Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Devil of Deptford - a poltergeist tale from 1699

For Halloween here's a spooky story from late 17th century Deptford. 'The Devil of Deptford' is a pamphlet by the clergyman Edward Fowler.  According to the historian Peter Elmer,  the 'haunted' house in question 'almost certainly' belonged to 'Henry Godman (d.1702) who combined preaching with medical practice and had resided at Deptford since at least 1672' (The Miraculous Conformist: Valentine Greatrakes, the Body Politic, and the Politics of Healing in Restoration Britain, OUP, 2013). Looking at old maps I believe that Back Lane was near to Deptford Green about where Gilbert House now stands.

'The Devil of Deptford... being a true relation of the strange disturbances, ludicrous feats and malicious pranks of an evil spirit in the house of Mr G. living in Back Lane at Deptford near London, in April and May 1699. The truth whereof is known, and can be attested to by a great number of the inhabitants of that town...

there are evil spirits or devils, which do infest this lower world, and of which we have a fresh convincing argument in the following instance: all the particulars whereof were acted, not in the dark, or at midnight, but at Noon-day in the face of the sun, in the sight of a great many persons, and the effects thereof were felt by divers of the family

Upon Saturday April 25 1699... about Twelve a Clock at Noon, a stone was thrown against the parlour window next to the street, which breaking the glass came into the room.The boys that were in the street were charged with doing it, but they all denyed it; when instantly another stone was thrown, which broke the glass likewise... Soon after for many days together a great number of stones were thrown against the back and side windows next to the garden, seeming to come from the fields behind... At length they nailed strong deal board on the outside of the broken windows, after which the disturbance ceased from without, but began within the house. One time all the china cups and glasses were removed from the mantel-piece in the parlour, and set on the floor... Several pewter plates were seen to come out of the kitchen below stairs into the parlour of themselves... A candle and candlestick being left in the dining room, which was locked, was thrown upstairs, and their looking out at the noise found it there, and yet the door continued locked as before'.

(the full text may be available at Early English Books online,
if anyone has a login)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Althea Gyles (1868-1949), poet and artist: 'A Strange Red Haired Girl'

Althea Gyles (right) with Irish revolutionist Constance Markiewicz

The Irish poet and artist Althea Gyles (1868-1949) was born in County Waterford and moved to London in 1892. She knew Oscar Wilde, W B Yeats (who described her as "a strange red-haired girl, all whose thoughts were set upon painting and poetry"), Constance Markiewicz, Aleister Crowley (with whom she had an affair), Compton McKenzie and many other interesting people, and is best known for her book designs for Yeats, Ernest Dowson (now buried in Ladywell Cemetery), Wilde and others. For a period she was associated with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (famously connected to the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill), and was later interested in vegetarianism and Buddhism.

Gyles' cover design for Yeats' The Secret Rose (1897)

Sympathy - Althea Gyles (1898)

The colour gladdens all your heart;
You call it Heaven, dear, but I -
Now Hope and I are far apart -
Call it the sky.

I know that Nature's tears have wet
The world with sympathy; but you,
Who know not any sorrow yet,
Call it the dew.

She spent her later years in South London, including in Brixton, Sydenham (one of her last homes was at 19 Tredown Road SE26) and at a nursing home in Beckenham at 69 Crystal Palace Park Road where she died in 1949.

In Jad Adams' biography of Ernest Dowson (Madder Music, Stronger Wine, 2000) he writes: ‘Althea Gyles lived on... her flaming hair now grey.. She lived in bedsits in Tulse Hill and then Sydenham, casting horoscopes as the new century wore on, until she became a ghost from the 1890s in war-shattered London.’

"Lilith" by Althea Gyles, from 'The Dome' vol.I, Oct.-Dec. 1898
(The most detailed account of Gyles' life that I have found online is in 'Althea Gyles’ Symbolic (De)Codification ofWilliam Butler Yeats’ ‘Rose and Wind Poetry’' by Arianna Antonielli)

Related posts:

Friday, October 23, 2015

Mek' it Blow: police raid New Cross Jah Shaka Blues Dance (1975)

From the groundbreaking black radical magazine, Race Today (May 1975), a report on 'the atmosphere of tension that has gripped the community of black youth in South London following a police invasion of a blues dance at Malpas Road, New Cross, on Saturday 26th April'. 

'More than 200 young blacks danced to the sound of the popular Jah Shaka at Malpas Road on Saturday/Sunday 26th-27th'. After visiting to demand the sound be turned down, the police 'reinforced in numbers and violent in attitude... ordered everyone to leave the building. One of the organisers who stood at the door was dragged out and thrown into the van. The police proceeded to kick, punch and truncheon people indiscriminately. Not content, they went on to wreck £400 of equipment with their truncheons. Sixteen people were charged with crimes ranging from assault to drunk and disorderly behaviour... one police officer exuding arrogance warned Jah Shaka that the sound was banned from playing in South London'.

'A mass meeting was organised on Monday 28th at the Moonshot Youth Club, New Cross. Some 300 youths attended. They dealt at once with the ban placed on Jah Shaka. They immediately announced details of another party in the area at which Shaka would play'

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Ghostpoet in Nunhead - more Mercury Prize news

Mentioned earlier this week  the nomination of Lewisham's Eska for this year's Mercury Music Prize, alongside Camberwell/Kennington's Florence Welch. Somebody has since pointed me in the direction of Nunhead's Shrunken Head Studios, who noted that another contender, Ghostpoet, recorded his nominated album 'Shedding Skin' there at 40 Nunhead Green

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Lewisham Suffragette Banner

The movement for women's suffrage a century ago is once more under discussion thanks to the new 'Suffragette' movie. The Museum of London holds the original c.1910 banner of the Lewisham Women's Social and Political Union 'The  figure of Justice is represented to emphasise the justice of the Votes for Women cause. Prison arrows adorn the corners of the banner. The motto 'Dare Never Count the Throe' can be read as a warning for people not to underestimate the suffragettes' struggle'

Previous women's suffrage posts at Transpontine:

Monday, October 19, 2015

Music Monday: Eska

A couple of local nominations for this year's Mercury Prize. Florence (with her Machine) is of course now a veritable global South London superstar, six years after launching her debut album at the Rivoli Ballroom and long after her days hanging out in Brockley Cemetery.

Less well known is Eska (Mtungwazi), born in Zimbabwe in 1971, but growing up in Lewisham where she still lives. She studied violin at Blackheath Conservatoire and has worked in a Southwark Primary School. She has been shortlisted for her long awaited self-titled album.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

'Mutiny at Woolwich Dockyard' (1802) - attempted escape by hulk prisoners

During the 18th and 19th centuries, many ships no longer fit to sail the seas were converted into floating prisons. In the London area these 'prison hulks' were located in the Thames by Woolwich and Deptford.

This account of an  'Mutiny at Woolwich Dock Yard' (Morning Post, 2 August 1802) describes an attempted escape by prisoners who had been brought ashore from a prison hulk to work: 'for several months... above five hundred men have been employed in erecting a new wall at the back of the Governor's house. For some time, it since appears, they had planned an escape'.

On a Friday morning, 'about a dozen of these desperadoes went up to the keeper, armed with clasp knives, and demanded the key of the inner gate. The keeper refusing to deliver it up, he was knocked down, and the key taken by force from his pocket'. About 'fifteen or sixteen got into the outer yard' but still faced a 26 foot high wall, which only four managed to climb. By this time the keepers were armed, and two of convicts were shot, one killed. 

The army was mobilised from the nearby garrison, and 'the whole military force, about 2000 men, was placed at every avenue leading out of the town. The horse were stationed in Hanging Wood and its environs, and the foot marched instantly to the Dock-yard... After a very strict search of several hours in the Hanging Wood and the town, the whole were found concealed in different places about the Dock-yard. The four supposed to have have escaped into the wood were found by the military concealed under a quantity of timber in the front yard, near the principal entrance from the high road, and one of them refused to leave the place of his concealment until a shoulder ran his bayonet four inches into his shoulder. The offenders were carried to the dungeon and chained down until they receive their punishment'.

(The Hanging Woods covered an area that included what are now Maryon and Maryon Wilson Parks)

Morning Post, 7 August 1802
Conditions aboard the hulks were notorious. Writing in the last days of their use, Henry Mayhew and John Binny ('The Criminal Prisons of London and Scenes of London Life', 1862) devoted a detailed chapter to 'The Hulks at Woolwich':

'The idea of converting old ships into prisons arose when, on the breaking out of the American War of Independence, the transportation of our convicts to our transatlantic possessions became an impossibility. For the moment a good was effected, for the crowded prisons were relieved; but from the time when the pressure upon the prisons ceased, down to the present, when the hulks may be said to be doomed, all writers on penology have agreed in condemning the use of old ships for the purposes of penal discipline...

Some idea of the sanitary condition of these establishments, even so recently as 1841, may be gathered from the report of Mr. Peter Bossy, surgeon of the "WARRIOR" hulk, off Woolwich, which shows that in that year, among 638 convicts on board, there were no less than 400 cases of admission to the hospital, and 38 deaths!There are still officers in the Woolwich hulks who remember a time when the "Justitia"... contained no less than 700 convicts; and when, at night, these men were fastened in their dens - a single warder being left on board ship, in charge of them! 

Even so late as 1849, we find the "Unité", hospital ship at Woolwich, described in the following terms- "In the hospital ship, the 'Unité,' the great majority of the patients were infested with vermin; and their persons, in many instances, particularly their feet, begrimed with dirt. No regular supply of body-linen had been issued; so much so, that many men had been five weeks without a change; and all record had been lost of the time when the blankets had been washed"'.

'A view near Woolwich in Kent showing the employment of the convicts from the Hulks'
(the hulks are the ships without sails in the background, not sure of date of picture)

Monday, October 12, 2015

Bermondsey Black Beauty

Yes it's time for another South London horse sculpture. After featuring the Vauxhall horse sculptures last week (which have now been removed), here's 'Jacob' in Queen Elizabeth Street SE1, in Bermondsey to the east of Tower Bridge Road.

Somebody who works nearby told me that he thought it had come from a local film studio where they had filmed Black Beauty. Sadly this local folkore does not seem to be true, the statue's real origins are described in the plaque on its plinth:

'Jacob, the Circle Dray Horse. The famous Courage dray horses were stabled on this site from the early nineteenth century and delivered beer around London from the brewery on Horselydown Lane by Tower Bridge. In the sixteenth century the area became known as Horselydown which derives from Horse-Lie_Down a description of working horses resting before crossing London Bridge into the City of London. Jacob was commissioned by Jacobs Island Company and Farlane Properties as the centrepiece of the Circle to commemorate the history of the site. He was flown over London by helicopter into Queen Elizabeth Street to launch the circle in October 1987'

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

An Underground Bunker at Goldsmiths in New Cross

During the Second World War, Goldsmiths College was evacuated to Nottingham. The buildings in New Cross were taken over for Civil Defence. There was a barrage balloon, and an Air Raid Precautions (ARP) Control Centre, with First Aid and Casualty Clearing Station. The swimming pool in the college was set aside as a potential mortuary. In the event an incendiary bomb attack in 1940 destroyed the swimming pool, which I believe was never reinstated, and  badly damaged much of the main building.

However, in the Upper Field, where the Stuart Hall Building now stands as well as tennis courts, an underground ARP Control Centre was built but never used. According to Dorothy Dymond's 'The Forge: a history of Goldsmiths' College 1905-1955' (London, Methuen, 1955):  'The Borough Council in conjunction with the Ministry of Health also carried out extensive excavations under the Upper Field for the purpose of a large ARP Control Centre. This elaborate underground structure suffered some damage from a bomb and was never actually brought into use. At the end of the war, after various possibilities of College utilization had been considered and rejected, the whole structure was buried, out of sight and out of mind'. Wonder if there's anything left of it?

From 'The Forge' (1955)

Goldsmiths Library after 1940 incendiary bomb attack

Monday, October 05, 2015

Vauxhall Horse Sculptures

'When suddenly Johnny gets the feeling he's being surrounded by
horses, horses, horses, horses
coming in in all directions
white shining silver studs with their nose in flames,
He saw horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses'
(Patti Smith)

I believe that Jason deCaires Taylor's horse sculptures on the Thames shore at Vauxhall (close to where what remains of the River Effra joins the Thames) have now gone after being displayed there throughout September. The sculptures were only fully visible at low tide, with the title 'Rising Tide' alluding to global warning.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Cradle to Grave: Danny Baker & SE London

I've really enjoyed 'Cradle to Grave', the BBC comedy/drama series based on Danny Baker's memoirs of growing up in 1970s SE London (published as 'Going to Sea in a Sieve). Baker was born on the Crossfields Estate in Deptford and then lived in Silwood Estate SE16, going to Rotherhithe Primary School and then West Greenwich Secondary Boys School.

Baker gave a great interview about the show on 'Later with Jools Holland' last month, accompanied by Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook from Squeeze who have soundtracked the show and who of course, along with sometime member Jools Holland, also come from the SE London area. There was some funny discussion of how Northerner Peter Kay, who plays Baker's dad in the series, had to master the SE London accent - according to Baker a much faster version of its East London counterpart.

Asked to describe SE London, Difford said: 'I think we live in a wonderful world, it's almost like a mythological place full of fish and chips and ducking and diving'. The best bit  though was a great rant from Baker himself:

'My dad was a docker and my dad brought home lots of the produce of the docks... helping themselves... we've had too many university comedies, we've hard too many middle class comedies, people forget that working class aren't there to be demonized, they're not there to say "oo look they stole stuff and brought it home" because where the docks used to stand in London is now Canary Wharf, and that's where the banks are, that's where the hedge fund monies are, you want to talk about pilferage, let's not talk about a few stray bottles of Scotch, and that is the truth of it... sometimes people just get on with stuff and they get through this vale of tears the best way they can and usually it's with a lot of good spirit'.

The Tarot Tour of London

The Wheel of Fortune card from the Rider Waite Tarot Deck -
co-designed by A.E.Waite who has an interesting connection with the Horniman Museum

Coming up next week (Thursday October 8th) at South East London Folklore Society:

'The Tarot Tour of London uses 22 of the major historical sites as the basis of the tour as they correspond with the major Arcana. There are obvious ones like the Wheel of Fortune being represented by the London Eye and the Tower card by the Tower of London. Others are not so easy to presume as it is their history, myth, legend and folklore that makes them complement the meaning of a card.

Geraldine Beskin of The Atlantis Bookshop is a Londoner and occultist and is delighted to combine the two as she presents the capital from a fresh, new angle.

The talk will start at 8pm in the upstairs room of the Old King’s Head, off Borough High Street SE1. Entrance is £3/1.50 concs.

To avoid disappointment in event of a full house you can email to book in advance'