Monday, May 10, 2021

Music Monday: Elephants and Castles - Song for the Birds

We've featured some of  Elephants and Castles' South London-tinged songs here before, including Concrete Love (filmed in the now vanished Elephant and Castle subways) and The  World's Greatest Complainers, filmed in Jenny's cafe in Deptford.

Their latest single, Song for the Birds, was inspired by hearing birdsong down Deptford High Street during lockdown  'so we wrote a song back to them, trying to explain the shit show they've been looking down on over the past year or so'. The video was filmed in Deptford and Cornwall, featuring the band's Robin Spencer and Chris Anderson, as well as birds including a robin, great tit and waxwing I think. Never seen the latter in SE London, but a quick google search found an old Brockley Central posts with a photo of some in Arklow Road SE14.

You can support them by buying the single at their bandcamp site as well as on iTunes.

In case you missed their earlier lament to the demise of the Elephant and Castle shopping centre and the Heygate Estate, What's Left for Larry and Janet?, here it is:

Monday, April 19, 2021

The Covid Memorial Wall

The National Covid Memorial Wall has been painted over the last month by volunteers along the South Bank of the Thames between Lambeth Bridge and Westminster Bridge, opposite the Houses of Parliament, and including the riverside wall in front of St Thomas' Hospital. There are around 150,000 hearts, each representing one of the UK Covid dead (so far) and many of them dedicated to named individuals. This unofficial memorial was started by people involved with Covid-19 Bereaved Families For Justice UK.

It is hard to do justice to the scale of this monument in photographs, stretching as it does for around 500 metres. I strongly recommend that if you get the chance you visit it yourself.

Harder too to keep a dry eye as you read the names and messages on the wall, and feel a rising sense of sadness and anger.

The impact of Covid is so often rendered as a series of statistics in which the individual lives lost and damaged are rendered invisible, the wall places these lives back at the centre - mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, lovers and friends.

'The UK has one of the highest death tolls in the world. While many have become used to seeing the statistics associated with Covid-19, it is important to remember that each one of these numbers represents a loved person, a life gone too soon and a family torn apart. Our loved ones were not just numbers, but treasured relatives who will be missed forever.

As more and more information comes to light, it has become clear that the UK hasn’t ended up with one of the highest death tolls in the world by coincidence. Gaps in the country’s pandemic preparedness, delays to locking down, inadequate supplies of PPE and the policy of discharging into care homes among other issues have all been identified as having contributed to the level of the death toll. Despite this, the government continues to refer to its ‘apparent success’ and being ‘proud’ of its record. Not only is this deeply hurtful for bereaved families who have already gone through a traumatic loss to hear, but this reluctance to engage honestly with what has gone wrong is a barrier to learning. Every day the government fails to learn lessons, more families are going through the same loss and trauma. It is heart breaking to see the same mistakes repeated over and over'

Most of the names on the memorial are of UK dead but good to see acknowledgement too of the global dimension of the pandemic including a heart for Li Wenliang, the Wuhan doctor who was one of the first to raise the alarm about Covid.

'When politicians and experts say that they are willing to allow tens of thousands of premature deaths for the sake of population immunity or in the hope of propping up the economy, is that not premeditated and reckless indifference to human life? If policy failures lead to recurrent and mistimed lockdowns, who is responsible for the resulting non-covid excess deaths? When politicians wilfully neglect scientific advice, international and historical experience, and their own alarming statistics and modelling because to act goes against their political strategy or ideology, is that lawful? Is inaction, action? How big an omission is not acting immediately after the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency of international concern on 30 January 2020? At the very least, covid-19 might be classified as “social murder”'
(Kamran Abbasi, Covid-19: Social murder, they wrote—elected, unaccountable, and unrepentant, British Medical Journal editorial, 4 February 2021)

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Fenton Ogbogbo- murdered by racists in the Old Kent Road, 1981

Fenton Ogbogbo was a 25 year old man who was murdered in a racist attack on the  Old Kent Road in June 1981.

 Three white youths aged 15 to 17 from the Peckham area were jailed at 'Her Majesty’s pleasure' in  a trial at the Old Bailey in the following year.  The court heard that on 21 June 1981 after an incident in a pub on the Old Kent Road, 'Other white youths were recruited and they went after him. But Mr  Ogbogbo of Nunhead Grove, Peckham,  was rescued by young whites he had been playing pool with' in the pub. A few minutes later the three murderers 'who had described the rescuers as “n* lovers”, caught Mr Ogbogbo alone in a fish shop' and stabbed him  repeatedly (Times 23 February 1982). Fenton has been watching a  boxing match on TV in the Senol Fish Bar in Old Kent Road. He died at Guys Hospital.

Fenton had come to London from Nigeria in 1969 and gone to schools in Peckham before working assembling computers, but he had lost his job and was unemployed.

Bizarrely the police suggested that he may have considered suicide earlier that day having supposedly 'pulled back from jumping from the balcony of a block of flats'. This was denied by his family, and in any event was irrelevant to his brutal racist murder later in the day (Times, 23 June 1981)

His father Isiah Ogbogbo, an electrical engineer, said: 'I have lost a child because of the racial trouble in this country. Why should somebody kill a quiet innocent boy like him? [...] It is these skinheads with their hated of black people. That is why my child died. We have a lot of English people living in Nigeria but we do not kill them'.

The report below mentions that another black man had been stabbed in a racist attack in Peckham in the previous week, and that in the same period there were clashes between the police and black youth in the area:

'The Saturday night of Fenton‘s murder hundreds of black youth, joined by some white youth, had fought for two hours with the police in Peckham Rye. “It looked like they were seeking confrontation with us“ said Superintendent Staplin in charge of the police on the scene. He couldn’t have been more right. Wooden stakes were torn up from fences and used as spears to throw at the police, police vehicles were attacked, and such money grabbers as Currys, Boots and British Home Stores were broken into. The BP petrol station narrowly escaped destruction.…

A few miles from Peckham in Lewisham shopping centre, in just two forays by the police, 20 black youths were picked up on 4 and 5 June. These youths, the youngest of which was 13, were held for hours in Ladywell police station. A pregnant teenager among them was attacked and given a black eye. All were subjected to a constant barrage of racist abuse. When one young girl asked how she was supposed to get home when she was released late at night with no money she was told “you can swing on trees“. She was left as an easy target for the kind of racists who killed Fenton Ogbogbo that the police allowed to roam the streets' (Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, July/August 1918 - sourced from the Splits and Fusions archive)

Monday, March 29, 2021

Music Monday: Pinty at the Gowlett Arms

I heard 'Found it', the new single from South London MC Pinty, on Gilles Peterson's BBC6 Music show at the weekend. Wait a minute, does he actually mention legendary Peckham pub The Gowlett on this track? Yes indeed, my ears were not deceiving me.

 It is in fact 'a love story set in his local pub, The Gowlett in Peckham. Produced by friend and collaborator Tomos, ‘Found It’ is a heady blend of dubby house and hip hop. Pinty's first memories of The Gowlett are being taken there after his father’s Royal Mail shift, sharing a pizza whilst his dad drank beer: “Weight of father’s shadow towers…”. On ‘Found It’ we find Pinty back in that pub as an adult, torn between taking his night elsewhere with his new love, or staying within the realms he knows so well. His first ever ‘love song’ it’s an unusual tale of love lost and then found: “Arm to arm, Bukowski types / Love was lost I found it / Are you around I’m about it / let’s French exit like it’s so crowded” (Pinty bandcamp).

I have had many a drink and a pizza there myself over the years and hope it won't be too long before we can all do it again.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

'Predatory culture' - challenge to Dulwich College continues

Boys boarding school Dulwich College has been rocked in the last week by allegations of a culture of sexual abuse and harassment amongst its students, targeting in particular young women attending local schools with which the College has links, notably James Allen's Girls School (JAGS). A demonstration planned for last Friday by pupils from local schools with supportive Dulwich College dissidents was called off after the school's head emailed parents stating that pupils could be prosecuted for taking part. The protest had been called 'against the predatory culture of Dulwich College and the school management [which] condones it'.

An open letter to the school put together by a recent ex-Dulwich student included around 100 personal accounts, mainly from current or former JAGS pupils. The dossier includes cases of rape, sexual assault and harassment, as well as allegations of  homophobia and racism.

Although the protest did not go ahead on Friday, JAGS pupils staged a vigil and have put up posters on the railings outside the independent school on East Dulwich Grove.

'Not all men but all women'

'The behaviour of your students is not a reflection of their confidence, it is a testament to their entitlement, to their experience of an institution which has enabled their sexism, their racism, their homophobia and their abusive tendencies... At the heart of this attitude, one which leads so many of your students to believe themselves authorised to control other people’s bodies, is a sense of superiority and entitlement borne out of a discriminatory worldview'

'End rape culture'/'No means no'

'Your school is a breeding ground for sexual predators who are being released into the world, safe in the knowledge that they can be whatever they want, and do whoever they want. I am a woman in a world that is unkind to women, and the predators around me no longer wear uniforms marking them out as God’s gift (ex-JAGs student who left in 2019 -  Dulwich College was originally known as 'the College of God's Gift) 

Not all Dulwich College students, but... 'The submitted testimonials do not present a divide between the many and the few. They describe a community of abusers and their enablers, violently sexist boys whose behaviour is underpinned by a collective understanding that their comfort and status is worth more than the lives of those who fall prey to their abuse. In almost every story, experiences of assault, revenge pornography and slut shaming were exacerbated by the aggressor’s friends, young men who were not, in that instance, one of the “very few” but who enabled them, who laughed at stories of sexual violence, who shared illicit photos of teenage girls without consent, who stood by as their mates, the supposedly “very few”, ruined lives'.

'we do not want to use the term harassment, what is happening today is sexual terrorism'

'I have been sexually assaulted by boys from Dulwich College. My closest female friends have been raped. It started aged 14 when boys would rate us all out of 10, sitting in your classrooms on their phones. It continued with requests for underage nude selfies which when refused were followed with misogynist comments and when women complied these shared around illegally. Your teachers were aware of this but not enough was done. It continued to escalate as I got older, boys from your school would drug and intoxicate girls from local schools and proceeded to rape and assault them when they were under the influence. Where are these men now?... This HAS to stop. Teach your students how to treat women'.

'Throughout my 13 years at JAGS, my experience with Dulwich college boys were almost entirely negative. There is an extremely prevalent rape culture and violent culture at DC. This is present throughout Dulwich college but exacerbated amongst the sporting teams, particularly Rugby'

While Dulwich College has been the initial focus of this fast spreading movement against sexual abuse and harassment linked to schools, accounts of similar behaviours are emerging in relation to other schools in both the private and state sectors and are being collected by Everyone's Invited. I am sure young women in all kinds of education settings are having to deal with this day in day out and it doesn't help to single out just a few high profile schools and pretend everywhere else is fine. On the other hand saying something happens everywhere can lead down the slippery slope to saying nobody is responsible. 

The response in some schools is no doubt more positive than others in terms of how they challenge these attitudes and behaviours and how they deal with allegations. The accounts from the Dulwich College dossier do suggest that some matters were raised with senior leaders at both the College and JAGS with what the victims viewed as inadequate responses. The consequences may vary from school to school too - is an alleged offender less likely to be sanctioned when their wealthy parents have barristers at their disposal and the school is a multi-million pound business worried about its reputation? Though as the last week has shown, failing to deal with this can lead to a much worse PR disaster down the line - not great when one of your own pupils is quoted in a national newspaper saying that they 'woke up every day feeling shit about going to Dulwich College because it’s not a place that attracts or makes good people'.

And some places are no doubt worse than others. It is quite possible that the culture of how women are viewed and treated differs from school to school, and a segregated group of young men living apart from families and the community and told they are the creme de la creme of future leaders might well have a different sense of their boundaries and entitlements than others.

[All photos taken of outside of JAGS in East Dulwich Grove this weekend; all quotes in italics from open letter/dossier to Dulwich College. The full document is quite harrowing. I have not quoted detailed accounts of abuse, hopefully some of these will end up in court]

Friday, March 26, 2021

Green Onions re-opens - Stefan Finnis (1974-2021) remembered

Green Onions, the much loved health food and record shop in Clifton Rise, New Cross, has reopened after a period of closure.

Sad to report that the co-founder of the shop, Stefan Finnis, died on 15 January 2021. There's a lovely collection of photos and memories of Stefan online, and a book of remembrance in the shop also. In the words of his brother:

'For Stefan, meaning was to be found in the beauty of the natural world, in artistic creation and in championing the interests of other people.

Most of us know about his work over the last 20 years in London: Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses, CoolTan Arts, Bee Urban, finally in his and Adrian's wonderfully multifaceted shop Green Onions in New Cross. In this one venture, Stefan's different passions could find an outlet: his unfailing sense of the aesthetic, his passion for community issues and for the promotion of local artisans and artists, his deep knowledge of plants and of everything to do with good food and healthy living. He conveyed these passions in the calm, effortless and generous manner we all loved'.

Stefan Finnis (1974-2021) in Green Onions
(photo from East London Lines)

There's an interview with Stefan, and more photos, at Deptford is Changing with reflections on change and regeneration in the area. In  Stefan's words,  “Clifton Rise has a special energy; New Cross in itself has its own energy, but Clifton Rise is special. If New Cross has a centre, you could say it’s somewhere round here. It has something to do with how people move through the area, it’s a meeting of worlds, of historically richer and poorer communities; Clifton Rise is somewhere in the middle of those two.” At the time of giving that interview the shops on Clifton Rise were threatened with demolition as part of the redevelopment of the neighbouring Achilles Street Estate. As a result of the community campaign which Stefan was involved it was decided in 2019 to remove the shops from the demolition plan, though the housing redevelopment is planned to go ahead 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Vigil to remember victims of patriarchal violence - Telegraph Hill Park

There was a vigil in Telegraph Hill Upper Park last night (20th March 2021) 'to remember victims of patriarchal violence' . A list of women killed by men stretched across the ground ending in Sarah Everard,  recently killed while walking home in Clapham.

Those present read out the following together: 

'We lay down flowers and light candles to hold our sisters in our thoughts, to remind us to love and protect one another, may they rest in peace and power'

'In the last year 1300 Lewisham women were referred to domestic violence services'

Nearby on the railway bridge on Avignon Road a roadside 'Stop femicides' memorial has been pasted on the walls by Feminist Collages, with names of murdered women.

Spotted this freshly decorated barge on the canal by Hackney Marshes last week:

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Haberdashers, Hatcham and Slavery

The Haberdashers' Aske's school in New Cross is reported to be considering the implications of the links between Robert Aske (after whom the school is named) and slavery, with press coverage suggesting that a change of name is being considered. A statement issued by the school's sponsor, the Haberdashers Company, states:

'The Haberdashers’ Company and its Schools in Elstree and South London have become aware that Robert Aske was a shareholder in the Royal African Company (RAC).  All are clear that the role of the RAC in the slave trade was deplorable and sits in stark contrast with the values which underpin the activities and philosophy of the Company, its schools and beneficiaries today.  The schools are already engaged in comprehensive reviews of culture, values and their brands and this matter will be included.  The outcome of these fully consultative deliberations, including the future use of the Aske name, will be communicated when conclusions are reached and decisions made.  The Haberdashers’ Company is proud of its ethos of benevolence, fellowship and inclusion, and the diverse nature of its membership'.

I have been looking into slavery and the New Cross area for a while,  now seems a good time to summarise some of what we know - or ought to know.

Haberdashers and slavery

The Haberdashers' schools in South London and elsewhere have their origins in the Haberdashers' Aske's charity, established with funds bequeathed by Robert Aske (1619-1689) and managed by the Haberdashers company, one of the City of London livery companies.

The current Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College (as it is now known) was built on Pepys Road in New Cross in 1875 expanding on to a second site in Jerningham Road in 1889. The Haberdashers Company owned most of the land in the New Cross area at this point. A 19th century statue of Robert Aske stands in the forecourt of the school's Pepys Road site.

It is now well established that Robert Aske was one of the early investors in the Royal African Company, holding £500 of stock. According to historian William Pettigrew, the RAC 'shipped more enslaved African women, men and children to the Americas than any other single institution during the entire period of the transatlantic slave trade' (Freedom's Debt: The Royal African Company and the Politics of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1672-1752, 2013) including more than 150,000 slaves forcibly transported to the British Caribbean.

Aske was neither the first nor last member of the Haberdashers' Company to invest in slaving. For instance William Garrard (1507-1571), sometime Lord Mayor of London, helped develop the slave trade by funding the early slaving voyages of John Hawkins.

A contemporary of Aske's, Jeremy Sambrooke (died 1704) was a director of the Royal African Company as well as a member of the Haberdashers Company. In the same period at least two masters of the Haberdashers Company were also directors of the RAC:  John Lawrence (died 1692) holding £1,600 of stock and Arthur Ingram (1617-1681) holding £1500 of stock.  Both were also directors of the East India Company which was likewise involved in slavery in this period as well as beginning its colonial expansion in India which the Company was eventually to rule (see more at Reclaim EC1 on slavery and the City of London).

The Haberdashers' Company was also involved with the early 17th century Ulster Plantation, whereby land confiscated by the Crown from its Irish owners was given to City Livery Companies. Their mission was to clear Irish catholic tenants and replace them with English and Scottish protestant settlers who it was hoped could be relied upon to be loyal to the Crown - paving the way for centuries of sectarian conflict.

In short an honest assessment of the links between the Haberdashers Company, slavery and colonialism would have to look a lot wider than the technical details of Robert Aske's share holding in the Royal African Company.

The Lucas family

Haberdashers' Aske's is not the only local place with a slavery connection. To give just one further example for now, the St John's area of Lewisham was developed in the 19th century on land largely owned by the Lucas family - hence the name Lucas Street SE8 and Lucas Vale Primary School.

Jonathan Lucas II owned slave plantations and hundreds of slaves in South Carolina, where his father (also Jonathan Lucas) had become wealthy through his rice mill business.  'Lucas and his family were at the centre of Charleston's cosmopolitan society'  but following the suppression of a planned slave uprising there in 1822, 'Jonathan II settled his family at Hatcham Grove House in New Cross, where the family lived from 1824 to 1834' (R. Williams III & A.L. Lofton, Rice to Ruin: The Jonathan Lucas Family in South Carolina, 1783-1929). This was a mansion in its own grounds situated between what is now Erlanger Road and Pepys Road at the bottom of Telegraph Hill.  This Lucas died in 1832 and his wife shortly after, but his son and other descendants continued to own land locally and played a major role in the development of Deptford New Town (now St Johns) from the mid-19th century.

Hatcham Grove House, sometime home of the Charleston slave plantation owner Jonathan Lucas. In the 1850s it became a school for the children of Warehousemen and Clerks 


It is sometimes argued that it is anachronistic to criticise those involved in slavery in the past, on the grounds that we are applying modern moral standards to different times. The implication is that nobody knew that slavery was wrong at the time.

In fact there were opponents of slavery from very early on - not least the slaves themselves of course! Deptford's John Evelyn, also connected to the slave trade, mentions a planned slave revolt in Barbados in his diary for 1692. He also discusses the ethical question of whether slaves should be baptised, something opposed by many slave masters as they feared even this recognition of their captives' humanity.

The long opposition to slavery is documented in a book largely written in New Cross more than 200 years ago. The History of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade (1808) was written by the slavery abolitionist Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846), much of it while staying as a guest of the Hardcastle family at  Hatcham House in New Cross (grounds bordered by what is now Hatcham Park Road). Clarkson was one of the founders of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787, and among other things had travelled to Paris after the French Revolution in an effort to persuade France to abolish slavery. Clarkson is unsparing in documenting the cruelties of slavery and denouncing 'the oppressors of the African race'. He also traces the history of opposition to slavery right back to the start of the slave trade in the 16th century. Among the arguments he quotes is an 18th century text by Humphry Primatt: 'It has pleased God to cover some men with white skins and others with black; but as there is neither merit nor demerit in complexion, the white man, notwithstanding the barbarity of custom and prejudice, can have no right by virtue of his colour to enslave and tyrannize over the black man'. Anti-racism was not invented in the 20th century!

There is a plaque on the Haberdashers' school site in Jerningham Road to the poet Robert Browning, whose family home was on the grounds of what later became the school. Browning's father, who lived there, had once been sent to St Kitts to manage a family owned plantation with slaves, though apparently he returned home unhappy with the cruelty of the plantation system (see Browning and Slavery).

The 'Black Lives Matter' movement has highlighted some of these historic connections and its supporters have been accused of wanting to rewrite history. But much of the history of slavery and its role in British society has never been written in the first place. 

Still at least in New Cross the statue of Olaudah Equiano - once forced back into slavery in Deptford - stares across Telegraph Hill Park on the other side of which stands the statue of Robert Aske. As to which of these two should be honoured by children in a 21st century multi-cultural South London school I leave that to you to judge.

Of course there's a whole lot more to be said about slavery and South London, here's a few previous pieces: 

Paul Hendrich on the statues on Deptford Town Hall in New Cross

Deptford's Runaway Slaves

'South London and Negro Emancipation' - 1863 anti-Slavery meeting at the Elephant & Castle

Friday, March 05, 2021

SAFA House, Arklow Road SE14 - Lady Flo's and more

If you haven't been down Arklow Road for a while you might be in for a surprize, the new Anthology Deptford Foundry housing development is complete and lived in with little trace of the former industrial landscape.  

A statue on site of a human figure with propellors hints at its former use as the location for J. Stone and Co’s Brass, Copper and Iron Works, Deptford.

The company had its origins in an engineering workshop on Deptford High Street started by Josiah Stone (1803-1867) to make copper nails and rivets used in shipbuilding. Going into business with George Preston and John Prestige as J. Stone & Co., the company operated out of railway arches by Deptford station from 1842 until 1881 when it moved to its new built factory on Arklow Road.

Stone's factory in Arklow Road, SE14 in 1885

By the start of the First World War, Stone's had 1,350 workers and was making propellors for the Royal Navy as well as other metal items for ships. In World War Two it made more than 2,200 propellors for the Royal Navy, and at its peak in the 1950s expanded further with 4,000 staff spread between its Deptford site and another in Woolwich Road, Charlton. Like much local industry though it was to decline through the 1960s and the Arklow Road factory closed in 1969. Incidentally, comedian Spike Milligan worked at Stone's in Deptford in the 1930s.

Most of the site has been redeveloped, but there is though an original building remaining at 28 Arklow Road, albeit it in very poor condition. This was most recently known as SAFA House but was originally known as the Welcome Institute, sometimes  referred to as the Welcome Coffee Tavern and Institute (Kentish Mercury, 6/4/1894). Opening in 1890, it catered primarily for the Stone's workers and comprised ‘a concert room and gymnasium, a reading room and library, a coffee bar and two dining rooms’ (The Engineer, 26 February 1892).

The Stone's workers had a wide social and cultural life. There were Welcome Institute cricket and football teams, draughts and chess clubs, and a swimming club who swam at the baths in Laurie Grove SE14 (Kentish Independent, 21/9/06).  A Welcome Institute Athletic Club held a very healthy sounding 'smoking concert' there in 1904 with 'several scientific wrestling bouts':

A Welcome Institute Rowing Club was out on the Thames by 1890, though it seems to have faltered by 1895 when former members set up a new Deptford Albion Rowing Club (Sporting Life, 17/4/1895). However the Welcome Institute Rowing Club 'composed chiefly of the employees past and present of Messrs Stone's Engineering  Works, Deptford' was relaunched in 1901 (S.Life, 21/8/1901). This was the ancestor of the still thriving Greenwich-based Globe Rowing Club, which started out as the Stone's Rowing Club before moving to the Lord Clyde pub (when it became the Clyde Rowing Club) then the Globe pub in Greenwich where it assumed its current name.

Welcome Institute Rowing Club race from Limehouse Pier to Greenwich, 1891

There was a W.I. brass band, flower shows and a debating society. The venue was used for wider community initiatives too. New Cross and Deptford Amateur Gardeners Society met there (KM, 3/2/1893) and a concert and meeting was held there to establish New Cross and Deptford People's Co-operative Society (KM 7/12/1894).

In the 1920s, the building was bought by Lady Florence Pelham-Clinton and renamed Florence House as part of her charitable work in the area. Lady Florence, who lived at 38 Wickham Road (Pall Mall Gazette, 7/10/20) had originally been involved with the Deptford Fund and Albany Institute, but split away after a disagreement to establish the Lady Florence Institute which as well as the site on Arklow Road also had premises on Deptford Broadway (today home to the 999 club). The Institute's use of the building seems to have come to an end in the 1970s.

In the 1980s it became  an African Caribbean club and boxing gym. A former attendee recalls 'I use to go there all the time. It was a small community centre in the week with a pool table and on Friday and Saturday night it was a music venue. It was just called simply 'Arklow Road' (I have also seen it referred to as Arklow Road community centre). It was known for its weekend reggae/dub sessions; Jamaican artist Nitty Gritty performed there once but there was plenty of local sound system talent from Saxon, Ghetto Tone and Jah Shaka  (I assume that the footage on youtube and elsewhere of  Shaka playing in Arklow Road in 1986 was filmed here, though he also played in other nearby spaces). On the sleevenotes to the Young Disciples 'Road to Freedom' album in 1991, the producer Demus (Dilip Harris) gives thanks to 'the Dub Basket (Arklow Road)' so wonder if that was a name used for club nights.

In the early 1990s the then empty building was squatted by people including the Conscious Collective, a group who put on free parties/raves and gigs. According to Deptford historian Jess Steele 'They cleared the building out, re-decorated, re-plumbed, re-wired, re-glazed, patched the roof and installed a coffee bar. The group of performers, clowns, jesters, bands and dancers ran arts workshops, provided rehearsal space for local groups and organised a series of performance events' (Turning the Tide: the history of everyday Deptford, 1993). The squat was known as Lady Flo's. The great 90s+ gigs, squats and parties site has a flyer for a Co-Creators gig there and for the 'Flo's Farewell' Eviction Party in April 1992. According to an article about the Collective by Camilla Berens, 'On the day of the eviction from Lady Flo's the Collective held an impromptu street party outside the building. A bemused bailiff was greeted with tribal rhythms emanating from drums, bongos and a grand piano' (Independent, 30 July 1992).  The Collective had tried to negotiate a deal to stay with Lewisham Council who by then owned the building, but the Council sold it off and its 100 year history as a social/cultural/sporting venue more or less came to an end.

The Conscious Collective moved on to squat 'The Canteen'  for a while, formerly the canteen for Deptford power station workers and they were also one of the groups responsible for the 1990s Deptford Urban Free Festival which attracted tens of thousands of people to Fordham Park in New Cross.

From 90s+ gigs, squats and parties

Since those days the increasingly derelict building seems to have been largely used for storage though it was squatted for a while recently by 'a collective who value the building's history and aim to continue its use as a community resource'. They hosted a Radical Film Network film screening there in October 2019.  Scott Barkwith from Deptford Folk took a look inside a couple of year ago and it was a bit of a mess. There were still some posters on the wall for local events, including this one for a 1991 gig at the (now closed) Pilot pub at 174 Deptford High Street featuring 'The Sea' (another Deptford Urban Free Festival favourite):

photo by Scott Barkwith at Deptford Folk.  

The building was sold in 2017 and Murky Depths reports that planning permission was granted in 2018 for the conversion of the building into flats, or more precisely for the frontage of the building to be retained wrapped round new build housing with the remainder demolished, possibly with a coffee shop on the ground floor. That would be some kind of return to original usage, though a long way from the engineers' social club of 100 years ago. 

There's still a lot more to be told about SAFA House I am sure. For a start does anybody know what SAFA stands for? Would also like to know more about what went on there during the Lady Florence Institute period (1930s-1970s?).  Stone's deposited extensive papers with Lewisham archives when the factory closed, and there is information held there about the Welcome Institute that would no doubt be worth checking out.

[There's some historical detail on building in archaeology survey for planning application]

Friday, February 26, 2021

Harold Moody & W.E.B. Du Bois - Queens Road SE15 as international anti-racist clearing house

A blue plaque at 164 Queens Road, Peckham, commemorates its status as the one time home of Dr Harold Moody (1882-1947). Moody moved from Jamaica to London to become a doctor, and established his first GP practice at 111 King’s Road (now King’s Grove), Peckham, in 1913. In 1922 he moved to nearby 164 Queens Road, where he lived and worked until his death in 1947.

 An information board outside the house includes further details of his life, including his work as an anti-racist campaigner. Moody founded the League of Coloured Peoples in 1931 to  oppose discrimination. They published a journal, The Keys, and organised social events as well as campaigning against the 'colour bar' in the workplace, the military, housing and elsewhere. Its 1944 'Charter for Coloured Peoples' demanded that: 'The same economic, educational, legal and political rights shall be enjoyed by all persons, male and female, whatever their colour. All discrimination in employment, in places of public entertainment and refreshment, or in other public places, shall be illegal and shall be punished'.

While the main focus of the League was on discrimination in Britain, it also aimed to promote the 'Welfare of Coloured Peoples in all parts of the World' and maintained contact with similar organisations internationally such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the USA.  According to historian Stephen Bourne 'In the 1920s and 1930s, Dr Moody’s home on Queens Road became a popular meeting place for famous Black people who visited London. They included the American singer and activist Paul Robeson; the Trinidadian historian and novelist C.L.R. James; Kwame Nkrumah, who later became president of Ghana; Jomo Kenyatta, who later became the founding president of the Republic of Kenya; and the popular cricketer Learie Constantine, also from Trinidad' (The Life of Dr Harold Moody).We know too that Moody met Kenyan independence leader Jomo Kenyatta at Sylvia Pankhurst's house in Woodford Green. The League's Una Marson - a sometime lodger at Queens Road and editor of The Keys - met Haile Selassie when he arrived at Waterloo station in 1936 on a visit to rally support following the Italian fascist invasion of Abyssinia/Ethiopia.

The League's international signficance is attested to in some of the Harold Moody material available in the online W.E.B. Du Bois archive hosted by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Du Bois was a founder of the NAACP and the pre-eminent American Black intellectual of his time. His correspondence with and about Moody largely concerned plans for a Pan African Congress to be held in Britain at the end of World War Two. The Congress went ahead in Manchester in 1945 bringing together opponents of British colonial rule and campaigners against racism in the USA and elsewhere. Moody did not personally attend, but does seem to have been involved in formulating and developing the idea. 

In April 1944, Du Bois  wrote to singer and actor Paul Robeson seeking his support, stating ''I have had within the last month two interesting communications. One was from Amy Jacques Garvey, widow of the late Marcus Garvey living in Jamaica; the other was a telegram for Dr Harold Moody from London. Dr Moody as perhaps you know is a black West Indian, long resident in London and recently elected Chairman of the old and celebrated London Missionary Society. Both these communications asked for my cooperation looking toward a post-war conference to consider needs and demands of Negroes'. In the same month Du Bois wrote to Moody in Peckham about plans for the Congress:

A Letter from Moody to Du Bois (July 27 1944) signs off ''We are successfully negotiating the flying bombs on this side, although they do cause some inconvenience'. In November 1944, Moody was to be one of the first doctors on site of the V2 explosion in New Cross Road, when a German rocket hit Woolworths killing 168 people.

There is a also a letter from Amy Jacques Garvey to W. E. B. Du Bois  (January 31, 1944) in which the widow of Marcus Garvey recommends Moody to Du Bois and provides his address. This is a remarkable letter in many ways - Marcus Garvey and Du Bois did not get on, but Amy Garvey saw the bigger picture: 'Why should I above all people, write to you as I do? Because personal feelings must be forgotten in the unity of effort that is being forged for Africa, and our people...  My people you are no longer Negro rings to strengthen the fingers of your exploiters; you are no longer Negro studs to cover the sinful breasts of alien persecutors. you are precious African links of a mighty chain'.

164 Queens Road was not the only house on a south London residential street that functioned as a significant international anti racist/anti-colonial clearing house. Listening recently to an  interview with Leila Hassan Howe (on the Surviving Society podcast), she recalled how the Race Today collective HQ (at 165 Railton Road SE24) performed a similar function in the 1970s and 1980s. C.L.R. James was living upstairs, and people like the Grenadian revolutionary Maurice Bishop and Walter Rodney from Guyana would pop by for a chat.  Of course C.L.R. James is the common thread as he is of much of 20th century radical history in Britain, the Caribbean, African and the United States - he also knew Moody and wrote an article in 1936 for The Keys about “Abyssinia and the Imperialists”. 

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Recent radical street art (New Cross, Brockley, Deptford)

From the radical canvas that is the streetscape of South East London, a few recent interventions in the social fabric...

Up against the wall

Seen on the bus stop outside Goldsmiths in New Cross today (20 February 2021):

The full text reads: ' We are all outlaws in the eyes of England / In order to survive we steal cheat lie forge f*ck hide and deal/  We are obscene lawless hideous dangerous dirty violent and young / But we should be together / Come on all you people standing around / Our life's too fine to let it die / We can be together/  All your private property is target for your enemy/ And your enemy is we /We are forces of chaos and anarchy / Everything they say we are we are /And we are very proud of ourselves /
Up against the wall / Up against the wall Motherf*cker'

These are in fact the lyrics to Jefferson Airplane's 1969 song 'We can be together', with just one change - substituting England for America in first line. The location is apposite. As discussed here before, Fred Vermorel has stated that he introduced later Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren to 'situationism at the 36 bus stop, just outside Goldsmiths College in Lewisham Way'.  McLaren and Vermorel were at this time (late 60s) in the milieu around the radical group King Mob, influenced by the Situationists and the New York group 'Up Against the Wall Motherf*ckers'. Jefferson Airplane lifted some of the lyrics for their song from a text written by the latter.

All that is solid melts into air

Coulgate Street, Brockley, February 2021, a phrase from Marx and Engels written in 1848 in the Communist Manifesto:

The full quote:  'Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation, distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away; all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life and his relations with his kind'.  People sometimes miss the point of this quote - Marx and Engels thought it was a good thing that capitalism was progressively sweeping away older ways of life and thought. Were they right? Discuss.

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please

Another Marx quote featured on a poster nearby on Brockley Road last summer (2020)

This is from 'The18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte' (1852): 'Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past'. I prefer it with the next line 'The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living'. Oh and I think Marx used the term 'Menschen' more correctly translated as gender neutral 'people' rather than 'men'.

Free the Uyghurs

The mass detention and repression of the Muslim Uyghur minority by the Chinese state should be provoking sustained global outrage and solidarity. A bit of a graffiti in Briant Street, New Cross feels inadequate but at least it's there.

Who Lives Here Belongs Here

Posters on an estate agents billboard in Trundleys Road, SE8. Note also Biblical injunction in graffiti 'protect the week', referencing Psalm 82 'Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked'. 

Travis Alabanza Street

Erlanger Road SE4 renamed after trans activist, artist and writer. Seemingly the work of 
Feminist Collages, put up in October 2020.

Monday, February 15, 2021

A Lewisham transgender marriage in 1954

I have seen a few mentions on twitter and  facebook about the case of Vincent (born Violet) Jones and Jean Lee who were each fined £25 in 1954 following their 'illegal' wedding at St Luke’s Church in Downham - illegal because Vincent was not legally recognised as a man. An article at Historic England includes a photo of the couple on their wedding day (see below), with a quote from Jones: '‘We both love each other and when everything is put right we intend to get remarried. We shall have a public ceremony. We have nothing to be ashamed of.’

I wanted to see if I could find out more about this and thanks to the British Newspaper Archive and Ancestry, plus a couple of hints in messages from Bob from Brockley and Running Past, I think we can piece together more of the story.

Joan Mary Lee seems to have been born in Lewisham in 1933, her parents were George and Mary and in 1939 they were living at 120 Capstone Road in Downham with George working as a fitter for Post Office Engineering. Vincent Jones seems to have been born Violet Jones in Steyning, Sussex in 1928. The 1952 Electoral Register has Violet Ellen Jones living at 42 Ringmore Rise in Forest Hill. 

The couple met when they both worked as tracers in the drawing office at the South East London Telephone headquarters - not sure where this was, but it may have been the telephone exchange on corner of Glenton Road and Lee High Road SE13. According to the People (24/10/54) 'Girls who knew them say that "Miss Jones" had arrived at work one day in man's clothes and insisted that "she" had become a man, after operations'.

In September 1954 the vicar of St Luke's, Rev D G N Clark, 'pronounced Vincent Eric Kenneth Jones' of Forest Hill and '21 year old Joan Lee of Moorside Road, Downham, man and wife'  (Daily Herald, 25 October 1954) at a white wedding attended by relatives. 

After a two week honeymoon in Hastings they had set up home in rented rooms at 162 Ardgowan Road, Catford*.  It seems to have been the Vicar who reported them to the police having become aware that Vincent's  birth certificate bore the name Violet Ellen Katherine Jones. Following a police visit to their home in November, the couple were summonsed to appear in court for making a false statement to obtain a marriage certificate.

The case was heard at Greenwich magistrates in December, and both were fined £25, the case receiving national media attention, some of it quite sympathetic. The magistrate said that Jones had 'made a grave false statement to cover your unnatural passion with a false air of respectability'. But this does not seem to have been a case of a same sex marriage by subterfuge - of the marriage of two self-identifying lesbians. Jones clearly identified as a man, telling the Daily Herald (25/10/54) for instance: ''I am a man. There is no doubt about that, and I have nothing to fear. My wife and I are very happy'.  In her statement, Joan said 'As time went of I became increasingly sure of my feeling for him as his for me, which neither of us made any attempt to hide from the world. To me he is as any other husband is' (Daily Herald, 14/12/54). Jones seems to have been recognised as a man at work and elsewhere.

Jones told police 'I am a man but if you mean physically I still possess female organs... I have been to doctors to alter my sex completely but I was sick of waiting'. Jones had 'written to Denmark where there was a case of a woman doctor who changed her sex' (quoted in Alison Oram, 'Her Husband was a Woman!: Women's Gender-Crossing in Moden British Popular Culture', 2007). Gender Reassignment Surgery was in its early stages so it would have been very difficult for Jones to access it in 1954.

What happened next is unclear. Sadly Joan seems to have died in Dartford in 1966, bearing the name Joan Jones which suggests that the marriage continued. A press report from 1954 mentions that 'Joan is bald and wears a wig' which perhaps indicates an underlying serious health issue. There's a little confusion about Vincent - although so named in court, he is also referred to as Vic in press reports (e.g. by Joan's father below).  And it is as Victor E.K. Jones that he is named in a few places on family history website Ancestry, seemingly dying in Hastings in 1991 - decades after his honeymoon there with Joan.

 * press reports give address as Ardgowan Road, I have deduced house number from fact that their landlord Cyril Thomas is listed as living at 162 Ardgowan Road in 1962 electoral register.  Thomas 'in whose house the couple took rooms'  was quoted as saying 'They are a nice quiet couple. Sometimes they go out dancing' (DH, 25/10/54). 

'Girl weds girl in sex change sensation ' (People, 24/10/1954)-
found at British Newspaper Archive

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Bring back the White Hart SE14

Sad to see the White Hart in New Cross Gate closed and empty. Leaseholders Patrick and Joseph Ryan, whose efforts had reinvigorated this iconic pub over the last few years, shut up shop for good on New Year's Eve. They have concluded that the pub will no longer be viable for them as a result of plans to convert the rooms above the pub into flats.

The building is owned by the Wellington Pub Company and their planning application to convert the upper storeys was turned down by Lewisham Council in August 2019 after more than 3,000 signed a petition. A major reason for the refusal was that with flats above it was unlikely that the pub's late night licence and music would be able to continue, a key element in making it a viable business.

The owner/developer appealed against the decision and in October 2020 the Planning Inspectorate overruled Lewisham Council and granted planning permission. The Inspectorate accepted that the changes would mean an end to amplified music at any time, and with only 'live acoustic music (excluding non-handheld percussion)'  allowed, and then only before 11 pm. But they argued that it would be possible for a pub to continue. 

The current building, which is Grade II listed, dates back to around 1870 but there was an earlier building on site with a pub operating there from the 1850s if not earlier.  The pub must be one of the most photographed buildings in New Cross over its long history, occupying as it does a commanding location at junction of two ancient trackways - the road from Dover to London (now New Cross Road) and the road coming off this to head towards Peckham and ultimately Westminster (now Queens Road, but known as Peckham Lane until later in the 19th century). When the pub first opened it was next to the tollgate that gave New Cross Gate it's name.

The original pub next to tollgate in around 1865. Note the Allsopp brewery signage on pub, and the 'Bromley Races' sign on tollgate shelter.

1847: an application for a victualling house licence for the White Hart was refused following opposition from other local pubs including The Five Bells. A licence wasn't issued until 1857 but plainly the White Hart already existed in the 1840s if not as a licensed pub perhaps more as a coaching inn where people could stop off on their way into London.

1855 - The Hatcham Society meets at the White Horse - nearly 170 years later its successor, the Hatcham Conservation Society were campaigning to save the pub

The pub went through a bit of low ebb in the noughties, including a short lived attempt to turn it into a strip joint that prompted protests by Goldsmiths feminists and others. Lately it's been great, I loved the very high quality Irish music sessions and Sunday Roasts but alas no more.

The bigger picture here is that no matter what community value a pub like the White Hart may have, to giant pub companies who own the buildings they are just a line on a spreadsheet of property investments. The Wellington Pub Company owns more than 700 pubs and is owned in turn by the Reuben brothers, one of the country's wealthiest families (joint number 2 on the Sunday Times rich list). They were criticised earlier in the pandemic for their rent policies and must now be sitting on may empty properties, including locally both The White Hart and the former Rose of Lee/Dirty South on Lee High Road. We need to make sure that Covid-19 doesn't become an excuse for closing pubs permanently - we still need them, whether they are economically viable in future will depend on lots of factors, not least how much rent the landlords charge the people running them.

(At this end of New Cross not only is the White Hart closed, but the nearby Montague Arms just over the SE15 border has been empty for a while and a planning application has been put in to demolish it)

The heritage statement produced as part of the planning application has some interesting building detail, though flawed as commissioned by developers.