Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Deptford's runaway slaves

The Runaway Slaves project based at the University of Glasgow is gathering information from one key source: adverts placed in 18th century British newspapers offering a reward for the return of black people who had run away. Some runaways were working as household servants, others on ships. All were treated as property to be captured and brought back to their owner.

Searching on the database, I have found 18 adverts which mention Deptford, covering 23 runaways - summarised in the table below.

As an example here's an advertisement placed in the the 'Public Advertiser' on 13th March 1759. Two men, Thomas Douglas and Theodore Legrass, are said to have 'run from on board the Trueman at Deptford'. This was a ship docked at Deptford, with the runways 'belonging to Capt. Nicholas Comyn'. Another advert from the same year mentions another runaway from the same ship, with the information that 'whoever apprehends the said Negro Slave and brings him to Mr. Comyn, at his House in Paradise Street, Rotherhith, shall receive three Guineas'.

Taken together these adverts tell us something about the relationship between Deptford and slavery. Firstly with its docks and shipyards, Deptford was a point on the maritime network linking the key sites of enslavement in Africa, the Caribbean and America. Adverts mention ships at Deptford bound for or from Jamaica, Barbados and Maryland.

Secondly, Deptford was a place to escape and to hide. Escaping from ships at sea is very difficult, when they reach land there is a window of opportunity and quite of a few of these cases relate to people leaving ships while moored at Deptford. Those escaping may have hoped to get on board another ship and leave the country - a couple of adverts mention runaways potentially making their way to Gravesend for this purpose. Or they may have decided to try their luck 'disappearing' in London. One advert mentions that 'it is imagined they are still in the neighbourhood of Deptford', suggesting that this was a place where black people could stay without immediately standing out - there were certainly other black people including former slaves living locally at this time.

Finally, these adverts show how large parts of society in Deptford and elsewhere were implicated in slavery and this case in the hunting down of runaways.  The newspapers printing adverts, the coffee houses and pubs where slaves or information were to be brought (the Angel and Still pub in Deptford is mentioned), the docks and the ships were all involved one way or another. In the case of a ‘little black Indian Boy' in 1772, the advice was simply to  'bring him to the Porter of Deptford-Yard'.




‘a Negro man of middle stature, well set, full face, speaks very broken English’


‘Deserted Sunday the 25th of this instant Sept. from the Ship Maryland Merchant, lying at Deptford Red-house’ [the Red House, later the Victualling Yard, was located where the Pepys Estate now stands]

‘A Negro Boy about 12 Years old, call’d James Pancridge’


‘Went away from his Master Captain Jonas Hanway, Commander of Her Majesty’s Ship the Tilbury at Deptford’ [HMS Tilbury was a Royal Naval ship built at Chatham dockyard and launched in 1699 and broken up in 1726]

‘A Black, by name Harry, about 21 years of Age, his Head half shaved, a cut in his Face by the kick of a Horse, bandy Leg’d


'Run away from on board the S[a]muel, R. Holland Master from Barbadoes then lying at Deptford'

‘a Negro Man named Lime-house, aged 32 Years, born in Guinea, smooth faced, with short thick Fingers, about 5 Foot 6 Inches high’


‘Run away the 9th of September last from on board the Ship Alexander, lying in the lower Wet Dock near Deptford’

‘an Indian Black named Will Ralph, aged about 18 or 20 Years, middle sized, wearing his own Hair which is inclin’d to Curl’


‘Run away the 3d Instant from on Board the Ship Arden lying at Deptford and bound to Maryland…  Whoever brings him, or gives Notice where he is, (so that he be taken) to Captain Richard Read Commander of the said Ship at his House in Rotherhith, or to Mr John Bodicoate next Lloyd’s Coffee-house in Lombard-street, shall have 10 s. Reward’.

‘A Well-set Negro, commonly call’d Sugar, Aged about Twenty Years, Teeth broke before, and several Scars in both his Cheeks and Forehead’


‘absented from his Master, whoever secures him, and gives Notice to Benjamin Maynard at the Angel and Still at Deptford shall have a Guinea Reward’

‘a black Indian Boy…  He has a Scar in his right Cheek, a Piece out of one of his Ears, and a dark Coat with Brass Buttons’.


‘went from his Master, having robb’d him, whoever will give Notice to Mr. Brook’s, Cutler in Mark-lane, London, Mr. Hyate’s at Deptford’

‘a Black Maid, named Flora, alias Lucy, aged about twenty Years, mark’d betwixt the Eyes and on her Chin with small black Strokes, much blacker than any other Part of her Face, likewise on her Arms, after the Manner of the Country from whence she came’


‘absented from Mrs. Cuming, in Union-Street, Deptford, the 26th of May last’

‘a Negro Man, named Yok, speaks French, and very little English, low of Stature, bow legged. Also, another named Peter, of middle Stature, speaks French and English’


‘run away from the Ship Nevis Planter…  Whoever will bring the above Negroes on board the said Ship at Deptford, or give Intelligence where they may be had, shall receive two Guineas per each’

‘Negro Slave, named Theodore, speaks the French Tongue, born at Martinico, about 5 Feet 6 Inches high, had on when he run away a blue Jacket, and a green one under, wearing a Hat and Wig’


‘run away on Sunday Night the 11th inst. from on board the Truman, now in Mess. Well’s Dock, Deptford… Whoever apprehends the said Negro Slave and brings him to Mr. Comyn, at his House in Paradise Street, Rotherhith, shall receive three Guineas Reward with reasonable Charges…It is imagined he may attempt escaping on board some of the Foreign Ships now in the River; the Clearing Officers at Gravesend are requested to examine the said Ships’

‘a Negro Man, named Thomas Douglas, belonging to Capt. Nicholas Comyn: he is about 25 Years old, 5 Feet 6 Inches high, well-set and well-limbed… And at the same Time for Theodore Legrass, who run away from the said Ship’


‘Run from on board the Trueman at Deptford… Whoever apprehends the said Negro Man, and brings him on board the said Ship, will be paid Ten Guineas…It is imagined they are still in the Neighbourhood of Deptford’

‘the following Negro Men, viz. Boatswain, Johnny Mass, Jack Black, and Harry Green; they are all stout able young Men, about 5 Feet 8 Inches high, and had on when they went away blue Jackets’


‘absented themselves yesterday from on board the Ship Hampden, Richard Mackenzie, Commander, while she lay repairing in Stanton’s Dock, near Deptford… it is imagined they are gone down to Gravesend, and will endeavour to get away in some outward-bound Ships’.

‘a Negro Man, named Peter, about 5 feet 10 Inches high, pitted with the Small-pox, speaks good French, (but no English) had on a blue Jacket and blue Cloth Cap, checked Shirt and Woollen Drawers, has Several Scars on his Back, and a large Scald on his left Foot’


‘Run away on Friday last from the Snow Montresor, Alexander Claxton, Master, lying at Deptford’

‘a Mulatto Frenchman, about 35 Years Old, of a dark Complexion, five Feet nine Inches high, named John Peter; he had on a Pair of new Duck Trowsers, Canvas Frock, blue Jacket, and wears a brown Grogoe; he says he is a Dutchman, but can't speak the Language; talks a little English’


‘ran away on Friday the 11th instant, from on Board a Hulk at Deptford’

‘A  Negro Man, well known by the Name of SAM BLACK, aged about Twenty-four Years, five Feet, one or two Inches high, much pitted with the Small-pox, of the smaller Kind, a remarkable flat Nose, jolly, and is well limbed; he had on when he went away, a brown Fustian Coat, with a red Collar, and broad metal Button, a red Cloth Waistcoat, Plush Breeches, Stone Buckles in the Knees, Silver Shoe Buckles, and old laced Hat, and a black Bob Wig’


‘Deserted from his Majesty’s Ship Leostroffe, Capt. Stirling, at Deptford’

'a Negro Man, named QUAO; speaks bad English, a stout Fellow, with large Feet, and four or five Scars on his Forehead, wearing a blue, white or red Jacket'.


‘run away, the 18th Instant, from on board the Ship Lyon, Laurence Irvine, Commander, now lying at Deptford, bound to Jamaica’

‘a Black Boy, the Property of Mr. Andrew Lucy… He is about four Feet nine Inches high, has long Hair, is well made, and speaks English well; has on a light coloured Great-coat, brown Waistcoat with mixed Lace, blue Breeches, and a black Velvet Cap’.


‘run away this Morning, and is supposed to be near the Parish of St. James’s, Westminster, or some Part of London, Highgate, or Deptford’.

‘little black Indian Boy, about 11 or 12 Years old, with black Hair cut short. He had on when he went away a blue Jacket, with red Cuffs and Collar, blue Cloth Breeches, with red Button-Holes’


‘If any Person can give Account of him so as he may be found again, or bring him to the Porter of Deptford-Yard, they shall be rewarded for their Trouble. And if any Person harbours him after this Advertisement they will be prosecuted as the Law directs’

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Hither Green 1988: a strike against the far right

I guess everyone knows about the 1977 anti-fascist Battle of Lewisham, less remembered is the 1988 fight by a group of  workers against the employment of a far right activist in a local unemployment benefits office. Malcolm Skeggs had been a long term leading activist in the racist National Front (including standing for them as an election candidate) and then in the British National Party. After apparently being sacked from a job in Lewisham Council, he got a job at the Hither Green office of the Department of Health and Social Security. When workers there got wind of this they raised objections about somebody with his views working there and having access to claimants' personal records. They were threatened with disciplinary action for refusing to work alongside him.

In April 1988, members of the Civil and Public Servants Association (CPSA) at Hither Green walked out on indefinite strike. There were daily pickets of the office, and a 1,000 strong demonstration in support of the strike in May. A regional day of action called by the union saw 20,000 CPSA members go on strike at DHSS offices and job centres across the London area on 26 May 1988. The strike came to an end in June after DHSS management moved Skeggs from Hither Green to a staff training centre at Hinchley Wood in Surrey.

Here's a few contemporary reports found via Sparrows Nest archive and Marxists Internet Archive:

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Millwall Murals and nearby street art

A stroll today around the area by The Den, starting with checking out the recently refreshed mural of Millwall FC legend Neil Harris, under the railway arch on Zampa Road SE16.  I featured the mural here way back in 2012, recently it has been looking run down and then was painted out earlier this year. But last month original artist wizywig restored it to its former glory (in fact it's bigger than the original).

Directly opposite is a new (June 2020) Millwall lion mural by prolific local signwriter/artist Lionel Stanhope - responsible for all those railway station names painted across South London as well as that Ian Wright picture in Brockley. Unfortunately today there was a big van parked right in front of it so I had to use this image from Network Rail.

The club and the ground have a certain international reputation, attested to by the stickers from clubs/ultras from around the world to be found on nearby lampposts. Here's a few examples - on the left we have 'Working Boys Front' which I think is something to do with Torpedo Moscow. Underneath that is a classic Millwall 'No one likes us, we don't care' sticker, above a GKS Katowice (Poland) one. On  the right we have Norwegian team Løten Fotballklubb, above a 'Periferia Sud Livorno' seemingly from ultras associated with Italian team AS Livorno ('periferia sud' means something like 'South suburbs', kind of equivalent to 'South London'. 

Next to the Neil Harris mural there's a few stickers on the railway bridge sign. Next to something from reputedly extreme right wing stickerists 'Millwall Berserkers' (definitely not to be confused with 'Millwall anti-fascists') is one from Bayern Munich ultras,  like Livorno ultras known for their left wing sympathies. Their sticker adapts Karl Marx- 'Fussball proletariat vereinigt euch verbandsstrukturen zerschlagen' ('football proletariat unite against the association structures' which seems to refer to UEFA and other football authorities).  Also a sticker showing Margaret Thatcher with her celebrity friend Jimmy Saville and the word 'disnonce' (in lettering reminiscent of punk band Discharge's logo, go figure).

On the other side of Ilderton Road from the new Den, fans of another South London team have left their mark

The railway bridges and arches are an irresistible canvas for graffiti and street artists - 'refugees welcome' has been painted on that same bridge on Zampa Road (still visible today, though photo below was taken in March before the tree blocked out the view of the ground).

On Cold Blow Lane the ancient early 1970s T.Rex graffiti that was still visible back in 2008 is long gone, but new stuff goes up from time to time, the most recent being this topical Black Lives Matters/FTP image of a skeletal cop.

Meanwhile round the corner on John Williams Close, on the site of the old Den, mattress artists have been at work with these kissing fish:

(all photos taken by me, 15 August 2020 unless otherwise stated).

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Hilly Fields Jazz Police?

Summer evenings this year have seen some remarkable gatherings on Hilly Fields. In the area by the park's stone circle - an ancient monument dating back to 2000 - a group of young jazz musicians have been playing improvised sessions watched by people relaxing on the grass. I believe the sessions have mostly been on Monday nights, though there was also one on July 12th linked to the Black Lives Matter event in the park that day.

Last week though (Monday 3rd August) the session was ordered to stop by the police. It is unclear whether this was due to concerns about Covid 19 regulations, licensing issues or a complaint about noise. The  musicians have a lot of support locally,  as expressed in one facebook comment: 'This event is something very special, the atmosphere is out of this world. Was taken out of London and floating on air. Smiles all round, warm energies, dancing to the amazing music on the air. Seeing the musicians all buzz off one another is incredible. Such a shame if it's shut down now'. The photo below, by Cath Dupuy, shows the scene last Monday before the event came to a premature end.
(photo by Cath Dupuy)

Hopefully a way forward can be found to enable something to continue, for now the musicians are considering taking their talents elsewhere (I have come across similar gatherings on Peckham Rye). 

The bigger picture for me is how amazing it is that in 2020 there should be a vibrant, multiracial community of young musicians playing jazz for an appreciative public! South East London is recognised internationally as a centre for this new movement that has spawned Ezra Collective and Catford's Moses Boyd among many others. A while ago Kate Hutchinson wrote up  'A sweaty night out in London's new jazz scene' in the New York Times (19 October 2018):  'In a tiny converted railway arch south of the River Thames, a mosh pit had formed in front of a three-way brass-off. The house band played from the floor, as if it were a punk show. Other musicians crowded around, waiting for their turn... In London, a new generation is challenging jazz’s stuffy reputation as the conservatory-honed noodlings of middle-aged musicians for affluent — and seated — audiences'. The night featured was a Steam Down session at Buster Mantis bar in Deptford.

As John Lewis highlighted recently in The Guardian, this new 'cosmopolitan vision of jazz' is very much shaped by 'The multicultural nature of London'. Key scene figure Shabaka Hutchings notes that it incorporates influences from  'Dub, dancehall, calypso, soca, Afrobeat, highlife, township jive, nyabinghi – all put through the filter of rave and house and hip-hop' (Add some township jive! How London's jazz scene set itself apart, Guardian, 27 May 2020). Many of the musicians are from South London,  either by origin and/or having studied on the influential jazz course at Trinity Laban college in Greenwich/Deptford.

You really have to go back to  the acid jazz clubs of 1980s/90s  or maybe even the jazz raves of the 1950s to find anything like a similar energy. And when was a jazz event last stopped by the police?  Punk gigs, grime nights, reggae blues parties and acid house raves have all felt the force of the law in the last thirty years, but let's face it jazz couldn't get arrested.  Surely there can be no surer sign of the rebirth of cool! 
(photo by @SwanAroundPhotos)

Monday, July 27, 2020

Black Lives Matter - Croydon

Some more Black Lives Matter-themed graffiti/street art, this time from the skatepark in Wandle Park in Croydon.

'Stop killin' the mandem'

the River Wandle (more of a stream at this stage) in Wandle Park

Croydon has seen a number of Black Lives Matter protests in recent weeks, including this one at Park Hill on 13 June:

photo by @jamieaudsley
See previously:

More local Black History:

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Black Lives Matter in South London- 2 months on

Two months after the police killing of George Floyd in  Minneapolis on May 25th, the global wave of  Black Lives Matters protests continues to make an impact around the world. This is a quick overview of the last eight weeks in South London, where the current phase of the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK started in Peckham on 30 May 2020 with hundreds of people marching across the Common and down Rye Lane.

Peckham Rye, 30 May 2020 (photo by @katyG_LSL)
Probably the largest demonstration so far took place a week later on Sunday 7 June, with a huge crowd gathering by the American Embassy in Battersea before crossing over Vauxhall Bridge and marching on to Whitehall. It was one of the biggest demonstrations seen in London in recent years, perhaps in the region of 50,000 or more.  On the way there I saw streams of people walking towards it from different parts of London due to the limited Covid 19 public transport. 

Vauxhall Bridge, 7 June 2020
A feature of the protests has been the wearing of face masks and the predominance of home made cardboard placards, well everybody seems to have a cardboard box to hand in these days of endless deliveries due to shop closures. But there were some banners to be seen, and I was pleased to see a proud Millwall anti-fascists banner at Vauxhall.

Millwall anti-fascists, Vauxhall Bridge

It seems that most local parks and public spaces have had some kind of Black Lives Matter gathering, usually 100-200 people taking the knee - a sign of the reach of the movement beyond the usual places where protest happens. I mean it's not every day (or decade for the that matter) that there is a protest in Hilly Fields or Telegraph Hill Park.

Lewisham Police Station, 3 June 2020 (photo by Mark Thompson)

Hilly Fields, 13 June 2020
(photo by Melissa Jacques full report at EastLondonLines)

Burgess Park, 14 June 2020

Ladywell Fields, 27 June (photo from SUTR)

Telegraph Hill Park, 4 July 2020 (photo from @avocadamn)

Protests have also taken place in Mountsfield Park (Catford) and outside the Deptford Lounge, among other places.

Firefighters take the knee at Lewisham Fire Station (photo from @itslukecharles, 3 June 2020)
Black Lives Matters signs can be seen in many local houses, following the recent trend for NHS rainbow window signs. Here's a few examples from around SE14.

There's also some BLM/anti-racist street art and graffiti. 

'Black Lives Matter', Waldram Park Road, Forest Hill

'Fight racism, build unity' - Thames path, Greenwich peninsula

'Racists still not welcome' - Thames path, Greenwich peninsula
What will happen next remains to be seen, in terms of  public protests all movements have ebbs and flows in their momentum. But away from the streets, this phase has kicked of a widespread questioning in workplaces, homes, sports clubs etc. There is a sense that something has to change and that is not going away. 

See also:

More local Black History:

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Covid-19 South London Street Art, volume 2

Earlier on in the pandemic I did a post on Covid-19 street art in South London. In that first month of the lockdown it was all rainbows and chalk messages in support of NHS workers. Here's another round up of picture from May and June 2020.

Expressions of support for the NHS are still to be seen in plenty of places, including some fine rainbows.

'big up the NHS' - Lewisham town centre

Redecorated tank, off Mandela Way SE1

Deptford Cinema, Deptford Broadway

New Cross House, Laurie Grove SE14

NHS workers and patient on New Cross House by @deanio_x and @seen_k26 - perhaps reflecting on the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities and workers

Other key workers have also got some appreciation, such as bus drivers:

Bus stop, Honor Oak Estate

The weekly Thursday nights 'clap for carers' with people cheering from their doorsteps came to an end after 10 weeks with the first signs of the lockdown easing. There was a bit of an emerging strain between community celebration and state-sponsored show of national unity (e.g. politicians advertising their participation) - 'clapping is not enough' as a placard in New Cross put it.  Still the mass support shown for the National Health Service will make  it politically difficult to cut funding to it in the economic downturn ahead. 'Thank you NHS' doesn't mean 'thank you Government', as a billboard in Lewisham's Molesworth Street graphically illustrated:

'RIP 151++ key workers' 'Clapping is not enough'  -
Lewisham Way outside Goldsmiths

'Support NHS Staff ', 'SSP [statutory sick pay] for care home workers'
Lewisham Way outside Goldsmiths

These banners in Lewisham town centre urged people not to forget those at risk of Covid locked up in prisons and immigration detention centres:

'Social distancing in detention centres is impossible. Confirmed Covid-18 cases. Non one should fear hospital in risk of deportation'

A rainbow by artmongers has brightened up the railway bridge that on Aspinall Road, off Drakefell Road:

Of course the rainbow is also an LGBT+ symbol, as noted by whoever stencilled this message and some symbols on the railway bridge rainbow. On local social media forums there were some objections to this re-appropriation of the rainbow, but hey it's all part of the ongoing dialogue of street art.

The history of the LGBT+ rainbow flag, Aspinall Road bridge

South London Trans People,  Aspinall Road bridge

Some graffiti just reminded people not to get too carried away by fear... 

'it'll be OK', Lewisham Way

Love>Fear, Deptford

Fear is the Virus, Douglas Way, SE8

The community mutual aid that sprung up early in the pandemic has continued, in some cases becoming a highly organised system of food deliveries, as well as picking up prescriptions etc.  

'Nunhead Knocks' community support