Saturday, November 30, 2019

New Lewisham 1977 Mural (and the Clifton Rise toilets)

A new mural was unveiled last month at Goldsmiths commemorating the August 1977 'Battle of Lewisham' when anti-fascists mobilised to oppose a march by the far right National Front from New Cross to Lewisham. Designed by Ted Low in collaboration with local community groups, the mural is a montage of images from photographs taken on the day - including the 'All Lewisham Campaign Against Racism and Fascism' banner and clashes in New Cross Road and Lewisham town centre.

At the centre of the mural, holding a megaphone, is Darcus Howe. At that time editor of Brixton-based Race Today magazine, he was to play an important role in the movement after the New Cross Fire a few years later in 1981. The image comes from a photograph by Syd Shelton showing Darcus Howe standing on top of the public toilets on Clifton Rise.

Another photo taken around the same time facing in the other direction shows the crowd on New Cross Road, with New Cross Inn behind the speaker and across the road the site of what is now The Word Bookshop on corner of Laurie Grove (somebody in front row holding up a cassette recorder - would be great if tape of speeches still exists!).

The toilets get a mention in an Irish Times (13/8/1977) report on preparations for the demonstration : 'A public convenience in Clifton Rise, Deptford is to be used as a cell-block if there is widespread violence, the attendant, Mr Ron Edwards, has been told. Right-wingers would be led to the Gentlemen and Left-wingers to the Ladies'. The same report mentioned that 'For the first time police will have the use of special riot gear, heavy duty plastic shields and helmets'. The mural includes an image of the riot shields in use in Lewisham town centre, their first deployment in the UK outside of Northern Ireland. But with thousands of anti-fascists blockading Clifton Rise, any plans to use the toilets (if true) must have been abandoned.

The mural launch at Goldsmiths on 26 October 2019 also included a reception with reggae DJ set from Tessa Pollitt, former bassist with The Slits. 

There were a view veterans from 1977 present, including photographer Homer Sykes whose work is also featured in the mural. A collection of his photographs from the day has been been published by Cafe Royal Books.

According to the radical philosopher Alain Badiou, a feature of a historically significant Event is that it inspires a kind of 'fidelity' amongst those inspired by it, a loyalty to its purposes that is ongoing rather than a historical memory of a frozen past. Lewisham '77 has certainly inspired such fidelity, with a series of local events to mark its 30th anniversary (in 2007) and 40th anniversary (in 2017) explicitly relating the 1977 demonstration to contemporary struggles against racism and the far right.

Dr John Price, Head of the Department of History at Goldsmiths, said: “This vivid public artwork, commemorating an important event in the history of anti-fascism and anti-racism in the UK, will stand as a permanent reminder of what can be achieved when communities come together to resist and oppose bigotry in all its forms. The Battle of Lewisham was south London’s Battle of Cable Street and it is fitting that both events are now marked with commemorative plaques and major pieces of public art.” The mural is displayed on the side of the Goldsmith library on Lewisham Way.

There's lots about Lewisham 1977 on this blog, my main reflections on it are in an article I wrote for Datacide magazine: Lewisham '77: myth and anti-fascist history. For everything else at Transpontine scroll through here

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Southwark Spain Shop, Walworth Road: anti-fascist solidarity in South London

Edith Tudor-Hart (1908–1973) was an Austrian photographer who studied at the Bauhaus. Born Edith Suschitzky, she came from a left wing Jewish background and fled rising fascism to move to London having married Alex Tudor-Hart in 1933.  They lived for a while in Brixton where she had a photography studio. Alex became a GP and later went to Spain during the Civil War as part of the anti-fascist British Medical Aid Unit. Edith developed her practice as a documentary photographer, not to mention apparently helping to recruit Kim Philby to spy for the Russians.

A recent display at Tate Britain features some of her work, along with photos by her brother Wolfgang Suschitzky (a photographer and cinematographer who worked on the 1971 film 'Get Carter' among others). Both of them captured/constructed some great images of London life, but one image in particular caught my attention:

Tudor-Hart's image shows something called the 'Southwark Spain Shop', with the caption stating that it was taken in 1937. As the shop in question is covered in posters there is quite a lot of information in the photograph itself. Messages include 'Spain is fighting for you', 'Buy a tin of food, we will send it it Spain', 'Arms and food for Spain', 'Please step inside and see what Spain means to you'. It is obvious that the shop is in support of the anti-fascist side in the then-raging Spanish Civil War. But where was it? And what was the local context for the shop?

In terms of location there are some clues in the photograph. Posters on the seemingly vacant property next door advertise a dance at Manor Place Baths, situated off the Walworth Road and a major venue for public meetings, dances as well as swimming.

To dig further I spent some time looking through the online archive of the Daily Worker from this period, the newspaper of the Communist Party of Great Britain. It took a while, but I have confirmed the address. A report in the Daily Worker states 'Outstanding features of Southwark's Spain fortnight, which began yesterday, are a meeting at Manor Place Baths, February 13 and a dance at the same place a week later, and the opening of a Spain shop at 174 Walworth Road SE17'. The date of this article is 7 February 1939 so pretty sure that the date on photo caption is incorrect (of course it's possible that there was another shop in 1937 but seems unlikely and there's no trace of such in the Daily Worker).

A few days later the same paper advertised the 'Aid Spain' meeting at Manor Place Baths on 13th February with Ellen Wilkinson, Fred Copeman (Lewisham volunteer with the International Brigades) and Langdon-Davies, with an appeal to 'Bring food, clothes, money to meeting and to Spain Shop, 174 Walworth Road. Volunteers needed day or eve'. The same issue mentions another Spain Shop in Hackney at 122 Upper Clapton Road E5, as well as a 'Meeting for Spain' at Bermondsey Town Hall, also on 13th February to 'Welcome back International Brigade convoy' (Daily Worker, 11 February 1939). There was also a 'Help defend Spain in S.London!' rally at Lewisham Town Halll on 20th February (also with Copeman as well as Vernon Bartlett MP), and at Greenwich Baths on 10th February, like the Bermondsey meeting to 'Welcome International Brigade Convoy' (Daily Worker, 10 February 1939).

174 Walworth Road was just around the corner from Manor Place Baths, just up from the still standing Tankard pub at number 178 on the corner of Amelia Street.  The 1953 Report of the Medical Officer of Health for Southwark shows that 174 Walworth Road was one of a number of ‘unfit and insanitary premsies’ demolished in 1953'.

Solidarity with Spain in South London

As is clear from above, the Southwark Spain Shop was just one aspect of a wider local anti-fascist Spanish solidarity movement which was of course part of an international movement that witnessed people travelling from many countries to join the fight. There are many other references in the Daily Worker to local events in this period, here are some examples:

- Southwark Amalgamated Engineering Union held a public meeting ‘Support Spanish Medical Unit’ showing the films ‘Defence of Madrid’ and Call to Arms (DW 20/3/1937)

- ‘Southwark! Support Spain by coming to CP Dance, Friars Hall, Blackfriars Road. Tonight, 8.0. Ritz Revels Band. 1s’ (DW 20/3/1937).

- 'With the object of rousing support for a Spanish Medical Aid Committee... Southwark Communist Party  is organising a meeting to be held at Manor Place, Walworth Road on April 5, at 8 pm. All Southwark workers are urged to attend' (DW 30/3/37)

- 'Lambeth and Southwark Ambulance for Spain - Meeting, Victory Place School, Walworth. Tuesday, May 25, 8 pm. Speakers: G.R. Strauss MP, Councillors L. Styles, Searson and Gillian' (DW 24 May 1937)

‘Lambeth and Southwark Ambulance for Spain – Dance, Sat. May 29, 7:30 to 11:30, Henry Fawcett School (opp. Horn’s), Kennington Road’ (DW 28/5/37)

‘Southwark and Lambeth Spanish Medical Aid Committee – demonstrate to Trafalgar Square from Kennington Church, Sunday July 11, 2:00 pm (DW, 10/7/37)

'Southwark supporters of Spain's fight have formed a branch of the International Brigade Dependants' Aid Committee... "Inspired by or 15 Southwark comrades who are fighting in Spain and in memory of J.B.Dunbar, who gave his life fighting for democracy in Spain"' (DW 27/1/1938)

'Southwark Aid Spain Dance, Manor Place Baths, Walworth Road tonight. 1s. Appearance of Teddy Joyce, Mayor of Southwark, Geo. Isaacs, G.A. Strauss, Lewis Silkin. Licensed Bar. 26 valuable prizes, including overcoat, frock, watches, table lamp etc' (DW, 25/11/38 - same issue also mentions Communist Party meeting on same day at Brockley Co-op Hall on 'Spain and Chamberlain's policy'.

In June 1939 the Dramatic Section of the Building Trade Workers' Sport Association put on a play adaption of socialist novel The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists at the Co-operative Hall, Rye Lane, Peckham to raise funds for the Aid Spain Committee. All the actors were bricklayers or carpenters. The lead was Alf Goddard, a brickie from Camberwell, and the producer Dan Telfer, also a bricklayer (Daily Herald 15/6/39)

Update: on twitter @catford_se6 has noted this old photo of the Tankard on pubmywiki. On the right of the photo you can see the stonework of the shop and the barbers pole visible on the shop photo - there was a Scott Hyman, hairdresser, listed there in 1915.

Related posts:

Bill Alexander, Sydenham International Brigadier
Jessica Mitford in Rotherhithe (and Esmond Romilly in Spain)

[The Edith Tudor-Hart photography show is at Tate Britain closed in November 2019]

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Deer in Brockley (2019) and Catford (1928)

I was delighted by reports over the summer of a muntjac deer being spotted in the Telegraph Hill/Brockley area. Specifically in August there were apparent sightings in Dalrymple Road, Endwell Road and in a garden on Telegraph Hill close to New Cross railway cutting from where Jack Cornish posted an image on twitter. One hypothesis is that the railway line acts as a wildlife corridor along which deer could move into the city from the countryside.

It would be great if deer could run wild and free in this part of the world Any deer at loose in London today would probably find it quite a frightening experience. Nothing really new in that – we mentioned here before about a deer jumping through a front room window in Hither Green way back in 1915. Here's another sad tale this time from 1928:

'Deer hunt through streets: London flower seller’s capture (Irish times, 26 March 1928)

A young deer, torn and bleeding, suddenly appeared in the streets between Catford Bridge and Rushey Green, London, last Saturday. Chased by dogs, it jumped over walls and railings, and ran through gardens in front of houses. It was eventually captured by a flower seller named Haylor who, carrying it under his arm, got on a bus and took it to Lewisham police station.

Because of the deer’s severe injuries, thought to have been caused by jumping through barbed wire, it was handed over to a butcher to be slaughtered'.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Capillary Tissues

Capillary Tissues, sound performances in the APT gallery and studio of artist Victoria Rance as part of the Deptford X festival, 2nd November 2019.

Lia Mazzari/David Bloor/Charlotte Law:

Costumes by Victoria Rance.

Offerings to goat god Pan and the Goddess alongside Deptford Creek

Phil Maguire /Mark Lyken/ghostly cassette technology:

David Bloor/a box of tricks: