Sunday, November 04, 2018

Autumn festivals - Feast of St Gregorios and Halloween

The end of October/beginning of November is a time for many religious, spiritual and popular festivals - Halloween, All Saints Day, Bonfire Night etc. I stumbled across one of the lesser known ones this weekend when I saw a procession heading over Telegraph Hill carrying banners and singing hymns.

procession in Gellatly Road SE14
 I believe the procession was linked to the festival of St Gregorios of Parumala being celebrated at St Gregorios Indian Orthodox Church, based in Cranfield Road, Brockley SE4. The church is the main UK centre of the Indian Orthodox Church (also known as the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church), linked to Orthodox Christian churches in Syria, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Armenia.. St Gregorious is the patron saint of this church and his feast day is the 4th November.

As for me, I just marked the turning of the seasons on October 31st with  few candles and putting a bird feeder on the apple tree. This year’s English summer seemed to go on forever  before suddenly shifting last week.

 ‘Samhain...The spirits  of place at this time have their own character. The skies are often thick with tumbling clouds, the fields are ploughed over, the dark earth rough and naked. Those creatures who would are now disappearing into their dens of hibernation, the summer birds have gone south. There is a silence, when the winds re still. The seas are high, the waves crashing upon the shores of our lands, rain wets the air and fills the rivers. It is important that we tap into how this makes us feel, how we respond to the coming winter – for we do, intuitively and subconsciously, just as much as the badger, house martin and field mouse, though we fight it with central heating and electric lights... setting out food for those creatures of the wild displaced by human dwellings…  affirming that we will fill the bird bath through the cold moons, all this can be done at this time’ (Emma Restall Orr, Ritual: a guide  to life, love and  inspiration, 2000).

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Boy who Stole Time - book launch at Crofton Books

'The Boy who stole time' is a new  young people's fantasy novel by Ladywell-based author Mark Bowsher (publicity says 'for fans of Neil Gaiman and Philip Pulman'). A book launch and reading is taking place on Sunday 28th October, 3 pm, at Crofton Books, 375 Brockley Road SE4 2AG. That's the excellent value second hand bookshop inside Crofton Park Library.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

More New Cross Faces from 1860s to 1900s

As mentioned before, I periodically look on Ebay and similar sites for interesting local photos (the ones here are all currently on sale, click links for futher details). I am particularly fascinated by the products of photographers' studios, of which there were a number on the New Cross Road in the Victorian/Edwardian era.

The first photo here is of a finely whiskered gentleman photographed by C.Goulder, Artist and Photographer, 341 New Cross Road (ebay link). Seemingly Charles Goulder was operating there in 1867, and at other premies in Deptford in the same period.

Elsewhere online I found this card from the photographer:

Often with these images we don't know who the subject is. What makes this next one quite intriguing is that there is some information, as the photo was sent as a postcard by the young man pictured. The photographer's address can be made on the back as 251 New Cross Road - I believe the photographer to be R & J Foster who had studios here and at 21 London Road, Greenwich

The postcard was sent from Peckham, on 4 January 1913 to a Miss Selina Cowen, 130 St James Street, Burnley (ebay details). The message reads 'My dear Selina, I am sending you my photo wishing a Happy New Year [loving?] brother Bennett'

The 1911 census has Selina Cowen, then aged 10, living at this address as the adopted daughter of Aaron (a tailor shopkeeper) and Annie Cowen. Intriguingly all three are stated to have been born in Russia, the parents having become 'naturalized British subjects' in 1895.  I would speculate that they could have been Russian Jewish emigres, Cowen was sometimes adopted as an anglicised version of Cohen.

I couldn't find any trace of a Bennett Cowen from this time, though maybe if his sister was adopted they could have had different names. As a long shot, there was a Bennett Cohen of around the right age (born c.1898) living with his father Abraham Cohen, another Russian born tailor, in Leeds in 1901 and 1911 Census.

The final photograph was taken by P. Luton of 24 New Cross Road in 1909. It shows the Swiss Gymnastic Society, London (ebay) - one of a number of societies at the time for Swiss people based in the capital.

See previous posts:

Rubber Johnny revival

We've mentioned late 1970s/early 1980s band Rubber Johnny before, including their residency in that period at the Royal Albert pub. Led by singer John Turner, the band grew out of the Deptford Albany and The Combination, the radical theatre project based there. They've started playing again recently and have gigs coming up this weekend (Friday 26th and and Saturday 27th October) at Greenwich Studio Theatre. This will include John Turner talking about music in the SE London area, which during that period spawned Dire Straits, Squeeze and the whole genre of  'Lovers Rock'. Details as follows:

'Rubber Johnny, a Deptford based band, started life as an interval trio for the Rock against Racism concerts at the Albany Empire Deptford in 1978. They are playing the Greenwich Studio Theatre on the Friday 26th and Saturday 27th of Oct at 7.30pm. From 1978 to 1983 they held residencies at local pubs in the area, played the London clubs and the University Circuit. On Hammer Records under the name The Alligators they released a single produced by Denis “Blackbeard” Bovell. Through the late 70s and early 80s they supported many benefits in the area. The original trio was John White harmonicas, Keith Moore guitar and John Turner on vocals.

The band’s Return in 2016 was as a result of a request from the Save Your local libraries Campaign and led to more performances in the pub scene of the area as well as a live CD (Return) of the current band in action. To the band's great amazement the Rubber Johnny material has been received with as great enthusiasm as it had ever been. The band is now Les Morgan drums, Joe Read bass, Steve Silverton guitar Ralph Winkler guitar, John White harmonica and John Turner on vocals. New songs have now been added to set.

This has led to the invitation to play the Greenwich Studio Theatre on Crooms Hill, Greenwich SE10 8E6 Tel: 020 8858 7755. Admission will be £10.00 on the door. During introductions John Turner will be talking about music in the area during the life of the band'.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

'Today South London, Tomorrow South London' - Deserter book launch

Since it started in 2014, South London site Deserter has been a refreshing slacker 'voice of degeneration... an aspirational lifestyle website for those with a predilection for doing f**k all'. Most recently this has included a guide to all of SE London Wetherspoon pubs.

Now they have book coming out- Today South London, Tomorrow South London by Andrew Grumbridge and Vincent Raison, published by Unbound:

'The authors, under their noms de plume, Dulwich Raider and Dirty South, record offbeat days out and half-remembered urban adventures featuring pubs, cemeteries, galleries, hospitals and pubs again, often in the company of their volatile dealer, Half-life, and the much nicer Roxy. Part guide, part travelogue, this book is a collection of these tales with the addition of new material that their publisher absolutely insisted upon. South London, that maligned wasteland where cabbies once feared to drive, can no longer be ignored. The South is risen!'

The book is being launched at Dulwich Beer Dispensary on Nov 1st at 7.30. Deserter IPA (yes they have their own beer, brewed in Penge,) will be served.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Press Art School, Forest Hill (1905-1960)

An interesting find on a second hand stall in Lyme Regis over the summer was this brochure for The Press Arts School, a correspondence course in drawing run from Forest Hill. The brochure is undated but internal evidence suggests it was published during or shortly after the First World War.

The Press Art School was established by Percy Venner Bradshaw (1877-1965), who had studied art himself at a Goldsmith College evening class. In the 1901 census he is shown as living with his parents at 128 Drakefell Road SE14 but moved to 37 Dacres Road in Forest Hill SE23 after his 1910 marriage at St Catherine's Hatcham church. 

The correspondence course was prompted by the success of a series of articles on drawing Bradshaw wrote for the Boys Own Paper. Founded in 1905, The Press Art School moved in 1911 to the Tudor Hall in South Road, Forest Hill SE23. This former mansion had been built in 1854/5 as The Red Hall, before becoming a private girls' school known as Tudor House school from 1865 to 1908.

The building housed the Press Art School until it closed in 1960. Much of it was demolished in 1961, though part of it remains as flats (the section shown on the right below).

At its peak the Press Art School was a major operation, training would be commercial artists and amateur enthusiasts who would send in their work for evaluation and criticism. By 1916, it had 3,000 students signed up and 20 staff. Many of the illustrators for UK newspapers and magazines started out with one of Bradshaw’s courses, including Norman Pett who created popular Second World War cartoon strip ‘Jane’ for the Daily Mirror. Sculptor Henry Moore took lessons while serving with the army in World War One. One of Bradshaw’s later students in the 1950s was Ralph Steadman who recalled in a 1989 interview with The Comics Journal:

‘I saw an advert which said, “The Percy V. Bradshaw’s Press Art School Course. You too can learn to draw and earn pounds.” So my mother and father who were by this time a little distraught because I didn’t have a proper job, and I didn’t know what I was going to do, said, “If you’d like to take the course, since you’re drawing now, we’ll pay for it.” It was 18 lessons: 12 lessons spread over 12 months on how to draw, and the other six months learning how to be a cartoonist. The whole course cost 18 pounds — a pound a lesson, something like that — very cheap. My mother and father paid for it and then I went into the forces and whilst I was in the forces I did the course. I wish I kept the letters from Percy V. Bradshaw to me because of my complaints about the old-fashioned style of the course, and he’s saying, “Ah, my boy, the principles of drawing never change.” He’d get me to draw a pair of boots, put them on a table and draw them in dots, a pointillism technique, and gradually build up a pair of boots, and that would give you a sense of tonality. And then I’d do these various exercises and send them back to him. The guy would do a fairly descriptive criticism of what was either wrong or right... the cartoon course was very interesting. What he said is, “What you need to do is go out into public places and look at the people and keep a sketchbook and that way you’ll learn something about caricature”’.

Bradshaw engaged other illustrators to comment on students work, the best known of these tutors being W.Heath Robinson.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art opens as Justice for Cleaners wins victory

The Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art is a new public gallery on the Goldsmiths campus in  New Cross (entrance via St James SE14). It is located in part of  the former Laurie Grove Bathhouse, including the water tower for the swimming pool which closed in 1991 (see history here

The opening exhibition features the work of Argentine-born artist Mika Rottenberg, much of it film-based. If the idea of contemporary video art sounds daunting, I recommend going to see this colourful and very accessible show. Some of it would be great for kids - one film shows long nosed men sneezing out rabbits - but it also poses deeper questions, particularly about women's work in the global economy. Several of the film pieces feature women engaged in obscure labours. There are cute rabbits assembled from pearly beads....

A woman is seen crushing coloured light bulbs, in the process creating a brittle collage.

 It is not always clear what the seemingly meaningless work is for, but somewhere we imagine a market is being fed. 

Of course there often seems to be a contradiction between the radical/critical rhetoric of some of the contemporary art world and its actual economy of wealthy collectors, corporate sponsors and poorly paid gallery staff. This contradiction played out at the opening of the new gallery on 7th September  when the Goldsmiths Justice for Cleaners campaign protested against Goldsmiths continuing to outsource its cleaning to the private company ISS. The general demand that cleaners should enjoy similar employment terms to directly employed staff was given additional impetus over the summer with a restructure of shifts threatening a further deterioration in conditions for cleaners at Goldsmiths.

A banner asked 'Who Keeps the Cube White?'

 Following the protests,  Goldsmiths last week announced its intention to end the outsourcing of cleaning - a great victory though the campaign has warned that some cleaners face hardship and job losses between now and the end of the contract. They have set up a hardship fund, saying : 'Goldsmiths management have recently announced that they will be bringing cleaning staff in-house after a six month transition period. However under the current management of outsourcing company ISS, at least 20 workers have been unable to return to work for a month following a shift pattern restructure. This has left many with crippling financial losses. A number of these workers are now facing or have already faced dismissal'.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

'Folk Songs for Peace' at Lewisham Town Hall (1964) with Ewan McColl & Peggy Seeger

In February 1964, famous folk singers Ewan McColl and Peggy Seeger performed at Lewisham Town Hall (Concert Hall) in Catford at a 'Folk Songs for Peace' benefit concert. I believe the couple were living in SE London at this time (and for many years later) at 35 Stanley Avenue, Beckenham BR3 2PU.

tickets from Janice Edmunds,  56 Vicars Hill, SE13 (Ladywell)

McColl and Seeger pictured at home in Beckenham, 1964 (source: Getty Images)

Proceeds from the event were for the London Committee of 100, the early 1960s non violent direct action body which organised sit down protests against nuclear weapons. It arguably peaked in December 1961 with simultaneous demonstrations at military bases including RAF Wethersfield in Essex where 850 of the 5000 demonstrators were arrested. Six organisers, the "Wethersfield Six", were charged with offences including conspiracy and incitement to breach the Official Secrets Act.  They were later jailed for 18 months. The same paper which reported the Folk Songs for Peace concert also reported on a Committee of 100 protest in January 1964 outside Wandsworth Prison, where one of the Wethersfield Six, Terry Chandler, was imprisoned.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Gill Roth and Andrew Clarke - Make Believe (and 30 years of making things happen in London)

Opening this week at Lewisham Arthouse, Gill Roth and Andrew Clarke present their joint exhibition 'Make Believe'  Gill and Andrew 'make work that blurs the edge between abstraction and representation, where the observable world meets the environment of the imagination. While drawing forms the core of Gill’s practice, Andrew’s figures emerge through a process of collaging and assemblage. Both work on paper in a way that embraces intuition, accident and play with recurring motifs hinting at inner bodily functions or states of mind' (see website for further details).

I had a chat with Gill and Andrew last week. Apart from the intrinsic interest of the exhibition itself, I want to highlight their role as long term 'cultural activists' in London (for want of a better word), helping to make interesting things happen for more than 30 years.

Gill and Andrew met at Maidstone College of Art in the 1980s, where their contemporaries included Tracey Emin, moving up to South London - where Gill had grown up in West Dulwich - shortly afterwards. Andrew did a printmaking course at Morley College, where Gill worked for a spell too.

Gill and Andrew at Maidstone College of Art

Andrew (left) at Maidstone graduation - Melvin Bragg warns art students of the 'hostile world' of market forces
This was a time when cultural work was enabled by a (fast disappearing) economy of benefits, free/low cost adult education, cheap housing (they lived for a while in the Gypsy Hill Housing Co-op) and cash in hand jobs. Like many other art students before and since, Andrew subsidised his own work by life modelling including for the artist Maggi Hambling.

Andrew got involved with legendary Brixton club the Mambo Inn, which ran at the Loughborough Hotel from the late 1980s to 1996. The club was best known for its African and Latin American music but also had a jazz thread running through it which Andrew helped contribute as DJ ‘Danny Polo’. He also designed some of the banners which defined the club’s strong visual image (I had some great nights out there myself in my Brixton clubbing days). Andrew was also able to combine his musical and artistic interests in this period by doing illustrations for Paul Bradshaw’s influential Straight No Chaser magazine. His involvement in music has continued ever since, including singing in 1990s bands Matilda and Charm.
Andrew at Mambo Inn at Loughborough Hotel
Answering an advert in Time Out which asked ‘Why Work’in 1985 led to Gill and Andrew joining ‘Build Hollywood and Film It’, a film/theatre collective operating out of an empty school in Chelsea. Build Hollywood worked for a couple of years making a movie that was never released, but they did make short films including a promotional video for Brixton Cycle Co-op. They also put on events including a comedy night at the Hackney Empire featuring Jonathan Ross and his Last Resort sidekick Dr Scrote. Later the pair were involved with putting on the Umbrella Club at the Diorama Arts Centre near Euston (where Andrew DJ'd along with Charlie Gillett and others), and organising a fundraiser variety night featuring Vic Reeves and Jack Dee performing early in their careers.
Umbrella Club banners and 1991 flyer - 'funk/soul/house/African/jazz/reggae/Latin/raggamuffin/rare groove'
Andrew's own acting involvement led him to perform at that most prestigious of South London venues - the old Den, home of Millwall before its demolition in 1993.  As part of the Bargain Bucket theatre company, Andrew provided pre-match children's theatre. They also put on a children's circus on Ladywell Fields. Alongside his creative work, Andrew trained to teach English as a Foreign Language and has been working with refugees in this field for many years.

Having worked for spells at Morley College, Camberwell Arts College and as an Edinburgh Festival volunteer, Gill meanwhile pursued a career in freelance journalism and arts PR, working initially with Julia Hobsbawm (thanks to an introduction while showing Quentin Tarantino around town on his first visit to London - it's a long story). Over the years she worked for many clients in the arts and museum world including Artangel, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Imperial War Museum

In 2005 they launched Cinetopia, a film night with a quiz, initially at the Crown and Greyhound pub in Dulwich. Later they moved it to the Hill Station Cafe on Kitto Road. This led on to them starting the popular New Cross and Deptford Free Film Festival, bringing their expertise in film, promotion and events.

Gill and Andrew had continued to practice their drawing and printing at various times through the 1990s, including exhibiting in an open show at the famous Cool Tan squat on Effra Road in Brixton (I went to some great parties there too but that's another story). Their relocaton to Telegraph Hill in the early 2000s with its thriving Open Studios scene inspired them to make more work and show it publicly.

Andrew Clarke mural at the Hill Station SE14  - Procession of the Manimals (2014)
Gill Roth paints scenery for Telegraph Hill Pantomime 'Babes in the Wood' (2012)

Andrew and Gill appreciate Lewisham Arthouse as one of the vanishing places offering cheap studio and exhibition space with a minimum of bureaucracy. While they don't have studios there, Gill has attended life drawing classes there for some time as well as more recently attending events organised by the London Drawing Group (who among other things run Drink and Draw sessions at Buster Mantis in Deptford). Gill says I have 'drawn people since I was a kid' but highlights the work of artists such as the London Drawing Group and Nicola Tyson who are doing interesting contemporary work in this medium and showing that 'you can draw in 2018 and still make sense)

Gill Roth, 'Anatomical Venus'

Make Believe runs from Saturday 1st September to Sunday 9th September 2018 (Opening Times: Weds – Sun, 12 – 6pm), with the Private view on  Friday 31st August. 6 – 9pm. Lewisham Arthouse is on Lewisham Way, SE14 6PD. Full details here:

instagram: @rothgill

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Kerry Andrew/You are Wolf at South East London Folklore Society

A real treat coming up at South East London Folklore Society on 13th September:

Old Ways, New Ways: using folklore and song in contemporary music and literature

Kerry Andrew is an award-winning composer, performer and writer who frequently draws on traditional folk song and stories in her work, whether it be opera, contemporary folk music or fiction. Under her folk guise, You Are Wolf, she has released two albums, inspired by birds and folklore (Hawk to the Hunting Gone) and freshwater folklore (Keld).

She won one of her four British Composer Awards for her community chamber opera, Woodwose, which drew on traditional lullabies from around the world and the wild man of the woods figure. In 2016, she was a British Council/PRSF Musician in Residence in China, making new work inspired by the European and Chinese folklore around foxes. Her debut novel, Swansong (published by Jonathan Cape this year to excellent press), is a loose reworking of the Irish/Scots folk song Molly Bawn.

In this talk, Kerry will talk about her sources of inspiration, from swans to waterfall banshees, wodwos to foxes. She will read from her novel and sing some songs!

This talk is held in the upstairs room of The Old King's Head in Borough & costs £5/1.50 concs. Bring some extra money to buy Kerry's book or a copy of one of her excellent albums!

Thursday, September 13 at 8 PM at The Old King's Head, Kings Head Yard, SE1 1NA (off Borough High StreetYou can book in advance by emailing or roll up on the night

I've been listening all summer to the great Keld album. The name comes from a Northern English word meaning “the deep, still, smooth part of a river”  and all the tracks have some kind of freshwater theme.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Who remembers the World Cup 2018?

Was it really only a month ago that the pubs of New Cross (and indeed of the whole country) were filled with excited crowds cheering on England in the World Cup? It seems like another age in another country now, and faded away so so very quickly, but there were some moments of collective joy along the way weren't there? So just to remind you here's a few photos from those heady July days.

Skehans, Kitto Road, SE14 - after England beat Colombia on penalties people poured out on to the street, singing 'football's coming home' and cheering as passing cars tooted their horns:

 Inside a packed Skehans for the England (2) Sweden (0) game. Standing room only and the most luv'd up atmosphere I have experienced outside of a rave (E for England?). Random strangers hugging each other and sharing round drinks (getting to the bar was difficult) like it was Club UK 1995. And exploding when England scored with beer going everywhere. There were a few Sweden fans in there too, yes including viking hat, but that was all part of the fun and there was no hassle.

It all began to go quiet during the Semi-Final against Croatia. I was in the White Hart when England scored which was pretty joyous, but things soon sobered up. The picture below is from The Montague Arms as time ran out for England. Nobody singing now...

I'm not totally sold on Billy Bragg's 'progressive patriot' notion of Englishness, but one thing that was clear was that the feeling in the pubs during those weeks was a million miles away from the racist, macho hatefulness of the post-English Defence League/Tommy Robinson crew.  Like the England team itself, the crowds were diverse, inclusive and good natured. How it would have turned out if England had won the World Cup... who knows?

Monday, August 13, 2018

Lewisham '77: Myth and Anti-Fascist History

Another year, another anniversary of the anti-National Front 'Battle of Lewisham'. I am posting this on 13 August 2018, the 41st anniversary of that momentous day. The following article was written last year to reflect on the day's significance in the aftermath of a series of events to commemorate its 40th anniversary. It was published in Issue 17 of the excellent Berlin-based 'Datacide: magazine for noise and politics'

Lewisham '77: Myth and Anti-Fascist History - Neil Transpontine (2017)

Forty years ago this summer [2017], one of the most decisive events in 1970s UK anti-fascism took place in South East London.

On 13 August 1977, the far right National Front (NF) set off on a march from New Cross to Lewisham in what was intended to be a major show of strength. Lewisham NF organiser Richard Edmunds had promised the NF’s ‘biggest-ever rally… Everybody will know that the Front is marching’, while national organiser Martin Webster had talked of the march as part of its racist and anti-communist struggle: ‘The Reds have had it all their own way and the only way you can fight Communism is to confront it. We believe that the multi-racial society is wrong, is evil and we want to destroy it’. Earlier that year the NF had won over 119,000 votes in the Greater London Council elections and, although it did not succeed in winning any seats, the party had cause to believe that it was a growing force.

In the event, thousands of people mobilised to oppose the march, and as it started from New Cross there was hand to hand fighting as anti-fascists broke through police lines and seized NF banners. The local paper reported:‘Suddenly the air was filled with orange smoke, and a hail of bricks, bottles and pieces of wood fell onto the Front from demonstrators and householders leaning out of their windows… At one point the Front marchers stopped. Half the marchers remained in Pagnell Street, afraid to walk into the hail of missiles… One young man, perhaps 16 years old, rushed into the Front ranks and grabbed a flagpole from one of them, broke it in half and held the pieces up while the crowd cheered. Others hurled dustbins and fence stakes into the Front column from close range’ (Kentish Mercury 18.8.77). In later clashes in Lewisham town centre, police used riot shields for the first time in England as they confronted anti-fascists and local young people. More than 200 people were arrested and many injured.

This year the 40th anniversary of what has become known as the ‘Battle of Lewisham’ was marked with a series of events in the local area initiated by the History department at the nearby Goldsmiths University. There were film shows, history walks, gigs, a photography exhibition and the unveiling of a plaque on Clifton Rise where anti-fascists gathered in 1977. The plaque read ‘Remembering the Battle of Lewisham – thousands united here against racism and fascism’. Ten years ago a similar series of commemorations was held to mark the 30th anniversary – clearly Lewisham ‘77 is not going to be forgotten, and many people in this part of London are rightly proud of its historical significance.

Its contemporary relevance is clear enough, with the far right resurgent in many parts of Europe and North America. In fact the unveiling of the plaque on 13 August 2017 took place on the same weekend as the white supremacist rally in Charlottesvillle, USA, and the murdered anti-fascist Heather Heyer was mentioned in the New Cross speeches.

Days like these should be remembered and can inspire us in the present. If people like us could inflict a defeat on fascists in 1977, we can do the same again. But contemplating seemingly unconditionally successful mass movements in history can also be demotivating. Measuring ourselves against the imagined actions of our semi-mythical ancestors, we can end up agonising about not being able to match their numbers let alone their deeds, lost in a daze of radical nostalgia for when times were apparently simpler and victories easier to grasp.

If we are not to be permanently disillusioned, we do need to think critically about the past and try to understand as far as we are able what really happened rather than settle for over-simplified myths. In the case of Lewisham in 1977, there have certainly been some of the latter.

While the anti-fascists clearly had the upper hand in the Battle of Lewisham, the extent of their success can be exaggerated. A common myth is that the National Front were prevented from marching that day. Socialist Worker declared in the immediate aftermath ‘They did not pass! The Nazis remained in the back street cowering behind massive police lines until they were finally forced to abandon their march before it was half completed’ (27 August 1977).

It is certainly true that the NF’s plans for a triumphant show of strength were fatally undermined, with the march starting in a chaotic shambles. But the demo was not entirely abandoned. Eventually, police, including some on horses, managed to clear a path for the bedraggled NF contingent to continue on its way through deserted streets with the opposition held back by police road blocks. Instead of a victorious mass rally in the town centre, their day finished with speeches in a car park. The NF did, however, make it to Lewisham, a testament not to their strength but to the determination of the police to allow them to march.

While the National Front were no more successful over the next few years in mobilising big numbers on the streets, they were not vanquished after Lewisham either. In fact, in April 1980 several hundred NF supporters staged another march in the area, heading from Forest Hill to Catford. As in 1977, they were protected by thousands of police who launched violent attacks on anti-fascist counter-demonstrators. A month before, on 2 March 1980, around 1000 people took part in an NF demo in nearby Peckham with racists chanting ‘the National Front is the white man’s Front, join the National Front’. By this point though the NF’s active support was identified primarily with young racist skinheads, and it is arguable that the association of its events with violence, as at Lewisham, did discourage a wider range of people from getting involved.

It is important to recognise that the NF did have some support in this period, even if this did not translate into a mass street presence. It is another myth that the entire community, black and white, came together to oppose the National Front in South East London in 1977. Accounts from the time and photographic evidence do show that there was an impressively diverse crowd in New Cross, made up of locals and others who travelled from across the country to be there. But the NF had chosen to march in that area precisely because it hoped to capitalise on simmering racism amongst some local white people. In a 1976 Deptford council by-election the National Front and its splinter National Party had achieved a combined vote of 44.5%. In the following year’s Greater London Council elections their combined vote in Deptford may have been only 14%, but part of the context of the Battle of Lewisham was that the NF was looking to regain momentum in that area. Then as now, treating fascism as some kind of alien virus risks ignoring the swamps of everyday racism where it can grow, including in working class communities.

Smoke bomb by the New Cross Inn, 13 August 1977

In the past few months, much of the debate about anti-fascism in the USA in particular has become polarised around the question of the role of violence. In Lewisham in 1977 there were similar arguments, and this is sometimes presented as being primarily a dispute between the Socialist Workers Party, who advocated attempting to physically prevent the NF from marching, and the Labour Party and Communist Party, who tried to persuade the Government to ban the march and then, having failed to do so, encouraged people to demonstrate in a different part of Lewisham and avoid confrontation.

It would surely be rewriting history to ignore the significant role of the SWP in Lewisham; they did argue strongly from the start that anti-fascists should meet in New Cross and attempt to prevent the NF from marching, and they established an ‘August 13 Ad Hoc Organising Committee’ to put this into effect. On the day they mobilised their supporters effectively, but a range of other radical groups did likewise with a similar perspective. Photos from the time, for instance, show banners from Socialist Challenge (paper of the International Marxist Group) and the Anarchist Black Cross in New Cross Road, as well as Darcus Howe of the radical black Race Today Collective.

The other main mobilisation was the march organised by the All Lewisham Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (ALCARAF), which did start some distance away and included local political and religious leaders. It would be a mistake, however, to see this as simply a liberal diversion from militant anti-fascism. ALCARAF was affiliated to the All London Anti-Racist Anti-Fascist Co-ordinating Committee (ARAFCC), made up of locally-based groups, (another was SCARF – Southwark Campaign Against Racism and Fascism), some of which were very militant. The ALCARAF march did provide space for those who wanted to demonstrate peacefully, but many within were determined to move on to New Cross afterwards to confront the NF. The route of the march was planned to finish near the NF meeting point in New Cross but, as expected, the police blocked it. However, ARAFCC had planned in advance for this and its stewards helped guide most of the march around police lines and on to New Cross.

One group associated with ARAFCC, Women Against Racism and Fascism, mobilised one of the largest contingents on the day. As Jenny Bourne recalls, ‘hundreds of us… met up at London Bridge to take the train to Ladywell. I remember the atmosphere – slightly nervous, slightly hysterical, lots of bravado and showing off as to who was wearing the hardest boots’. After taking part in the ALCARAF march, they headed to New Cross where the WARF contingent sat down in the main road to block the planned NF route – they were attacked by ‘mounted police, who from horseback, with long batons drawn, rained down blows on head after head – scattering us, beating us as they went, drawing blood and creating mayhem’.

So in Lewisham there was a range of different approaches to taking direct action against the fascists, and to making alliances, that cannot be reduced to a simple for or against violence equation. And of course many people who attended did not mobilise on the basis of a particular political line but responded to events as they unfolded. This included local black youth who were on the streets in large numbers in Lewisham town centre. For them, everyday racism at the hands of the police was as much an issue as fascist attacks and they took the opportunity to express their anger against them.

Even within the ranks of the SWP there were emerging differences about tactics. The party had initially encouraged the development of anti-fascist squads to defend meetings and paper sales against fascist attack, and these were in action in August 1977. In Manchester, a coach carrying NF supporters was attacked before it even set off to London. But in the aftermath of Lewisham, as the SWP prioritised the development of the broader Anti Nazi League with its Labour MPs and celebrity supporters, such activity was downgraded. Some of those who advocated it were to be expelled and denounced as ‘squaddists’ in 1981/2. This was the origin of the group Red Action who in turn played a key role in the foundation of Anti Fascist Action, carrying forward the militant anti-fascist approach into the 1990s.

13 August 1977 became known as the ‘Battle of Lewisham’ more or less immediately – it was described as thus in both The Guardian and the Daily Mail in the following week – but the notion of a Battle arguably does not do it justice. It implies a military encounter between two armies, with their generals and foot soldiers, not to mention their attendant mythologies of blood, heroism and glory. Physical fighting was a significant aspect of the day, but it was not the only one, and those taking part in it did so with various perspectives. While the Leninist/democratic centralist myth holds that movements are most effective when everybody moves in the same direction under one leadership it could equally be argued that what lifts days like Lewisham ‘77 above the usual routine demonstration is that they involve large numbers following different approaches which have a combined effect greater than the sum of their parts.

The point of subjecting events like these to historical scrutiny, and to a certain extent demystifying them, is not to diminish their importance or indulge in revisionist contrarianism. It is to recognise that in the past, as in the present, those resisting fascism have had to deal with contradictions, partial victories, and setbacks. The ‘Battle of Lewisham’ dealt a blow to the prestige of the National Front, and deserves to be commemorated as such, but it could not have vanquished the far right and it did not vanquish it. In different ways that battle has to be constantly refought. Fighting racism and fascism in 1977 was complicated! It still is.

(Sources for most quotes and facts cited above can be found at

For a detailed chronology of events in New Cross and Lewisham that day see:

For other previous posts on Lewisham '77 (there have been quite a few!), see:

'NF Demo Alert... The National Front are all set to parade their scummy views around South East London' - Phil McNeill in New Musical Express, 13 August 1977
[picture added to post, November 2022]

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Castle Owner and the 'Countess' of Gellaty Road SE14: a 1957 trial

In a sensational trial in 1957, a 52 year old man was prosecuted for shooting a 22 year old woman with intent to murder at 57 Gellatly Road SE14 (described in press reports as being variously in Peckham and New Cross).

The accused, Denys Eyre Bower (b.1905), was the owner of Chiddingstone Castle near Edenbridge in Kent. He had been in a relationship with Anna Lena White, a dentist receptionist, single mother and daughter of a bus driver who lived in Gellatly Road where she cared for her widowed mother. In court she stated that she had agreed to marry Bower but had called it off  due to 'disparity in ages'.

A couple of weeks later in September 1957, Bower arrived at her house in his sports car. White told the court that she had 'noticed the budgerigar perch was down' and turned to fix it before hearing a bang as Bower shot her and then shot himself. A policeman who lived opposite (at no, 50), Roger Harris, heard the shots and rushed to the scene. Both survived and were taken to the Miller General Hospital in Greenwich; White was later treated at the Brook Hospital in Woolwich.

Bower, who had been married twice before, was a former bank clerk and Baker Street antique dealer. He had bought Chiddingstone in 1955 using a £6000 bank loan. The relationship with White seems to have been built on a fantasy. The court heard that Bower had given White a 'completely fictitious' 'foreign name and a Continental ancestry'.  He had told police that she was 'the daughter of the Marquis of Grimaldi and was born in Monaco' and that 'her real name was Anna Lena Bagrielle Suzanne Grimaldi'. In other evidence it was said that it was White who initiated this - 'Miss White agreed that she told Bower that her name was Anna Grimaldi, that she came from Monaco, and that her father was a marquis. She also told him that she had been married to the Count D'Estanville, and that Chippy was her son by that marriage. She was introduced as the Countess D'Estanville to various people. She told Bower that the Count D'Estanville had died in Switzerland'.

White was no Countess though and had in fact been born in Camberwell on 6 April 1935;  her parents David White and Marion Clasper were married in Deptford in 1930.

Bower claimed that  he had shot White by mistake while showing her an antique pistol, and then shot himself on realising what he had done. This was rejected by the jury, as was the defence argument that as a Buddhist Bower wouldn't hurt any living thing.  He was found guilty of attempted murder, and sentencing him for life the judge noted that the bullet had narrowly missed White's heart and killing her.

Bower was released from prison on parole in 1962. While detained he won a libel action againat the Sunday Pictorial newspaper which had claimed he had a 'mental breakdown'. Back at Chiddingstone he continued to build his collection of Japanese, Egyptian and Jacobite antiquities until his death in 1977. His collection can be viewed at the castle to this day. Not sure what became of White, hope she went on to have a good life.

Bower pictured in 1956
(photo from Chiddingtsone Castle site)

(See reports in The Times, September 21 1957; October 31 1957; November 20, 21, 26 1957; July 7 1962).

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

'South London and Negro Emancipation' - 1863 anti-Slavery meeting at the Elephant & Castle

Events in the last few years have reminded us that there is still a lot of unfinished business from the American Civil War. The flag of the defeated Southern states is still a rallying point for racists, and since the start of the Black Lives Matters movement Confederate statues have been a  renewed focus of controversy.  Race and specifically slavery were at the heart of the rebellion of the South, something that was recognised worldwide at the time. Following President Lincoln's anti-slavery Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Karl Marx famously drafted an Address to Lincoln on behalf of the International Workingmen's Association.

Mass meetings were held across Britain in support, including one at the Elephant and Castle, as reported in the South London Chronicle (7 February 1863) under the headline  'South London and Negro Emancipation': 'On Tuesday evening [3 February 1863]  a public meeting of the inhabitants of South London was held at Taylor's Depository, near the Elephant and Castle, for the purpose of expressing sympathy with the cause of negro emancipation in the United States. The working classes, whom the bills specially invited to attend, mustered in such large numbers that it was found necessary to hold another meeting outside'.

The meeting was chaired by a Mr W J Haynes and the Rev. Mr Barker moved the resolution 'That this meeting heartily unites in the general joy and thanksgiving which have been called forth by the proclamation issued by the President of the United States on the 1st of January 1863 declaring "then, thenceforward and forever free" more than three million slaves' and that this decree 'entitles Mr Lincoln to the sympathy and the moral support of the friends of freedom throughout the world'.

Mr G. Thompson told the meeting that 'The rebellion, which now convulsed America, was simply and exclusively a slaveholders' rebellion... all the officers of the rebel army were slaveholders, and it was for their profit that this rebellion had taken place'. The Rev. J. H. Ryland 'created a great sensation by narrating several harrowing tales of cruelty perpetrated by Southern planters on their slaves'.

Taylor's Depository was next to the Metropolitan Tabernacle on corner of St George's Road
(site today of the London College of Communication)
Taylor's Depository was a removal company and warehouse, but the building seemingly also included a lecture hall: 'In consequence of the number of people outside being fully equal to the number which had got crammed into the spacious Lecture Hall of the building, and as this immense multitude seemed determined not to separate until they heard something in respect of the question which had called them together, means were adopted to convert a portion of the lower area into a place of meeting; but, as the  space so appropriated could only contain about half the number anxious to gain admission, the other half had to listen as best they could to what was said in the open air outside the buildng'. People 'stood patiently in the open air for over two hours and a half'.

The outdoor meeting was presided over by Mr Sarrell who gave an eyewitness account of slavery in the Southern States based on his travels there. He was a vesrtyman from St George's, the church in Borough High Street.

Copies of the resolution were forwarded to Lincoln's office via the American minister (ambassador), along with similar resolutions from other meetings - the letter to Washington is included in published diplomatic correspondence.  Earlier, on 12th December 1862,  'a crowded meeting assembled at the Lambeth Baths, Westminster Road, to express sympathy with the anti-slavery party in America, the chair being occupied by the Rev. Newman Hall. The meeting was addressed by the Chairman, Mr Murphy, Mr Evans, Mr George Thompson, Mr Law, Mr Parkes, the Rev J H Rylance (who attended as a deputation from the Emancipation Society), Mr Huntingdon, Mr Maxwell, the Rev W Hawkins, Mr F W Chesson, and William Andrew Jackson, late Jefferson Davis' coachman. Resolutions in favour of the Federal Government were unanimously adopted' (Anti-Slavery Reporter, 1st January 1863). Another 'crowded meeting' was held at the same venue on the 19th of February  1863 (Anti-Slavery Reporter, March 6 1863).

The William A. Jackson referred to above had worked as a slave in the household of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America. After escaping and fleeing to the north he was able to provide detailed information to the Union on Confederate plan, having often been present while Davis and officials were talking.

I assume the Rev J H Rylance at the Lambeth meeting was the same person as Rev J H Ryland at the Southwark meeting. Rylance was at one time the vicar of St Paul's Church in Westminster Bridge Road.

(thanks to John Levin/Anterotesis for spotting the South London Chronicle article)

Friday, June 29, 2018

South London Forever - Florence and The Machine

Possibly slightly biased, but the best track on Florence and the Machine's new album 'High as Hope' (released today) is 'South London Forever'. 

The opening lyrics go:

'When I go home alone
I drive past the place where I was born
And the places that I used to drink
Young and drunk and stumbling in the street
Outside the Joiners Arms like foals unsteady on their feet
With the art students and the boys in bands
High on E and holding hands with someone that I just met

I thought "it doesn't get better than this,
There can be nothing better than this
Better than this"

And we climbed onto the roof of the museum
And someone made love in the grounds
And I forgot my name on the way back to my mother's house'

The Joiners is obviously the famous Camberwell pub on Denmark Hill. I went to some mad 1990s parties round the back of there myself, remember seeing RDF and spinning around to techno in one of those gyroscope things.

The Joiners - photo by Philip C on Yelp
Florence Welch told the Sunday Times (15 June 2018) that the museum was the Horniman in Forest Hill:

'I think that song is about this… blink, almost. I was on the roof of the Horniman Museum, being a teenager, you know ‘woah’. Then I blinked, and 4 albums later, it’s “oh my God, there’s a whole other section of life I’m supposed to figure out. When do I do that?”. Obviously that's got lots of people thinking about the logistics and dangers of climbing on the roof - the main building is very high, maybe she meant the single storey grass roofed library building? Or maybe she used her Flo Fairy wings to hover up...

In another song on the album, 'Grace', Flo sings 'I don't think it would be too long before I was drunk in Camberwell again'. Hey hon we've all been there.

Florence did a photo shoot at William Morris's Red House in Bexley for recent Observer piece
(photo by Phil Fisk)
Makes me feel old but it's nearly ten years since I predicted that 2009 would be the year that 'red-headed young women from South London conquer the world' referring to Florence and La Roux. The latter's been a bit out of the limelight of late but has recently totally lifted the Whyte Horses track 'The Best of It' with a guest vocal.