Thursday, December 29, 2016

Franco Rosso RIP - director of Babylon

The film director Franco Rosso, best known for the classic sound system movie Babylon (1980), has died (see John Eden's obituary). Born in Italy in 1942, he attended Camberwell College of Art and was working at the Albany in Deptford along with the film's co-writer Martin Stellman when they conceived of a film based around reggae sound system culture and young people's experience of racism.

As discussed at Transpontine before, the film makes extensive use of South London locations including St Paul's Church in Deptford and Deptford High Street, with many local young people taking part as extras.

A 2010 interview marking the film's 30th anniversary recalls a lost era of  horses on the High Street: 'One particular anecdote reveals how unlensed life in Babylon life really was – the scene when Forde’s character Blue is chased by police onto Deptford High Street - which had to be re-shot when a pony bolted down the street mid-scene. A pony! Standard practice in Deptford in the 1970s, apparently... where rag-and-bone trade totters would leave their nags grazing outside their tower blocks. The totters controlled Deptford and had to be paid off for use of the alleys where the crew filmed' (30 Years on: Franco Rosso on why Babylon's Burning, Indepedent 11 November 2010)

Martin Stellman has also mentioned that Rosso lived in Lewisham during this period: 'this church where he lived, in Lewisham, had a blues every Friday, and it used to drive him mad because of the bass, yeah? Jah Shaka used to play there as well; it was literally at the back of his garden. Don’t get me wrong: Franco also made a documentary about dub poet LKJ, so he was very simpatico to the subject. He only hated the noise because he had kids'.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christmas Meerkats of Nunhead Grove

As in previous years, a couple of houses in Nunhead Grove SE15 have brightened up the area with their Christmas decorations. Favourite feature for me is the Christmas hat wearing meerkats.

The display put me in mind of Les Back's excellent piece about Christmas lights, Fairytale of New Addington: 'At the heart of this story is an ordinary miracle. In contrast to the glitzy consumerism of the supermarkets and shopping centres that profit from Christmas, this is a spectacle of community — a gift given for free in hard times'

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Death of an Italian Deptford Anarchist (1907)


'The body man of a man found shot through the head, at Lambeth Meadow, Plumstead on Wednesday morning, was on Thursday identified as that of Leone Povinelli, Italian ice-cream vendor, residing at 25, Brookmill Road, Deptford. Emilio Nella, a companion of the deceased, who lives at the same address, saw the body during the afternoon, and at once identified it. Deceased is said to have been frequenter of a club resorted to by Anarchists in the neighbourhood of Hampstead Road, but he was in no way a well-known Anarchist, nor was he “wanted' the police on any charges' 
(Evening Star - Friday 4 January 1907)


The death of the young Italian, Leon Povinelli, who was found shot on Plumstead marshes, and was supposed to be an Anarchist, was inquired into by the Coroner at Woolwich yesterday. Povinelli was a knife grinder, and resided with a compatriot, Mr. Emelionella, who has a knife-grinding business in Brookmill-road, Deptford. The latter said that Povinelli had been drinking a good deal lately, and had declared that he did not like to live in this world any longer The witness was shown a copy of a weekly Anarchist journal, the “Grido della Folla” ['cry of the crowd'] published in Milan, which was found on the deceased, but be knew nothing of it. A detective stated that some writing on a corner of the paper might be translated "To avoid disgrace.” The revolver discovered near the body was not of English make. The Coroner remarked that the writing on the Anarchist newspaper showed that the man must have had something on his mind, although it was not known what. A bankbook had been found belonging to the man, showing that he had placed £25 to his credit in September and October last. He had put no money in since, and had probably been drinking it away. A verdict of “Suicide during temporary insanity, caused by drink and trouble,” was returned'


(Leeds Mercury, 8 January 1907)

'ITALIAN’S SUICIDE. Inquest on Supposed Anarchist Who Shot Himself. TRAGEDY OF DRINK

At Woolwich today as inquest was held on the body of the man who was found shot on Plumstead Marshes on Wednesday last. The name of the deceased was Leone Povinelli. When discovered on the Marshes he was dead, shot through the head by a revolver, which was lying by his side. In his pocket was found an Italian newspaper.

Mr. Emelionella (whose evidence had to be translated from Italian to English), carrying on the occupation of knife grinder at Deptford, said he was acquainted with the deceased, who was 26 years of age, and was a knife-grinder. He lived with the witness.

The Coroner: What country was he a subject of? —He lived in the Tyrol. Used this man to drink much?— Yes; for some time past he was always drinking too much, and for the past two or three weeks he had been worse. Witness went on to say that deceased had been in this country about six years, but it was a habit of  his to go to and from his native country. Witness last saw him alive on New Year's Eve, when he was dressing himself in his best clothes. He said he was going to St. Mary Cray to see a friend. 

The Coroner : Has he ever threatened  to commit suicide?—I have heard him say he did not like to live in this world any more. A letter was produced which arrived this morning from the deceased’s father, who had written to his son urging him to write more often and also longer letters, promising him that he would do his best to have him back in Austria if he was unwell and did not like the place in London. Evidence was given as to the finding of the body. Medical evidence was to the effect that death was due to the bullet wound, and the jury returned a verdict of suicide whilst temporarily insane, brought about by drink and trouble' 

(Sheffield Evening Telegraph - 7 January 1907)

Update March 2024:

As people have mentioned in the comments, after this sad episode Emilio Nella (misspelt as Emelionella in some news reports) carried on with his knife grinding business in Deptford and remarkably five generations later it continues as Nella Cutlery Services.  In fact it is  'the UK’s leading knife sharpening company' according to its website, which also tells the story of its origins: 'The Nella story began back in Italy in 1901 in the small village of Carisolo in the northern region of Trentino. Emilio Nella the great grand father of the current owners decided to move away from his native land to seek a better life elsewhere in Europe. He acquired a portable grind stone, and began to make his way across the continent doing his knife sharpening service. After a year travelling on foot Emilio arrived in Deptford London where he quickly established a reputation as a master grinder and sharpener'. Today its main office is in Orpington. And they still have Emilio's original grinding stone (picture from Newsshopper article on history of firm)

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Feeding the poor at Christmas in Victorian New Cross

Charitable appeals from Victorian New Cross:

'Poor Children's Dinners 

Sir, —The time is drawing very near when it is  customary to give the poor little destitute children a Christmas dinner of roast beef and plum-pudding, also weekly dinners during the succeeding three or four months. May I be permitted to invite the attention of your readers to the fact that this season, though a festive one to many, is very trying to the poor and wretched inmates of the courts and alleys. The distress has been truly severe throughout the year, but has seriously increased up to this time, there being no employment to be obtained. We wish to give a Christmas dinner, if possible, to about fifty poor and aged women. Contributions of money, clothing, provisions, &c., will be gratefully received by, yours respectfully, D. Anderson, Hon. Sec. The Good Shepherd Ragged and Industrial Schools, Pomeroy Street, New Cross-road, S.E' (Globe,  20 December 1869)

'Christmas Breakfast and Dinners to 30,000 poor London children 

The Robin Society, of 390, New Cross road, London, S.E., writes us: "Last Christmastide we arranged breakfasts and dinners in some forty different centres in various parts of London and suburbs for nearly 25,000 poor children. The committee of the Robin Society hope this year to invite 30,000 of all sects and creeds. We are receiving parcels of cuffs and cards from all parts of the country, but are still a long, long way short of the 30,000 pairs we shall require for our little guests. We want funds so as to be in a position to carry through our gigantic undertaking. May we venture to hope that your readers will help us? All amounts will be gratefully acknowledged by our hon. treasurer if addressed to the Robin Society, 390, New Cross road, London' (Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News - Saturday 22 December 1894)

'More than 3,000 poor children were entertained yesterday at breakfast in connection with the Robin Society, in John Addey’s schools, Church-street, Deptford. It required the assistance of 200 ladies and gentlemen to supply the needs of all the hungry children (St James's Gazette, 26 December 1888)

Thank God people no longer have to rely on food banks to eat.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Marvin Gaye in Deptford at Cheeks nightclub

This picture has been doing the rounds on facebook, pinterest etc. and has caused some excitement as it purports to show soul legend Marvin Gaye dancing in Deptford - the caption actually says 'Marvin Gaye - Cheeks Club - Deptford -1980' with the photographer given as Richard Young.

This seems too good to be true - is it for real? The photographer Richard Young is well known for celebrity/society nightclubbing shots, and definitely photographed Marvin Gaye in London (his website includes a 1981 shot of Gaye at Stringfellows). The origin of the image circulating online with the Deptford caption seems to be a Sunday Times article on Young from October 2014 - the online edition doesn't include the Marvin Gaye photo, but I gather it was included as extra content on the tablet edition.  So there doesn't seem to be any reason to doubt the caption, which would have been based on the photograph's metadata as supplied to the paper.  The context of the article was that Young had just published a collection of his photographs in a book, Nightclubbing, which is available  from the Richard Young Gallery. Not sure if the book includes the Deptford photo, but I am hoping that the fact that I am advertising it and only using the image for non-commercial local history interest will reassure the gallery - but of course will take it down if requested.

©  Richard Young Gallery

It is well documented that Marvin Gaye did live in London for a while in 1980/81, in a bit of a bad way with cocaine addiction, before moving to Belgium. So that makes the Deptford visit plausible.

And what of Cheeks? This was a nightclub at 18 Deptford Broadway that opened in 1980 (the following advert for bar staff at 'South London's newest club' is from The Stage, 21 August 1980).  I believe that the recently departed Harry Haward, sometime gangster associate and later pensioners rights campaigner, was involved in running the club.

Another article in The Stage apologised for suggesting that the club was 'failing as a disco to attract sufficient custom' and stated that it was 'licensed for 550 people'. As mentioned here before, posters for the opening night of Cheeks can be seen briefly in the 1980 film 'Babylon' 

Later the club was renamed Champs - this advert is from the Illustrated London News 1 June 1988 and is for 'Planet Rok Brutal Rave' there on Thursday night promising 'flare grooves':

So yes, Cheeks nightclub was going in Deptford in 1980/81, and Marvin Gaye was living in London in that period. Then there's also the supporting evidence that he had been spotted in Deptford another time-  Tom Fawcett, editor of Artrocker,  tweeted in 2014:  'I met Marvin Gaye once, in a pub in Deptford High St. He was there to see a band I was playing trombone for. Very odd'.

So lets's say its true, would be good though to have some eye wtiness confirmation. Mind you, somebody else claimed on facebook that Diana Ross also once visited Cheeks and (less surprizingly) Adam Ant. Tell us more!

Update 8 December 2016:

Interesting detail in comment posted by Mark Cathcart. He notes that Greg Edwards is mentioned in one of the Cheeks articles - presumably the DJ of Capital Radio Soul Spectrum fame. According to Mark 'Greg's day job was the distributor of Philadelphia Records in the UK(I think) he almost certainly would have had contact with Marvin'.

Actually, Greg also worked for CBS who Marvin Gaye was signed to at this time. So there's a possible explanation for Marvin being in Deptford - maybe Greg, who he would probably have met through the record company wsa DJing and in any event seems to have had some link to Cheeks.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Tupac SE8

Tupac Shakur, corner of Deptford High Street and Comet Street, SE8.

Speedy Auto Service Ltd, Creek Road, SE8 - I like this, anyone know who these people are?

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Transpontine Pantomime, today and past

The Pantomime season is upon us. At Greenwich Theatre, Peter Pan: A New Adventure by Andrew Pollard opened last week, and Peter Pan is also to be found at the Broadway Theatre in Catford this Christmas with The Lost Boy Peter Pan (not technically a pantomime): 'The Broadway’s Resident Theatre Company, the award-winning ACTION TO THE WORD bring their brand new twist on J M Barrie’s classic novel to stage this Christmas. With live music, singing and interactive theatre for children of all ages, this alternative to traditional Pantomime is the perfect treat'.

This year's Telegraph Hill Centre community panto is Mother Goose: 'Mother Goose rents her Brockley hovel from money-grabbing Squire Hatcham. Poor Mother Goose. She’s not young, good looking or well off. But Mother Goose is kind, loyal and a dedicated community activist. Oh yes, she is!' Most shows next weekend are sold out, but still a few tickets left for the Friday.

Transpontine Pantomime

Pantomime has a long association with South London, the phrase 'Transpontine pantomime' being used in the 19th century to refer to the shows on the Surrey side (i.e South side) of the Thames, in venues such as the Surrey Theatre in Blackfriars Road and the Vic at Waterloo. 

An 1867 article entitled 'THE TRANSPONTINE PANTOMIMES' noted that these theatres had become the main venues for Christmas panto: 'In the internecine war raging between pantomime and burlesque, the latter has decidedly the best of it this Christmas in the centre of London. Out of the dozen theatres in the heart of the metropolis, only two, Covent Garden and Drury Lane, have produced pantomimes. In the outlying districts, this time-honoured species of winter amusement is in full force, and notably in the three theatres on the Surrey side of the Thames—Astley's, the Surrey, and the Victoria' (Cheltenham Chronicle, 15 January 1867).  

A review of a pantomime at the Surrey in 1866 describes the ingredients: 

 'A sufficient stringing together of nursery rhymes, a little touch of fairy machinery, a lover and a princess, with a rival possessor of magic powers, while a benevolent fairy or an old woman and her cat agree to befriend true love, and in the end are successful, or, if not, bring all the parties into Fairyland, and there change them into harlequin, columbine, and clown, and you have a transpontine pantomime of the present day' (London Daily News, 27 December 1866) 

So familiar was the formula that the phrase 'transpontine pantomime' passed into the language as a metaphor for absurd and knockabout events. So a parade of Chinese soldiers in 1894 was described as thus: 'their drill and demeanour, were suggestive of a show of a transpontine pantomime. (Western Times, 31 October 1894). Similarly the humiliation of the Ashanti king during the British occupation of what is now Ghana was decribed as  'A scene more fit for a transpontine pantomime than one de-signed to impress a conquered foe with the idea of European dignity or British magnanimity' (Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough, 24 January 1896).

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Deptford Sounds Today

A couple of interesting musical events in Deptford this afternoon/evening (Saturday 19  November):

First up from 5 pm at Vinyl Deptford (cafe/record shop at 4 Tanners Hill),  there's a progamme of 'live experimental, electronic and improvised music presented by Hither Green's foremost underground label Linear Obsessional Recordings'

Line up includes:

UNNAMABLE TRIO - A new trio brought together for this show, featuring Oli Barrett (cello/electronics) who records exquisite, halucinatory drone, noise albums as Petrels, Linear Obsessional boss, Richard Sanderson (amplified melodeon) and the singular Irish electro-acoustic explorer Michael Speers

RODDART (Daniel James Ross- Live Electronics, Jake Stoddart - Trumpet) - 'Mind expanding duo... Expect mutations and instant transformations and transfixions'.

PLASTIGLOMERATE - Thomas Tyler - Tape Loops and Electronics 'dense, tangible structures of sculpted noise

SEAN DOWER (Bow Gamelan/Death Magazine 52/Sonofapup) presents new work exploring "intervention into systems of autogeneration"

JAMES O'SULLIVAN 'Probably the most inventive electric guitarist on the scene at the moment, O'Sullivan comes at the guitar from a new angle, with extended techniques and bricolage, he explores the physical weight of the instruments heritage with dynamism and wit' 

Admission is a suggested donation of £5

Deptford Dub Club

Later at the Duke (125 Creek Road SE8) from 8 pm to 12:30, Deptford Dub Club return with regular DJ Soft Wax joined by guest David Katz: 

'David is an internationally renowned author and broadcaster on all things reggaematic; he’s also a wicked selector. He can be relied upon to present upbeat, up tempo selections for your dancing feet. 

They will be joined by the fabulous Laura Trombone, who will be gracing us with her space echo pedal work again...  joined on clarinet by the accomplished Jas. We will also be enjoying the distinctive vocal stylings of Ras Darun and Ant’one Setondji.

David will have some of his excellent books available at a specally reduced price too, he’ll sign and dedicate them as required' 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

'Pride, Prejudice and Peckham' - John Beckett, from Labour MP to Nazi apologist

I have been peering again into  the murky waters of the history of the far right in South London.  One of the more depressing specimens is John Beckett (1894-1964).

After the First World War, in which he served, Beckett joined the left wing Independent Labour Party and following a period as a Hackney councillor he became the Labour MP for Gateshead in 1924, and then for Peckham in the 1929 General Election. He seems to have created some dischord such that in the 1931 election three Labour candidates stood against each other, all of whom lost to the Conservative candidate as a result (draw what contemporary lessons you like from that...)

'Pride, Prejudice and Peckham'
'This time... it is the Socilaists who have quarrelled, and they have quarrelled so violently that they are bringing into the field not two candidates, but three. Mr John Beckett - who created disunity at Gateshead, where he was once returned with a majority of more than none thousand - came to Peckham in 1929. He seems to have created as much disunity there'
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Thursday 22 October 1931
Beckett subsequently moved rapidly to the right, and in 1934 joined Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists (BUF). Beckett became the BUF's Director of Publications, editing its paper, but after falling out with Mosley founded the even more openly anti-semitic National Socialist League with William Joyce. Joyce, from Dulwich, ended up being executed for his role as Hitler's 'Lord Haw Haw' propagandist. Beckett, along with other nazi sympathisers, was interned from 1940 to 1943 - for some of the time in Brixton Prison. After the war he resumed his fascist activities with the British People's Party before dying in 1964. His son, the writer/journalist Francis Beckett, later wrote about him in the book 'Fascist in the Family'. 

For those intrigued/horrified by the politics of left-right crossover - in which sometime leftists co-operate and ultimately become indistinguishable from the extreme right - the case of Beckett and some of his associates is a salutary lesson. Among his comrades in the British People's Party were Ben Greene, a Quaker pacifist and former Labour candidate, and St John Philby (father of Russian spy Kim Philby), another former Labour supporter who converted to Islam and helped the Saudi family to power in what became Saudi Arabia - before standing as a fascist candidate and being locked up for a period in the Second World War. What a bunch of eejits.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

I am Human - Precarious Journeys

Coming up next weekend at Goldsmiths in New Cross:

Trace the precarious journeys of refugees as they navigate the perils of land, sea and a deadly human landscape riven by geopolitical failure on an unprecedented scale. Documentary filmmaker Professor Sue Clayton presents a multimedia installation responding to three perilous spaces that refugees fleeing conflict to the UK must navigate: the sea, the national border and the camp.

Featuring original music composed by Brian Eno, a soundscape of voices, the throb of tides, motorways and the human heart, visitors will be invited to interact with three short films activated by movement.

Opening event on Friday, 18 November. At 7pm Professor Clayton will give a talk introducing the work and situating it within her documentary filmmaking practice and her recent experiences helping children escape the Calais 'Jungle'.

St James Hatcham Building, St James', London SE14 6AD. Runs from Friday 18 November to Sunday 20 November. Free entry, booking advised for opening night - here.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Lewisham Refugee & Migrant Network Fundraiser

A fundraiser for Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network takes place this Saturday 19 November at The Ivy House, Stuart Road SE15. The family friendly event from 1 to 5 pm includes music from the LRMN women's choir, South London Songsters and others as well as a cake sale and raffle prizes. Further details on facebook.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

United Kingdom: David Oyelowo & Rosamund Pike in the Rivoli

'United Kingdom' is a new movie starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike, based on the true-life interracial romance between Seretse Khama (first president of Botswana) and his wife Ruth Williams. The couple first met in London in the 1940s, and the film seems to have used the Rivoli Ballroom as a location for some of their courting scenes

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Robin Hood Ballads at South East London Folklore Society

Coming up tomorrow (Thursday 10th November 2016) at South East London Folklore Society, Bob Askew will be given a talk on 'Robin Hood Ballads: The ‘Real Robin Hood’?

'The Robin Hood Ballads are the source for the core stories of the Robin Hood figure that we know today. They have been sung, recited and read for centuries; long before people wrote novels, or made films and TV programmes. Do the ballads depict the ‘real Robin Hood’, a different person to the English hero that we know so well today? Bob will trace the development of the Robin Hood story, and look at the many ballads about him.

Bob Askew is a lifelong lover of folk songs. He is particularly interested in the folk songs of his native Hampshire, and has researched the singers of these songs. He has also explored the life of George Gardiner, the Edwardian folk song collector, who noted over 1000 songs there. He writes articles, and gives talks on Hampshire Folk Songs. His interest in Robin Hood Ballads was provoked by the fact that seven different Robin Hood ballads were noted in a small area of Hampshire in 1907'.

The talk starts at 8pm in the upstairs room of the Old King's Head, King's Head Yard, 45-49 Borough High Street, SE1 1NA. Entrance is £3/1.50 concessions,  email to book a place or chance your arm and roll up on the night.

I don't think anyone's ever claimed Robin Hood as a Londoner, though his tale has featured in transpontine festivities

On May Day 1515, Henry VIII and the Queen ‘rode a Maying from Greenwich to the high ground of Shooters hill, where as they passed by the way, they spied a company of tall yeomen clothed all in Green’. The staged pageant included ‘Robin Hoode’ leading a band of 200 archers. ‘Robin Hoode desired the King & Queene with their retinue to enter the greene wood, where, in harbours made of boughs, and decked with flowers, they were set and served plentifully with venison and wine, by Robin Hoode and his men, to their great contentment, and had other Pageants and pastimes’ (Stow, 1603). 

Likewise on the 25th June 1559 there was a special performance for Queen Elizabeth I at Greenwich of ‘a May game’ featuring a giant, St George and the Dragon, Morris dancing, Robin Hood, Little John , Maid Marian, Friar Tuck, and the Nine Worthies of Christendom. 

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Van Gogh in South London

As a young man, the artist Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) spent a couple of years living in London. Thanks to his practice of sending regular letters to his brother Theo and others, we know quite a lot about his time here including his movements across South London. The complete letters are available online courtesy of the Van Gogh Museum.

Van Gogh drawing of 87 Hackford Road - rediscovered in 1973
(source: wikipedia)
It was in the summer of 1873, while working for an art dealer,  that he moved to lodgings at 87 Hackford Road, Stockwell.  He wrote of it: 'I now have a room, as I’ve long been wishing, without sloping beams and without blue wallpaper with a green border. It’s a very diverting household where I am now, in which they run a school for little boys'. The 'diverting household' was the house of Ursula Loyer and her daughter Eugenie. A year later, Van Gogh declared his love for the latter, and when rebuffed the heartbroken artist moved  with his sister Anna to new lodgings  at the Ivy Cottage 395 Kennington Road - the house of John Parker, a publican. While he was staying there, the landlord's daughter Elizabeth Parker died of pneumonia, as mentioned in an April 1875 letter to Theo:

'I’m sending you herewith a small drawing. I made it last Sunday, the morning a daughter (13 years old) of my landlady died. It’s a view of Streatham Common, a large, grass-covered area with oak trees and broom. It had rained in the night, and the ground was soggy here and there and the young spring grass fresh and green'.

We know that he visited Dulwich Picture Gallery, writing on  4 August 1873) 'I had a nice day last Monday. The first Monday in Aug. is a holiday here. I went with one of the Germans to Dulwich, an hour and a half outside L., to see the museum there, and afterwards we walked to a village about an hour further on. The countryside here is so beautiful; many people who have their business in L. live in some village or other outside L. and come to the city every day by train' (L. is of course London). Exactly a year later he returned to the Gallery with his sister Anna (see note)

After a period in Paris in 1875, Van Gogh also spent much of 1876 living in England, in Ramsgate and then Isleworth. It was during this period that he visited the Gladwell family in Lewisham, who lived at 114 Lee High Rd.  It was a sad occasion, as he wrote from Isleworth (18 Aug. 1876) 'Yesterday I went to see Gladwell... Something very sad happened to his family: his sister, a girl full of life, with dark eyes and hair, 17 years old, fell from her horse while riding on Blackheath. She was unconscious when they picked her up, and died 5 hours later without regaining consciousness. I went there as soon as I heard what had happened and that Gladwell was at home. I left here yesterday morning at 11 o’clock, and had a long walk to Lewisham, the road went from one end of London to the other. At 5 o’clock I was at Gladwell’s.  I’d gone to their gallery first, but it was closed'.

Harry Gladwell was a friend of Vincent's who he had met  while working in Paris. It was his sister Susannah Gladwell who had. Gladwell's father, Henry Gladwell, ran a gallery in Gracechruch Street in the City of London. The six hour walk from Isleworth to the City and then to Lewisham is around 30 km. His route from the City would have presumably been across London Bridge and then down the Old Kent Road, through New Cross and up what is now Lewisham Way. 

Van Gogh wrote home in October 1876:  'One of these days, perhaps, I’ll go to London or Lewisham again', and soon he did. In Isleworth Van Gogh worked in a school and was sometimes sent by its headmaster, Thomas Slade-Jones, on errands such as collecting school fees. He wrote to his parents in November 1876: 'It is already late, and early tomorrow morning I must go to London and Lewisham, for Mr. Jones...I must be in the two remotest parts of London: in Whitechapel - that very poor part which you have read about in Dickens; and then across the Thames in a little steamer and from there to Lewisham'. He added the next day 'I started this morning at four o'clock, now it is two. I have just passed through the old cabbage fields - now for Lewisham. One sometimes asks, how shall I ever reach my destination?'. Wonder where the cabbage fields were? I guess the 'little steamer' crossing could have been at Woolwich.

Later that month he was back in Lewisham again, this time visiting the Gladwells at the end of another long journey: 'I left here at 4 in the morning, arrived at Hyde Park at half past six, the mist was lying on the grass and leaves were falling from the trees, in the distance one saw the shimmering lights of street-lamps that hadn’t yet been put out, and the towers of Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, and the sun rose red in the morning mist – from there on to Whitechapel, that poor district of London, then to Chancery Lane and Westminster, then to Clapham to visit Mrs Loyer again, her birthday was the day before... I also went to Mr Obach’s to see his wife and children again [314 Brixton Road]. Then from there to Lewisham, where I arrived at the Gladwells at half past three. It was exactly 3 months ago that I was there that Saturday their daughter was buried, I stayed with them around 3 hours and thoughts of many kinds occurred to all of us, too many to express'. 

Van Gogh mentioned his friend Harry in a letter in December 1877:  'I hope he’ll be able to go to Lewisham at Christmas. You know that painting by Cuyp in the museum here, an old Dutch family, when he saw that he stood looking at it for a long time and then spoke of ‘the house built on the rock’ and of his home in Lewisham. I, too, have memories of his father’s house and will not easily forget it. Much and strong and great love  lives there under that roof, and its fire is in him still, it is not dead, but sleepeth'.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Leon Rosselson at New Cross Folk Club

Good to see that the recently started New Cross Folk Club at the Amersham Arms is going from strength to strength. This Sunday November 6th (7:30 pm) they are hosting veteran radical singer Leon Rosselson - probably best known for his Diggers anthem 'The World Turned Upside Down' which has been covered by Billy Bragg, Dick Gaughan and Chumbawamba among others.
The club meets twice a month, with forthcoming guests including Robb Johnson and Stick in the Wheel.

Friday update from Andrew, New Cross Folk Club:

'Leon Rosselson has had to cancel at the last minute on health grounds. However in a stroke of luck which is almost unprecedented in my life, Leicester protest folk superstar Grace Petrie has agreed to play instead. Make no mistake this is incredible good fortune. I had been hoping to book her next year and now she's playing on Sunday'.

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Man Behind the Door - A Brockley Ghost Story

For Halloween, here's a ghost story written by Elliot O'Donnell for the London 'Weekly Dispatch' and then reprinted in the Australian 'Express and Telegraph', 6 August 1910.

The location of the events is given as '200Y Brockley Road, SW', said to be haunted by 'the phantasm of a tall man in a frock coat and top hat'. The house number is obscure (perhaps the Y was to indicate that it was somewhere in the 200s rather than identify a specific house) but there was no Brockley Road in SW then or now so it must refer to the SE4 one, something reinforced by the mention of St Johns Road.

(Indeed the story is retold in his book 'More Haunted Houses of London' and the location is given as 'Brockley Road, SE'. In that version he says that he first heard about it from the house's former inhabitants at a friend's house in Norwood)

The investigator gains access to the house and  spends an evening there with his dog, Ghoul, and apart from some footsteps on the stairs notices nothing out of the ordinary. Returning a second time though he feels 'the presence of the occult was now most marked'.  After the clock strikes 12, the front door flies open and he perceives 'a tall, pale luminous figure... dressed in a frock coat and top hat, with jet black whiskers and brows, and the most appalling white skin and gleaming eyes... one the most perfect and unusual examples of pychic phenomena I have ever witnessed'. He concludes that this must be the 'earth-bound phantasm of Percy Stephens' who had apparently lived there before killing himself  'over the cliffs at Ramsgate' in despair at his son's wayward behaviour.

Elliot O'Donnell (1872-1965) - pictured below - was an Irish-born 'ghost hunter' and author of numerous books on ghosts and related matters. Like many of his trade, his reputation is controversial and the line between fact and fiction in his work decidedly uncertain. In this case it is notable that in the version of the story retold in 'More Haunted Houses of London' (1920), he gives a completely different explanation of the ghost. This time it is apparently the spirit of  a Mr Mills, who drowned himself in the River after his wife left him for a 'handsome foreigner'.  You might say this calls into the question the whole story... but hey you can suspend your disbelief for a moment on a dark Halloween night!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Save the Ravensbourne Arms

As reported at Brockley Central and elsewhere, pub chain Antic is closing The Ravensbourne Arms in Lewisham High Street (near to the hospital), possibly as soon as this Sunday. The pub, formerly the Coach and Horses, was opened in its present incarnation in 2011. Its closure would be a great loss to the local area, it's always had a good crowd when I've been in there.

 Copyright Stephen Craven and licensed for reuse under thisCreative Commons Licence

Antic have previously announced that they are planning to re-open the Market Tavern pub, also on the High Street but nearer to the town centre (their website suggests that it may be renamed E&H Hadley), so they may have decided to focus their efforts on that.  There is also speculation that they are selling The Ravensbourne and fears that it may be converted into housing.  Land Registry records show that the building hasn't changed hands recently, though a sale may be imminent. - Antic has always been as much a player in the property market as a pub company. But the future use of the building is still very much up for grabs.

Antic secured planning permission for flats above the pub in 2015, but to convert the pub itself into housing would require planning permission for a change of use, and there are many reasons why this might not be granted. Unfortunately a change of use from a pub to a shop would not necessarily require planning permission (see this CAMRA briefing on the complexities of planning law in relation to pubs), though any structural alterations to create it probably would.  The most likely threat is of a retailer buying it and perhaps opening a mini-supermarket. This is happening all over the place, but it might be noted that Lewisham has bucked the trend of the seemingly unstoppable spread of these. For better or worse, the Tesco Express just down the road on Lewisham High Street closed recently after five years of operation, presumably because it wasn't making enough money. Unless they were thinking of moving down the road...

With current planning powers, it might be difficult for Lewisham Council to insist that a pub continues without Antic but they do have some influence over the future of the site - so get lobbying!

Update 4 November 2016:

The pub has closed, with Antic confirming last week: 'It is with sadness that we announce our leaving of the Ravensbourne Arms on Sunday the 30th October in advance of opening at our new home, EH Hadley, in central Lewisham in 2017'.

853 blog has lots more background, including on the planning issues

Here's a bit more historical detail about the building from the Heritage Statement submitted as part of the 2015 planning application: 'The Ravernsbourne Arms Public House is located on a corner block affronting Lewisham High Street, falling within the St Mary’s Conservation Area boundary. The site setting forms ‘Character Area 3’ of St Mary’s Conservation area... The area is characterised by its key civic buildings, urban street layouts and Victorian terraces with the key buildings affronting Lewisham High Street... The prominently situated public house building is not known to hold listed status. The construction is believed to have originated as a Georgian coaching inn but this construction is believed to have been badly damage in a fire and is thought to have been reconstructed during the early half of the 20th century'.

The building was included on Lewisham Council's 'Local List' in 2012,  with the report stating 'Whilst no additional statutory protection is provided to buildings on such a list, the list serves as a way of recognising the importance, in a local context of the buildings on the list, so that they can be properly considered when development proposals are submitted to the Council for determination'.

The listing report includes the following information:

'The Ravensbourne Arms, was built as the Coach and Horses in 1934. It is a substantial pub which occupies the plot between Legge Street and Romborough Way on Lewisham High Street. The principle elevation is Lewisham High Street but this building also addresses the streets to either side by continuing the pub frontage round either corner. This detail increases the impact on the streetscape of this building.

Made from red brick with plain clay tiled hipped roof it is in a simple domestic style with Arts and Crafts detailing. The ground floor is finished with small brown glazed tiles in a simple pattern and the motif of a coach and horses is included on the Legge Street corner. The building retains all of the original external detail including a dentiled course to the eaves, iron rainwater goods, windows but the former shop front from the off license, common in pubs has gone. It is easy to identify where it
was located by the timber panelling and its loss does not effect the significance of the building and the handsome contribution it makes towards the character of the townscape. This building meets the Local List criteria for local architectural and local historic interest'. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Anarchist Festival in Lewisham Odeon that never was - 1986

Lewisham Odeon opened as the Gaumont  Palace cinema in 1932, and was renamed the Odeon in 1962. As mentioned here before it was the scene of many iconic gigs before it closed in 1981, being finally demolished in 1991 to make way for a road widening scheme in the town centre.

In 1986, the Odeon was squatted and plans made for a London Anarchist Festival, to include films, bookstalls, workshops and a performance of Dario Fo's play 'Accidental Death of an Anarchist'. But it wasn't to be. I found this report of what happened in an issue of the Christian Anarchist zine 'A Pinch of Salt' (no.3, 1986) at the interesting Sparrows Nest digitial archive:

'The outing to the London Anarchist Festival was fairly surreal and bizarree. Planned to be held in the squatted Lewisham Odeon, the police raided the place the night before with a High Court injunction banning the Festival (anarchist paranoia has a strange habit of either being justified or perhaps self-fulfilling). So it was a farily deflated, undecided bunch of anarchists sitting outside the Odeon, wondering what to do next. The inside of the cinema was wonderful - a strangely floating space which hadn't seen a film in years but still the curtains seemed expectatnt... Eventually some people meandered to Greenwich Park and a rambling anarchist picnic was somehow held. The warm spring sunshine was subduing... Meanwhile the forces of law and order muster and clear all the lazy sun-soaked  anarchists out of the park onto Blackheath, where there was once a peasants revolt or something. However, nothing was particularly revolting on that sunny day'.

As The Ruinist mentions at HomelessHome the following day  'The festival decamped to The Ambulance Station [squat on Old Kent Road] for a discussion about whether the Station should become a London Anarchist centre. All seemed well with that during the discussions until a punkette who was living there said that the meeting would have to check with some guy who was living in a caravan in the yard whether using the squat as a centre would be okay. In classic anarchoid fashion, nothing ever came of the 3-hour debate and plans'

See previously on Lewisham Odeon:

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Thurston Moore at Goldsmiths

Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore is playing a night of improvised music with David Toop and Tania Chen at Goldsmiths in New Cross next month. The performance on 4 November 2016 takes place in Goldsmiths Great Hall  described by Goldsmiths as 'a place with strong experimental energy'. Well John Cage played there (in 1980) and so did John Cale (in 1963), so I guess so.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

'Dancing went on as the police kept watch' - Peckham 1967

'Denying police charges, an angry wife who stood with her husband in a court witness box, described a chief inspectors's evidence as a 'tissue of lies' after allegations that couples had been seen dancing through midnight at an unlicensed Peckham Road club. Plain clothes police had mingled with couples drinking and dancing at the Blue Ribbon Club, it was revealed at South London Petty Sessions, where Alan Lashley and his wife Lucille, appeared. The couple were summoned for allowing dancing in a premises not licensed for the purposes by the Greater London Council' (South London Observer, 19 January 1967).

Police gave evidence that there were about 70 people in the club, 'dancing to music played by a group. Other couples were sitting at tables drinking or listening to the Fabulous Fireballs group'. The couple were fined £75 each.

The report states that the club was 'once named the Limassol'. Anyone know any more about it?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Roman Stone Coffin in Deptford

You can spend many hours browsing round the old Ordnance Survey maps of London and elsewhere that the National Library of Scotland has made available, free of charge.

A feature of the 1893 map is that it includes some archaeological information, along with contemporary street plans. According to this map, a stone coffin was found in Deptford's Nelson Street, now Vanguard Street, in 1868.

A local Oxford Archaeological Unit survey, conducted in 2006 in relation to Reginald Square, has a bit more information about it:

'The line of Roman Watling Street, the road from Dover to London, is believed to have crossed the River Ravensbourne at Deptford and then followed the modern Deptford Broadway... The Dover Castle Inn excavations found evidence for Roman occupation on the north side of Deptford Broadway... A Roman building with a tesselated floor was found near the corner of Deptford Broadway and Deptford High Street during sewerage work in 1886... A probable Roman stone coffin was found in Vanguard Street, south of Deptford Broadway.. in 1868'.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Goldsmiths Rent Campaign

Students at Goldsmiths in New Cross are planning to step up their campaign for a reduction in rents. Some students are continuing a rent strike they launched last year, and next week Goldsmiths, Cut the Rent is holding a meeting to launch the campaign for this year.  The first meeting of the new term will take place on Thursday 20 October, 7 pm a the Stretch (Goldsmiths Student Union).

As  the campaign explained back in March: 'Rent in Goldsmiths’ halls averages at £147 a week, nearly three quarters of the median london student maintenance grant. Although Goldsmiths could opt to offer below market rents to undergraduates, it instead treats student rent as ‘tuition fees by stealth’, impoverishing both middle and low-income students while returning a profit for Goldsmith’s management. Furthermore, the sell off of many of the more ‘affordable’ halls at Goldsmiths to Campus Living Village, a private company whose lowest rent across london is £154 per week, means this trend of exploiting students for profit is only set to worsen.

On top of exploitative rents, conditions in many of the Goldsmith’s halls are unacceptable. As well as no hot water, broken kitchen equipment, pipes leaking sewage and aggressive responses from hall’s management when students request things to be fixed; parts of Raymont hall had no internet access for a period of 6 months, severely limiting residents ability to conduct their studies.

Rent is everyone’s problem: a recent study by Shelter found 53% of private tenants struggle to pay rent; in London 72% of tenants total income is spent on rent alone. Whilst this dispute may be in the university, the exploitation of tenants by landlords is causing immeasurable suffering to millions'.
Cut and Cap Rent banner at Goldsmiths, May 2016
Last month (16-18 September) Goldsmiths, Cut the Rent were involved in organising a Rent Strike Weekender. Held at the DIY Space for London (Ormside Street, SE15), the event brought together students from 25 colleges and housing activists. A rent strike at UCL earlier in the year did win some significant concessions from college management. 

Rent strike posters and graffiti from around New Cross and Deptford (photographed last month):

Goldsmiths rent protesters up on the roof

Monday, October 03, 2016

We live in Brockley baby - Roy Ayers comes to SE4

The latest mural in the Brockley area went up last week. Staring out from the side of Sids Plumbing and Heating Supplies (corner of Brockley Road and St Margaret's Road) is a portrait of US jazz/funk legend Roy Ayers, surrounded by lyrics from probably his best known track, Everybody Loves the Sunshine. It was pained by artist Richard Wilson. There's no particular connection with Ayers and SE London as far as I know, I believe it's just a matter of Paul and Siobhan from Sids being big Ayers' fans.

Although he  did he do that track... 

'We live in Brockley baby
Our time is now
We gotta make it, baby...
We live in Brockley, baby'

Update, January 2017:

Apparently Roy Ayers has played at least once in SE London - at the Albany in Deptford, I believe in April 1989. Anybody remember it?