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?

Music Monday: Goat Girl

South London band Goat Girl have recently signed to Rough Trade after making some noise locally with gigs at The Montague Arms, Peckham Safehouse and elsewhere. Actually one of them used to live opposite me on a certain street in SE14.

Their first single, Country Sleaze, is just out and they are launching it later this week on Thursday 6th October 2016 at the Windmill in Brixton