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 remained 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)