Monday, October 26, 2020

Jane Austen passes through Deptford & Blackheath

I love the notion that as the main road between London, Kent and the Channel, what is now the A2 has been travelled by so many historical personages and movements - everyone from royals to revolting peasants have passed along the Old Kent Road, New Cross Road, Deptford and up to Blackheath and beyond. So I am pleased to be able to add the novelist Jane Austen to the list confirmed to have passed through.

On June 15 1808, Austen wrote a letter to her sister Cassandra describing her journey from London to visit her brother's family at Godmersham Park - located between Canterbury and Ashford in Kent:

'My dear Cassandra,—Where shall I begin? Which of all my important nothings shall I tell you first? At half after seven yesterday morning Henry saw us into our own carriage, and we drove away from the Bath Hotel; which, by the by, had been found most uncomfortable quarters,—very dirty, very noisy, and very ill-provided. James began his journey by the coach at five. Our first eight miles were hot; Deptford Hill brought to my mind our hot journey into Kent fourteen years ago; but after Blackheath we suffered nothing, and as the day advanced it grew quite cool. At Dartford, which we reached within the two hours and three-quarters, we went to the Bull, the same inn at which we breakfasted in that said journey, and on the present occasion had about the same bad butter.

At half-past ten we were again off, and, travelling on without any adventure reached Sittingbourne by three. Daniel was watching for us at the door of the George, and I was acknowledged very kindly by Mr. and Mrs. Marshall, to the latter of whom I devoted my conversation, while Mary went out to buy some gloves. A few minutes, of course, did for Sittingbourne; and so off we drove, drove, drove, and by six o'clock were at Godmersham'

The Bath Hotel in London was situated on Piccadilly on the site of what is now the Ritz.  Plainly travelling by horse-drawn coach was a slow business, with the journey from here to Godmersham taking some ten and half hours - though this did include stops at the Bull Inn in Dartford and the George Inn in Sittingbourne, both of which are still standing if you want to recreate this journey!  The house at Godmersham Park is still there too - and it features along with Austen on the ten pound note.

Another letter from 1796 mentions a plan to visit Greenwich.  Her brother Francis Austen was in the Royal Navy and rose to the rank of Admiral of the Fleet, so no doubt was familiar with Deptford and Greenwich.

Another South London location is mentioned in a letter from 1811: 'who should I meet but Mr. Moore,  just come from Beckenham. I believe he would have passed me if I had not made him stop, but we were delighted to meet. I soon found, however, that he had nothing new to tell me, and then I let him go.'  There was a strong connection between parts of Austen's family and Beckenham. Her dad's cousin Frances Motley Austen (1747-1815) was born in Beckenham, with his mother Ann Motley and grandfather Thomas Motley - a prominent landowner in Beckenham.  So it seems likely that Jane Austen was in touch with relatives in Beckenham, though it is not known if she ever visited there. 

Source: The Letters of Jane Austen

Thanks to JaneAustenCork for mentioning this journey on twitter

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Socialist Sunday Schools in South London

Socialist Sunday Schools were set up in the UK from the 1880s as a secular alternative to the Church-run schools which many children were sent to to. By the time of the First World War there were hundreds of them across the country, with a National Council of British Socialist Sunday Schools Union having been established in 1909. There was even a 'socialist ten commandments' - give or take some dated gendered language I think these mostly still hold up!

There were several such schools in South London. The following 'Socialist Sunday School Union Directory' from the newspaper 'Justice' (28 September 1907) , includes Catford, Deptford, Lambeth and Southwark. At other times there were also groups in Croydon, Peckham and elsewhere.


The first mention I have come across of the Peckham group comes from the  Clarion newspaper (28 January 1899): ‘the Peckham Socialist Sunday School had a treat, which we hope will encourage many to take up the work of teaching the young. About 80 little folk sat down to tea. Singing, games, recitations, &c., were engaged in, and before going home each child had a gift from the heavily-laden Christmas-tree'.

The School must have closed for a period, because on 14 May 1904, Justice (paper of the Social Democratic Federation) reported that the ‘Peckham Socialist Sunday School started three weeks ago. We took 50 children to the Park on May Day. They were not all scholars, but we hope all Socialist parents in the neighbourhood will send their children Sundays at 3:30 to 33 High Street, Peckham’.

Later in the same year it was noted that the School had ‘moved to more commodious premises at Chepstow Hall, High Street, Peckham. We have now room for 50 more scholars and can do with a lot of money. All communications, postal orders, bank notes & C. to C.J. Woodward, 6 Oakley Place, Old Kent Road SE’ (Justice, 8 October 1904).

Another apparent gap in continuity presumably followed as in 1907 the Labour Leader reported that Peckham SSS ‘is to be opened on Sunday next, October 13th, 1907, at 3 pm, and all local socialists are invited to attend, and, if possible, to bring some children with them. The hearty co-operation of all Socialists is needed the make the school a success’. The venue was still Chepstow Hall, which seems to have become a cinema in 1909 before closing in 1916, with the  building now demolished. The entrance was in Sumner Avenue  (Clarion, 11 October 1907). A SSS was still running there a year later but now listed in Justice as the Camberwell SSS with secretary being W H Rittman, 105 Kirkwood Road (Justice 5 September 1908).


The Deptford Socialist Sunday School (SSS) was reported in 1907 to be meeting every Sunday at 3 pm at 231 New Cross Road with its secretary William F. Lenny, 130 Amersham Vale, New Cross (Justice 23 November 1907). Meetings continued through 1908, though Mr Lenny’s address is now given as 19 Czar Street, Deptford (5 September 1908). Shortly afterwards they seemed to have moved venue to the People’s Hall on Deptford Broadway at 11 am with Lenny still involved but also Superintendant A H Stokes, 4 Nynehead Street, New Cross (Justice 7 November 1908).

The People’s Hall was at the bottom of Tanners Hill at the junction with Deptford Broadway. A former Auction mart, it was opened as the Broadway People's Hall in 1889 as part of a Christian mission to the working men and women of Deptford (Kentish Mercury, 8 March 1889), with space for some 500 people. There seemed to have some controversy over its later use for non-religious purposes. ‘Deeply Grieved’ wrote in the Kentish Mercury (7 May 1909) complaining about both the Socialist Sunday School and plans to rent it out to a cinema company - ‘surely some steps should be taken at once to put a stop to this kind of thing’.

This prompted a reply from William F. Lenney: ‘It is quite true that Sunday school is held every Sunday morning in the hall, under auspices of the Deptford Branch of the Social Democratic Party. My connexion with the school for the last two years enables me to inform "Deeply Grieved” that the nature of  the teaching imparted is strictly in accord with the third of the Socialist Commandments which is as follows - "Make every day holy by good and useful deeds and kindly actions” . I, too, am "deeply grieved,” and "also pained” to read of single citizen who disagrees with the sentiment contained therein. I might also inform "Deeply Grieved ” that the sixth commandment runs, "Be not cowardly; protect the feeble and love Justice.”' (Kentish Mercury, 14 May 1909 - the name is spelt Lenney here rather than Lenny as in other sources).

The Palace Cinema, which opened in the building in 1909, perhaps squeezed out other users including the Sunday School. They certainly continued for a while but in 1913 it was reported that  ‘The children of the Deptford Socialist Sunday School have been unable to meet for the last eighteen months for want of a meeting place. This has now been obtained for them, for which furniture is required. May I behalf of the children, appeal to any readers of "Justice" to help them financially in this matter? All moneys received will be duly acknowledged by,—Yours fraternally, Mrs. Coppock, Superintendent of School, 1 Sprules Road, Brockley, S.E. (Justice 1 March 1913).

The Cinema itself closed in February 1915 and the building is now the Musicomplex recording studio (20 Tanners Hill):


The Lewisham SSS were meeting in 1910 at the Clarion Social Club based at 57 Brownhill Road, Catford. It was here that ‘The children of the LSSS gave their entertainment Cinderella to the Deptford Sunday School’ in March 1910. The Lewisham Women’s Socialist Circle were also meeting at the club on Tuesday afternoons (Clarion 1 April 1910) and other activities included a chess and draughts club, whist drives, and a Thursday dance (Clarion 3 Feb 1911).

57 Brownhill Road, Catford - once home of the socilalist Clarion Social Club
(assuming house numbers haven't changed since 1910)

The Socialist Sunday School activities sometimes extended to adults. In January 1910 Lewisham SSS hosted ‘a successful Socialist reunion at Ennersdale Road LCC Schools’ with a programme including ‘musical drill, a cantata entitled Cinderella, games and dances in which both young and old participated, interspersed with songs, recitations and instrumental selections by comrades’. Seemingly there was an adult class with recent subjects including The Peasants Revolt and Thomas More’s Utopia. The honorary secretary was listed as Reg C Cater, 1 Tugela Street, Perry Hill, Catford (Labour Leader, 21 January 1910).

Linked to the Lewisham SSS too was a youth group, the Young Socialist Peace Crusaders: 'our comrade Redding, of the Lewisham Socialist Sunday School, 18, Penner Road. Sydenham, is on the track of all those who denounce the wrong sort of Boy Scout Movement and don't help the Young Socialist Peace Crusaders, a branch of the S.S.S. work which is now receiving special attention from the London S.S.S. Union. The function of this section is to organise sports, first-aid classes, nature study and woodcraft, camping out, etc. etc., for our Socialist lads and lassies. They surely should not lack helpers now. There is sure decay in any movement built on negatives. The " Red " affirmation of the solidarity of the human race is the living vital necessity of the " White " prohibitions of the Peace Movement. Let every C.O. lad who had a good time as a boy be out to secure good times for these others—his disinherited brothers and sisters—as part of his I.L.P. duty' (Labour Leader, 7 August 1919). 

The ILP was the left wing Independent Labour Party, who by this point seem to have taken over from the Social Democratic Federation as the main link between the Sunday Schools and the wider socialist movement. The ILP was associated with conscientious objectors in the First World War, hence the reference to C.O.s - and we know that one Lewisham Sunday School teacher, H.J. Carrick (33 Thurston Road) did apply for exemption from military service in 1916.   Interesting too to hear of this initiative to create an alternative to the Scouts, who were seen as militarist/nationalistic. It was within this same part of  SE London that the first groups of what became known as the Woodcraft Folk were founded shortly after, prompted by similar concerns about Baden-Powell's scouting movement. 

The Lewisham school was still going in 1922 when Edward Harby of the Quaker Society of Friends ‘who has been working on famine relief’ was scheduled to speak at a meeting organised by LSSS with the address given as 98 Glenfarg Road, Catford (Daily Herald, 16 March 1922).

A London Excursion

Sometimes the different groups in South London got together, as shown in this report of a 'London Excursion' in 1909: 'a most enjoyable day was spent at Riddlesdown on September 4. Eleven schools were represented, and we sat to tea 320 children and 120 adults. Considering their previous isolation we think the result will greatly strengthen the London movement. The sports were carried out in a most heroic manner. The tug of war shield went to the Croydon School, who beat Camberwell in the final. The shield for the school with the most wins has to be run off on Peckham Rye on Sunday, 8th at 11 a.m., in a 14 year old race of 200 yards between Lewisham, Battersea and Crystal Palace Schools, who had each three wins to their credit. Owing to the wet the drill was held in the Dance Pavilion, when over 120 children delighted the audience with their musical drills to the accompaniment of the Clarion Military Band (Justice 25 September 1909).

Sunday, October 11, 2020

'Prince Andrew Didn't Kill Himself'

Some anticipatory conspiracy theory - this sticker spotted today on a lamp post opposite Skehans Pub in Gellatly Road  SE14.