cups and glasses were removed from the mantel-piece in the parlour, and set on the floor... Several pewter plates were seen to come out of the kitchen below stairs into the parlour of themselves... A candle and candlestick being left in the dining room, which was locked, was thrown upstairs, and their looking out at the noise found it there, and yet the door continued locked as before'.

(the full text may be available at Early English Books online,
if anyone has a login)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Althea Gyles (1868-1949), poet and artist: 'A Strange Red Haired Girl'

Althea Gyles (right) with Irish revolutionist Constance Markiewicz

The Irish poet and artist Althea Gyles (1868-1949) was born in County Waterford and moved to London in 1892. She knew Oscar Wilde, W B Yeats (who described her as "a strange red-haired girl, all whose thoughts were set upon painting and poetry"), Constance Markiewicz, Aleister Crowley (with whom she had an affair), Compton McKenzie and many other interesting people, and is best known for her book designs for Yeats, Ernest Dowson (now buried in Ladywell Cemetery), Wilde and others. For a period she was associated with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (famously connected to the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill), and was later interested in vegetarianism and Buddhism.

Gyles' cover design for Yeats' The Secret Rose (1897)

Sympathy - Althea Gyles (1898)

The colour gladdens all your heart;
You call it Heaven, dear, but I -
Now Hope and I are far apart -
Call it the sky.

I know that Nature's tears have wet
The world with sympathy; but you,
Who know not any sorrow yet,
Call it the dew.

She spent her later years in South London, including in Brixton, Sydenham (one of her last homes was at 19 Tredown Road SE26) and at a nursing home in Beckenham at 69 Crystal Palace Park Road where she died in 1949.

In Jad Adams' biography of Ernest Dowson (Madder Music, Stronger Wine, 2000) he writes: ‘Althea Gyles lived on... her flaming hair now grey.. She lived in bedsits in Tulse Hill and then Sydenham, casting horoscopes as the new century wore on, until she became a ghost from the 1890s in war-shattered London.’

"Lilith" by Althea Gyles, from 'The Dome' vol.I, Oct.-Dec. 1898
(The most detailed account of Gyles' life that I have found online is in 'Althea Gyles’ Symbolic (De)Codification ofWilliam Butler Yeats’ ‘Rose and Wind Poetry’' by Arianna Antonielli)

Related posts:

Friday, October 23, 2015

Mek' it Blow: police raid New Cross Jah Shaka Blues Dance (1975)

From the groundbreaking black radical magazine, Race Today (May 1975), a report on 'the atmosphere of tension that has gripped the community of black youth in South London following a police invasion of a blues dance at Malpas Road, New Cross, on Saturday 26th April'. 

'More than 200 young blacks danced to the sound of the popular Jah Shaka at Malpas Road on Saturday/Sunday 26th-27th'. After visiting to demand the sound be turned down, the police 'reinforced in numbers and violent in attitude... ordered everyone to leave the building. One of the organisers who stood at the door was dragged out and thrown into the van. The police proceeded to kick, punch and truncheon people indiscriminately. Not content, they went on to wreck £400 of equipment with their truncheons. Sixteen people were charged with crimes ranging from assault to drunk and disorderly behaviour... one police officer exuding arrogance warned Jah Shaka that the sound was banned from playing in South London'.

'A mass meeting was organised on Monday 28th at the Moonshot Youth Club, New Cross. Some 300 youths attended. They dealt at once with the ban placed on Jah Shaka. They immediately announced details of another party in the area at which Shaka would play'

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Ghostpoet in Nunhead - more Mercury Prize news

Mentioned earlier this week  the nomination of Lewisham's Eska for this year's Mercury Music Prize, alongside Camberwell/Kennington's Florence Welch. Somebody has since pointed me in the direction of Nunhead's Shrunken Head Studios, who noted that another contender, Ghostpoet, recorded his nominated album 'Shedding Skin' there at 40 Nunhead Green

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Lewisham Suffragette Banner

The movement for women's suffrage a century ago is once more under discussion thanks to the new 'Suffragette' movie. The Museum of London holds the original c.1910 banner of the Lewisham Women's Social and Political Union 'The  figure of Justice is represented to emphasise the justice of the Votes for Women cause. Prison arrows adorn the corners of the banner. The motto 'Dare Never Count the Throe' can be read as a warning for people not to underestimate the suffragettes' struggle'

Previous women's suffrage posts at Transpontine:

Monday, October 19, 2015

Music Monday: Eska

A couple of local nominations for this year's Mercury Prize. Florence (with her Machine) is of course now a veritable global South London superstar, six years after launching her debut album at the Rivoli Ballroom and long after her days hanging out in Brockley Cemetery.

Less well known is Eska (Mtungwazi), born in Zimbabwe in 1971, but growing up in Lewisham where she still lives. She studied violin at Blackheath Conservatoire and has worked in a Southwark Primary School. She has been shortlisted for her long awaited self-titled album.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

'Mutiny at Woolwich Dockyard' (1802) - attempted escape by hulk prisoners

During the 18th and 19th centuries, many ships no longer fit to sail the seas were converted into floating prisons. In the London area these 'prison hulks' were located in the Thames by Woolwich and Deptford.

This account of an  'Mutiny at Woolwich Dock Yard' (Morning Post, 2 August 1802) describes an attempted escape by prisoners who had been brought ashore from a prison hulk to work: 'for several months... above five hundred men have been employed in erecting a new wall at the back of the Governor's house. For some time, it since appears, they had planned an escape'.

On a Friday morning, 'about a dozen of these desperadoes went up to the keeper, armed with clasp knives, and demanded the key of the inner gate. The keeper refusing to deliver it up, he was knocked down, and the key taken by force from his pocket'. About 'fifteen or sixteen got into the outer yard' but still faced a 26 foot high wall, which only four managed to climb. By this time the keepers were armed, and two of convicts were shot, one killed. 

The army was mobilised from the nearby garrison, and 'the whole military force, about 2000 men, was placed at every avenue leading out of the town. The horse were stationed in Hanging Wood and its environs, and the foot marched instantly to the Dock-yard... After a very strict search of several hours in the Hanging Wood and the town, the whole were found concealed in different places about the Dock-yard. The four supposed to have have escaped into the wood were found by the military concealed under a quantity of timber in the front yard, near the principal entrance from the high road, and one of them refused to leave the place of his concealment until a shoulder ran his bayonet four inches into his shoulder. The offenders were carried to the dungeon and chained down until they receive their punishment'.

(The Hanging Woods covered an area that included what are now Maryon and Maryon Wilson Parks)

Morning Post, 7 August 1802
Conditions aboard the hulks were notorious. Writing in the last days of their use, Henry Mayhew and John Binny ('The Criminal Prisons of London and Scenes of London Life', 1862) devoted a detailed chapter to 'The Hulks at Woolwich':

'The idea of converting old ships into prisons arose when, on the breaking out of the American War of Independence, the transportation of our convicts to our transatlantic possessions became an impossibility. For the moment a good was effected, for the crowded prisons were relieved; but from the time when the pressure upon the prisons ceased, down to the present, when the hulks may be said to be doomed, all writers on penology have agreed in condemning the use of old ships for the purposes of penal discipline...

Some idea of the sanitary condition of these establishments, even so recently as 1841, may be gathered from the report of Mr. Peter Bossy, surgeon of the "WARRIOR" hulk, off Woolwich, which shows that in that year, among 638 convicts on board, there were no less than 400 cases of admission to the hospital, and 38 deaths!There are still officers in the Woolwich hulks who remember a time when the "Justitia"... contained no less than 700 convicts; and when, at night, these men were fastened in their dens - a single warder being left on board ship, in charge of them! 

Even so late as 1849, we find the "Unité", hospital ship at Woolwich, described in the following terms- "In the hospital ship, the 'Unité,' the great majority of the patients were infested with vermin; and their persons, in many instances, particularly their feet, begrimed with dirt. No regular supply of body-linen had been issued; so much so, that many men had been five weeks without a change; and all record had been lost of the time when the blankets had been washed"'.

'A view near Woolwich in Kent showing the employment of the convicts from the Hulks'
(the hulks are the ships without sails in the background, not sure of date of picture)