Sunday, April 30, 2017

May Day 1894: Peckham anarchists in Hyde Park

'The May Day demonstrations - The London anarchists - Violent scenes'

'A demonstration arranged by the Social Democratic Federation was held today in Hyde Park. The processionists, who did not exceed 3000 in number,  were for the most part orderly, and included contingents from Camberwell, Hammersmith, Bow, Bromley, Deptford, Greenwich, etc. Among the speakers were Dr Aveling, Messrs Keir Hardie, W Morris, J H Watts, P Curran. Congratulatory telegrams were sent to workers assembled throughout the world urging them to neglect no means towards their emancipation from wage slavery, and to work unceasingly for the establishment of the international co-operative Commonwealth, in which all the instruments of industry will be owned and controlled by the organised communities. The International Anarchist Communist group from Peckham brought a black banner inscribed "away with authority and monopoly, with free access to the means of life".

The Commonweal Anarchists held a meeting close to the Federation meeting place. At one platform a speaker was hurled from his place and the red flag was torn to pieces, but, protected by the police, the speaker managed to escape before receiving further injuries. Several disturbances occurred, but none of a serious character. There was a large body of police in attendance. After the excitement had subsided the anarchists restarted the meeting, when speeches were delivered by Samuels, Mowbray, and Louise Michel, who was followed by a man named Tochatti. He was frequently interrupted with cries of "shut up" and finally thrown to the ground by a crowd, by whom he was roughly handled. The police, after much exertion, rescued Tochatti and started him in the direction of the marble arch, where he was again set upon, and received several ugly blows on the head and face. The police again intervened, and to Tochatti was eventually placed in a cab in a very exhausted condition and driven away.

(Daily Express, 2 May 1894; James Tochatti (1852-1928) was a Scottish-born anarchist living in Hammersmith. For more on the Peckham anarchists of this period see Pressure Drop in Peckham by Nick Heath at libcom; the Paris Communard exile Louise Michel's time in South London is covered in this earlier Transpontine post; see also William Morris and South London)

My historical overview of 'May Days in South London' (50 page pdf pamphlet) is available as a free download here

Friday, April 28, 2017

1977 'Battle of Lewisham' plaque

August this year sees the 40th anniversary of the demonstrations and clashes of the 'Battle of Lewisham' when thousands of people turned out to oppose a racist march from New Cross to Lewisham by the far right National Front. Goldsmiths is leading on a number of events to commemorate the 1977 protests which are recognised as a turning point in the fight against fascism at that time.

Among the initiatives is the installation of a commemorative maroon plaque on New Cross Road. But how should the plaque be worded? You can have your say by voting on a number of suggestions or indeed coming up with your own idea before midnight, this Sunday 30th of April.

I was involved in a similar commemoration on the 'Battle of Lewisham' 30th anniversary in 2007. This included a conference at Goldsmiths and a history walk which I helped lead and that included different perspectives from people who had been involved on the day. There were some great material produced and collected from all this - see the Lewisham 77 blog -  and Goldsmiths historian John Price hopes to build on it for this August's events.

To find out more about the project including how you can get involved and upcoming events, visit

Photo of police atempting to clear anti-racist protestors from Clifton Rise, 13 Aug. 1977 (© Peter Marlow) - in this photo you can see the New Cross House in the background and the corner of the New Cross Inn on the right. The protestors are clustered round what was then the public toilets on Clifton Rise.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Peckham Soul brings Togetherness to Beckenham

I love Beckenham Place Park with its green spaces, woodland and grand old mansion house, so good to see that there are some interesting things going on there to encourage other people to come along and discover it. Personally I mainly go there to run (among other things there's a newish parkrun every Saturday morning) but I might be tempted to try out something even more athletic with some northern soul moves - which I always imagine I am capable of after a few drinks...

'With the best in Northern Soul, classic Motown, Stax, funk and disco, your host DJ Craig Jamieson (Peckham Soul / South London Soul Train), takes you on a dancefloor trip through the world’s most life affirming music. A season of Peckham Soul events taking place in in the summer  splendour of Beckenham Place Mansion... In this time of nastiness, we say -, Trump…No, Togetherness …Yes!'

This weekend will feature a DJ set from Ben Ayers from Cornershop, after that the monthly line up will include: 

May 27th Andy Lewis (Paul Weller Band & Acid Jazz) DJ Set
June 24th Special Guest T.B.A
July 29th Eddie Piller (6 Music & Acid Jazz)
Aug 26th Belle & Sebastian (Chris Geddes DJ Set)
Sep 30th Special Guest T.B.A

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Cutty Sark - Camberwell Now

Last weekend 40,000 people including both myself and the world's greatest endurance runners ran round the Cutty Sark in the course of the London Marathon. The week before thousands more were in the area for the Tall Ships festival. Since the ship was first put in in dry dock in Greenwich in 1954 it has become an iconic part of the SE London landscape.

The Cutty Sark was built on the Clyde in 1869 and in its heyday transported tea and possibly opium between Britain, China and India. For me, it has an ambivalent meaning as simultaneously a loved local landmark (mile 6 and a bit of the marathon no less); an impressive product of the ingenuity of human labour (my dad did his engineering apprenticeship in the Clyde shipyards, obviously in a later period, so I have a romantic appreciation of their products);  a vehicle of both colonial plunder and global connections.

Some of this ambivalence is expressed in the song Cutty Sark by Camberwell Now from their 1983 album Meridian (1983):

I dream of empire, I dream of sailing ships
A fortune beneath their decks
Heavy with cargo, copper and ivory

I cross the ocean from one land to the next
I trade the space between, I cross the ocean
I trade the space between

Up in the crow's nest or down in the hold
I hear the ocean sing to me
It sings to me of another way of life
I ignore it, I choose to ignore it

I work with chart, compass, latitude, longitude
A world of reference points
To cross the ocean, measure the space between

Still this singing insists and insists
Won't go away, won't leave me be
It sings to me of another way of life
I ignore it, I choose to ignore it
I ignore its melody

Camberwell Now were formed in 1982 by Charles Hayward and others previously involved in influential experimental band This Heat.

Friday, April 14, 2017

New Cross & Deptford Free Film Festival 2017

Next weekend sees the start of The New Cross & Deptford Free Film Festival, featuring 31 free film screenings in the ten-day period starting 21st April. According to the organisers:

'The festival starts with a bang at the newly refurbished White Hart pub in New Cross, with the screening of comedy-drama Chef, followed by DJs until late. From then on, you have the choice of up to three films per day.

Amongst the many highlights is the outdoor bicycle-powered screening in Telegraph Hill Upper Park, which has become an annual staple in the festival. This year the festival chooses to celebrate the late great Gene Wilder, and promises a chocolatey treat of wonder, with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory showing on the first Saturday in full technicolour. Your pedalling helps to power the film so your attendance is required!

Our second open air bike-powered event aptly takes place on the commuters’ cycle route in Folkestone Gardens. With all those bikes powering the film it had to be the right film choice: Breaking Away is about bike racing, as well as growing up.

Another highlight is Reservoir Dogs, which hits its twenty-fifth anniversary this year. Can you believe Tarantino first hit the big screen 25 years ago? You are invited to dress accordingly for this film screening at one of the new units in Deptford Market Yard'.

Some of the people involved in the Festival have already got into the spirit of things, making a short Deptord Dogs promotional trailer.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Folk and more at last weekend of 2017 Telegraph Hill Festival

The final weekend coming up of the 2017 Telegraph Hill Festival, plenty of events still to come - see programme for full details. Its open studios weekend, a perfect opportunity to see some local art and nose around other people's houses (go on, admit it). 

I missed the South East London Folk Orchestra (SELFolk) a couple of weeks ago when they played outside at the London Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve on Vesta Road (pictured), but they are back on Saturday 8th April at the Telegraph Hill Centre, Kitto Road, SE14 from 2.00pm-3.00pm. There may be dancing, there will definitely be folk tunes, tea and cake. I took my mandolin along to one of their early sessions a couple of years ago at the Old Nun's Head and have been meaning to go back ever since.

On Sunday 9 April, 11.00am-12.30pm, Malcolm Bacchus of the Telegraph Hill Society will be leading a guided tour of the area focusing on its architecture and history. Meet in St Catherine’s Churchyard. 

Also on Sunday there's the intriguingly named 'Bilingual Cake' from 2.00pm-4.00pm at Telegraph 
Hill Centre - actually a session on raising bilingual children (£3/£1 concessions). In  amongst London's linguistic wealth this should be no big deal, but in the post-Brexit landscape where every two-bit racist feels emboldened to express their views even this can be a target. On the Nunhead Rocks facebook group last week, somebody described a nasty event in East Dulwich:  'I was walking along doing my shopping in Sainsbury's talking to my daughter in Spanish and a lady has shouted at us "speak English". It is very upsetting to experience such a horrible comment in a community I think is more open minded than that'.  I think I would reply in English to a comment like that, probably with some Anglo-Saxon swear words including a reminder to 'mind your own f*ing business'.

Update (4/6/2017):

Here's a couple of photos of the South East London Folk Orchestra playing outside the Telegraph Hill Centre on  8 April 2017 - yes there was dancing in the street in the Kitto Road spring sunshine.


Tuesday, April 04, 2017

13 Dead and Nothing Said - New Cross Fire Exhibition at Goldsmiths

The death earlier this week of Darcus Howe led to several mentions in obituaries of his role in helping to organise the Black People's Day of Action, a major demonstration called in response to the 1981 New Cross Fire.

Photograph by Vron Ware (Autograph ABP)

By coincidence an exhibition documenting that demonstration is currently on display at Goldsmiths in New Cross, just a few hundred metres from the scene of the fire. '13 dead and nothing said' 'presents a body of photographs taken by Vron Ware documenting the Black People’s Day of Action on 2 March 1981. The images bear witness to an historic moment of community organising and resistance in post-war Britain. In the early hours of Sunday 18 January 1981, a fire at 439 New Cross Road resulted in the deaths of 13 young black Londoners as they were celebrating the 16th birthday of Yvonne Ruddock, one of the victims. One survivor died nearly two years later, bringing the total loss of life to 14.  In the face of public indifference towards and negative media coverage about the loss of 13 young black lives, as well as perceived inaction on behalf of the police to apprehend suspects, hundreds of people met on 25 January 1981 at the Moonshot Club and marched in protest. The New Cross Massacre Action Committee was set up and plans were made for the Black People’s Day of Action on 2 March 1981' in which 15-20,000 people marched from Fordham Park in New Cross into central London. 

Leaflet for the march, announcing the start in 'Fordham Park next to Moonshot Community Centre, Pagnell Street SE14'. The address of the New Cross Massacre Action Committee is given as 74 Shakespeare Road SE24 - this was the office of Race Today, the radical black magazine edited by Darcus Howe.

I have been to a few exhibitions in this space and was expecting more of the same i.e. a few photos hung on the wall. But this is different, a well designed and thoughtful display that squeezes a huge amount of content into this corridor. As well as photographs the exhibition features fascinating archive material loaned by the George Padmore Institute including documents from the New Cross Massacre Action committee, the Metropolitan Police and contemporary press accounts. It also includes reflections on the events from Linton Kwesii Johnson, Paul Gilroy and others.

List of the victims of the fire from exhibition and 'The Declaration of New Cross' made on the day of the demonstration: 'The national authorities in Parliament and Government... ignored the tragedy of the families of the dead and injured':

Stewards Instructions for the day, including the route of the march - it went from New Cross, through Peckham and Camberwell, up Walworth Road to Elephant, over Blackfriars Bridge, down Fleet Street (then centre of the newspaper industry) and into the West End, finishing in Hyde Park.

Relatively minor clashes near Blackfriars led to exaggerated and frankly racist press reports, and the exhibition reproduces some fo the headlines such as 'Black Day at Blackfriars' and 'Day the Blacks ran riot in London' (The Sun).

'What explains the silence that you see in the newspapers immediately afterwards is the fact that – I can't translate this into something polite really – that the deaths of 13 young black people don't matter because the value of their life is lower. And I think that at the beginning of 1981 we were trying to say that these black lives matter, you know? If our children die we feel the same pain that you feel'  (Paul Gilroy, 2015)

Flyer for an event the weekend before the march, organised by the Steve Biko Youth Organisation and featuring Ras Messengers and Jah Shaka, as well as a film about Malcolm X.  This took place at 190 Evelyn Street, Deptford.

I strongly recommend that you try and see this exhibition before it closes. It is located in the Richard Hoggart building that is the main old building at Goldsmiths on Lewisham way. Go into the main entrance and follow the corridor either left or right round to the back of the building where the Kingsway Corridor joins the left and right hand sides of the buiding.  It is free of charge and anybody can freely entered the building seven days a week from 9 am to 9 pm. I believe that the exhibition continues until 14 May, though note that the college is closed over Easter from 13th to 18th of April (full details here)

For more background on the New Cross Fire, see these previous posts:

.Les Back from Goldsmiths discusses the events and the exhibition: