Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve in the Brockley Jack, 1869

The Penny Illustrated Paper, 1 January 1870 includes an article 'Village Ale-House on New Year's Eve' extolling the virtues of a walk in the countryside followed by a drink at the Brockley Jack.

It starts ''There are worse methods of inaugurating the New Year than that of starting out for a brisk walk into the country after a short railway journey which carries the pedestrian to a point beyond the last straggling houses of suburban streets'. The countryside recommended is in Kent around Knowle (assume he means Knole by Sevenoaks) and Chislehurst.

The author goes on: 'Should you wish to return to town by way of Lewisham you may as well take the short cut, and that will lead you through some country lanes stiff with clay; having recovered from which you will, unless you are an 'abstainer', which is scarcely probable, feel that a glass of good ale would not be the worst kind of refreshment. By this time you may have come upon the outskirts of a little village, where, if you are particularly fortunate you may see a labourer, or a tramp, or a wandering tinker; and if, with a laudable desire for information , you inquire of such a person where you can obtain the desired refreshment, he way say' "Why, it's mostly Jack's that people goes hereabout". Should you pursue the subject by any inquiry as to the identify of Jack's, you will learn that it is Brockley Jack's of course; and as "it's close by and precious sharp weather somehow makes yer feel thirsty like' the "price of a pint" cannot be reasonably expected "either to make you or break you; which here you are, with the name wrote on a bladebone" though whether a real bone or not your informant "ain't rightly certain; but it's a big 'un if it is real, that's all".

Now supposing it to be New Year's Eve - or, for the matter of that, almost any other eve in the year - you are not likely to learn much about either Brockley Jack or the great bladebone, because there are so many people in front of the bar that there is quite enough to do to draw beer for them, without answering questions'.

There's still a whalebone in the pub, not the original one as far as I know - or is it? Incidentally old maps show there was indeed a pathway across fields between Peckham and Lewisham and that it followed the course of the Brockley Footpath (still there by the Jack) and Sevenoaks/Ewhurst roads. Presumably this track went further into Kent , and Sevenoaks road is so called because it actually was on the old path to there. Presumably too, the author of this piece came across this track, as the Brockley Jack is directly on it.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

It's hid in 'em - Pantomime in South London

Plenty of Pantomime still going on in South London, with Sleeping Beauty in Bromley, Cinderella in Catford and Mother Goose in Greenwich this year. Here's a couple of historical references:

At Christmas 1852 the Crystal Palace was still under construction at the top of Sydenham Hill (it opened there in June 1854). A preview of its attractitions was though included in the 1852 Christmas panto at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane which featured scenes set in 'The New Crystal Palace and Gardens at Sydenham'. There were fairies representing 'Art, Science, Concord, Progress, Peace, Invention, Wealth, Health, Success, Happiness, Industry and Plenty' and an Imp announced:

'Behold my treasures here, there's nought forbid in 'em,
And all will be revelaed though now it's hid in 'em' [Sydenham, gettit?]

In 1881 the pantomime at the Surrey Theatre, Blackfriars Road, featured music hall star the 'Great' G.H. Macdermott singing the lines: 'Whenever I sees a copper, I always tells a whopper'.

Source: 'Oh, yes it is - a history of pantomime' by Gerald Frow (BBC, 1985).

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Turn of the Screw

Tomorrow night (Wednesday 30th December. 9 pm), BBC One is broadcasting a new production of The Turn of the Screw, the very spooky story by Henry James. The music has been composed by New Cross-based composer John Lunn, who was nominated for a BAFTA earlier this year for his music for Little Dorritt, also on BBC.

Monday, December 28, 2009

New Year's Eve Party at Lift'n'Hoist

Lift'n'Hoist is a newish social centre in a squatted factory in Walworth. They have a website with details of the various gigs, parties and meetings happening there.

On New Years Eve (Thursday 31st December 2009) they are hosting a benefit party for London No Borders, in conjunction with Siren Sound System, featuring live bands including:

- HEADJAM - dub/metal/punk [http://myspace.com/headjamuk]
- THE LEANO - hip-hop [http://myspace.com/leanoland]
- 52 COMMERCIAL ROAD - alternative/rock [http://myspace.com/52commercialroaduk]
- CAPTAIN OF THE RANT - acapella/lyrical/punk [http:///myspace.com/captainoftherantpoetry]
- NUKEONROUTE - punk [http://myspace.com/nukeonroute]
- LEWIS FLOYD HENRY - one-man blues band [http://myspace.com/lewisfloydhenry]
- JAKE LAWY - a'capella/hip-hop.

Plus DJs: XTRATS - drum'n'bass, LITTLE MINX - breaks, DJ ALFIE - deep tech house, REPEAT - breaks, DJ SERIFRAT - breaks/hip-hop/d'n'b.

The address is LIFT'N'HOIST, 1 Queens Row, Walworth, SE17 2PX. Suggested donation: £5.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Christmas War is Over


...or at least it was peaceful enough on Blackheath last weekend, by the frozen pond.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Hoodoo business in Lewisham

As a birthday present to Transpontine contributor Skister, here's a link to a spooky story partially set in Lewisham. Rooum by Oliver Onions (1873-1961) tells of a man pursued by an invisible runner that can pass through his body. It includes an encounter in the local area: 'we were somewhere out south-east London way, just beyond what they are pleased to call the building-line - you know these districts of wretched trees and grimy fields and market gardens that are about the same to real country that a slum is to a town. It rained that night; rain was the most appropriate weather for the brickfields and sewage-farms and yards of old carts and railway-sleepers we were passing... We were walking in the direction of Lewisham (I think it would be), and were still a little way from that eruption of red-brick houses'.

Health warning - the story starts with some HP Lovecraft-style racism hinting at the exotic secrets of black people: 'something about him, name or both, always put me in mind, I can't tell you how, of negroes. As regards the name, I dare say it was something huggermugger in the mere sound - something that I classed, for no particular reason, with the dark and ignorant sort of words such as "obi" and "Hoo-doo"'. Probably not untypical sentiments for a white writer in 1910 (when the story was first published), but certainly jarring to the modern reader.

Anyway you can read the full story here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rape in New Cross

Terrible news from New Cross, a young woman was raped in the early hours of this morning near to Hong Kong City (which is near the junction of New X Road and Pomeroy Street). For now I will just repeat the story from today News Shopper:

'Police are appealing for witnesses following a rape in Lewisham this morning. A 19-year-old woman called officers after being raped some time between 4.15am and 4.30am close to the Hong Kong City restaurant in New Cross Road. The woman was on her way home and was walking towards the bus stop opposite the Toys R' Us store in the Old Kent Road.

Having noticed two men at the bus stop, she chose to walk to another stop but was followed by one of the men. He dragged her to a wall about 10 feet away from the main pavement where she was raped. The suspect also stole her Nokia N97 mini mobile telephone.

The suspect is described as having tanned skin, with light coloured eyes and possibly a moustache. He was around 5ft 8ins tall, of skinny build, and was wearing a black woolly hat with Crystal Palace and the number 88 written on it. He was also wearing a black leather jacket, dark trousers - possibly jeans - with a belt, black trainers and black leather gloves. Officers from the Sapphire Unit at Lewisham are investigating. Anyone with information should call 020 8284 8380 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111' .

South London French Exiles (1): Martin Nadaud

In the 19th century many French people lived in voluntary or enforced exile in London, including in various parts of South London. So I thought I'd run a short series of posts on some of them, starting with Martin Nadaud:

Martin Nadaud (1815-1898) grew up in the Creuse region of central France, before moving to Paris as a stonemason. He was on the secret strike committee during the first ever French national building workers strike in 1840. In a period of recession, thousands marched behind a banner declaring 'Let us live working or die fighting'.

Nadaud participated in the 1848 revolution, and became the first working class Member of Parliament in the National Assembly. In December 1851 the Republican government was overthrown in a coup. Nadaud was jailed for a month and then ordered into exile, making his way to London early in 1852 where he worked on building sites and lived in lodgings in various places including Soho, Islington, Greenwich, Blackheath and Lambeth. He visited the Crystal Palace in Sydenham.

His periods living in South London seem to have been his most desperate. Recalling the winter of 1855, Nadaud wrote: 'At one point I fell into despair - really a terrible despair. I went and hid myself away in Greenwich, reduced to eating dry bread'. He described the accommodation where lived in a period of unemployment as 'a narrow, dilapidated and often fireless attic room in the little town of Greenwich'. In June 1856 he was living at a temporary address on the Old Dover Road in Blackheath, and in early 1858 in 'an obscure street in Lambeth, sandwiched between a railway viaduct, the archbishop's garden and the slum of Lower Marsh' (Tindall).

However his fortunes were to change in 1858 when he obtained a job teaching French at Wimbledon School under the assumed name of Henri Martin, and moved to live in Wimbledon village. He remained there until 1870, when he returned to France and resumed a political career, being elected as a republican and moderate socialist MP from 1876 to 1889. A station on the Paris Metro was named after him. His experiences in England, including long studies in the British Museum, informed his writing - in 1872 he published in French his 'History of the working classes in England'.
Wimbledon School still stands incidentally, though today it is known as Wimbledon College. Nadaud, who campaigned for secular education as a French MP, is no doubt spinning in his grave as the College is a Roman Catholic secondary school run by the Jesuits!

Source: Gillian Tindall, The journey of Martin Nadaud: a life in turbulent times (London: Chatto & Windus, 1999).

Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Solstice - On Snow Hill

Today is the Winter Solstice in case you didn't know, and here's a seasonal song to go with it.

Snow Hill is in Greenwich Park. This song was inspired by a talk on Greenwich Park given by Jack Gale for South East London Folklore Society. It was first sung at a SELFS Yule event at the Royal George in Tanners Hill in 2006, and in a few other places since including the Old Kings Head in Borough High Street and most memorably at a Winter Solstice event in Greenwich Park itself.

I have performed the song in various musical incarnations, including my most recent project Half a Person, but originally did so as Neil Transpontine. You can download a demo version of the song here if you wonder how the tune goes.

On Snow Hill

The moon is full, lets bathe in its milky light
Lets make like foxes in the night
I know the ground is hard and its cold outside
But you’re hot enough for both of us, on this winters night

Beneath our feet, long gone lovers lie
The London clay has long since filled their eyes
They long to look up on that patch of sky
That looks down from high, on you and I

Stars are shining above Snow Hill
Reflected like diamonds in the frozen well
Some say the Snow Queen, she waits here still
Waiting until, lovers slide in the snow on Snow Hill

The wind cuts through you like an icy blade
Slicing the last leaves from the trees in the old oak glade
Making a carpet where we can lay till the break of day
It would be rude not to use what the seasons made

Stars are shining above Snow Hill
Reflected like diamonds in the frozen well
Some say the Snow Queen, she waits here still
Waiting until, lovers slide in the snow on Snow Hill

Is anyone interested in getting together in the New Year to sing and play folk/acoustic music with a particular focus on songs linked to South London (covers and new material)? Whether it leads to an ongoing band or not would be open ended, but the aim would be to get at least a few songs together to perform by the time of Brockley Max festival in June 2010. Email if interested, I will post more details shortly.

Spiral Tribe parties in SE London

Spiral Tribe were the best known of the many techno sound systems putting on parties in (mostly) squatted venues and free festivals in the early 1990s. They became media folk devils as a result of their role in putting on the famous Castlemorton festival in May 1992, following which people associated with Spiral Tribe were prosecuted for public order offences, only to be acquitted after a four month trial (the government got its revenge by passing the anti-rave Criminal Justice Act).

The year before, Spiral Tribe put on several parties in South London. According to this list included in a Spiral Tribe zine at the time (reproduced below), these included:

- July 27-28 1991, a benefit party in Deptford
- September 21-22 1991, Peckham party
- October 12 -14, Volume 2 Lewisham

I went to lots of free/squat parties a little later in the 1990s, but didn't go to any of these ones. Does anyone remember where they were or anything about them or other similar events?

Here's a few clues. DJ BPM says on her myspace that 'walking into a Spiral Tribe squat party in Carnegie Library in Deptford changed my life, it was a divine experience to me (neither joking nor blaspheming)'. The Carnegie library referred to is the old Lewisham Central Library (now Lewisham Arthouse) at the New Cross end of Lewisham Way, which was built in 1913/14 with funding from the steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. It closed in June 1991, and was sporadically used as a venue for squat parties until Lewisham Arthouse moved in three years later. I think this party actually took place after the above list was compiled in November 1991, as Steve Spiral recalls:

'Lewisham Library, the venue walls were painted by Mark and Debbie for a week before the party, and the 2 terror strobes and smoke machine were intense and ran all night long. Darren crashed his camper with the rest of the light show in the back the day before the party. Easy to remember this was my 21st birthday party…Saturday 17th November 91'.

There's some great footage of this party, featuring some classic '91 raver moves. The film was apparently shot in the afternoon when not many people were around, as it was too dark to film at night:
He also mentions a separate party at 'The arches Deptford, the venue was arranged by big Alex (dancer for Back to the Planet and co-organizer of the Urban Free Festival in Fordham park, New Cross). This part took place directly after Camelford so must have been mid Sept 91'. This does slightly contradict the list, so wonder if there's some confusion with the 'Peckham party'?

The exact dates aren't really important, but I'm guessing that the Deptford arches party actually took place in July 1991, as I believe that this was the time of the Deptford Urban Free Festival which he mentions, and I have seen somewhere else a reference to Spiral Tribe organising an 'after party' for the festival. No idea where the Peckham party was or 'Volume 2' in Lewisham.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hither Green Spiritualist and Bin Laden

Why is Gordon Brown sending all those troops into danger when the 'war on terror' could have been ended years ago thanks to a Hither Green spiritualist? According to a story in this week's News Shopper (15 December 2009), Angela Bayley's prediction of where 'Bin Laden was hiding in Afghanistan was not taken seriously when she made it eight years ago. But now Angela Bayley says her prediction, exclusively reported in News Shopper in 2001, has been proved true in a US Senate report'. Back then she 'dangled an Islamic charm over a map of Afghanistan to find bin Laden and felt a strong pull to Waza Khwa, in the south-east of the country'.

Bayley has her own theory about what's really going on : 'I don’t believe they want to find him because the longer it is they can’t find him, the more they can blame on him. They have wasted billions of pounds and dollars on a war no-one wants. They are never going to find him and they know it.'

Friday, December 18, 2009

AE Waite at the Horniman

We have discussed before at Transpontine the interesting connection between the Horniman Museum and Victorian occultism, specficially the fact that Annie Horniman was a member and patron of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and that through her Order founder MacGregor Mathers and his wife Moina Bergson (sister of the philosopher -pictured) came to live on the site. WB Yeats was among those who visited and took part in magical experiments.

Another visitor was the occultist/mystic Arthur Edward Waite (1857-1942) and his wife Ada Lakeman, known as 'Lucasta'. In fact they were both initiated into the Golden Dawn in a January 1891 ceremony at the Mathers' house, Stent Lodge, in the grounds of what is now the Horniman Museum (source).


Waite (pictured)doesn't seem to have been entirely happy with the ceremonial magic of the Golden Dawn, preferring his own mystical take on esoteric Christianity. When the Golden Dawn broke up into acrimonious factions, Waite started the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross which declared that it "has no concern whatsoever in occult or psychical research, it is a Quest of Grace and not a Quest of Power”.
Waite wrote over seventy books on subjects incuding Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, the Holy Grail and the Kabbalah, but is probably best known today for his part in the creation of the Rider Waite Tarot Deck, with the cards illustrated by the artist Pamela Colman Smith under his direction.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

SE London Green Fair 1986

SE London Green Fair took place over two days in 1986 (21-22 June), starting off with a day of stalls, workshops and music at the Albany, followed the next day by a community festival in Fordham Park, New Cross.

'Greenwich 264' has recently posted a video on Youtube shot at the time by Tim Spencer and it really is a priceless social historical document, opening a window not only on to 1980s Deptford but to the green/peace/left movements of that time.

As described by Graham Bell (complete with some classic 1980s glasses!) the themes of the event were International Year of Peace and green campaigns around Transport. He mentions the launch of a campaign called Commuters against Polluters and the proposed East London River Crossing (a threat to Oxleas Wood, it was finally cancelled in 1993).

Across the event we see stalls and local activists of the time - Jeanette Prior of Deptford CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) with a 'One Missile is too Many' banner; the Anti Apartheid movement, Dorothy Shipp of Lewisham United Nations Association; Ron Wye, London Cycle Campaign ; Kevin D'Cruze, Lewisham Peace Council; Micheael Prime, Lewisham Greenpeace Supporters Group; Tim Wright, Lambeth Friends of the Earth; and a short interview with Peter Tatchell ('I'm here because I'm a socialist and i think green politics is really important'). There's also a Brockley Bean stall - a vegetarian shop/cafe in Coulgate Street at the time.

Musically there's Irish folk from Goats Brigade, Grange Lunchtime Band, Barflies, Childeric School Steel Band, Lewisham Lizards (doing 'Cajun Two Step') and a reggae sound system from Catford Link. The famous Dewdrop Inn can be seen in the background in the park scenes. All this plus a beer tent, face painters, clowns, jugglers, inflatables and animals from Stepping Stones Farm in East London.

Apparently there was a similar event the year before, at Goldsmiths and in Fordham Park. Does anyone know if it happened again?

There's a bit in the first part of the film where Catherine Maguire leads a workshop in the Albany on 'Creating Your Own Future', asking people to envisage the world they would like to live in in the year 2000. Did your dreams come true?



Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Urban Screen at the Albany

Urban Screen is a monthly film night at the Albany (Douglas Way, SE8), with a format of an indie feature along with shorts by emerging talent (mostly local). All followed by Q&A, a drink and some film biz networking.

This week - tomorrow in fact - they will be showing Tarantino's INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS plus Brazilian short TARANTINO’S MIND. As it's a festive gathering there will also be wine and mince pies (Wednesday 16 December, 7:30 pm, £5 entrance)

Last month Deptford-based film maker Destiny Ekaragha was featured. Her film TIGHT JEANS was included in the London Film Festival, and was inspired by a man in very tight jeans in Deptford High Street!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Brockley Mess

Some kind of aliens/snow people/monsters have taken over the garden at Brockley Mess for the festive period. Well, whatever they are it's the cutest Christmas installation spotted so far this year.
Inside there's an exhibition of paintings by Brixton-based artist Martin Grover. There's a picture of Brockwell Park ponds, but I was particularly taken by the large scale paintings of 7" singles.
What lifts them above straightforward reproductions of record sleeves off the production line is that they are actually paintings of specific individual objects with their own histories. So one record has the handwritten name of the girl it used to belong to on the label, while this copy of Thin Lizzy's Whisky in the Jar has a stamp from the record shop on the sleeve: 'Whymants Records, 1050 London Road, Thornton Heath'.

Oh and the coffee and cake was very nice too!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Brockley's most famous fascist

Brockley Central this week features a plaque on a local house. It reads simply 'Henry Williamson, writer, 1895-1977, lived here, 1902-1920. Presented by the Henry Williamson Society'. The writer is best known for his novel Tarka the Otter, which for many of those familiar with the film version must make him seem just a cuddly nature writer.

In fact, he was pretty much a life-long fascist who was denying the Holocaust up to his dying day. A quick google trawl using the terms "Henry Williamson" and "Hitler" will tell you all you need to know, if you can bear to look at the loony neo-nazi sites across the world that continue to sing Williamson's praises.

A member of Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists in the 1930s, he visited Germany in 1935 to attend the National Socialist Congress at Nuremberg. He wrote of Hitler as 'the great man across the Rhine whose life symbol is the happy child'. A regular contributor to the BUF paper, Action, he was briefly interned as a nazi sympathiser on the outbreak of war. While some British nazis hid their pro-Hitler position behind calls for peace with Germany, Williamson was unapologetic. On September 24, 1939, he wrote that Hitler was 'determined to do and create what is right. He is fighting evil. He is fighting for the future'.

Many pre-war fascists kept their heads down after the war, but not Williamson. When Oswald Mosley launched his Union Movement after the war, Williamson wrote for the first issue of its journal. In The Gale of the World, one of his final works published in 1969, Williamson puts forward the view that the Holocaust never happened, specifically that deaths in concentration camps were caused by diseases brought about by the destruction of all public utility systems by Allied bombing.

Williamson was born born in 1895 at 66 Braxfield Road in Brockley. In 1900 the family moved to 11 (now 21) Eastern Road, Brockley, where the plaque stands. He went to Colfe's school. But he moved to Devon in the 1920s and never returned to live in South East London, so I would be quite happy for other parts of the country to take credit for him - or rather the blame.

Friday, December 11, 2009

SE London music blogs

As you will have gathered if you've ever checked out my music blog, I'm interested in thinking, talking and arguing about music as well as listening to it. Some of the more interesting dance music thoughtists are also in the SE London zone, so though I'd mention a few here.

Peckham's Rouge's Foam is an ambitious exercise in 'excessive aesthetics', check out the brilliant and exhaustive overview of Burial's music which has got everybody talking in the past week (well everybody who likes that sort of thing, and I do).

Meanwhile Decks and the City is the place to go if you wonder what a theory of Peckham Soca Aerobics would be like.

No Pain in Pop is the blog of the New Cross-based label/promoters, featuring lots of interesting new music.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Deptford Albany Posters Exhibition

There's a nice exhibition in the cafe at Deptford Albany (Douglas Way, SE8) of posters advertising gigs there in the early 1980s, designed by Colin Bodiam ('Bo'). Posters featured include The Flying Pickets...

The Raincoats (legendary post-punk band), who played at the Albany in December 1981. The poster says 'first week of music', presumably this was just after the new building opened in Douglas Way. The old Albany Empire in Creek Road was demolished to make way for a road widening (as well as being damaged in a suspected fascist arson attack).

Dr John, with local support The Electric Bluebirds:

Mary Wells (the poster says 'Detroit to Deptford'):

Jazz musician Abdullah Ibrahim:
'World Music Hits Deptford' with gigs by dub poet Michael Smith, Rico (ska trombonist who teamed up for a while with The Specials. I saw him a couple of times in the early 1990s playing in Mingles, a pub in Brixton's Railton Road) and Bobby McFerrin (best known for 'Don't Worry, Be Happy')...

Other posters on display advertise gigs by Squeeze, Richard Thompson, Martha Reeves and Defunkt. No sign of the Lee 'Scratch' Perry & The Upsetters poster shown in the latest New Cross Gate Post. The exhibition runs until Christmas Eve.

Colin Bodiam was born in 1945 and grew up in Blackheath. At one time he was the music critic for IT (International Times). His biog, displayed at the exhibition, also mentions 'other activities in the early seventies including supplying rock stars at Underhill Rehearsal Studios in Blackheath Hill (A Ziggyfied David Bowie: 'it's not for me, it's for the band")'. The posters were mostly printed by silkscreen in a room at the Pink Palace on Crossfields Estate. Mark Knopfler helped print an early poster for a gig by Dire Straits, using 'feminist enclave See Red Women's Workshop'.

Colin also has an amazing collection of local music photos at his Myspace site, including a 1970s Dire Straits photo shoot in Greenwich and more recent, this photo of the Dire Straits plaque unveiling on Crossfields Estate last week. Bo is pictured, I believe, holding an early Dire Straits poster in between Mark Knopfler (left) and John Illsley (right) from the band.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A Dance in Hilly Fields

Keren'Or's Spiral of the Inner Space performed by the Hilly Fields stone circle there at Brockley Max in June this year:



Keren'Or is a Laban trained dancer (the name is Hebrew for Ray of Light - keep up kabbalists!). There's also footage of this dance at Laban in Deptford.

It's getting towards the Winter Solstice, is anybody planning to watch the sun rise by the stone circle this year? I did it once - you have never been alive until you've watched the new born sun rise over Lewisham! I know some people were up there for the Summer Solstice this year, come to think of it just a few days after the Spiral of the Inner Space dance there .

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Fowler's Troop Winter Schedule

If you are in Greenwich covered market tomorrow (Wednesday 9/12/09, at 6pm) you may come across University of Greenwich drama students performing a St. George and the Dragon play tomorrow, including some English folk dances which they have learnt with advice from members of Fowler's Troop, Deptford's very own morris dancing side.

Fowler's Troop will be doing their own start of season tour this Sunday 13th December in Deptford, staring off at The Dog and Bell, Prince Street, from 12 to dance at 12.30pm, before moving on to The John Evelyn, 299 Evelyn Street, at 1.30pm then back to The Dog and Bell again at 2.30pm.

On Boxing Day they will be joining the Blackheath Morris Men on their traditional Boxing Day tour, scheduled to start at the Princess of Wales, Blackheath around midday.

They will be joining the Lions Part on the 3rd January for their Twelfth Night celebration around Bankside (timings to be confirmed).

Finally on Plough Monday (11th January) they will be touring around the Royal Hill area of Greenwich in the evening.

Dorothy Dene - New Cross Eliza Doolittle?

Ada Alice Pullen (1859-1899) was one of several sisters from an impoverished family in New Cross whose faces stare out from pictures in art galleries across the world. Of these the most famous was Alice, who renamed herself Dorothy Dene, and was the main model for the painter Frederic Leighton (1830-1896) from the early 1880s onwards.

Dorothy Dene was the model for Leighton's The Bath of Psyche, now in Tate Britain, as well as other celebrated paintings inlcuding Clytie, The Last Watch of Hero and The Captive Andromache. Leighton encouraged Dene in her ambitions to be an actress. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: 'Her performance on stage was apparently disappointing, but it has been suggested that Leighton's attempts to model and promote a working-class girl from south London as a classical tragedienne.... were the inspiration for George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion (first performed 1913)'.
Dorothy came from a family of ten - her father Abraham Pullen was a mechanical engineer. Four of the family posed for Leighton - Edith Ellen Pullen sat for his Memories; Hetty for Simothea the Sorceress and Farewell; and Lena in a number of paintings including Sisters Kiss and The Light of the Harem (source: The Dictionary of Artists Models).

Monday, December 07, 2009

New Cross V2 Plaque


A new plaque was unveiled last month (on the 25th November to be precise) to commemorate the 168 people killed when a V2 rocket landed on the Woolworths store in New Cross, 1944. Iceland now stands on the site. Brockley Central and Caroline's Miscellany have both posted recently on the disaster (see also this earlier Transpontine post on associated folklore). This week's News Shopper has a good article on it.

Above the new Lewisham Council plaque you can see the earlier commemorative plaque put up by Deptford History Group in 1994.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Fairytale of New Cross

Somebody had to write a song called the Fairytale of New Cross, and Greg McDonald has. Here he is performing it on Xfm earlier in the year:

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Jack Scroggins: New Cross Cock of the Walk

Jack Scroggins (born John Palmer) was a famous British boxer in the days of bare-knuckle fighting. According to The Sportsman's Magazine of Life in London and the Country, 1845:

'John Palmer was born, December 1st, 1787, near New-cross, Deptford. It should seem, that as Hercules in his cradle betook himself to serpent strangling by way of prefiguring his future monster-destroying propensities, so Jack was pugilistic from his cradle; and although not an ill-natured lad, was continually fighting the boys of New-cross, till his victories were so numerous, that he was considered as the cock of the walk'.

He moved on to be a servant in Kilburn where he diversified into scrapping outside pubs, joined the Navy, and then moved on to a famous boxing career. By this time he had gained the nickname Jack Scroggins: 'In height only five feet four inches, in weight hard upon 11 stone, "his appearance when stripped" say Boxiana, "is not unlike the stump of a large tree, and from his loins upwards he looks like a man of fourteen stone"'.

Scroggins was big news in his day - 30,000 people came to a field outside Hayes to watch him fight Ned Turner in 1817 (I guess many of them couldn't see very much of the fight). William Hazlitt wrote about him, mentioning that he was known variously as the "All-conquering Scroggins", "the invincible Scroggy" and the "Little Napolean of the Ring".

Friday, December 04, 2009

Love Music Hate Racism in Brixton

Tomorrow night (Saturday) is the second of two South London Love Music Hate Racism nights at the Windmill in Brixton. Line up includes Piney Gir, Caitlin Rose, Donna Macioca and Erin. £5 entrance, further details here.

Greek Uprising meeting at Goldsmiths

On 6 December last year, 15 year old Alexandros Grigoropoulos was shot dead by police in Athens, sparking several weeks of demonstrations, riots and occupations across Greece.

To mark the anniversary Goldsmiths Autonomy and Solidarity Society are hosting a meeting 'Merry Crisis - The Greek Insurrection of 2008', featuring Ed Emery. Ed is 'a writer, musician and translator. He has written widely on Italian autonomism and Greece as well as translating texts by Toni Negri and Dario Fo, amongst others. He founded the Red Notes series of books and pamphlets and The Free University'.

The meeting takes place on Thursday, 10 December 2009, 6:15pm - 8:00pm in the Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre at Goldsmiths, Lewisham Way, New Cross, London, SE14. All welcome.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Pirates to the rescue?

I noticed that on Galaxy FM (99.5) at the weekend they were broadcasting appeals for people to donate food, clothes and other stuff to people who lost their homes and belongings in last week's fire in Peckham.

Five local 'pirate' radio stations (or as they prefer to call themselves, community radio stations) jointly broadcast the appeal. They invited people to drop off donations at Uppercuts Barber Shop on Nunhead Green, Maestro Records in Rye Lane and the Real McCoy clothing shop in Brixton - evidently many responded. This was part of an impressive display of community mutual aid which saw local people, and indeed council workers volunteering their time, coming together to respond to the fire.


The local press have picked up on the story this week. The South London Press had the headline 'pirates to the rescue', while the Southwark News has the full story, in terms of actually giving credit to the stations involved - Lightning, Galaxy, Vibes, Genesis and Ontop FM.

Anyway makes a change from they usual Ofcom-led nonsense media tales of criminal radio operators disrupting the airwaves.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Amersham Arms Film Night

As discussed here before, there might not be a proper cinema anymore in the borough of Lewisham, but there's still a strong film culture. Latest to launch a film night is the Amersham Arms in New Cross.

They're starting out next Tuesday (8th Dec.) with two films. At 8 pm it's Moonwalker (Michale Jackson movie), followed at 10 pm by Stir Crazy

It's free, plus buy one cocktail get the second for £1 all night long.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Lewisham is for Lovers


Nice stencilled graffiti on derelict fruit and veg shop, corner of Lewisham Way and Tyrwhitt Road (photo from Andrew K Brown at Flickr).

Yes, Lewisham is for lovers and as today is World AIDS Day just a gentle reminder to all you lovers - be safe out there.

Local HIV advice and testing is available at:
  • Alexis Clinic, Lewisham Hospital. Open Mon - Friday 9-5pm. Tel: 020 8333 3216.
  • Downham Clinic, 7-9 Moorside Road, Bromley, Kent, BR1 5EP. Mon – Thursday 2 – 8pm, Friday 9.30 – 12 noon, and 2 – 5 pm. Tel: 020 3049 1825. click to map;
  • The Primary Care Centre, 1st Floor, Hawstead Rd, Catford SE6 4 JH, Mon - Thursday 11am - 8pm, Friday 2 - 8pm. Tel: 020 7138 1700. click to map;
  • Sydenham Green Health Centre, 26 Holmshaw Close, Sydenham SE26 4TG. Daytime entrance Holmshaw Close, Evening entrance Sydenham Road, Mon – Thurs 2 – 8pm, Fri 2 – 5pm, Weds and Saturday mornings 9.30 – 11.30 am. Tel: 020 7771 4620. click to map;
  • Waldron, Stanley Street, New Cross, London SE8 4BG. Mon – Thurs 11am – 8pm, Friday 11am – 5pm. Tel 020 3049 3500. click to map.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A radical funeral in Brockley Cemetery, 1888

In November 1887, the Social Democratic Federation and the Irish National League organised a demonstration against 'coercion in Ireland' in Trafalgar Square. The day became known as 'Bloody Sunday' after a clashes with police left hundreds injured and at least three dead.

Among those who died was a Deptford radical, William Bate Curner. In circumstances similar to the death of Ian Tomlinson earlier this year on the G20 demonstration, there was a dispute about the cause of his death. The inquest, held at the Lord Clyde pub in Deptford on 16 January 1888 heard that 'he was stated to have received injuries to the head, inflicted by a policeman' described as 'barbarous and cruel'. However a verdict of 'death from natural courses' was returned, after medical evidence that he also suffered from heart problems. (Times January 17 1888). As with Tomlinson it is surely hard to believe that the injuries sustained at the hands of the police didn't contribute to the death, even if there was an underlying health problem.

Curner's funeral in Brockley Cemetery was a major event, reported in The Times on the 9th January 1888:

'The remains of William Bate Curwin, stonemason, of 58, Henry-street, Deptford, who had died suddenly after undergoing a sentence of 14 days' hard labour for taking part in riotous proceedings in Trafalgar Square, in the course of which he received certain injuries, were interred in Brockley Cemetery on Saturday. The circumstances of the death are forming the subject of an inquiry by coroner's jury, the case standing adjourned.

The funeral procession reached the cemetery about 4 o'clock. It consisted of a hearse and two coaches and a walking party numbering about 1,000, and was made up of representatives of the Deptford and Greenwich branches of the National League, the Deptford branch of the Social Democratic Federation, the East Greenwich, Deptford, and Woolwich Radical Clubs, the West Deptford Reform Club, the Home Rule Union, &c.

The bands of the local branch of the National League and the East Greenwich Radical Club played the 'Dead March'. The hearse bore the inscription 'Killed in Trafalgar Aquare'. On banners draped in mourning were such inscriptions as 'Honour to the Dead' and 'Assist the Widow. There was a very large gathering at the grave and a number of torches were used while the burial ceremonial adopted by the Secularists was performed by Mr Robert Forder. Addresses were then delivered by Mr W T Stead, Mrs Besant, and Mr J J Larkin, and a 'Death Song' having been sung by a Socialist choir, the proceedings terminated' (Times Jan 9 1888).

As can be seen from these two reports there is some confusion about the name of the dead man. The Times report of the inquest has the surname Curner and the funeral report Curwin. I am fairly sure that the former name is correct; genealogy sites have a William Bate Curner in Deptford, but not Curwin. Also the name Curner is used elsewhere - in E.P Thompson's biography of William Morris for instance, which mentions the funeral of 'William B Curner, a prominent Deptford Radical and Secularist'.

Morris wasn't at the funeral but he did write the Death Song which closed it - it was first used at the funeral of another of those who died at the time, Alfred Linnell. The line up at Curner's funeral was quite impressive though. Annie Besant was already well known as a socialist and secularist, and later in 1888 was to play a key role in the famous Match Girls Strike. W T Stead was a prominent campaigner and journalist - he was the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette at the time. Robert Forder was secretary of the National Secular Society.

I believe that Henry Street, Deptford, is now part of Childers Street.

I had a look in Brockley Cemetery for the grave recently, but had no luck. If anybody else knows its whereabouts please comment.

Updated September 2013:

Report from Commonweal (paper of the Socialist League), January 14 1888:

'Last Saturday afternoon William B. Curner, who died from injuries received from the conflict with the police on Sunday 13th November, was buried in Brockley Cemetery. The deceased was a Secularist and Radical, and as such occupied a somewhat prominent position in the borough of Deptford, where he resided. The occasion of his burial was marked by a public funeral, and the whole line of route from his residence in Henry Street, Deptford, to the cemetery was lined with sympathetic spectators. Blinds were drawn and mourning borders were displayed from houses, one of the chief. tradesmen displaying over his shop black flags, two with mottoes, " Honour the Dead,"  and "Let all assist the Widow." The. funeral hearse bore Radical, Irish, and Socialist flags, and also a shield with the inscription "Killed for Trafalgar Square'. A band playing the "Dead March" preceded the hearse, the whole procession to the cemetery being most imposing.

At the grave R. Forder, surrounded by a dense throng of people, among them being representatives of Secular, Radical, and Socialist bodies, read the secular burial service. After which Mrs. Besant made a most impressive speech, in which she urged her hearers not to shrink back from the struggle for freedom in which their brother in the grave had fallen, for in their efforts to make life worth the living some must fall. Let them go from the grave the more determined than ever to carry on the fight for which, he had given his life. Mr. Stead followed with a most fervid speech, and speaking as a Christian at the grave of an Atheist dwelt on the necessity for the sinking of mere minor differences of opinion: the cause of the people was the cause
of humanity, and all its lovers would unite for the overthrow of its enemies.

Mr. Larkin then made a brief speech, and the choir of the Socialist League brougt the proceedings to a close by singing William Morris's " Death Song," written to commemorate the death and burial of Linnell.

This is the second public funeral that has taken place within a month, the dead in each case being martyrs to the cause of freedom of speech. How many more are to be sacrificed ere "liberty the parent of truth" shall
triumph?'

(I have just added to a previous post on Margaret and Rachel McMillan that they too are buried in Brockley Cemetery)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dire Straits in Deptford

Deptford Dame notes that this Thursday the Performing Rights Society are planning to unveil a plaque for Dire Straits on the Crossfields Estate in Deptford to commemorate the band's first gig there back in 1977.

Most of Dire Straits actually lived in a flat on the first floor of Farrer House on the estate at the time. At one point in the 1970s it looked as if the estate would be demolished. After a campaign to save it, the Council decided that it was unsuitable for families and allocated the flats instead to young people -which is how quite a few musicians and artists came to be living there.

According to Mark Knopfler's website: 'The band's first gig took place on the open space at the back of the Farrer House flats, the electricty provided by a power cable running from the stage into a socket on the wall of John's first floor flat'.

Not everybody foresaw their potential in these early days. A review in the Mercury of a local gig in 1977 was far from flattering, with writer Jad Adams asking: 'Would Dire Straits by offended if I called them a poor man's JJ Cale? They are a good support band playing easy, laid back country rock which everyone appreciates but no one gets very excited over. From the Crossfield Estate, Deptford, where they recently played a community benefit, they are all intelligent, competent musicians. The line up: bass player John Isley, who has just taken a sociology degree; social worker Dave Knofler [sic -the paper mis-spelt the name] on rhythm, his brother Mark, a college lecturer, on lead; with Pick Withers, who "scrapes a meagre living" as a session musician, on drums' (Mercury 4 August 1977).

Way on Down South London Town

I was never a fan of Dire Straits in their period of 1980s stadium excess, but have to admit now that they actually wrote some good songs. My favourite remains their early hit ‘Sultans of Swing’, and not just because the 'Way on Down South London Town' setting for the song was a local pub. In an interview Mark Knopfler recalled: 'It was a little deserted pub in Deptford where we were all living at the time - the pub was semi-deserted and the band were down at heel and it was just playing these Dixie standards of Louis Armstrong things, the way they always do. They're an interesting make up, those kind of bands in that they're blokes who do all sorts of things, aren't they? They're postmen, they're draughtsmen, whatever, quantity surveyors, teachers, different things and they were expressing themselves. I mean that's one thing that struck me that whatever I might have felt about it they were expressing themselves and when the guys said "Thank you very much", you know, "We are the Sultans of Swing", there was something really funny about it to me because Sultans, they absolutely weren't. You know they were rather tired little blokes in pullovers.'

Not sure exactly what pub it was - The Duke has got to be a possibility as a (then) music pub close to Farrer House. Maybe if anyone from the band turns up next week somebody can ask them.





Of course there's already the Dire Straits inspired Love Over Gold mural on Creekside, which aritst Gary Drostle did with local kids in 1989.


Update: According to Pete Frame's book Rockin' Around Britain, the Sultans of Swing pub was actually The White Swan, in Blackheath Road, Greenwich.

They came from outer Sydenham

A couple of recently spotted South London fortean stories.

Neil Arnold at the Londonist reports a tale from 'several years ago' of an odd supposed sighting in Brockley: 'We saw a figure walking up the street towards us. The word we coined later to describe its movement was 'lolloping' - a kind of up and down bouncy walk. It took a few seconds for the two of us to realise this was no human being. The creature was entirely black and like a cardboard cut-out, flat and one-dimensional. It had no features at all, and it had arms that hung down to its knees. It seemed to be ignoring us, then it seemed to realise we could see it and it began to lollop faster towards us' (full story here).

Meanwhile the Newshopper (16 November 2009) reports strange lights over Sydenham:

'A mother and daughter had the fright of their lives when they saw two strange orange lights in the sky. Nurse Sue Hentschel was driving her teenage daughter Jessica to a dance class when they witnessed a terrifying vision in the sky. Their car was stuck in heavy Sydenham traffic on November 2 at around 6.10pm when they saw two mysterious lights. Mrs Hentschel, of Stembridge Road, Anerley, said: “We saw these two lights which were orange coming towards us. “My daughter looked up and said ‘Mum, what’s that?’ “I didn’t know. I just said ‘What the hell is that? What is it?’” She says they stared dumbfounded for several minutes as the lights hovered over Hazeldene School;.

The comments thread to this story has other people reporting seeing the same lights, but others provide the more prosaic explanation that they were in fact Chinese lanterns rather than spacecraft.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Saucy rats, murder ballads and bonkers folklore

One Eye Grey is 'a penny dreadful for 21st century that draws on the tradition of those as well as the pulp fiction that followed. It features modern stories based on traditional London tales of the uncanny, paranormal and supernatural'

To celebrate the release of One Eye Grey theme on vinyl they are taking over the Pullens Centre (Crampton Street SE17) on Friday December 4th, from 8.00 to 10.00pm.

Expect to hear: Murder ballads courtesy of Jude Cowan; Scary stories by One Eye Grey writers; Incredible tales of south London wonder from Scott Wood of the South East London Folklore Society; music from Nigel of Bermondsey and London Dreamtime singing stories from the streets.

The event coincides with the Pullens Yard xmas sale - free mince pies, mulled wine and carol singing will be available in the yards (Clements, Peacock and Illiffe) as well as stalls selling gifts.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Hatcham - Still No Action

Still no sign of any action at the Hatcham Liberal Club in New Cross (369 Queens Road), shamefully empty more than two years after it closed. For over 100 years it was a place for drinking, socialising, music and much else. In its last few years alone the hall out the back hosted Exploding cinema film nights, jazz nights, private parties and more - in fact I DJed there a couple of times myself.

I've mentioned before its earlier radical history, and a quick google search shows that all kinds of alternative and radical currents flowed through the place from when it opened in around 1880 to at least the time of the First World War. Annie Besant lectured on socialism there, as did George Bernard Shaw and the Fabian Sidney Webb ( on 'Socialism and Cooperation'). The latter owed his political career as a London County Councillor to the club - in an 1891 letter he stated that 'B T Hall of the Hatcham Club wants to propose me as LCC Candidate for Deptford'.

Shaw also records in his diary that on November 15 1887 there was a 'Debate on Vegetarianism at the Hatcham Liberal Club between Dr. Drysdale and W. S. Manning'. There were meetings on the Irish situation too. Remarkably The Brisbane Courier (27 February 1882) carried a report of a meeting there: 'Miss Helen Taylor, who has returned from a tour in Ireland, recently addressed the members of the Hatcham Liberal Club on the condition of the country... she asked were English working men prepared to send 50,000 soldiers to Ireland to force the Irish to emigrate and leave the land desolate? She did not believe two thirds - certainly not one-half - of the Irish could pay their rents... the police were the masters of the lives and liberties of the people in Ireland'.

On Sept. 29 1889, Colonel Henry S. Olcott, a leading member of the Theosophy Society lectured at the Hatcham Liberal Club - it was apparently lthe argest audience of the season.

On 21 Feb 1912 there was a meeting in support of women's suffrage there, chaired by CW Bowerman, MP with the main speaker, Mrs F Swannick.

Now - nothing (apart from the memory of its name carried far afield by Hatcham Social). Is it going to be left to crumble just because nobody can make money from buying it? The place is crying out to be an occupied social centre, come on people!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Brixton, Lewisham


'Brixton, Lewisham' by Tony Tomas was a track on the b-side of an early Island records single by Tony & Louise, 'Ups And Downs', released in 1963. Tony Tomas was presumably the Tony of '& Louise'. I don't know much more about it - seems to have been a pre-ska record by a Jamaican singer, but with a title like that I obviously long to know more. Anybody heard it, or better still can anybody sling me an MP3?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Our Daily Bread

Full Unemployment Cinema's free showings of interesting radical films continues next Sunday November 29th with Nikolaus Geyrhalter's Our daily bread. It's a documtary from 2005 about global food production, about which Geryhalter says: 'I’m fascinated by zones and areas people normally don’t see... the production of food is also part of a closed system that people have extremely vague ideas about. The images used in ads, where butter’s churned and a little farm’s shown with a variety of animals, have nothing to do with the place our food actually comes from. There’s a kind of alienation with regard to the creation of our food and these kinds of labor, and breaking through it is necessary'.

Other films scheduled include:

December 20th: WAGES OF FEAR, Henri Georges Clouzot , 1953 (131m)

January 31st: BANGLADESH LABOUR REVOLTS. Films from the recent Garment workers strikes and riots

February 28th: PART-TIME WORK OF A DOMESTIC SLAVE, Alexander Kluge, 1973 (91m)

Film Times: Doors open 5pm - All films begin at 5.30pm. Venue: 56A Infoshop, 56 Crampton St (off Walworth Rd), Elephant and Castle.

Lost Robots in Greenwich

Interesting sound music session in Greenwich tonight (Wednesday, 25 November), with Little Other presenting Special Sounds featuring:

- Lost Robots: free improvised group featuring Mark Braby, Richard Sanderson, Andy Coules and Clive Pearman, influenced by british and german experimental rock, non-idiomatic improvisation, free jazz, minimalism, post punk, and traditional music.

- Luciano Berio's Sequenza for Solo Violin performed by Aisha Orazbayeva

- Nalle: Based in Glasgow, Hanna, formerly of Scatter, performs with voice, flutes, kantele

Ben's Pens: singer/songwriters Ben Elsley

8:00 pm start at Oliver's Music Bar, Nevada Street, Greenwich.

(Facebook event here)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Deptford Last Fridays

Deptford Last Fridays is an evening event for anyone with an interest in what's happening at local art galleries and studios. Deptford Art Map galleries hold evening openings of their exhibitions, from 6:30-8:30pm, followed by an after-party in the studios at Creekside Artists.
The next one is this Friday 27th November, with the party from 8:30-11pm featuring live music & DJ set by 'The Meat Sweats'. Creekside Artists will also be launching their new bar 'The Queen Creek.'

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hyperdub at Corsica Studios

The Hyperdub night at Corsica Studios (Elephant & Castle) was excellent on Saturday, with two awesome live appearances. Kode9 and Spaceape were intense, but due to moving around, saying hello to folks and then being squeezed to the back, I only caught the latter half of the set. I was luckier for King Midas Sound - squeezed at the front instead - and they were outstanding on their first London gig. The project is a collaboration between Kevin Martin (of The Bug fame), Roger Robinson and Hitomi.

Must admit I did think of early Massive Attack when they were playing, something which Jonny Mugwump has already criticised (see link below). It's not so much that they particularly sound like Massive Attack, but in some ways there's a similarity of approach. On the first Massive Attack album they magnificently filtered the then current state of dance music (including hip hop) through a UK reggae sound system sensibility. King Midas Sound do something similar, except in the interim there's a whole lot of other stuff that's been added to the mix, from techno to dubstep. The KMS album is out next week, and not having heard it I don't want to overdo the hype, but on the evidence of the live show there is potential for it to have a similar impact to that first Massive Attack album as a sonic landmark that crosses over to a wider audience.

There's a couple of good new KMS interviews out there - John Eden at FACT and Jonny Mugwump at The Quietus).


(photo - Roger Robinson under the spotlight on Saturday)

Corsica Studios and La Provincia


Corsica Studios is located in a railway arch directly underneath Elephant and Castle station so joins the list of great railway arch clubs which I will eventually get round to writing about. Two good-sized rooms with nice sound system plus a bar overlooked by a picture of Dickie Davies (yes really). At the back there's a covered outside area shared by the other railway arches, including La Provincia, a Latin America club frequented mainly by Colombians. Thanks to a Spanish speaking member of our party we ended up in there for a while too.

As someone who is always as fascinated by the crowd and dance styles as the music when I go out, it was interesting to compare the two. Dress codes weren't that dissimilar - jeans and t-shirts predominating, though a bit smarter in La Provincia. Gender balance was similar too - fairly evenly matched, but with more men than women. Hyperdub though was very crowded, whereas in La Provincia people were sitting round tables.

And the dancing was very different - in La Provincia it was exclusively salsa dancing couples, whereas in Corsica there wasn't room for much more than nodding heads, shuffling on the spot, and hands in the air for the more enthusiastic. At Hyperdub a lot of the dancing was in rows facing the front, which means people are mostly looking at the back of the person in front of them. Understandable for a live performance, but something I have never really understood when it's just a DJ. I don't think I ever saw this before the 'superstar DJ' boom in the late 1990s, in fact I distinctly remember noticing it for the first time at the famous 1999 Armand Van Helden vs. Fatboy Slim clash where they DJed in a boxing ring in the middle of Brixton Academy. Not proposing that people should start trying out strict tempo Latin moves to dubstep - though that might be fun - but there is something to be said for shifting the balance back from the DJ to the dancefloor as the centre of attention.

Anyway just some thoughts rather than criticisms, it was a good night enlivened even more by this sense of these different dance worlds coexisting in time and space in a corner of South East London.

Some more reviews of the night: Uncarved, Yeti Blancmange, Vice Magazine (from where this Moses Whitley photo comes).

(cross posted at History is Made at Night)

Brixton, Bookmongers and Black Panthers

Last weekend I wandered round my old Brixton stomping ground for the first time in ages. Pleased to report that the market arcade is as busy as ever, had a snack at Rosie's cafe and then went to a Little Bazaar craft/jumble sale at the Rest is Noise (the town centre pub run by the people behind the Amersham Arms in New Cross). Best of all, the second hand bookshop on Coldharbour Lane - Bookmongers - is still going strong. A proper second hand bookshop with piles of books everywhere, shelves of bargain paperbacks, and generally more tomes than you could possibly have time to look through on one views.

Remembering Olive Morris

But there's always been more to Brixton that shops, another strand being its history of radical community politics. In celebration of one its past activists there 's a new exhibition just opened at Gasworks in Brixton. Do you remember Olive Morris? 'uncovers the largely untold history of Brixton-based activist Olive Morris (1952-1979)... In her short life, Olive Morris co-founded the Brixton Black Women's Group and the Organisation of Women of Asian and African Descent (OWAAD) and was part of the British Black Panther Movement. She campaigned for access to education, decent living conditions for Black communities and fought against state and police repression'. Various events are taking place alongside the exhibition, which coincides with the opening of a permanent Olive Morris collection at Lambeth Archives.

More details at the Remembering Olive Collective blog, where I also found a link to an interesting article about the Black Panther movement in London. The Black Panthers in London, 1967-72: A Diasporic Struggle Navigates the Black Atlantic by Anne-Marie Angelo (Radical History Review, Winter 2009 includes an account of the Oval House incident in August 1970 when police and Panthers clashed at a Panther-organised dance in Kennington (the slogan 'Get out, fascist fuzz' was apparently shouted!). Three people were later convicted of 'riotous assembly'.

'Police Everywhere, Justice Nowhere' meeting

A similar spirit motivates a public meeting being held this week (Tuesday 24th November, 7pm) at Brixton St Vincent's Community Centre ((off Railton Road, SW2 1AS). They say 'We are a group of Lambeth residents who believe that the problems within and between our communities can be solved by communicating with each other, and co-operating to find long-lasting solutions.We believe that the increasing powers, and abuse of powers, of the police and the authorities serves only to undermine our ability to live and work with each other' . Issues to be discussed include the 'increased presence of armed police on the streets of Lambeth'; surveillance and stop and search. More details from lambeth@riseup.net

The next night (Wednesday 25th November 2009) there's a folk-themed fundraiser in Brixton for London No Borders, a group fighting migration controls. Acts appearing at The Windmill (22 Blenheim Gardens, SW2 Niall Kelly, Emily C Smith, and Mark Ridout. Doors: 7.30pm, Suggested donation: £3.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The McMillan Sisters and Rudolf Steiner in Deptford

McMillan Street, Rachel McMillan Nursery School and Children's Centre, and Margaret McMillan Park in Deptford all mark the long term influence of the McMillan sisters on this part of South East London.

Margaret (1860-1931) and Rachel McMillan (1859-1917) grew up in Scotland before moving to London in the 1880s, where they became active in the socialist movement. They met William Morris, the Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin, and the Paris Communard Louise Michel, and were involved in supporting the 1889 London dock strike.

Margaret McMillan

In 1910, Margaret helped establish a pioneering child health clinic (called the School Treatment Centre) in Deptford Green, later moving it to Evelyn House (353 Evelyn Street). In 1911, the nursery started on a small scale in the garden of Evelyn House, where there was also a 'night camp' for children over eight years of age while little children were received in the day time. In 1914 the 'camp' moved to a shelter on London County Council land on the Stowage site where the Rachel McMillan Nursery School stands to this day. In the war it was mainly used by the children of munitions workers. New buildings were erected on the site in 1917, with further buildings opened by Queen Mary in 1921. Rachel died in 1917, and so Margaret named the Nursery School after her. Margaret continued to have some involvement in it until her death in 1931.
Rachel McMillan

In the early days it was known as an open air nursery school, as there was a strong emphasis on playing, learning and sleeping outside. Although sleeping outside passed from fashion, outdoor play remains at the heart of the nursery schools movement which Margaret McMillan helped inititate.

Margaret McMillan’s writings on childhood criticised schools for just preparing working class children for unskilled work. At a time of rigid discipline she opposed corporal punishment and stressed the importance of free play. In Deptford she tried to put into practice her vision of the school as 'a garden city for children', with children playing, learning and sleeping outside. Her description of children sleeping under the stars has an almost mystical quality: ‘sleepy eyes looked from their pillows at points of starry fire in the indigo blue depth; the night wind cooled their little heated bodies, and a primrose dawn called them awake. Will these children ever forget the healing joy of such nearness to the earth spirit as is possible even in Deptford?’ (quoted in Steedman).

The nursery and the clinic were both practical efforts to answer the question McMillan herself posed: ‘We all hate the poverty – and the riches – of capitalist society. But the real poverty goes deeper than wages. It is in the starved, cramped, diseased bodies and minds: the eyes that do not see; the ears that do not hear: how can we change them?’ (quoted in Steele, 1999).

Rudolf Steiner visits Deptford

McMillan's progressive ideas about children and education were shared by the Austrian thinker Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). In August 1923, Steiner visited the nursery school in Deptford at the invitation of Margaret McMillan. He described this visit at the time:

'Today I was able to accept her invitation to visit the nursery and school established by her at Deptford, London. Three hundred of the very poorest population, from the ages of two to twelve, are wonderfully cared for there by her... one sees at work in the various classes youngsters who are spiritually active, happy in soul, well-behaved and growing healthy in body. It is an equal pleasure to see these children at play, to see them learning, eating and resting after meals'.

Mentioning that some of the older children were performing a Midsummer Night's Dream, Steiner remarked: 'The institution lies near the spot where once upon a time the court of Queen Elizabeth stood, who herself lived at Greenwich nearby. Shakespeare apparently acted for the royal household almost in the identical place in which his works are now being so delightfully interpreted by these little ones' (quoted in 'Rudolf Steiner speaks to the British: lectures and addresses in England and Wales', Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998).

Rudolf Steiner

As well as an educationalist, Steiner was an occultist with his own doctrine of Anthroposophy combining elements from Theosophy, esoteric Christianity, and Rosicrucianism. This spiritual side of him seems to have appealed to McMillan, judging by her account of his visit to Deptford. She wrote to her friend Margaret Sutcliffe: 'He came here and everything seemed new and wonderful as he entered the room... The whole world is a whispering gallery to him, and vibrations reach him for which we have no name'. She later recalled 'how in walking with her round the school he kept telling her, very concretely, of the spiritual presence of her sister Rachel with whom she had begun this work - whose death not long before had been a very heavy blow for her' (according to George Adams, cited in 'A man before others: Rudolf Steiner remembered', Rudolf Steiner Press, 1993).

Steiner's educational ideas are still applied in the Steiner-Waldorf schools, the first of which in the UK opened in Streatham Hill in 1925. And judging by a conversation I had recently with a Brockley allotment gardener, his biodynamic agriculture ideas are being applied in South East London to this day.

Margaret and Rachel McMillan are both buried in Brockley Cemetery.

Sources other than those already referenced: Jess Steele (ed.) The Children can’t wait: the McMillan sisters and the birth of nursery education (London: Deptford Forum, 1999); Carolyn Steedman, Childhood, culture and class in Britain: Margaret McMillan, 1860-1931 (London: Virago, 1990).