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.