Saturday, February 24, 2024

Peckham Peace Centre 1939

The Peace Pledge Union was the main organisation of pacifists in Britain from its foundation in 1934, based on a pledge to 'renounce war and never support or sanction another'. It had an active Peckham branch, and in 1939 opened a local HQ at 158 Queens Road, Peckham, named after its founder Dick Sheppard.

Peace News, 2 June 1939

The Peckham group of the PPU began meeting at the Dick Sheppard Centre in June 1939. Six members were living on the premises and 'pacifists needing contact or COs [conscientious objectors] advice' were invite to call there any evening. 

Peace News, 23 June 1939

Once the war started PPU members may have refused to fight but they helped support local people caught up in the Blitz. In October 1940 it was reported that the 'Dick Sheppard Centre (158, Queens Road) is always open to the public during air raids and members have been standing by to do emergency rescue work. At times there has been no 'standing' about it, for they have been far too busy finding homes for the homeless, putting out fires, and collecting clothes and furniture to meet the more pressing needs. When an urgent phone call asked them to take in four homeless people, the group meeting room was turned into a bedroom and the Centre generally rearranged' (Peace News, 4 October 1940).

158 Queens Road today

Not sure how long the Centre continued for.

In this period there was also a PPU associated Blackheath Peace Shop.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Tales from a Disappearing City - Uncle G on Woolwich B-Boys and Acid House

'Tales from a Disappearing City' is a great podcast with Controlled Weirdness interviewing people about their untold subcultural stories from his SE16 batcave. The latest one is a SE London cracker featuring Uncle G, also known as Urban Intelligence. Godfrey arrived in London with his family as political refugees from Chile in the 1970s and grew up on the Morris Walk Estate in Woolwich. He has lots of great stories of body popping and breakdancing crews in that area in the 1980s at places like Woolwich YMCA and taking part in 'freestyle boogie' dancing competition to hip hop at the Albany in Deptford (apparently there was guy called Chris Sykes  who arranged these events across Lewisham and SE London).

Moving on to the acid house period, Godfrey recalls the legendary Clink Street parties and an ecstasy epiphany with the luvdup crowd that led to a  'rude boys see you later, we want this shit' turning point. He went to Asylum acid house parties at Thames Poly and lots of other raves and parties including 'Rave in the Cave' at Elephant and Castle, a Biology event in a Charlton warehouse, the Tasco warehouse in Plumstead, the Comedy Club in Greenwich and the Tunnel Club (at the Mitre pub by the Blackwall Tunnel) where he remembers a police raid  with 'a big pile of money and pills' in the middle of the dancefloor as dealers frantically disposed of evidence.  He also recalls, as I do, nights at the Venue in New Cross where people would be dancing to house music in one room while indie/alternative bands were playing downstairs: 'we used to see all the goths going to Woolwich train station, loads of punks and all that, and they'd disappear on to the train and go the Venue'. 

He was soon putting on his own parties, including setting up decks in the fields in Middle Park estate in Eltham, and getting involved in pirate radio - leading to 20 years of radio DJing on Woolwich based stations Shockin FM then Wax FM. Today he livestreams every Friday from Planet Wax record shop/bar in New Cross.

Along the way Neil CW mentions seeing Sonic Youth at Thames Poly in 1985 (one of their first UK gigs) and Afrika Bambaataa at Deptford Albany. 

If you remember any of these nights, or similar scenes, let us know in comments.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

WW2 Peace Shop in Blackheath: 'War will cease when men refuse to fight'

During the Second World War, as in the First World War, there were pacifists who refused to serve in the armed forces because of their political and/or religious opposition to war. Many of these war resisters suffered time in prison, while others recognised as conscientious objectors were officially excused on the basis that they agreed to undertake non-military duties.

The main journal of the peace movement, then and now, was Peace News which was founded in 1936. Its entire run has now been digitised on Internet Archive and it is a fascinating treasure trove of historical material. I have already found some South London nuggets and no doubt you can find plenty more.

Here's one interesting story... the Blackheath Peace Shop, which ran at 14 Royal Parade from late 1938 until mid 1940. It was seemingly set up by local branches of a number of pacifist groups including the Peace Pledge Union, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship and the Society of Friends (Quakers).

Peace News, 5 April 1940

In the early days of the Second World War it was opening daily between 10 am and noon, and 3 pm and 5 pm, with Sunday afternoon tea parties followed by open air meetings on Whitfield's Mount on Blackheath.

Peace News, 22 September 1939

The shop did though face hostility, with a window being smashed in May 1940 at this 'centre of pacifist activity in the neighbourhood':

Peace News, 3 May 1940
The shop also featured in a court case in which six officials of the Peace Pledge Union were prosecuted in relation to a poster reading 'War will cease when men refuse to fight. What are you going to do about it?' The poster was said to have been on display in various locations including on a board outside 1a Eddystone Road in Brockley (the HQ of the Forest Hill branch of the PPU) and outside the Peace Shop in Blackheath. The location near to the Heath where 'service men resorted' was cited as evidence for the serious charge that the poster was intended to incite 'disaffection' in the armed forces.

The trial ended with the defendants being ' bound over' after the Peace Pledge Union agreed to withdraw the poster. A verbatim account of the 'Poster Case' trial was published as a pamphlet by the PPU later that year. One of those summonsed to court was Ronald Smith, of Courtrai Road SE23, described as the 'group leader' of the PPU's Forest Hill branch.

Peace News, 7 June 1940

Shortly afterwards it was reported in the Lewisham Borough News that 'Blackheath's little Peace Shop' had closed down after having its window broken again.

The PPU remain active in Blackheath however, with its local branch meeting at the home of its secretaries Alan and Winifred Eden-Green  of 2 Talbot Place SE3. As well as supporting 'distressed COs' they set up a Pacifist Service Unit to provide welfare help in the local community.  Alan Eden-Green (1916-1997) was  a conscientious objector during the Second World War who 'performed voluntary work for Woolwich Council in the blitz, driving mobile canteens and putting up Anderson shelters for the elderly' (obituary in Independent, 12 December 1997).  Winifred Eden-Green worked as assistant to author and prominent pacifist Vera Brittain through the war years and on to 1962. The Eden-Greens later edited a collection of Brittain's war time letters  in which they recalled that 'two attempts were made to set the Blackheath Peace Shop on fire' and that an Army Major had threatened to shoot them both (Testament of a Peace Lover: Letters from Vera Brittain, Virago, 1988).

Peace News, 15 November 1940

The former Peace Shop at 14 Royal Parade has most recently been home to Yield Gallery.

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Delivery Riders Strike and South London 'Dark Kitchens'

Notes from Below report on the recent food delivery riders strike:

'On Friday 2 February thousands of food delivery riders, demanding a pay rise, took strike action against all of the apps, in over 90 zones across London, Brighton, Liverpool, Bath and Glasgow. The strike demanded a pay increase. In 2017, Deliveroo paid a minimum £4 per delivery. Now, they pay a minimum of £3.15 to mopeds and £2.80 to bikes. That is a 40% real terms pay cut. Uber Eats have made similar changes.

This was the biggest strike yet in food delivery in the UK and it shook the management of the apps. Across many areas, riders focused locally and organised pickets to shut down dark kitchens and key restaurants...

20 riders picketed the editions kitchen in Forest Hill. When more riders arrived at the kitchen and learnt about the strike, most stopped working and joined in. Only a couple tried to pick up, and before long the manager had turned off the app. Nothing went in or out for hours. Most riders agree a pay rise won’t be won in a single strike; they’re ready for a longer campaign. A few days after the strike, deliveries seem to be paying more than they did. The rates have been calculated upwards a bit'

The Forest Hill site mentioned is in the Dulwich Business Centre, Malham Road SE23 and is one of a number of 'Deliveroo Editions' dark kitchens. Essentially these are  anonymous industrial units managed by Deliveroo where under one roof different restaurant brands use separate kitchen spaces to prepare food.  The Forest Hill/Honor Oak one makes food for Coqfighter , Zing Zing , Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Dishoom and Pho. Another one is in British Wharf, Landmann Way SE14 with food vendors including Jacob's Kitchen, Shake Shack,, Poke Shack, Remedy Kitchen, Jude's Ice Cream and Bleecker Burger. This site is known as Bermondsey 1, not far away at 145 Ormside Street, SE15 is Bermondsey 2 with Dishoom , Wing-Stop, Tao Tao Ju and Pho.

Deliveroo's kitchens have been mapped by Autonomy, and they have also researched this phenomenon noting that Deliveroo are just one of the businesses operating this model.  Foodstars, another big operator, has kitchens locally at 107 Ormside Street SE15 (off Ilderton Road) and at 81 Enid Street SE16.

With more strikes likely these places will be a focus as busy places where large numbers of delivery riders are constantly coming and going.

(below - pickets at Forest Hill Deliveroo kitchen last week, photo from Callum Cant on twitter.

Update: On Valentine's Day (14 February 2024) there was another successful strike, couriers blocked Westminster Bridge and there was a picket  - pictured below - of the Deliveroo dark kitchen on Ormside Street (picture again from Callum Cant)

Monday, January 22, 2024

Music Monday: Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger and the Critics Group in Beckenham

In musical terms the folk singer Ewan MacColl (1915-1989) is associated in most people's minds with the Salford where he was raised (the subject of his song Dirty Old Town) and the Scotland of his parents with which he so strongly identified. But many of his most creative years were actually spent in the outer reaches of South London.

MacColl seems to have first lived in London for a short period in the mid-1930s shortly after marrying his  first wife, Joan Littlewood. They hoped to pursue their radical theatre ambitions in the capital. In 1936 they lived for a while in 'a borrowed flat on the north side of Wandsworth Common' then 'rented an enormous run-down house at 113 West Side, Clapham Common, paid a month's rent deposit and a month's down, furnished the place with hire-purchase goods and set about communal living' with a group of young drama hopefuls. The money soon ran out and later that year they moved back to Manchester, though Littlewood was to return in the 1950s and become a major figure in theatre, living on Blackheath (where she hosted Brendan Behan - see previous Transpontine post).

In the 1953 MacColl moved back to South London with his second wife Jean Newlove - a dancer and choreographer who he had met through their involvement with Theatre Workshop. They rented a flat at 109 Rodenhurst Road in Clapham Park then later that year rented a flat at 11 Park Hill Rise in East Croydon; 'Old Theatre Union friends Barbara Niven - now a full-time fundraiser for the Daily Worker - and her partner, the social realist painter Ern Brooks, took the flat upstairs'. MacColl and Newlove put up visiting musicians and friends there including the American singer Big Bill Broonzy, folk song collector Alan Lomax and Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid.

Ewan and Jean had two children together, but by the time the second was born - the singer Kirsty MacColl - Ewan had fallen in love with the American folk singer Peggy Seeger. Peggy first lived in London in 1956 and over a couple of years lived as a lodger in Greenwich (16 Crooms Hill) at the home of another influential figure in the folk revival, A. L. Lloyd - as discussed previously here.

In 1959 MacColl and Seeger rented a flat at 55 Godstone Road, Purley before in 1961 taking out a mortgage on the upstairs flat at 35 Stanley Avenue, Beckenham, Kent - where MacColl lived for the rest of his life. This was not just a family home but a productive centre of London folk music. From 1964 to 1972 a group of folk singers met there regularly to study and sing. The Critics Group recorded a number of albums including two collections of London songs in 1966 'Sweet Thames Flow Softly' and 'A Merry Progress to London'. The collective with its floating membership was active in left wing politics, particularly opposition to the Vietnam War.

As described by MacColl biographer Ben Harker: 'The stalwarts who congregated in the Beckenham workroom on one, two or three evenings a week in 1964 were mainly in their early twenties. They were typically from working-class backgrounds, had been caught up in the skiffle craze, and had subsequently renounced American-based music in favour of British or Irish traditions'. Early members included Sandra Kerr, John Faulkner, Frankie Armstrong and Gordon McCulloch, as well as for a short while Luke Kelly of The Dubliners. Children's author Michael Rosen was a later member.

Sweet Thames Flow Softly, written by MacColl, was sung on the Critics Group recording by John Faulkner. A song of a pleasure boat trip from Woolwich Pier to Hampton Court, it has become something of a folk standard, sung by many including Christy Moore/Planxty, Sinead O'Connor, The Dubliners, Maddy Prior and of course MacColl himself. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s MacColl and Seeger ran their own Blackthorne Records from their Beckenham home where today there is a plaque commemorating 'political songwriter and playwright' MacColl.

All quotes above from Ben Harker, Class Act: The Cultural and Political Life of Ewan MacColl (2007)

Saturday, January 06, 2024

Goldsmiths Occupations: a chronology

Found at the awesome 56a Info Shop archive a copy of SHIP Network News (Southwark Homeless Information Project) reports an occupation at Goldsmiths College in Summer 1991, specifically of the  Outreach Unit at 32 Lewisham Way which had just been closed down. 'the occupiers have opened it up to anyone and everyone' and proclaimed a 'free university' with a planned democratic education summer school. Not sure how far this got, as they seemed to have quickly been served a court summons. I don't know if this was the same 1991 occupation at which there was talk of Spiral Tribe putting on a party in the Great Hall only to be blocked by nervous student union officials.

There have been quite a few occupations at Goldsmiths over the years, some of which we have covered here previously. But here's an attempt at a chronology - no doubt missing many so let us know if you have any others - or have memories/documentation of the one below.

1968: Perhaps surprizingly Goldsmiths does not seem to have been directly affected by the wave of student occupations of art schools in 1968, notably at Croydon and at Hornsey Colleges of Art. It is though recorded that ‘Sixty students from Goldsmiths’ College of Art, New Cross, SE, invaded Hornsey College of Art on the first day of its new term… They crowded into the corridors of Hornsey and chanted ‘We support you. We support you’. Hornsey college authorities called police, who dispersed the students and ejected them’ (Times, 5 November 1968).

1984:  the Administration building (later the Whitehead building) was occupied for 8 days to protest against staff cuts in the Media and Communications team (more here)

1999: as detailed by Past Tense, 'Part of Goldsmiths College, New Cross, was occupied 26th February – March 5th 1999. 300 students took over college admin building, after eight students were expelled because they couldn’t pay £1000 a year tuition fees that had been imposed on them. A court granted the college an eviction order, but the occupying students refused to leave till the eight reinstated. A few weeks previously, students had held a demonstration, blocking New Cross Road outside, over same issue'.

2009: a two day occupation of the Deptford Town Hall building  by 50 or so studentsas part of a national wave of protest against Israel's bombing of Gaza (plus ca change). The occupation did achieve one of its demands -  scholarships for students from Palestine's al-Quds university. The blog from the occupation is still online 


2010 saw a huge movement linking together university students, school students and others in the front line of austerity in the aftermath of the financial crash.  In November 2010 around 40 students occupied the old Deptford Town Hall for two days in protest at education cuts and the proposed increase in students fees. Effigies of prime minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg were strung up on New Cross Road next to a banner saying 'Education for the Masses, not the Ruling Classes'. More here:

Then in December 2010 there was a larger scale occupation of the library, with several hundred taking part at the beginning. This lasted for almost a week from 5 to 11 December (More here and here). I believe Kae Tempest (then known as Excentral Tempest) performed at the occupation. The radical anthropologist David Graeber, then working at the College, was heavily involved, going on the next year to play a significant role in the Occupy protest in New York.  I have a talk in the library on the radical history of New Cross.

In March 2011 there was a short occupation of the Town Hall in support of striking lecturers. More here

March 2011

A short occupation of the Whitehead building in November 2011 declared itself 'in solidarity with the UK-wide strike on November 30th and the global occupy movement. We are here because we reject the privatisation of the university, symptomatic of the neo-liberal agenda that permeates all aspects of life. For this reason we have strategically occupied the building housing Goldsmiths’ finance offices, responsible for executing the cuts and the privatisation agenda'. More here.

November 2011

In December 2013 around 100 people occupied the Town Hall building in support of striking staff. More here.


March 2015 saw another occupation of the Town Hall with a wide range of demands and a focus on the marketisation of education. More here


The Goldsmiths Anti- Racist Action occupation of 2019 took over part of the Town Hall and lasted for a mammoth 137 days between March and July. Arising as part of the global Black Lives Matter movement its demands focused on institutional racism at Goldsmiths.