Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Lewisham Diggers 1968

Browsing through the interesting Reveal Digital 'Independent Voices' archive I came across mention of the 1960s Lewisham Diggers, inspired by the counter cultural San Francisco Diggers who were in turn inspired by the Diggers of the 17th century English revolution.

A 1967 notice in the international Equality journal from Mike Malet of Lewisham Anarchist Group talks of plans 'to return the land and its wealth to humanity, to people. We will repeat the the process - modified for a modern, technical urban environment - by declaring a "Free Place" (a house and garden maybe), the produce and responsibility of which is free and communal'.

A later update from January 1968, 'News from Lewisham Diggers', suggests that about 50 people were interested in the plan for a community with hopes of purchasing a site. In the mean time 'There was a suggestion of a summer migration to our west coast for the summer where we hoped to dole out free soup and have a make shift campsite'.

I wonder if the plans for a Lewisham commune every went any further? Did the trip to the west country come off? Maybe the worldwide revolutionary events of '68 put such plans on the back burner. Malet seems to have continued as the Lewisham Anarchists contact from his address at 61B Granville Park SE13 before moving to Dundee in the 1970s and continuing his radical activities there.

Would love to hear from anybody involved.

Contacts in Freedom,  17 February 1968

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Falkor the Dragon spotted in SE14

Wolfgang Petersen, director of the Neverending Story, died last week. Is that why Falkor the dragon was flying over New Cross yesterday? 

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Swimming at Birchmere Lake, Thamesmead

Going for an outdoor swim at Thamesmead hasn't been top of my bucket list, but when the opportunity arose this weekend for a dip at Birchmere Lake I thought I would give it a go and I am glad I did. PTP Coaching, who run the lake swimming at Beckenham Place Park, were putting on sessions with support of Peabody to try out the lake with a view to possibly making it an ongoing swimming venue in future.

The lake is mainly used for fishing at present, but it is a big body of water with plenty of room for swimmers and anglers to co-exist. Yesterday there was a 500m swimming circuit completely separate from the area where people were fishing, with lifeguards and a sloping entry point for easy access to the lake. On this very hot day getting in to cold (actually lukewarm) water was a treat, and this could definitely work as a regular swimming spot. With outdoor swimming become increasingly popular there is a need for more such places - at present apart from Beckenham Lake and the lidos (Charlton, Brockwell Park, Tooting Bec) there is very little in South London. 


Saturday, August 13, 2022

Malcolm Hardee sets himself on fire as a teenage DJ

The famed South London comedian Malcolm Hardee made his name in the 1980s, including opening The Tunnel comedy club next to the Greenwich entrance to the Blackwall Tunnel and then Up the Creek in Creek Road, Greenwich. He went on to the run The Wibbley Wobbley floating pub in Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe, near to which he sadly drowned in 2005.

Born in Lewisham Hospital in 1950, Hardee grew up in Grover Court, Loampit Hill SE13. By all accounts he had quite a wild youth of petty crime interspersed with DJing under the name Wolfe Hardee. This story from the Daily Mirror (30 October 1968) feature 19 year old disc jockey Wolfe Hardee of Blessington close, Lewisham, whose party piece was dowsing his clothes in methylated spirt and setting himself on fire.

'The next number from DJ Wolfe is a real sparkler' (Daily Mirror, 30 October 1968)

One of his DJ gigs in this period was at Club Tighten Up above the Ordnance Arms in York Road SE1 (later the Jubilee Tavern), a dance club sponsored by the staff association from the nearby Greater London Council building - as mentioned here.

Monday, August 08, 2022

Music Monday: Saint Jude 'No Angels'



Forest Hill based Saint Jude (Jude Woodhead) has been putting out music for a few years now and gradually getting more attention in terms of critical interest, radio plays on BBC6 Music etc. A couple of his tracks have over  a million plays on Spotify. I am sure it's only a matter of time before he goes to the next level and I wonder whether the breakbeat driven 'No Angels'  is going to be the song to do it. It certainly should be, and comes with a great video featuring scenes around SE23, Corsica Studios and elsewhere.

The music and video are partly inspired by Covid 19 urban wanderings, as explained at Slow Dance:

 '“The message in ‘No Angels’ is about more than lockdown specifically,” Jude says of the track. ‘Community and solidarity is the most important thing, and will always be in conflict with the forces of capital and money.’ With knowing nods to sonic movements that are so deeply associated with the capital’s working class neighbourhoods, the track’s chorus hook says it all in its simplicity: “you say the money doesn’t matter too much / you say the love for your people is enough.” Savage Messiah, Laura Grace Ford’s graphic novel about London outcasts and psychogeography within the city, provided inspiration during the single’s incubation period'.

Friday, August 05, 2022

Bethlem Museum of the Mind/Bethlem Gallery

The Bethlem Royal Hospital in Beckenham (Monks Orchard Road) is one of the world's oldest mental health institutions. Starting out near Bishopsgate in the City of London in the 13th century,  it moved to Moorfields in 1676, and then to St George's Fields in Southwark in 1815, now site of the Imperial War Museum.  It moved again to the spacious grounds of Monks Orchard in 1930. The word 'bedlam' derives from its name.

It has in short been a place of much suffering and some healing over many years, a history that is covered in the Bethlem Museum of the Mind located in the hospital's former admin building.

The stairs to the museum are guarded by two statues which for centuries adorned the gates to Bethlam at its former locations.

The museum  aims to record 'the lives and experience and celebrates the achievements of people with mental health problems' as well as providing an overview of the history of their treatment, much of it cruel.

The well lit and contemporary designed museum also features original work by artists and former patients such as Richard Dadd and Louis Wain (famous for his cat pictures), while the Bethlem Gallery on the ground floor is an exhibition space for art by current service users.

On my recent visit I took part in a community Cyanotype Workshop Drop-in at Bethlem Gallery with Melanie King. The technique involves laying objects on solution treated paper and exposing in sunlight, leaving images behind. In my example below this included a fern, a feather, some Chinese coins and a small Kuan Yin figure.

Mad Pride sticker on Bethlem car park sign

The Museum/Gallery is free and is open Wednesday - Friday, as well as some Saturdays  (check website for details).


Tuesday, August 02, 2022

'F*ck Covid Hoaxers'

'F*ck covid hoaxers - they're antisemitic dickheads'
Nunhead, July 2022


Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Funky Munky in Camberwell

Looking back through flyers for nights out which seem like only yesterday but were in fact more than 20 years ago. Remember when what is now the Stormbird at 25 Camberwell Church Street was the Funky Munky? A diary entry from April 2000 recalls a packed night with DJs playing Kelis, Mantronix and Soul II Soul, and a late night coffee at Tadims just down the road.   I DJd there myself once, upstairs at a friend's birthday party. I also remember another night around that time, I think during Camberwell Arts Festival, when they had a street party next to the bar in Artichoke Place.

This flyer is from 2000 for 'Funky Vista Social Club'.

Bar photo from Yelp

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Abdul K. Kpakpa-Quartey: a Pan Africanist in 1920s Borough High Street

Recently I was browsing through the 1922 Post Office Directory in Southwark Archives, just looking at what was on Borough High Street one hundred years ago. One entry that caught my eye was for number 169 Borough High Street, listed as the address for three organisations: the Gold Coast National Aid Society, the Inter-African Moslem Association and the Ethiopian Society for Psychical Research. The secretary of all three organisations was said to be one Abdul K. Kpakpa-Quartey. 

Clearly there was a link with the Gold Coast (now Ghana), but the other organisations suggested a wider pan-African interest of the kind associated at the time with Marcus Garvey for whom 'Ethiopian' sometimes conveyed a sense of Africa as a whole rather than just the country itself. As explored here before Garvey himself stayed for a while on Borough High Street (numbers 71 and 176)  just before the First World War.

As for the psychical research angle, that sounds fascinating - the name presumably inspired by the Society for Psychical Research founded in Britain in 1882 to investigate all things paranormal. Sadly I haven't been able to find anything out about the Ethiopian version, but I have found a bit more about Kpakpa-Quartey.

169 Borough High Street today (building on right)

He seems to have been a merchant from the Gold Coast/Ghana who settled in England from the 1920s to at least the 1950s. And he strongly opposed racism internationally, possibly with a link with Garvey's movement. In an an article published in the Islamic Review, May 1921, Professor Abdul Karim Kpakpa-Quartey writes:

'To-day in Christian America the God-created black man, notwithstanding his Christian affiliations, intelligence or social prominence, is a slave and a serf, perhaps worse than in the dramatic days of the world- famed Uncle Tom's Cabin. He or she is still liable to be brutally flogged, kicked, knocked, imprisoned, shot dead or lynched at the will and pleasure of the bloodthirsty and savage American Tin God. Can you imagine the striking contrast between Caucasian Christianity and Islam, the religion of humanity? So utterly preposterous and absurd and scientifically illogical is color prejudice that I will not waste time in controversy'

It seems likely that this was the same person who wrote a letter to Garvey's Negro World paper in 1921 complaining of the treatment of unemployed Somali seamen in England; the letter of 22/10/1921 was signed by 'Prof. Karim Abdul Kpakpa-Quartey' of the African Association [Source].

What Abdul traded in is unclear. At one time he was involved in a business partnership called United States Inter-Allied Commercial Syndicate, described as 'Export and Import Brokers, Merchants and Shipping Agents'. At the time of its dissolution in 1923 his address is given as 91 Altenburg Gardens, Clapham Junction (London Gazette, 12 January 1923)

Marcus Garvey's United Negro Improvement Association was a transnational organisation aiming to link black people across the world, with part of its platform being to assist a return to Africa for the descendants of slaves. Famously he attempted to establish a Black Star Line of ships to make this a reality. So Garvey would not doubt have been interested in linking with African shipping merchants with a similar perspective. 

Intriguingly another merchant from the Gold Coast with a similar name is recorded as speaking at a UNIA meeting in New York's Liberty Hall in 1919. This was Sam. G. Kpakpa-Quartey - was he a relative? His connection with the movement was a concern to the British authorities who wished to counter Black nationalist/Pan-Africanist influence in its colonies, whether in the West Indies or West Africa. Indeed this Kpakpa-Quartey is mentioned in a 1922 letter from Winston Churchill, then colonial secretary, concerning Garvey and the Black Star Line (source). 

As might be expected of an African traveller, the main official records I have found on Abdul K. Kpakpa-Quartey are on passenger lists maintained by immigration authorities.  A 1950 record has him travelling from Liverpool to Freetown, Sierrra Leone, while another from December 1956 records him boarding a Spanish ship in London heading to Las Palmas, Canary Isles.. His date of birth is given as 15/6/1895 and his address as 61 Albert Street, Newark, Notts. The Liverpool connection is interesting as another African organisation, the Native Union of Empire Africans, was founded there in 1935 by  one A.J. Kpakpa-Quartey (source).

A 1950s consular marriage record from Dakar, Senegal indicates that he married Flora Gabbidon who, as Flora Irene Kpakpa-Quartey (dob 10/4/1919), travelled from Liverpool to Takoradi (Ghana) in 1958 with her son Matthew Ibrahim born 1952 (source: Findmypast). 

That's all I know but I am sure there must be some more of his writings out there in yet to be digitised journals as judging by his Borough High Street office he was a very busy man. Today there are many people of Ghanaian heritage living in London so perhaps there might some interest in this Ghanaian activist from a century ago.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Telegraph Hill Welcomes Refugees

Telegraph Hill Welcomes Refugees is making plans to support a refugee family locally - can you help?


Saturday, July 16, 2022

MDC and Flipper - American Punk at the New Cross Inn

Not one but two classic American  punk bands with roots in the 1980s  coming up at the New Cross Inn next month.  August 1st sees the appearance of MDC - initials that over the years have stood variously for Millions of Death Cops, Multi Death Corporation and Millions of Damned Christians among other things. In their early years they were active in Rock Against Reagan and released the classic 'John Wayne was a Nazi'. My personal favourite lyric of theirs, from their track Selfish Sh*t is 'Socialism for the rich, Capitalism for the rest of you' which often comes to mind when I hear about already wealthy people receiving freebies like the Oscars Gift Bag

Supports on the night include Left For Dead and Spider

Then a week later  on Sunday 7th August, Flipper are playing.  Starting out in San Francisco, they were a big influence on Nirvana among many other bands. The line up on this tour includes founding guitarist Ted Falconi and founding drummer Steve DePace, with bassist and vocals from some time member Mike Watt (also bassist with the Minutemen).

[update the Flipper gig did not take place this time as the tour was postponed due to Covid]

Friday, July 15, 2022

Celebrating Sanctuary at the Horniman Museum

The Horniman Museum has won the 2022 Art Fund 'Museum of the Year' award and it is certainly one of the great treasures of South London (and indeed all of London).

Last month (25 June 2022) it hosted the 'Celebrating Sanctuary' Lewisham Refugee Week Festival. The festival marked 'Lewisham's status as the UK's first borough of sanctuary' and celebrated 'the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary'.

There was art from 'Create without Borders' and writing from ekō magazine, orginally founded by Goldsmiths students and publishing in English, Farsi and Arabic.

And in the gardens there was music and dance from the Flotsam Orchestra. This remarkable outernational band has grown out of the regular Flotsam Sessions at Catford Mews where people from different parts of the world come together to share and perform songs.

Monday, July 11, 2022

Music Monday: Carmody 'Imperfect Constellations'

South London singer Carmody has a new album out, Imperfect Constellations.

Carmody (full name Jessica Carmody Nathan) is a long time collaborator with Tom Misch, indeed she co-wrote the classic transpontine anthem South of the River. Both Tom and sister Laura Misch appear on the album, and grew up in the same Peckham Rye/East Dulwich border zone as Carmody.

She has previously described her songs as 'Wandering folk electronic beat-filled musings' and that kind of captures it, though on this album the beats are mostly pared back.

The album's title refers to the 'imperfect constellations' of our relationships with friends, lovers and families. Bereavement at the loss of her father is one theme but so are the positives of kinship in this case in a cosmopolitan multicultural context. The album includes recordings of an aunt speaking Hebrew and a refugee brother speaking Persian. There is a loose spiritual longing, perhaps hinted at by the astrological art work.

Anyway it's all a beautiful soundtrack for a languid but melancholy-tinged long hot summer so check it out at all the usual places (read her track by track description here)

Imperfect Constellations

'‘Well’ was written as an attempt to describe the feeling of grief. I said to a friend that I often feel as if I’m at the bottom of a well, surrounded by darkness, but I can see a pinpoint of light above my head, it just feels out of reach. And between these bouts of sadness is the feeling that the world is constant and continuing, no matter anyone’s personal loss. I wrote the track with Tom Misch and the chords he came up with were perfect for the sorrowful feel of the music'. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Brixton Hill Clinic Defence Campaign - defeating anti-abortionists in 1990

The anti-abortion movement in the UK will no doubt be emboldened by recent events in the United States, and while the scope for them to challenge current laws seems to be limited there is a risk that they may step up direct action against health services. In recent years anti-abortionists have picketed St John's Medical Centre in Loampit Vale SE13 (from 2015 and 2018) and sporadically protest in Brixton and Streatham.

These documents are from an earlier campaign that successfully stopped similar protests, at least for a while. Back in 1990, a Brixton Hill Clinic Defence Campaign was set up in response to anti-abortionists picketing the local clinic.  The Campaign was set up at a meeting at Lambeth Town Hall in July 1990. As the invite issued by the socialist group Workers Power explained:

'As you may know, anti-abortionists have been regularly picketing the Raleigh Clinic in Brixton Hill and the Leigham clinic in Leigham Court Road. Streatham. The pickets have included supporters of Operation Rescue, a US derived organisation noted for its militant and often violent tactics. The pickets take place every Saturday at Brixton Hill between 8am and 12 noon, and as far as is possible to tell, between 10am and 12 noon at Streatham on the last Saturday of the month only.

The anti-abortionists tactics have so far included leafletting and harrasing women going into the clinic.  It is vital that all those who support choice and the right of women to control their own bodies get organised against the anti- abortionists. While there are not very many of them at present, if they are left unchallenged, they will attract support and their tactics will become more and more militant. Informal counter-pickets have been happening every Saturday at Brixton Hill. Such counter-pickets need to be organised properly and built for in the Labour movement.

It has also been argued that there is a need them to be carried out with sensitivity - there is a danger that large unruly counter-picket outside a clinic would have the same deterrent effect on women seeking abortions as the anti-abortionists themselves. 

We have taken the initiative of booking a room in Lambeth Town Hall on Monday 9th July in room 121, in order to hold a meeting to discuss the way forward to defeating the anti-abortionists. We need to discuss what tactics to use and how to mobilise people against Operation Rescue. We would hope that some sort of organising committee could be constituted to organise the counter-pickets, and any other action deemed necessary. We hope everyone who is concerned about the threat that the anti-abortionists represent and wishes to organise against them will either attend or, if an organisation, send a representative'.

Invite to a meeting to 'Organise Against Operation Rescue' at Lambeth Town Hall, July 1990

In the early protests the police did not seem to have been interested and when an anti-abortionist had run towards the clinic and been stopped by a counter-demonstrator it was the latter who was arrested (though later released without charge).  

At the meeting at Lambeth Town Hall the main political difference was on how to respond - representatives attending from the alphabet soup of left/anarchist groups active in Brixton at the time. Broadly speaking the Socialist Workers Party wished to mobilise counter protestors at the clinic. Others present - the majority at the meeting - felt that having a crowd there, even a sympathetic one, would be very uncomfortable for women attending. It was agreed to have enough of a presence at the Clinic to challenge the anti-abortionists and if necessary escort women past them, but not to seek to mobilise large numbers directly outside it. Instead, efforts would be put into preventing Operation Rescue getting to the Clinic in the first place

A leaflet given out at the clinic declared 'A Woman's Right to Choose... Raleigh Nursing Home is one of the few places in Lambeth that performs abortions. We are here today outside it because we believe that every woman should have the right to control over her own body. That means she should have the right to an abortion if she wants one.

Unfortunately there are some people who seek to prevent women from exercising that right- by force, by threats and by terror. You may have seen them here too. As often as not they are the ones on their knees. You may have been given one of their glossy horror pamphlets full of photographs of "dead
babies". If we had the same vast wealth behind us as they do - and the same twisted logic - you could be reading an equally glossy pamphlet full of pictures of dead women; just some of the hundreds of thousands who die every year throughout the world whilst attempting backstreet abortion. Because that is the reality in countries without even Britain's limited legal abortion facilities.

[...] we aren't trying to frighten anybody away. We don't even want to be here ourselves. It can be traumatic enough for women to come for an abortion without a crowd of people on the gate as they go in. We are only here because if we weren't the militant anti-abortionists - who in the United States have resorted to fire bombing clinics - will count it as a victory'

Meanwhile a crew drawn from Workers Power, Red Action and local anarchists, all of whom had a presence in the area, put in place the plan to stop Operation Rescue in their tracks. These people were in effect the backbone of Anti Fascist Action in South London and weren't mucking around. As the anti-abortionists made their way up from Brixton station they were ambushed, and as they used to say 'acquainted with the pavement'. It was a long time before they returned to Brixton Hill.

A report on the campaign from Workers Power, July 1990

A letter from the campaign from City Limits magazine, 2 September 1990

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Save South London Buses (12, 45, 78, 521)

Transport for London is currently consulting on major cuts to London bus routes, including in South London scrapping the 12, 45, 78 and 521. 

A 'Save Southwark Buses' petition has been launched which argues:

'The 12, 45, 78 and 521 provide essential routes for Southwark residents without access to the tube or overground. It is vital that the most vulnerable passengers and those on the lowest incomes can get to work, school or access key services across the borough and beyond. An efficient public transport system is also vital to cleaning up the borough’s air, ensuring that residents have a viable alternative to car use.

It is disgraceful that the Government has cut TfL’s funding by £600m and has demanded that TfL makes service cuts and increase prices for the funding to survive the Covid pandemic. These cuts to services have been forced on TfL and will only serve to level London down, ensuring that those without a car will struggle to get around the capital. Hard pressed families will have to make more difficult and costly journeys...

It will have a devastating impact on areas such as Camberwell, Peckham and Dulwich on the number 12 route. The loss of the 45 route will impact on areas of Walworth with the lowest levels of car ownership in Southwark. On the 78 route it will impact and isolate areas of Nunhead, South Bermondsey and .along the Old Kent Road. For the most vulnerable living and visiting London Bridge and St George’s that rely on the 521 route, the cuts will be badly felt'.

I frequently get the 78, which goes from Nunhead to Shoreditch via Peckham and Tower Bridge and it is pretty obvious that what is being proposed as an alternative is going to be a significantly poorer service. Without the 78 you would have to get at least two buses, relying on the often overcrowded P12 to get from Nunhead to Peckham and then change. What's more the P12 is less frequent than the 78, it starts later, finishes earlier and doesn't serve the last stop of the 78 in St Mary's Road.

You can respond to the TfL consultation here until 12 July 2022, but the real power to prevent these cuts sits with the Government.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Nouveau Quiche - a co-operative restaurant in 1980s New Cross

Nouveau Quiche was apparently a co-operative restaurant at 301 New Cross Road, this advert is from Marxism Today, 1986 and promises 'Cordon Rouge catering for all occasions'.  A 'TGWU recognised workers co-op' no less (the Transport and General Workers Union was one of the largest trade unions at the time, it later became part of Unite).

I asked on twitter and facebook for memories of this place and got a few interesting comments:

'My memory is a bit hazy but they must have been doing vegetarian food, otherwise we wouldn't have gone, and the decor was fashionable for the mid-80s, lots of matt black etc. I think they did actually serve quiche. In those days the area was a culinary mix of the well-established Indian, Chinese, Turkish etc, but if you wanted something different there was nowhere local to go'.

'I was an education development worker at a homelessness project in New Cross Road during the mid 80s, and some of my colleagues used to go there. I think we had meetings there as well'.

There were other radical food places in this period including Brockley Bean, the vegetarian/wholefood co-op in  Coulgate Street. Nice to see that the daughter of one of those involved has opened a cafe of the same name in Wrexham. 

In the 1990s there was the great Heathers vegan restaurant in Deptford, home of anti-apartheid benefits and fantastic food which I must return to another time. With the widespread availability of vegetarian/vegan food today it is hard to remember the days when you had to make your own humous or do without. Hard to remember too perhaps how much these alternative food spaces overlapped with radical political movements, in the case of Nouveau Quiche perhaps late period Communist Party of Great Britain in its Marxism Today phase with its designer socialist aesthetic and its questioning of Stalinist certainties

Interestingly in the 2000s there was a really good Indian restaurant a few doors down in New Cross Road called Nouveau Spice - inspired by a memory of the radical quiche-ists?

Thursday, June 09, 2022

'You and Me' - TV drama filming at Skehans

 Lots of filming going on this week around Telegraph Hill locations for new ITV drama series 'You and Me', including at Skehans pub SE14 where one of the characters is seen getting into a black cab and heading off down Gellatly Road. The Hill Station Cafe has also been used. The series, with Russell T Davies as Executive Producer, is due to be broadcast in 2023.

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Sunday, June 05, 2022

Echoes of Ukraine invasion at Peter the Great statue

Anti Putin graffiti and Ukrainian flag stickers on the Peter the Great statue at Millennium Quay in Deptford. The statue was built with the support of the Russian embassy in, shall we say, different times.

Friday, June 03, 2022

Lewisham Sound Systems Trail

Big crowds last Sunday (29/5/2022) at the Lewisham Sound Systems Trail, with dub reggae and other sounds across the Deptford area. All free as part of the We are Lewisham borough of culture programme

Dennis Bovell and Friends in the Albany garden.

Lemon Lounge at Creekside artworks

Unit 137 at Deptford Market Yard