Friday, August 29, 2014

South London marches on Westminster - John Henry Mackay on the World Metropolis in 1880s

John Henry Mackay (1864-1933) was a Scottish-born, German-raised individualist anarchist. His novel, 'The Anarchists: A Picture of Civilization at the Close of the Nineteenth Century' was written in German and published in English translation by Benjamin Tucker in Boston in 1891.

The novel draws on the author's time in London in 1887, and includes some great descriptions of the city. It opens with the author crossing from Waterloo on what must have been the Hungerford bridge:

'In the Heart of the World-Metropolis:  A wet, cold October evening was beginning to lower upon London. It was the October of the same year in which, not five months before, had been inaugurated those ridiculous celebrations which gave the year 1887 the name of the “Jubilee Year,” — celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of the rule of a woman who allows herself to be called “Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, and Empress of India.” On this evening — the last of the week — a man coming from the direction of Waterloo Station was wending his way to the railroad bridge of Charing Cross through labyrinthine, narrow, and almost deserted streets. When, as if fatigued from an extended walk, he had slowly ascended the wooden steps that lead to the narrow walk for pedestrians running beside the tracks on the bridge, and had gone about as far as the middle of the river, he stepped into one of the round recesses fronting the water and remained standing there for a short time, while he allowed the crowd behind him to push on. Rather from habit than genuine fatigue, he stopped and looked down the Thames. As he had but seldom been on “the other side of the Thames,” notwithstanding his already three years’ sojourn in London, he never failed, on crossing one of the bridges, to enjoy afresh the magnificent view that London affords from them.

It was still just light enough for him to recognize, as far as Waterloo Bridge to his right, the dark masses of warehouses, and on the mirror of the Thames at his feet, the rows of broad-bellied freight boats and rafts coupled together, though already the lights of the evening were everywhere blazing into the dark, yawning chaos of this immense city. The two rows of lanterns on Waterloo Bridge stretched away like parallel lines, and each of the lanterns cast its sharp, glittering light, deep and long, into the dark, trembling tide, while to the left, in a terrace-shaped ascent, the countless little flames which illumine the Embankments, and the Strand with its surroundings, every evening, were beginning to flash'
John Henry Mackay

The novel includes an account of the 'Bloody Sunday' demonstration in Trafalgar Square in November 1887. The demonstration against 'coercion in Ireland' and unemployment ended in violent clashes which resulted in the death of Deptford's William Curner (buried in Brockley Cemetery). Mackay reports the arrival of the South London contingent across Westminster Bridge:

'Before him stood an English acquaintance. His collar was torn, his hat soiled. He was in a state of the greatest excitement. After a few hasty questions back and forth, he said that the long procession from the south had also been dispersed...

“We gathered at Rotherhithe: the radical and other societies and clubs of Rotherhithe, Bermondsey, etc., met on our way the Peckham Radical Club, the associations of Camberwell and Walworth, and in Westminster Bridge Road also those of St. Georges — it was an enormous procession, with numerous banners, music bands, adorned with green, accompanied by an endless mass of people on both sides, which in the best of order crossed the entirely vacant bridge of Westminster.

“As was agreed, we were to meet with the procession from Lambeth and Battersea in Bridge Street at Parliament House. Then we were to march in a straight line from south to north, up Whitehall, to this place. Just imagine: a single great procession of imposing length, representing the entire south of London, the entire section of the city on the other side of the Thames — from Woolwich and Greenwich to Battersea and Wandworth! ...

“But our two processions had not joined each other, we had not reached Parliament Street, when the battle began. I was pretty far in the front ranks. Ah, the brutes, galloping on their horses into our ranks, breaking and tearing our flags, knocking down whatever comes in their way!”

“It was fortunate you did not get farther,” Auban interrupted him, “for I have heard that the Life Guards were held in reserve in Whitehall. I am surprised that they are not yet here, for the situation is getting more serious.”

“But we defended ourselves,” exclaimed the other, “with my loaded cane I gave one —”'

Bloody Sunday 1887

As with much writing from that time there is a very strong sense of a class-based division between East and West London, with areas like Deptford and Rotherhithe treated as part of the former. Mackay writes in a chapter entitled 'The Empire of Hunger':

'The East End of London is the hell of poverty. Like an enormous, black, motionless, giant kraken, the poverty of London lies there in lurking silence and encircles with its mighty tentacles the life and the wealth of the city and of the West End: those on the left side extending over the Thames and embracing the entire Embankment on the other side — Rotherhithe, Deptford, Peckham, Camberwell, Lambeth, the other London, the South separated by the Thames; those on the right side stealing round the northern limits of the city in thinner threads. They join each other where Battersea runs into Chelsea and Brompton across the Thames...

The East End is a world in itself, separated from the West as the servant is separated from his master. Now and then one hears about it, but only as of something far off, somewhat as one hears about a foreign land inhabited by other people with other manners and customs...'

The final chapter sees its main character reflecting again on London, this time from London Bridge:

'Two immense human streams surged across London Bridge; back and forth rolled, rattling and resounding, two unbroken lines of vehicles. The black waters of the Thames flowed lazily. Auban stood against the railing of the bridge, and, facing the east, contemplated the grand picture which presented itself: Everywhere, on both sides of the stream, towers, pillars, chimney-stacks, church steeples rose above the sea of houses... But beneath him a forest of masts, poles, sails... On the left Billingsgate, the great, famous fish-market of London... Farther, where the four towers rise, the dark, dismal structure of the Tower. With a reddish glare the setting sun, the pale, weary sun of London, lay on its windows a few minutes; then also its light was suddenly extinguished, and a gray twilight drew its streaks around the dark masses of the warehouses, the giant bodies of the ships, the pillars of the bridge...

By the clock on the  Adelaide Buildings it was already seven, but still the task of unloading the great ocean steamer at Auban’s feet was not yet completed. Long lines of strong men carried boxes and bales over wavering wooden bridges to the shore. Their foreheads, heads, and necks protected against the crushing pressure of their heavy burdens by strangely shaped cushions, they looked like oxen in the yoke as they staggered along under their weight...

A strange feeling crept over Auban. Such was London, immense London, which covers seven hundred miles with its five millions of human beings; such was London, where a man was born every fifth minute, where one died every eighth... Such was London, which grew and grew, and already immeasurable, seemed to aspire to the infinite...Immense city! Sphinx-like, it stretched on both sides of the river, and the clouds of smoke, vapor, noise it belched forth, lay like veils over its panting body...

Lights after lights began to flash and mingled the warmth of their glow with the dampness of the fog. Their reddish reflections trembled through the twilight. London Bridge thundered and resounded under the burdens it bore. Thus day after day, week after week, year after year, raged that mighty life which never grew tired. The beatings of its heart grew ever more feverish, the deeds of its arms ever mightier, the plans of its brain ever bolder. When would it reach the summit of its aspirations? When would it rest?'

Monday, August 25, 2014

World War One: the first local deaths

Thousands of people from the Lewisham area were killed in the First World War. If you want to get an idea of the sheer scale of the devastation have a look at the Commonwealth Graves Commission site. It includes a fairly comprehensive list of casualties from both world wars and on their 'Find War Dead' page you can search under name or put in the name of a place or street under 'additional information'. If you live in a road that's more than a 100 years old you are fairly guaranteed to find out that someone who once lived nearby to your home died (many of the CWGC records include details of next of kin, with address listed).

Although Britain officially entered the war on 4 August 1914, the first encounter between British and German forces did not take place until the Battle of Mons in Belgium on 23rd August 1914.  And on that first day of fighting one hundred years ago at least four people with local family connections were killed:

- Richard King (aged 35), Royal Scots Fusiliers - the brother of Mrs. A. Gallon, 10 Hales St, Deptford.

- J A Sharpe (aged 36), East Surrey Regiment - husband of Elizabeth Ward (Formerly Sharpe), of 1 Royal Naval Place, Amersham Vale, New Cross

-  Albert  Edward Burstow (20),  Queen's Own (Royal West Kent Regiment), son of Mr. And Mrs. E. R. Burstow, of 3, Hanlon St., Grove St., Deptford.

Deptford-born Burstow was a ‘Rivet Carrier’ by trade and enlisted
into the Army on the 28th January 1913 at New Cross.
He was killed in the village of Tertr (source).

- A. Rogers (26), Queen's Own (Royal West Kent Regiment), son of George And Sarah Ann Rogers, of Lewisham; Husband Of Margaret Rogers, of 89, Hazlebury Rd., Fulham.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Can't Kill What's Inside

Next Saturday 30 August, London-based Polish anti-fascists Dywizjon 161 (Division 161) are putting on a gig at the New Cross Inn. 'Can't Kill What's Inside' features :

- 210 - 'antifascist hardcore from Russia' - ;

PERMA WAR - punk from London -

Tickets: £6 at the door, all money raised going towards PARTIZAN MINSK FC.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Deptford Nestival

Deptford Nestival - five days/nights of free music at the Birds Nest, Church Street SE8 - starts tomorrow, Thursday 23rd August. I had a quick glance down the line up and spotted highlights including Elephants and Castles on Thursday and Kate Tempest on Monday 27th.

Faeries of the Minesweeper

Planning to go to this on Friday 22 August, London Dreamtime in collaboration with designer Lucy Williams present 'Faeries of the Minesweeper'- 'music and supernatural tales of ships, waters and the beautiful Others' in Deptford Creek where the Minesweeper is moored. Email to reserve a place.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Divided by Race, United in War and Peace

On Friday 19th September (7:30 pm) there's a screening of ‘Divided by Race, United in War and Peace’ at St Catherine’s Church, Pepys Road, Telegraph Hill, SE14 5TY. Tickets are £5 / £3 (including snacks) and can be booked at

'Divided by Race, United in War and Peace is a warm and life-affirming film, directed by Marc Wadsworth.   The film examines race relations in Britain during and after the Second World War and is a timely reminder of the contribution by overseas troops to the war effort.   Telegraph Hill Ward Community Weekend runs from Sept 19-21 and the film will be screened at St Catherine’s Church, Pepys Road, SE14 5TY as part of the weekend of events. At the core of Divided by Race, United in War and Peace are the testimonies of 13 surviving veterans, West Indian and African young men and women who volunteered to join the war effort and soon afterwards returned to live in Britain.   They risked their lives to serve under the British flag in times of war, then faced a second battle – their right to remain under that flag, as British citizens.   Until now their stories have not been properly heard'.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Feast of Nuestra Senora del Cisne in Nunhead

Came across this procession in Kimberley Avenue, Nunhead this afternoon, with several hundred people marching behind an image of the Virgin Mary, saying prayers and and throwing rose petals over the statue.

Apparently it was a procession of Ecuadorians from St Thomas the Apostle Roman Catholic Church in Evelina Road SE15 to mark the Feast of Nuestra Senora del Cisne (Our Lady of the Swan), a major religious festival in Ecuador to commemorate the supposed appearance of the Virgin Mary in the town of Loja in southern Ecuador in the late 16th century.

Service sheet from the Mass/procession -
'Es Maria la blanca paloma, que ha venido a Londres a traer la paz. En el centro de una blanca nube, se vino volando desde Ecuador'  ('Mary is the white dove, who has come to London, to bring peace. In the centre of a white cloud, she came flying from Ecuador')

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Lost Pet Folk Art

Lost and found pet posters from around New Cross/Nunhead this summer. I have airbrushed the phone numbers on the basis that the people who designed these fine art works might not want their numbers all over the internet.

'Check your sheds or basements this dangerous animal is on the loose'

'small ginger cat, short tail, should answer to his name'

'Lost Beauty.... We will bake a cake for you'

'Kitten found on Erlanger Road'

'The welfare of these rabbits are very important to us'

OK not a pet poster, but cool image of a cat from The Miller pub, SE1

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

White Stag in Deptford

Sightings of the 'Lewisham Natureman' white stag coming in thick and fast. Following last week's Catford appearance, Caroline H. has sent in this photo taken 'on Deptford church street. It;s near the Birds Nest pub at the bottom of Creekside, on the same side of the road as the Crossfields estate'.