Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Happy May Day

The Fowlers Troop/Deptford Jack in the Green will be out doing their traditional May Day procession on May 1st, details as follows:

12.00 Depart from Dog and Bell, 116 Prince St London, Deptford SE8 3JD.
(pub will open at 11.00),

12.45 Rose and Crown, 1 Crooms Hill, Greenwich, London SE10 8ER,

13.45 Star and Garter, 60 Old Woolwich Rd, Greenwich, London SE10 9NY,

14.25 Plume of Feathers, 19 Park Vista London, London SE10 9LZ,

15.25 Richard I (the Tolley), 52/54, Royal Hill, Greenwich, London, SE10 8RT,

16.10 Ashburnham Arms, 25 Ashburnham Grove, Greenwich, London SE10 8UH.

Doug Adams

Doug Adams (left, on the accordion)
Photo from Francis Sedgemore
This will be their first year since the death last September of their musical stalwart Doug Adams, remembered as follows in The Guardian:

'Doug Adams, who has died of cancer aged 60, was the lead musician at the Deptford Jack in the Green. This traditional event, last seen in Deptford around the end of the 19th century, was revived in the early 1980s. The Jack in the Green, a large leaf-covered framework decorated with flowers, is carried through the streets on May Day, accompanied by a band of attendants and musicians. Doug also played melodeon for several morris teams in south-east London as well as leading bands and playing at English traditional music sessions.

Originally from Bratton Clovelly, Devon, Doug arrived in Greenwich in the mid-1970s after taking an applied physics degree at Lanchester Polytechnic (now Coventry University). He had a love of English traditional music which, at the time he started playing, was not as well known as Irish traditional music.

Doug had learned piano and recorder as a child, then switched to piano accordion and finally the melodeon. It was as a melodeon player that he joined his first morris team, Greenwich Morris Men, in the late 1970s. While pursuing his other great interest at the time, re-enacting civil war battles with the Roundhead Association, he broke his leg very badly, but continued as a musician, first using a wheelchair and then on crutches.

Doug then joined Blackheath Morris Men and gradually became their main musician. One of their enterprises in the early 1980s involved the revival of the Deptford Jack in the Green for which Doug was musician on the first and then most of the subsequent outings on May Day each year including 2012. Doug played regularly at English music sessions at the Horseshoe Inn, near London Bridge, and the Lord Hood in Greenwich as well as at the Sidmouth and Dartmoor folk festivals'

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hilly Fields Parkrun

A while ago I got the running bug back for the first time since I was at school and got in the cross country team as a result of keeping going to avoid the bullies who always stopped off on the course for a smoke and some mindless violence.

I started off last year with the NHS 'Couch to 5k' programme, a series of podcasts that take you gently from a 'walk 5 minutes, run 2 minutes' start through to running continuously for half and hour. If you can't imagine yourself being able to run 5 km without a break I really suggest giving this a go - you can also have fun trying to work out which artists are being pastiched in the music specially recorded for the podcasts.

There's a solitary dimension to running, 'The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner' and so on, going off into your own private world or perhaps into a kind of nothingness: 'really as I run, I don't think much of anything worth mentioning. I just run. I run in a void. Or maybe I should put it another way: I run in order to acquire a void' (Haruki Murakami, What I talk about when I talk about running).

But running is also a social activity- after all almost two million people are estimated to run regularly in England alone. Whether you are interested in competition or not, running with other people is not only enjoyable but also raises your own game. And the easiest way into running like this is through the parkrun phenomenon - weekly timed runs in parks all over the country. Locally there are regular park runs in Hilly Fields, Crystal Palace Park, Dulwich Park, Greenwich Park, Burgess Park and Brockwell Park, among others.

You don't have to join an athletic club, you just go on to the Parkrun website and register once. You can then take part in parkruns anywhere.

You don't have to book in advance - just turn up and run.

You don't have to be superfit - the runs are for people of all levels of ability. There are club runners who tear off in front and others who run steadily at their own slow pace.

You don't have to pay any fees, either to register or take part in a run.

You do get a properly organised run, with a marked out course, volunteer helpers and timing of your run. How it works is that when you register with Parkrun you are allocated a barcode which you print out. As you cross the line at the end of the run you are given another barcode token which is linked to your finishing time. You then get this token and your personal barcode scanned on the spot, which generates a list of runners and times published on the website very soon afterwards.

I took part in the Hilly Fields run for the first time at the weekend and will definitely be going back. The course is three times round the park, the uphill bits are tough of course but they are balanced by the downhill sections! They meet every Saturday at 9 am near to the children's playground, with around 100 people taking part. Many people have a coffee afterwards at the Pistachios cafe in the park.

Get fit for free with coffee and trees - what's not to like?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Free Park Films

New Cross and Deptford Free Film Festival has now started, and tonight's big bike-powered movie is Skyfall in Fordham Park at 8.00 pm, featuring of course the famous New Cross and Deptford scenes. Forecast is that any afternoon rain will have cleared by then so don't worry about the weather - anyway last year's Fordham Park event went ahead despite heavy showers.

Next Saturday 4th May, E.T. is being shown in Telegraph Hill Park

Lots more free events - programme here

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Made in Lewisham: 100 years of Cinema

New Cross and Deptford Free Film Festival features an illustrated talk 'Made in Lewisham - 100 years of Cinema' with Neil Gordon-Orr. The talk will focus on New Cross, Deptford and Brockley in particular, looking at the places where people have watched films and the places films have been made in. Basically a visual tour of lost cinema buildings combined with a guide to local film locations, with film clips and photos.

Tuesday 30 April 2013, 8 pm (doors open 7:30 pm) at the Hill Station Cafe, Kitto Road, SE14.
Admission Free.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

'Mad Tracey from Croydon'

I used to love Tracey Emin. Her breakthrough exhibition at the South London Gallery in Camberwell 'I need Art like I need God' (way back in 1997) really blew me away, and I still think that she has brought some material into the art world boys club that has rarely found expression there before - young women's sexuality, abuse, abortion and growing up in unfashionable places: a 1999 documentary about her was famously titled 'Mad Tracey from Margate' (though we might note that she was actually born in Croydon May Day Hospital in 1963).

More recently she has become a bit of an embarrassing celeb, moaning about high taxes and, horror of horrors, publically admitting to voitng Tory in the last election (though she has subsequently criticised their art education policy). She has joined that select club with Morrissey and Jeanette Winterson of people whose younger selves' influence on my younger self can't be erased by their later baleful utterances - I guess you can't complain too much if you are drawn to professional contrarians and they end up acting in ways contrary to your own expectations of them.

I might not like Tracey Emin in her current guise,  but I can still admire the version of her who recalled walking through the Elephant and Castle in 1990 when Margaret Thatcher stood down as Prime Minister: 'I looked up at the buses, and people were banging on the windows and going 'Yeah!' And I noticed people were jumping up and down in the street...People looked so happy. I felt absolute jubilation' (quoted in 'Margaret Thatcher' by John Campbell, 2004).

As a homeless teenager, she ended up being  housed in Waterloo after six months of daily hassling Southwark Council . Later, she had a studio somewhere round the Elephant around 1990 though I'm not sure exactly where. In that period she worked for Southwark Council as a youth worker for a couple of years, and in 1992 she met her sometime collaborator Sarah Lucas when the latter had  an exhibition,'A penis nailed to a board', at City Racing - a former betting shop near the Oval (in a funny interview a couple of years ago, Lucas pointed out that she actually was a working class artist from a London council estate, whereas Emin's dad was a sometime businessman - not that Emin didn't have some very hard times).

 Emin has a new book out, My Photo Album, with some of the proceeds going to the no longer fashionable HIV charity The Terrence Higgins Trust. And I will also give her additional points for once donating some drawings to one of my favourite charities, Celia Hammond Animal Trust (of Lewisham Way, Canning Town and Hastings), from where we once secured two lovely cats - well nobody ever manages to come out of there with just one.

Come on Tracey, there's still time to dismiss those Cameron fan club moments as a terrible mid-life crisis and to grow old disgracefully.

Tracey Emin in her Elephant and Castle studio, 1990

World Book Night

Tonight is World Book Night, a nationwide celebration of the reading, recommending and giving of books. The recently revamped Lewisham Library will be hosting an after-hours book party, with special guests including Blake Morrison, Sarah Mussi, Nii Ayikwei Parkes and Lydia Syson, along with Sandra Agard. The theme for the night is ‘you should read…’ with each of these speakers telling of writing they love. Other readers are also invited to bring along a 'used' book to gift and to tell people about it.

The events starts at 8pm and is free to attend - but booking is essential as priority will be given to World Book Night gifters. Bookings can be made in person at the library, by calling 020 8314 8430 or via libraries@lewisham.gov.uk.

There's also an event at New Cross Learning (previously known as New Cross Library). They say: 'This coming April 23 is World Book Night and this year we are very proud to have been selected as “book givers”. We have 80 free copies of Philippa Gregory’s “The White Queen” to give away. To get your free copy all you have to do is come to the library on the 23rd between 5pm-7pm. There will be a performance of Spoken Word by local poet ‘Jazzman’ John Clarke, live music, plus our Extreme Reading and National Poetry Month exhibitions are still on display. Light refreshments will be served. It promises to be a fantastic evening so please come early and secure your copy! FREE'.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Goldsmiths and Lewisham: Shared Histories

'Goldsmiths & Lewisham: Shared Histories' is an exhibition opening this week in New Cross and Deptford with the aim of 'exploring the intertwined histories of Goldsmiths and its local community' via 'an insight into the area as a centre of creative work over the past century'. It will run from 24 April to 3 May 2013 across four sites:  Goldsmiths' New Academic Building and 310 New Cross Road, New Cross Learning, and The Albany in Deptford.

The collaborative exhibition has organised by the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, in partnership with the Goldsmiths Art Collections and the Lewisham Local History Society, with funding from Arts & Humanities Research Council Cultural Engagement Fund. I am looking forward to it - both Goldsmiths and the Lewisham Local History Society have extensive archives which they don't have the space to publically display. The four parts of the exhibition are as follows:

- 'The New Pastoralists: A selection of etchings from the Goldsmiths Collection, inspired by the Romantic artist Samuel Palmer, produced by a group of printmakers based at the College in the 1920s. These artists enjoyed great success in that era in which etchings were in high demand, and some stayed on to teach at Goldsmiths for many years. Artists on display include: Edward Bouverie-Hoyton, Paul Drury, William Larkins, Graham Sutherland, and Robin Tanner. On display in the Weston Atrium, lower ground floor, New Academic Building; opening times 11am-6pm'.
'After Work' (1926) by Paul Drury. Drury was born in Brockley in 1903, attended Goldsmiths in the 1920s and later taught there, becoming the Principal for a period in the 1960s.  He was one of the artists in the 1920s  associated what became  known as the Goldsmiths School or New Pastoralists, who made prints influenced by the work of Samuel Palmer (who grew up off the Old Kent Road). They were initially inspired by 'Fred Richards, a tutor at Goldsmiths, [who] had given a lecture, with slides, on 19th century etching, which included Palmer’s ‘Herdsman’s Cottage'. The best known of the artists from this group was Graham Sutherland (see example of his work from The Dark Monarch exhibition).

- 'Art, Education, Activism: Artefacts drawn from Goldsmiths' holdings of the Rachel McMillan College collection, emphasising the local work of Margaret and Rachel McMillan [see previous Transpontine post], activists at the turn of the century who were highly influential in state provision for the education of children, and Goldsmiths' inheritance of this legacy. This installation will also include a pop-up reading room, and additional works related to Goldsmiths' active history in the promotion of arts education. On display at 310 New Cross Road; opening times 11am-6pm.

- Lewisham Life: Making & Using: A jointly-curated installation by the Lewisham Local History Society that draws from the Borough's history as a manufacturing centre, integrating objects that were made here into a thematic display based on daily life here, addressing the home, work, and leisure. On display at New Cross Learning, 283-285 New Cross Road; opening times Tues 10am-5pm, Wed-Thurs 10am-7pm, Sat 10am-5pm.

- Made in New Cross: A snapshot of the present with a theatrical installation of a selection of works acquired through the annual Warden's Art Purchase Prize made by Goldsmiths students that have studied and worked as cohabitants of the Lewisham community. On display at The Albany, Douglas Way, Deptford; opening times Mon-Fri 9am-6pm, Sat 10am-3pm'.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

In the Neighbourhood

A few things going on locally that people have asked us to mention:

Hill Trader Community Shop 

'The Hill Trader Community Shop is an exciting new pop up shop in the Hill Station Café, run by local people for local people. As part of what we’re doing at the Hill Station, Kitto Rd, SE14 we have opened this shop as a pilot for 4 months, selling locally handmade things as well as bread and milk. We are working with local people who are giving us some of their products to sell, and in return will volunteer at the shop for a session a week. This means we all get lovely things to buy and they get valuable retail experience without the financial risk of renting a stall or shop.

Our vision is to provide a space for people to both buy and sell locally produced goods, share skills and inspire others who want to create things to sell. We have aimed to be as inclusive as possible and are trialling a range of different items produced by people of all ages and backgrounds. We’re excited about starting this new venture and we are keen to hear whether you agree a shop like this would be a great resource for our community. Please do also get in touch if you have something you would like to produce for the shop.

Please feel free to talk to one of the volunteers running the shop, Stephen, Jacqui at the Hill Station Cafe counter or Sarah Bickers directly at sarah@thehillstation.org'

May Day Social

The Death of Thatcher(ism?), Sunday 28th April 5pm –9pm at Harts Lane Studios, SE14 5UP (Behind T K Maxx, New Cross Gate). Entertainment starts at 7pm. Lewisham People Before Profit say: 'An opportunity to celebrate May Day and chat about how we can work together to end Thatcher’s legacy, so eagerly continuedby Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron, Clegg. Bring your works of art, films, photos and poetry for display from 5pm'. Food and drink available, with Strawberry Thieves Socialist Choir.

Something Human: Performance Artists wanted

From Mirabelle Spreckelsen from 'international curator-collective Something Human':

'Something Human, in partnership with Brockspace, is seeking live performance artists for a line-up of live performance work entitled FRESHLY PACKED / ALWAYS CHECK THE LABEL (working title). This programme will take place across the summer of 2013 and aims to bring new work and build new audiences for live performance work in Brockley, south-east London and beyond.

Submissions should respond with the following: Original performative work that explores themes surrounding notions of the biological, corporeal, flesh, food, sustenance and mortality'.  Details including applications from and proposal guidelines available at www.something-human.org

Freeforming Contact Meditation

'Freeforming cuts through distraction to bring you alive to the moment. It makes you present. Practitioners connect their attention though movement and voice. This synchronises your mind and body to open to creative possibility. Freeforming was developed by Peri Mackintosh drawing on Zen, Aikido, Gestalt and the improvisatory arts.

Beginners always welcome. Come and try! 6:30-8:00pm Tuesdays, Edmund Waller Primary School, Waller Road, London SE14 5LY, Cost £10'. More at www.freeforming.net

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Save Lewisham Hospital Public Meeting

The Save Lewisham Hospital campaign is holding a public meeting on Thursday 25th April, 7 pm in the Great Hall at Goldsmiths College in New Cross, with speakers including Colin Leys, John Lister, Louise Irvine, Rachel Maskell and Pat Smtih. They say:

'Lewisham Hospital is still under threat of closure of its A+E and maternity. The magnificent passion and determination of Lewisham people in January with 25,000 marching to save our hospital and the roasting given to Mayor Boris Johnson shows Lewisham is a force to be reckoned with. We must build on our success and carry on fighting. The threat to Lewisham Hospital is part of a wide range of attacks by this government on our rights to good local NHS services. These attacks include:

- Privatisation – new laws going through parliament will enforce privatisation
- £20 billion NHS budget cuts leading to hospital closures and staff cuts
- Crippling Private Finance Initiative debts starving hospitals of much needed resources'

On April 9th, around 50 pensioners protested at Lewisham Hospital against threats to services there.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Record Store Day in South London

Record Store Day is on tomorrow, Saturday 20 April, a celebration of independent record shops.

Holding up the South London end is Camberwell's Rat Records (348 Camberwell New Road), with live DJs from 10 am to 7 pm. Line up includes DJ Terror Eyes, still remember a fantastic set by him at Dead by Dawn in Brixton.

Meanwhile at Casbah Records in Greenwich (320 Creek Road, SE10), there's acoustic sets from Peter Parker's Rock n Roll Club at 14:30 and Nathan Persad at 16:00 - plus a Clockwork Orange-themed competition. In the 1971 film, Alex goes to the Chelsea Drugs Store where people are browsing through the vinyl. The records on display are the kind of 1960s/70s classics that Casbah specialise in, and if you can spot five albums in the shop that can also be seen in A Clockwork Orange there's a prize. To help you, the scene is analyzed in detals at John Coulthart's Feuilleton blog.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

New Cross and Deptford Free Film Festival 2013

New Cross and Deptford Free Film Festival takes place from 26 April to 5 May and as the names suggests will feature free film showings in lots of interesting venues locally - including Fordham Park, Sanford Housing Co-op, the Amersham Arms, Big Red Pizzeria, the Hill Station, Goldsmiths, Telegraph Hill Park, Tidemill Old School, London Theatre, King of Hearts Tattoo Parlour and New Cross Learning - full programme here.

The first festival last year was a great success, Pasolini's Gospel According to Saint Matthew at St Nicholas Church being a particular highlight for me. Over the next few weeks I will be featuring some of the events in more detail, including a couple I'm helping out with.

Just to mention one for now, on 2 May houses around the Telegraph Hill area will be projecting films into their front windows so you will be able to wander around watching movies.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Afrika Bambaataa at Bussey Building

From the South Bronx to South London, Afrika Bambaataa is coming to Peckham on Wednesday June 5th, a legendary figure in the development of hip hop and electro. Worth a tenner of anybody's money.

Inevitably he's going to be appearing at the Bussey Building (CLF Arts Cafe), which has hosted a number of other music greats in the last year or so - I saw the Jungle Brothers there last April.

In fact the club is becoming one of the best venues in London, offering affordable but high quality sounds to a growing and diverse crowd. I had another great night at South London Soul Train there a couple of weeks and the place was rammed - over 1000 people dance, dance, dancing non-stop. Getting busy though, people were still queuing to get in at 2 am. I wouldn't expect a Wednesday night to be quite so mobbed but you might want to get a ticket in advance. Facebook details here.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Deptford Panorama 1844

The Grand Panorama of London from the Thames (1844) was a twelve feet wood engraving, a printed version of which was circulated to subscribers of the Pictorial Times newspaper.

The Deptford sections clearly show St Pauls Church, the buildings of the Deptford dockyard and to their west the Royal Victualling Office. The ships include a number of hulks - vessels no longer fit for the sea used variously as floating prisons or for quarantining people with small pox.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

New Cross Panther Latest

Yesterday's Sun reported:

A WOMAN fled and dialled 999 yesterday after she spotted what looked like a wild panther in a cul-de-sac. Cops searched the street — close to a primary school — but could find no trace of a beast. A source told The Sun: “She was terrified. She described it as a huge, black wild cat with large fangs and a long tail. The woman was very respectable, not drunk or imagining things, so the call was taken seriously.”

The 8.30am terror in New Cross, South London, came eight years after a man was mauled by a 6ft-long panther-like cat in nearby Sydenham. More sightings came in 2007 and 2009. The Met Police said: “Officers did a search but could not find the animal.” Research group Big Cats in Britain said: “There have been sightings in this area before.”

The Newsshopper has gone one better today and located the sighting as being in Southerngate Way by Fordham Park in New Cross and reported the witness saying: "I was walking to work in New Cross and looked to my left and saw a long black tail hanging down from the roof that covers the bins outside our block of flats. I then looked up and saw the biggest black cat I have ever seen - this was no domestic cat. It was very built with strong large leg muscles that you could see very clearly from the rear view. It was just perched with its tail dangling down'

See previous posts on various supposed beasts in Bexley, Crystal Palace, Borough High Street, Nunhead, Shooters Hill, Thamesmead etc.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

I have travelled the buses late at night

One of Margaret Thatcher's many reported contemptible utterances was that '"A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure" (though actually there's some doubt exactly what she said, when, or even whether she said it all!).

Was it prophetic that just two days ago The Band of Holy Joy posted a refutation of this sentiment on youtube, with a film to accompany their gorgeous song 'I have travelled the buses late at night' (from their album City of Tales): 'I have seen the rich take the goodly fight, to drive the poor neatly out of sight,  I have seen the poor chase the shadows of the rich, they want to scale the Shard but they end up in Shoreditch'.

The song perhaps also references an earlier response to Thatcher's alleged remark - 'Only Losers Take the Bus' by The Fatima Mansions (1989).

The Band of Holy Joy are arguably the finest band to ever emerge from New Cross. The Fatima Mansions were an Irish band named after a Dublin housing estate, so no Transpontine connection there... Although Fatima Mansions' singer Cathal Coughlan was previously in Microdisney with Sean O'Hagan who apparently lived in New Cross at some time and rehearsed at The Music Room in New Cross with his later band The High Llamas. O'Hagan is evidently still around South London - someone mentioned seeing him at a recent Dulwich Hamlet FC match. See it all connects.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Too Much Night, Again

Los Angeles-based artist Pae White's installation, 'Too Much Night, Again' is on at the South London Gallery until 12 May (65 Peckham Road, SE5; admission free).

The title of the yarn-based installation refers to insomnia, with the thread colours apparently linked to a Black Sabbath album belonging to her parents that used to terrify her as a child. A number of blogs say it was 'Master of Reality' (1971) but I would have thought that 'Paranoid' (1970) was more likely as a child-scaring album cover.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Lewisham Hospital: calling all pensioners

On March 16th around 500 people defied the pouring rain to join the 'Born in Lewisham Hospital' protest against the threat to materntiy and emergency services at the hospital (see report and photos by Andy Worthington). Lots of children and indeed adults who had been born at Lewisham took part.

(photo by Andy Worthington)
Next week, the campaign is focusing on the opposite end of the age spectrum from babies with a pensioners protest. Older people are asked to come to the Lewisham Pensioners Forum HQ at the Saville Centre (next to the hospital at 436 Lewisham High Street) on Tuesday April 9th at 10.30:

'Come with your shopping trolley (or wheelchair or walking frame) and be part of our poster campaign which will call on the Government to stop the dismantling of Lewisham Hospital and the sale of over one half of its land. Help us make a poster which raises the voice of Lewisham Pensioners and shows our support for the only hospital in Lewisham. If you don’t own a trolley—still come and you can hold a placard or wear a very lightweight poster sandwich board. AND after the photo shoot, join us as we form a ‘Trolley Crocodile’ and progress down to Lewisham Hospital to hand to the Chief Executive and Staff Representatives the first print of our poster for display in the Hospitals Board Room and Staff Room'

Billboard by Brockley station - definitely support the sentiments but I don't actually
want to use the A&E - last time I did it was very painful - I just want it to be there if I need it!

Friday, April 05, 2013

Frightened to death by Brockley Cemetery: more Spring Heeled Jack?

Brockley Cemetery, then known as Deptford Cemetery, was the scene of the strange case of a young woman being 'frightened to death' in the late 19th century. The British Medical Journal, April 7 1888, reported:

'The serious effects of shock to the nervous system, especially by fright, are constantly witnessed... Death itself is, fortunately, comparatively rare. It is reported in the newspapers to have occurred at Brockley, on March 21st, in the case of a girl, aged 18, who was frightened to death by a man dressed as a ghost, near the Deptford cemetery.

She arrived home after her fright, in the road by the Deptford Cemetery, at Brockley, looking very ill and excited. She is said to have taken off her waterproof, drawn a chair to the table to take supper, then fallen forward with her head on the table, and died after a short struggle. Mr Hollis, the medical man who was called in, made a post mortem examination, and reported that all the organs were healthy, but that the state of the heart, combined with the fright, would account for death... It is to be hoped the miscreant will be discovered, and receive the utmost punishment which the law allows. The coroner stated at the inquest that five other persons had been frightened at the same spot. We do not know why the jury did not record a verdict of 'Manslaughter' against some unknown person'.

The details resemble the Peckham Ghost panic of 1872, when a number of people were frightened by what was generally believed to be a man dressed up as a ghost in the Peckham/Dulwich/Herne Hill area. The Camberwell & Peckham Times (19 Oct 1872) reported one such sighting:

'He appeared...on [14 October 1872] to Sarah Ann Foster, a girl living opposite the Crystal Palace Tavern, and charing at Mr Smith’s, in Lordship-lane. It appears that she had been to fetch the supper beer, and on her return she was required to go on another errand, when she complained to her mistress that there was a tall man waiting in the road. Mrs Smith remonstrated with her on the folly of being frightened, and Mr Smith said he would watch her from the window. She started on her errand, but had not left the front garden when a figure in white rose from behind the fence. She screamed loudly, and rushed towards the doorway, and was clasped in the arms of her master, he having seen the apparition from the window, and in rushing out caught his foot in something which threw him forward, and instead of catching the ghost he caught the girl in his arms, who, thinking it was the unearthly spirit that had got hold of her, went into a fit, in which she remained two hours, and is now seriously ill. The description given by Mr Smith and the girl is as follows: – About six foot high, dressed in long overcoat (having white lining, which when thrown open, aided by a white waistcoat and outstretched arms, give the desired effect) a dark felt hat, and a plume of black feathers, with which he hides his ignominious features.’ [presumably this was the Crystal Palace Tavern on Crystal Palace Road, East Dulwich].

A local man, Joseph Munday, was later arrested and accused of being behind the Peckham Ghost incidents.

The Peckham events have often been linked to the wider 19th century legend of 'Spring Heeled Jack' - a monster or dressed up man (depending on interpretation) who similarly appeared to terrorise people, including a number of sightings in South London. For instance in Dulwich  the daughter of Plutarch Dickinson was reported to have been 'nearly deprived of her senses’ and taken to bed ‘in a very dangerous state’ after seeing a  figure 'enveloped in a white sheet and blue fire' (The Sun, 20 January 1838, cited in Mike Dash's overview of the phenomenon).

So perhaps the Brockley events should also be considered in this context. The man dressed as a ghost may have been imitating  these earlier scares, inspired by the accounts in Penny Dreadfuls such as 'Spring Heeled Jack: The Terror of London' (advert above is from 1886).  Though doubtless others may have more exotic explanations.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Iain Banks and the Battle of Lewisham

Sad to hear that the Scottish writer Iain Banks is very seriously ill with gall bladder cancer. Banks has written some great books including The Wasp Factory, The Crow Road, the Culture series of science fiction novels (published under the name Iain M. Banks) and a fine appreciation of whisky 'Raw Spirit: in search of the perfect dram'.

When we were doing the Lewisham '77 event in 2007 I corresponded with Banks' friend the Scottish science fiction writer Ken MacLeod who mentions the 'Battle of Lewisham' in his novel The Cassini Division.  Ken confirmed that he and Banks had taken part in that famous anti-National Front demonstration in New Cross in August 1977. Ken recalled:

'I went to Lewisham in the back of a big van rented for the day by the local branch of the left group I was in at the time. That group had decided to send one lot of members to Clifton Rise and the other to the march, with the intention of encouraging as many marchers as possible to go to Clifton Rise after the march officially ended - which they did. Our little squad went to Clifton Rise. Not all of us were in the left group but we all knew each other very well and had a good natural leader, an experienced bloke called Joe.

When we got there I was surprised by the size of the crowd. There was a fair while of standing around, and then the fascist march came up the road, the sticks and stones started flying, and the police rode horses into the crowd. I remember quite vividly the fury and fear and the sense that it was a case of fight or be trampled. After that I remember a sort of running battle, pushing up against lines of police, and seeing the fascists cowering under the pelting. After we had them on the run I urged people around me not to go chasing after them and getting into fights with the police. A belated salute to Joe, who managed to keep us together all through the riot and got us safely home. ... I remember Iain Banks turning up at the place where I lived with a bunch of other lefties in Hayes, Middx. He'd come down specifically for the demo and went there with us in a big van'.

Police escorting National Front march through New Cross, August 1977

Darcus Howe (with megaphone) speaking during the demonstration (photo by Syd Shelton)
Ken also got in touch with Iain Banks and passed on this short message from him:

'I was there, though all I can recall is the general feeling of prevailing unexpectedly, the sight of the fascists squeezed into a corridor going round a street corridor with half bricks and bits of car exhausts raining down on them and the cops protecting them and the motorbike on fire'.

Anyway Iain thanks for doing your bit that day, and all that you have done since. I will raise a glass of Lagavulin to you tonight.

(Update Sunday 9 June 2013: Iain Banks died today)

Invite 100: Deptford Library/Lewisham Arthouse Building Centenary

The current Lewisham Arthouse building in Lewisham Way was, until 1991, Deptford Central Libary. On April 5th 1913 the foundation stone for the building was laid in a ceremony (pictured).

A hundred years later Townly Cooke and Mary Louise Evans are organising an interesting event to mark this centenary:

'I N V I T E 100 is an Event/Exhibition on Saturday April 6th 2013 that marks the 100th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone for the then Deptford Central Library, now the Lewisham Arthouse Grade II listed building. In 1913 over 70 people sent RSVP letters accepting or declining their invitation to this ceremony that celebrated this new building which honoured the then progressive idea of libraries open to all.

We are inviting today's inhabitants of the same addresses that attended the ceremony on Saturday April 5th 1913. Copies of the letters and archival material will be exhibited alongside new work documenting the process and response to the invitation. Please join us to celebrate this building and be part of this event. All welcome!

For further details contact townlycooke@googlemail.com or evansmarylouise@gmail.com

Thanks to Lewisham Local History and Archive Centre.

Saturday 6 April 2013 at 4.30pm, doors open at 4.15. Free entry. Step-free access'.

More on the history of the building - the architect Alfred Thomas also designed Belfast City Hall and Woolwich Town Hall.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Bedroom Tax in South London

Changes to Housing Benefit regulations came into effect yesterday with the new 'Bedroom Tax' penalising social housing tenants judged to be living in 'under occupied' accommodation. Essentially those judged to have too many rooms for their needs will have a reduction in their housing benefit (Shelter has a clear guide to the details). Since by definition those receiving housing benefit are either unemployed or working on low income it's hard to see where they are going to find the money to make up the rent... except by going without other essentials. As a banner on Saturday's 'bedroom tax' protest in London put it, more cuts equals less food.

A policy like this is bound to have a big impact in inner South London boroughs where so many people live in social housing. In Lewisham for instance, almost a third (32%) of the housing stock is social housing (14% Council, 18% housing association). In Southwark, a full third of residential properties are Council-rented (33%) and another 12% by Housing Associations (as detailed in this report).

Get a Room?

The Government claims that by reducing housing benefit in 'under occupied' housing, people will be encouraged to move into smaller properties freeing up accommodation for those who need bigger properties. It is true that there is a shortage of properties for larger families, but this is hardly the fault of tenants. Councils have been more or less stopped from building on a large scale for a generation, and private housing building in London is delivering few genuinely affordable family homes.

In any event if everybody living in 'under occupied' housing was willing and able to downsize,  there simply wouldn't be enough smaller properties for them to move into (any more than there are jobs for the unemployed to move into). Last year the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research looked at Lewisham (and the Lee area in particular)  in its report 'Under-occupation and the Housing Benefit Reforms: Four local case studies'.  They found that in Lewisham 'households currently looking to downsize from a 2 bedroom property to a 1 bedroom flat are waiting an average of 4 years' and are competing with a huge number of people needing one bedroom flats - with more than 6,700 households on the waiting list for a one bedroomed property.

The myth of the 'Spare Room'

Plenty of media reports have talked of the changes as amounting to a tax on 'spare rooms' but few explain how the Government has defined a 'spare room'. Its definition is certainly not one Ministers would tolerate for their own families.

For a start the regulations assume that a couple only ever need one bedroom. There are of course many cases where people are ill or disabled and unable to comfortably share with somebody else. Tough, give up the second room or have your benefit cut.

Or perhaps you're a disabled person who needs a spare room to keep specialist equipment in. Tough, give up that room or have your benefit cut.

The regulations assume that children of the same sex under 16 should always share a room. So a fifteen year old studying for GCSEs must share with a toddler having sleepless nights or their parents will have their benefits cut. Great for their education! Likewise two children under ten of the same sex are not deemed to need their own room though there would be many circumstances when it would be better if they did.
Bromley and Croydon Disabled People Against Cuts banner in Trafalgar Square on Saturday - later around 1,000 people marched to Downing Street.
Along with other benefit cuts, such as the benefit cap, this is a policy designed to screw the poorest people in society and will have long reaching and damaging effects in South East London and everywhere else it is implemented. The Government clearly hopes that it can continue to scapegoat the unemployed and low paid and win the support of some of those lucky enough not to be in that position. But many of those whose resentment they are trying to stir up are only the next job cut or pay cut away from themselves joining the ranks of those threatened with losing their homes and just about surviving on reducing benefits. The anger is rising and the tide is beginning to turn.