Rare Doings at Camberwell: A Wander around some of the radical history of London SE5


A walk based on research done for a radical history walk around Camberwell, under the title “The Right To Live”, held on Sunday 25th June 2006, as part of Camberwell Arts Week. The walk was researched, designed and mostly spoken by Melissa Bliss and Alex Hodson, though other locals contributed their own reminiscences… In April 2007 part of this material was reprised as a talk at the Camberwell Squatted Centre (aka Black Frog) in Warham Street. We’ve run some public variations on the same walk since… This text owes much to the original researches and ideas of Melissa Bliss.

This isn’t the history of Camberwell. It’s not even the history of the events, personalities and movements that it covers. It is, at best, a series of linked themes, exploring some social history and the more disorderly and politically radical underside of SE5. It has serious omissions, could cover more social history, more on industrial development and those who worked in those industries; more on the different communities that have made their home here, and the conflicts they have experienced; more on madness and its containment, and especially more on recent gentrification and class. Maybe another time…

Also: we are not historians. We came to history as rebels and activists, fighting for a world where people’s lives, personal relations and survival are organised for our needs and desires, not for someone else’s profit. Our interest in history arises from a wider desire, to change the present collectively. The past, its links to the present and to a future we aspire to create, are not separate areas of study; the ideas and practice of rebellion against the authority of one class over another, and the methods of social control that class society develops to maintain itself, link history, our own battles in our own lives, and the visions of how we would live if we could freely choose. Some of us have lived in Camberwell, and have experienced some of this ‘history’ first-hand.

An earlier version of this text was also published as a Past Tense pamphlet, ‘Rare Doings At Camberwell’ in 2008.

When done as a physical walk, this route could take some time… it could be split up into sections. Walked backwards. Whatever.


Camberwell has a deep and interesting past, full of working class struggles, radical, subversive and downright mad personalities, rowdy popular entertainment and some outbreaks of class war.

A brief Overview of Camberwell/ general history

Up until the 18th Century Camberwell was a rural village, based around St Giles Church Church, the Green, (scene of the annual Fair) and a spa and healing well, which was located up Camberwell Grove.

Some historians believe the healing well may have given the area its name, as they think Camberwell means ‘well of the crooked or cripples’. This chimes in with the local church being named for St Giles, patron saint of lepers. People expelled from the City of London for having leprosy may have settled here for treatment.

However it is also possible that the ‘Camber’ refers to an old settlement of Britons, who in the days of the Saxon conquest of Southern Briton called themselves Cumbri (in modern Welsh, Cymry’). This might be linked to neighbouring Walworth, thought by some to be named by neighbouring Saxons for the ‘Welsh’ (Britons) who lived there. The whole area might have been an enclave of older celtic communities…

The Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell’s old coat of arms. When we did our first version of this walk, we made up an old standard with this and paraded it around, spoofing the old beating the Bounds ceremony

The old medieval parish of Camberwell St Giles included Peckham, Nunhead and much of Dulwich. The parish was controlled by the Vestry; when the parish was replaced as an administrative body by the Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell in 1900. In 1965 the Borough was amalgamated with the Metropolitan Borough of Southwark and the Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey to create the London Borough of Southwark.

The popularity of the Spa gradually transformed the village into a place of middle class retreat, and farms were replaced by big houses up the hill… The area became more suburban during the 19th century, as London expanded; speculative building firms bought up land and built large housing estates.

Later in the Century, the class of persons living in area ‘went down’, especially after “workman’s tickets” on trains enabled the working classes to live further from their place of work. In common with many other areas of South London, large areas of Camberwell saw mass house building to accommodate newer working class residents. Many earlier middle class areas thus were transformed into working class neighbourhoods from the 1860s-70s – for example around Southampton Way and St Lukes.

The following population figures give some sense of the massive 19th Century growth of the area, though they represent the whole parish and not merely Camberwell the village/suburb:

Census for parish of Camberwell                           Population

1801                                                                           7,059

1841                                                                           39,868

1861                                                                           71,488

1891                                                                           235,344

In 90 years a few rural villages were swallowed up by the rapid expansion of the metropolis.

So who were these people who moved into the area, and where did they live?

In Booth’s Map of Descriptive Poverty, from Life and Labour of the People of London,1890, the relative social class of people living in various parts of the area was sketched out. You can get an interesting picture of what had become a suburb of London, and where people of different classes lived.

  • South, up the hill, from De Crespigny Park, to the top of the hill at least, was upper class, and upper middle class, wealthy, almost exclusively.
  • The middle classes lived all round Church St, the Green, especially in houses lining the main streets. Also middle class was Brunswick Park, the east end of where the Elmington Estate now is, Camberwell Grove, Grove Lane, Coldharbour Lane, and along Peckham Road.
  • The next class down, a mix of the ‘fairly comfortable’ with others on ‘ordinary earnings’, can be found behind Daneville Road, round Wyndham Road and Medlar Street.
  • Mixed areas of ‘some comfortable, others poor’ lived behind the modern magistrates courts and off D’Eynsford Road, round the west part of the modern Elmington Estate…
  • The poor (’18 to 21 shillings a week per family’) clustered to the north of Camberwell Green, round the old Father Red Cap pub/Camberwell Road, and also to the north of Southampton Way, north of Commercial Road (now Commercial Way), and north of the Elmington. “A confusion of alleys and courts enclosed by Lomond Grove, Camberwell Green and Camberwell Road” was described as holding the chronically poor in the 1880s (Dyos)
  • Very poor areas (‘Casual, chronic want’) were found behind the Cock in Cock Yard (behind the modern Tiger (formerly the Silver Buckle) pub), round yards between the southern bus garage and Denmark Hill, and also in the Sultan Street area (known as Camberwell Mill or Freemans Mill), off Wyndham Road. Several streets here – Crown Street, Wyndham road, Pitman Road, and Bethwin Street were said in the 1880s to be “of very bad character”…”The only policemen venturing there were very foolish policemen.”
  • Interestingly though, there were no concentrated areas of the “lowest class, vicious, semi-criminal” as could be seen all over Southwark and Newington further north.

With some exceptions and accepting that this is a broad generalisation, it could probably still be said today that Camberwell New Road, Church Street and Peckham Road form a kind of border, and those who live to the south in the main are better off and maybe hang with a ‘higher’ social class than those who live to the north… Not entirely, and areas are more mixed now than in the past… But it has some validity.

Local industries: In the mid to late 19th century, the printing, small engineering, leather trades became widespread in the area, mainly in the north of Camberwell round Southampton Way, and where modern Burgess Park now lies. The old Surrey Canal that ran from Camberwell to the Thames through Surrey Docks helped stimulate a lot of local industrial growth, especially along its banks.

Revelry, Disorder, Space and Social Control

For centuries, Camberwell Fair was held locally, every August. First recorded in 1279, it moved from being held in ‘Gods Acre’, the immediate grounds of St Giles Church, to Church Street, opposite the Cock Pub (which was by the corner of Denmark Hill); by the 18th century it had moved on to the Green itself.

Originally held for three weeks, (9th of August to September 1st, the latter being feast of patron saint St Giles), by the 1800s the Fair, with it’s catchphrase; “Rare doings at Camberwell”, had been shortened to only 3 days – the 19th, 20th, and 21 August. Local farming had declined, and the Fair’s traditional rural economic functions (based around trade, but also hiring of agricultural workers for the year ahead) had eroded; the Fair now mainly featured drink and food, music, and acts, shows and performances, with a generous side helping of illicit sex, debauchery, and some robbery and violence.

Cheap food stalls of food, (oysters, pickled salmon, fried plaice, gingerbread) mingled with with junk and toy stands; side by side with exhibitions, animals that performed, or had bizarre deformities, plays, merry go rounds, shies etc…hawkers, pickpockets, jugglers, performers, magicians… People from all over South London flocked to the event, with carts, donkeys, old nags, offering rides, often the drivers singing songs or bantering with each other.

But the growing middle class of early 19th Century Camberwell hated this plebeian disruption.

“For these three days the residents of Camberwell were compelled to witness disgusting and demoralising scenes which they were powerless to prevent” …
Peckham Fair, in the same parish, ran every year for the 3 days following Camberwell Fair (namely 22nd – 24th August), and was a similarly troublesome – local authorities had to pay for extra policing for the whole week and passed this onto the parish ratepayers.

The two events attracted petty, and not so petty, crime. In 1802 at the end of Peckham Fair; a “numerous and desperate gang of pickpockets” robbed & assaulted respectable folk en masse as they were leaving the Fair. The gentry and middle classes attending the Fairs were seen as fair game (pardon the pun)…

There were constant attempts to control and restrict the fair and people’s enjoyment of it. Fairs at this time were a major source of moral outrage (think of modern objections to the Notting Hill Carnival every year).

However, the Fairs were a source of income for many of the poor and working classes, both legally, and through crime and the conning of fairgoers; there’s no doubt that it also brightened up people’s lives, an explosion of wild relief of the daily grind of poverty in a huge party.

There were several concerted attempts during the early 19th Century to shut the Fair down. In 1807 a Notice was pasted up:
“Notice is hereby given that no drinking, booths, unlawful exhibitions or music, will be permitted at Camberwell or Peckham Fairs. That the constables have strict orders to prevent all gaming, or seize and carry away all implements used or employed therein, and to apprehend all the offenders, and that no dancing or music will be permitted at public houses, which are required to be close shut at eleven o’clock at night.

By order of the magistrates.”

Apparently “officers from Union Hall Police Office and the Patrol from Bow St, attended… some trifling incidents occurred, but none of serious importance.”

In 1823, a Camberwell Vestry meeting was held to see what authority there was, in the form of an old grant or charter, to hold the Fair, This backfired, as evidence was produced in a Petty Session case to support its right to be held. In 1827, the Vestry managed to ban Peckham Fair for good.

Another attempt to ban Camberwell Fair in 1832 failed, but by 1855, the Fair’s days were numbered: a local Committee for the Abolition of Camberwell Fair was set up by leading residents, who pressurised the parish authorities into buying the Green, and closing down the fair, with the help of the police. The glee of one middle class historian is palpable: the Green was “encumbered for the last time with its horde of nomadic thieves, its coarse and lewd men and women and this concentrated essence of vice, folly and buffoonery was no longer allowed to contaminate the youth of the district and annoy the more staid and respectable residents.”

The Green, said before then to be a Waste, was bought from the Lord of the Manor, landscaped, turned into a ‘proper’ park.

The closing down of Camberwell Fair should be seen in the context of a widespread campaign in the early 19th Century, to impose social and moral control over the growing working classes. National government, local vestries and parish authorities, officials of most churches, and various bourgeois organisations such as the Constitutional Society and the Society for the Suppression of Vice, were broadly united in attempting to control and ‘reform’ the ‘immoral’ behaviour of the working classes, especially the poor, through encouraging/them forcing them into hard work, proper respect for authority and religion, and by attacking ‘vice’, disorder and immoral behaviour. This meant repression of ‘vice’ in the forms of pubs, prostitution, those who radically challenged religion or the political establishment.

Fairs, widely viewed as hotspots of immorality, disorder and in many cases satirical political plays and speeches, were a prime target. Not only this, but in an era of political upheaval and widespread radical agitation among the working class, any gathering of the poor was seen as dangerous. The open spaces where Fairs traditionally took place were also under attack, through the enclosure of commons, Greens and the increasing landscaping into parks, or development into housing. The physical alteration of space was seen as having a moral effect on the disorderly behaviour of the poor: proper ordered open space replacing ‘waste’ and common was believed to encourage respectability…

For local Vestries, the high cost of policing the Fairs and cleaning up afterwards were also a factor.

But the Green’s tradition as a place of entertainment and hedonism has continued. It has long been a site of public meetings, rowdiness, rallies, protests, and parties.

Not only in terms of its continuing use by street drinkers, who, as in many other parks have gradually reclaimed open space in defiance of those who would keep them socially cleansed and invisible.
Read a longer post on Camberwell Fair

Festivals and parties have also taken place on the Green over the years.

For instance: in June 1998, during Camberwell Arts Week, a Summer Solstice party was held, featuring a three-quarter size model of Stonehenge, made of fibre-glass. Several hundred urban pagans reproduced their own Stonehenge Festival… during which a slightly inebriated reveller fell against one of the stones and, as they were all roped together) nearly dominoed the whole lot!

From 2006-2008, the annual ‘Bonkersfest’ celebration of madness and creativity was held there (more on this later).

Here’s a temporary plaque we put up on the Green to remember Camberwell Fair (some fancier banners about the Fair hang on the railings these days)


Poverty, Crime And Policing

Look over the road to Tiger pub:

Tiger Yard and Joiners Arms Yard, behind the Cock Inn (ie behind the modern Tiger pub & the Joiners Arms) were among the poorest places in Camberwell in the mid to late 19th century… the people who lived here existed in chronic poverty. Large numbers of families living in a few houses, often unemployed and overcrowded. (These yards were still described as one of the area’s blackspots when demolished in 1930s. There had been much agitation by local Labour councillors to demolish the old overcrowded houses and rehouse the inhabitants, despite much opposition from the Tory-controlled Borough Council.)

There’s a great bit of research on the inhabitants of Tiger Yard before its demolition here

Camberwell slums in 1930

The bottom of the hill had always had some poor even when the area was rural; not all the forelock-tugging, law-abiding poor either. Some inhabitants who lived in cottages opposite the Cock Inn (round about Kennedy’s Sausages) were said to watch out for wealthy travellers dismounting from the coach, which stopped at the corner of Camberwell Green, and setting off walking to Dulwich… They would then follow them and lighten them of their possessions in some suitable dark spot…



This re-distribution of wealth led to the building of the constables’ Cage and Watchhouse, which stood on Denmark Hill, next to today’s Joiners Arms, until the founding of the Metropolitan Police in 1829. This was replaced as the stronghold of local law and order by a Police Station the Northwest corner of the junction of the Green and Camberwell New Road, (now the bank) which was built in 1848, and demolished in 1898.

The Cage was succeeded by other centres of control and restraint. On the corner of Medlar Street and Camberwell New Road, Lambeth County Court used to stand, in the early 20th Century (with a Masonic hall and Sorting Office behind it, next to the railway). Camberwell Magistrates Court was built behind Camberwell Green in the early 1970s (we will return to this later).

Wyndham Road used to house the Southwark Diocesan Boys Shelter, in the late 19th/early 20th Century. This was an Approved Probation School for boys 16-19 put on probation in police court. The institution attempted to “build them up morally mentally and spiritually”, by prayer, a tough physical training regime, and training in domestic skills so they could better themselves by becoming servants in hotels and the homes of the wealthy etc. The usual mix of morality and brutality.


Radicals and Rioters

19th Century Camberwell may have been largely a middle-class suburb but also had a local working class tradition: possibly originating in the tradition of London trades traveling out to rural pubs for days of merriment and sometimes political debate.

In the early 19th Century, with working people being increasingly forced off the land and into urban areas, with the growth of factories and massive spread of Cities, working class people were rapidly becoming politicised and conscious of themselves and their class interests. Working class organisations, radical clubs and early Trade Unions formed a growing network across many cities… London was no exception.

In 1832 the National Union of the Working Classes met at the Duke of York pub, Camberwell New Road (which stood opposite the modern Union Tavern, but has long since been closed).

The NUWC had arisen from an alliance of radical artisan societies in London, who had been organising both on economic levels, fighting for better wages and conditions, and politically, seeing parliamentary reform and more rights for working people as fundamental to achieving economic improvements… The NUWC were involved in encouraging working class pressure in support of the campaigning for the 1832 Reform Act; however, the Act enfranchised the middle classes and reformed outdated constituencies and corrupt practices, but did nothing for the workers. More radical elements of the NUWC together with other groups, prepared to step up their activities – many felt armed uprising would be necessary to achieve change… This led to confrontations with the new Metropolitan Police, as at the Battle of Coldbath Fields in 1833, when a NUWC rally was attacked by the Met and a policeman killed in the ensuing riot (it was later found by a Jury to be Justifiable Homicide in self-defence, due to the police attack on the crowd!).

In 1833, the Sawyers Arms, Camberwell (which we haven’t yet located) hosted meetings of the 91st Class of the NUWC, in particular they held a dinner for the acquitted George Fursey, a defendant from the Battle of Coldbath Fields.

The Chartists

As the 1830s went on, the NUWC and groups like them evolved into what has been called the first national movement of the British working class – the Chartists.

The Chartists aimed broadly at an increase in political power for working class people, at that time mostly not allowed to vote and formally excluded from the political process. Chartism became a huge broad-based mass movement, organised around six major demands for political reform that had been the program of the British reformers and radicals since the 1760s…

  1. A vote for every man twenty one years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for crime.
  2. The ballot – To protect the elector in the exercise of his vote.
  3. No property qualification for members of Parliament-thus enabling the constituencies to return the man of their choice, be he rich or poor.
  4. Payment of members, thus enabling an honest tradesman, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency, when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the country.
  5. Equal constituencies securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors,–instead of allowing small constituencies to swamp the votes of larger ones.
  6. Annual Parliaments, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since though a constituency might be bought once in seven years (even with the ballot), no purse could buy a constituency (under a system of universal suffrage) in each ensuing twelvemonth; and since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now.

The Chartists’ tactics included huge monster meetings, and a petition to Parliament, presented and rejected three times between 1838 and 1848. The movement was made up of thousands of local branches, whose activities went far beyond pressing for reform, but built a whole culture, of education, songs, history, their own ceremonies and open discussion; they were conscious of their links to radicals of the past and similar movements abroad. and included all kinds of people, women and men, black people… Although most did not advocate the vote for women, some Chartists did, and female democratic associations formed an important part of the movement.

As their petitions and political pressure failed, many Chartists began to advocate a working class seizure of power by armed force, and divisions split these ‘Physical Force’ Chartists from their ‘Moral Force’ counterparts. Several Chartist uprisings were planned in 1839-40, which failed or were repressed. Plotters, and Chartists involved in organising rallies, strikers and other actions were jailed, transported to the penal colonies in their thousands.

Local Chartists who lived in Camberwell include one Simpson, of Elm Cottage, Camberwell, who sold tickets for a Chartist-sponsored soiree in honour of radical MP T.S. Duncombe in 1845; and David Johnston, a moral force Chartist, born in Scotland, a Weaver, then apprentice baker, who was elected Overseer of the Poor in St. Giles, Camberwell, 1831, ‘by popular vote’. Johnston ‘was a keen (moral force) Chartist. Johnston left in 1848 for the US, after ‘rowdies from Kennington wrecked my shop’.

The Chartists held mass meetings in South London the 1840s, mainly on Kennington Common, especially in 1848, the year of the last great Chartist upsurge, when they prepared the third Great Petition for the Charter. While the plans for presenting the petition were developed, physical force Chartists again prepared uprisings; in London in ’48 several riots ensued when rallies were attacked by police. Through the Spring and early Summer the capital was in a state of alert: the authorities feared revolution (which was breaking out in France and across Europe), and Chartists hoped and worked for a popular rising to achieve their rights.

On 13 March 1848, a week after a mass meeting in Trafalgar Square, that led to 3 days of rioting, a Chartist mass meeting was held on Kennington Common. Nearly 4000 police were called out; despite this 400 or 500 demonstrators moved off to Camberwell by back streets, led by a band. When they got to here, Wyndham Road, then called Bowyer Lane a riot broke out; looters armed with “staves of barrels, and sticks of all descriptions”, including palings, rifled shops and fought with the constables. The whole episode occurred within the space of an hour and only nine arrests were made (by a party of’ mounted police, assisted by special constables) at the time, but since a number of the rioters had been recognised by the locals twenty-five were brought to trial in April. Identified among the leaders were Charles Lee, a gipsy, and David Anthony Duffy, a ‘man of colour’ and unemployed seaman, known to the police as a beggar in the Mint, where he went about “without shirt, shoe, or stocking”; and  Benjamin Prophett, known as ‘Black Ben’, another ‘man of colour’ and seaman. These and fifteen other men, of whom four had previous convictions, were sentenced to from seven to fourteen years’ transportation and three to one year’s imprisonment. More on the Camberwell Riot

The Camberwell riot was short, but it attracted some publicity, and contributed to the hysterical prelude to 10 April 1848, when Chartists met nationally on Kennington Common, aiming to march on Parliament. Shocked by the rebellious atmosphere in London and the country, the Government had fortified the bridges over the Thames and brought in the army and recruited middle class volunteers to defend them. The Chartist leaders backed down from confrontation.

Note the participation of black radicals in the riot: the early 19th Century radical movement was notable for the involvement of prominent activists of African descent. One of the leaders of the London Chartists, prominent in the April 10th events, was William Cuffay, a Black tailor whose father had been a slave from St Kitts in the Caribbean. Cuffay was arrested in June that year accused of involvement in the planning of a Chartist Uprising and transported to Tasmania for life.

Other Black radicals well known in South London was Robert Wedderburn, ex-slave, who had come to England, become a Methodist preacher, and then got involved in radical politics. Wedderburn used to preach on Kennington Common. His contemporary William Davidson was executed for taking part in the plans for a radical uprising in 1820.

A plaque we left here to remember the Chartist Riot of March 13th 1848.

After the anti-climax of 1848, the Chartist movement began to go into a decline; although many groups still existed, the Chartists were largely a spent force. Smaller groups of radicals continued to agitate and meet, but mass agitation for reform did not revive till the mid-1860s, when the National Reform League formed and many local reform-minded groups began to spring up. From this pressure came the 1867 Reform Act, which won some limited increase in the franchise for working men.

Liberals and Radical clubs agitating for once again became widespread in the 1870s, many emerging under the influence of the Secularist Movement, others from growing Republican agitation.


Secularists and Republicans

The Secularist movement arose from scattered radical groups, many of which had survived the collapse of Chartism, others of which emerged in the reform agitation of the 1860s. Influenced by powerful speakers like George Holyoake and Charles Bradlaugh, they discussed, debated and attacked the religious control over many aspects of people’s lives, much stronger and integrated into all walks of social, working and home life then. Secularists spoke at street corners, often in direct competition with Christian preachers, and formed clubs or branches of Bradlaugh’s National Secular Society. Gradually they also became associated with pressure for the right to birth control, and a strong republican strand, demanding the removal of the royals and a British Republic. More on South London Secularists

In the 1870s Camberwell Church Street was a local Speakers Corner: Secularists used to regularly denounce religion in large open-air meetings here. The area in fact became one of their strongholds – the Camberwell National Secular Society branch, an offshoot of the large Walworth branch built a hall at 61 New Church Road in 1882.

The United Republican League held Sunday morning meetings in Church Street (and afternoon ones in the Rose & Crown Pub, Acorn Street in Peckham) in the early 1870s, when republicanism was very strong among the working class, and the Royal Family very unpopular. Famous class warrior Dan Chatterton spoke here.
There were also three Radical Clubs in Camberwell in the later 19th century – one in Denmark Hill, one in now vanished Muswell Road (not sure where this was), and North Camberwell Radical Club, in Albany Road.
For more on North Camberwell Radical Club – see Mayday in South London

There was also a Camberwell Radical Club in ‘Gloucester Road’ (possibly Gloucester Grove, SE15?) in the 1880s: William Morris was listed to speak there twice in 1885-6.


War and the Workers

Camberwell Trades Council, representing local trade Unionists and Union branches, was founded in 1913.  Almost immediately it was thrown into the political hotbed with the outbreak of World War 1.

Despite a sustained campaign against the impending war in the months running up to its actual outbreak, most trade unions and Labour Party activists fell in behind the government and supported the national war effort. The war achieved instant popularity, and thousands of men enlisted enthusiastically. Camberwell was said to have provided a good response to the call-up (though nearby Brixton was described as “full of slackers”!)

However, Camberwell Trades Council, in common with a minority of socialists and union activists, took an anti-war position when war broke out. The Trades Council issued pacifist leaflets, including a leaflet calling for people not to worry about paying rent during war, as surely landlords wouldn’t evict people during such a national emergency! The police tried to suppress this leaflet – unsuccessfully.

The Trades Council held meetings about the high cost of living, denouncing privations caused by the War, and launched campaigns for free school dinners for kids; useful work for the unemployed and democratic control and distribution of food.

In 1915 it also founded a Trades Council bakery, officially to try and increase the distribution of bread to the local working class; unofficially the bakery also provided jobs to conscientious objectors on the run from the authorities trying to force them into the army. Although this project collapsed by end of year, its work was incorporated into a similar bakery scheme run by neighbouring Bermondsey Trades Council.

In 1916, when the Government introduced conscription to force men into the trenches, Camberwell Trades and Labour Council also expressed its strongest opposition. It declared conscription in any form “to be a violation of the principle of civic freedom hitherto prized as one of the chief heritages of British liberty.” Anti -conscription demonstrations were held on Peckham Rye and on Camberwell Green by the Trades Council and ‘The No Conscription League’. One motion passed by a mass meeting stressed: “Conscription would be against the best interests of the working class and would be a strong weapon in the hands of reactionaries to enslave the British People.” Trade unionists were outraged when Military Tribunals were set up under the oversight of Borough Councils to hear claims for exemption from conscription. Trades Unionists were in most places appointed to take part in these borough tribunals, but then Tory-controlled Camberwell Borough Council refused to appoint any.

The Anti-war movement locally centred around the Independent Labour Party. Some ILP delegates followed the Christian, pacifist line of George Lansbury. Some were inspired by the ethical conviction that violence, organised or not, was evil and immoral. Others argued against the War on on socialist, internationalist grounds.

Leaders of anti-war activity in this part of South London included Charles Ammon, a member of the Fawcett Association, the postal sorters union, and Parliamentary Secretary of the ‘No Conscription League’ (he later became Lord Ammon of Camberwell), Dr Alfred Salter, (later to become MP for Bermondsey), and Arthur Creech-Jones, twenty-three year old Secretary of Camberwell Trades Council. In 1916 Creech-Jones was called up for army service. On appeal he attended four Tribunals and although supported by Labour Party leaders Fenner Brockway and Herbert Morrison his appeals were dismissed: he was finally arrested in East Dulwich in September. After being taken to the local Recruitment Centre, then based at Camberwell Baths (in Artichoke Place), and refusing to take orders, he was sentenced to three years imprisonment in Wandsworth and Wormwood Scrubs Prisons.

Creech-Jones gained much support in the local press. One letter from the National League of the Blind, Camberwell Branch praised his Trades Council work. When he was jailed, he was replaced as Secretary by Florence Tidman, delegate from the Women’s Labour League. Many trade unionist soldiers had returned from the front and were now becoming sympathetic to pacifism and opposed to the war.

Not all Trade Unionists locally opposed the War however. In March 1917  the local branch of the National Society of Operative Printers and Assistants disaffiliated from the Trades Council, disagreeing with its anti-war position. Many trade unionists reflected the jingoistic and pro-war/anti-foreigner feeling as the wider population they lived among.

The majority of the local population capitulated to the upsurge of national chauvinism. Camberwell, like many areas of London, had a small german population, often proprietors of small bakeries and other shops – there were German delicatessens, toy shops and haberdashers, and other local shopkeepers proudly announced that ‘hier spricht man Deutsch’. Others worked as music teachers, artists and waiters. There were around 60 German families in the area in 1914.

But many Germans were detained when World War 1 broke out (although some exiles had fled political persecution in Germany, or were descended from political refugees.) Racist hysteria against the “Hun” was whipped up to a crescendo in South London. Riotous mobs burnt and looted shops with German names in East Street, Camberwell Green and the Old Kent Road in October 1914.

The South London Press in early July 1916 reported a heavily underlined banner headline extending across seven columns proclaimed “Camberwell’s Great Patriotic Festival.” Seven miles of cheering crowds, we read, lined the streets to bid farewell to Lieut.-Colonel Hall and the men of the Borough of Camberwell Gun Division as they marched off for training.

Camberwell Borough also played host to Belgian refugees, driven out of their country by the German invasion. 300 were sleeping in Goose Green public baths in October 1914.

In May 1915 anti-German rioting resumed across the country after the ship Lusitania was torpedoed by German u-boats, with the loss of many lives. Sometimes the ‘foreigners’ targetted were not german, due to various levels of stupidity and bigotry intermixing. Frederick George Jeffreys, a 22-year-old plumber’s mate was fined 40s plus 10s compensation for smashing up a hairdresser’s shop in Wyndham Road, Camberwell in May 1915. The Lambeth magistrate H.C. Biron was scathing: “You behave in this way, and instead of attacking a German you attack a perfectly harmless Pole and wreck his shop. Even if he were a German you bring discredit upon your country by behaving in this way.”

Recuperation huts on Camberwell Green, during WW1

Opposition was growing to the war, however, often in small local meetings across the country. At the Surrey Masonic Hall, Camberwell New Road, in June 1915, Charles Trevelyan MP addressed the South London Ethical Society: “The peace, when it did come, should not be made by diplomats sitting in secret, but there should be a real public opinion for the real ending of war on the right lines.” He warned his large audience not to listen to the militarists who claimed the time was not right for discussing the terms of peace. “They would keep on saying this until the last shot was fired.” Trevelyan had been a founder member of the anti-war Union of Democratic Control, established the previous year.

Check out Against the Tide, an excellent book on World War 1 and resistance in Southwark, Bermondsey and Camberwell.


At the end of World War One, there was widespread social unrest.  Disillusionment with the war increased across the country, as conscription and mass death had hit home, but repressive conditions at work and wage depression led to an upsurge in strikes. The Russian Revolution in 1917 inspired workers across the world to believe a new more egalitarian social order was possible. The unrest spread to the various armies, and mass mutinies helped to end the war, sparking revolt and revolution across the world.
Camberwell was affected by this ferment…

In January 1919 Army Service Corps men in a camp somewhere in Camberwell went on strike, during a mass movement of mutinies and demonstrations to demand faster demobilisation of troops all over Britain and in the army abroad. Despite some investigations we’ve not discovered where this camp was, whether in the Borough or SE5 proper… though theoretically it could be somewhere near to the present Territorial Army Barracks in Flodden Road.

In 1920, the British Government’s determination to send troops, including conscripts, to Russia to try to overthrow the new Soviet state, led to a mass movement inspired by socialists and trade unionists who were sympathetic to the Russian Revolution, to prevent troops and supplies reaching Russia. Local councils of action formed to oppose the move, and actions included dockers refusing to load goods and munitions for these ships. In August 1920, the Camberwell Council of Action demonstrated on Peckham Rye, where it called for “complete trade and peace with Russia”, and demanded that the National Council of Action send an ultimatum to Lloyd George along these lines.

The 1926 General Strike

In May 1926, the leaders of the Trades Union Congress called a General Strike. Nearly 2 million workers all over the country joined the strike, in support of a million miners, locked out by mine-owners for refusing to accept wage cuts of up to 25 per cent, after the ending of the Government’s coal subsidy. The General Council of the TUC didn’t want to call the Strike: they were pushed into it for fear of losing control of the mass of union membership.

Nine days later, afraid of the losing control of the situation, in the face of massive working class solidarity, the TUC General Council called the Strike off.

The General Strike was a massive defeat for the working class. The TUC General Council capitulated; many of the strikers were forced to accept lower wages add conditions: the miners in whose support the Strike was called were eventually starved into submission.

Locally Trades Councils or Councils of Action co-ordinated the union branches and workers involved in the Strike.

Camberwell Borough Council fully supported the Government against the strikers, it was cooperative with the Emergency Powers Act and its functionaries, and it appointed the Treasurer and Town Clerk as the officers in charge of food and fuel. This contrasted with other local boroughs eg left-wing Bermondsey, where the local Council supported the Strike and opposed the Government.

Camberwell Trades Council march on Mayday demo, 1st, 1926

Camberwell Trades Council organised the Strike locally. According to a post-Strike Report by the Trades Council:
“only a fortnight before the strike, [we] obtained a roneo duplicator and a typewriter. When the possibility of a strike loomed up we made three tentative preparations for this eventuality, viz:

(a) We enquired for an office, which we might take for a month as a minimum.

(b) (b) We obtained a lien on a hall where we might have a large meeting and would run no danger of the hall being cancelled by opponents.

(c) We made arrangements for a Committee meeting to be called the day after the general Strike began, if it did so begin. On May Day we thought the importance of demonstrating was sufficient to warrant us paying for a band, banner bearers etc, and for us to give a lead in having a good turn out. This we had organized and we secured a fine response from Camberwell workers. Whilst on route to Hyde Park came the news of the General Strike declaration – truly a fitting send off, thus demonstrating to the rich loafers in the West End out power and solidarity.”

The Strike Committee organised effective picketing of workplaces. Tramwaymen and busmen, who made up 3000 of the 8000 workers affiliated to the trades Council, were solid, as were roadmen of the Borough Council also came out, (bar one depot where men were reported working.) Tillings Bus Co., however, of Peckham, a major local employer, was a black spot: large numbers of police specials were stationed to ensure these buses were never stopped from running.

Reports which came to the Strike office as to the need for pickets were transmitted to the Strike Committee concerned at once by an organised messenger network.

The Trades Council concluded that: “we were not ready. We quickly improvised machinery… Everything had to be found on the spur of the moment, and we rose to the occasion fairly well in our own estimation., considering the difficulties of lack of our own premises, voluntary workers, and having to set up, equip and run an office after the Strike had commenced.”

In the Borough of Camberwell, as it was then, two strike bulletins were produced, the Camberwell Strike Bulletin and the Peckham Labour Bulletin – both produced from Central Buildings, High Street, Peckham.

The South London Observer of Saturday May 15th reported that a man was convicted of selling the ‘Peckham Labour Bulletin’. The paragraph headed “French workers refuse to blackleg” was thought by the court to be provocative. Police Inspector Hider in his evidence stated that it would cause “a certain feeling among certain people”. Inspector Hider also saw copies of the ‘Camberwell Strike Bulletin’ also produced at Central Buildings on a duplicator by Eddy Jope, who denied any connection with the ‘Peckham Labour Bulletin’. 

Trams were not running, till the local electricity generating station was reopened by naval ratings…

On May 5th, commercial vehicles were stopped & trashed here by strikers. The trams were in the main kept off the roads. Altogether there were 12 attempts by voluntary (mostly middle class) recruits supported by police and special constables to run trams from Camberwell Depot to New Scotland Yard – resulting in crowds of pickets and supporters attacking scab trams, smashing their windows and pushing them back inside, preventing them from running.

The British Worker (A daily paper put out during the Strike by the TUC) reported:
“BANNED TRAMS SCENE: An unsuccessful attempt was made shortly after four o’clock on Wednesday afternoon to run LCC tramcars from the Camberwell depot.

Earlier in the day two lorries with higher officials of the tramways Department and OMS recruits arrived at the Depot, where a strong force of police had been posted.

A large crowd, including tramwaymen, their wives and sympathisers, collected, and when the first car came out of the Depot gates in Camberwell Green there was a hostile demonstration.

Some arrests were made. Following this incident the cars were driven back in to the Depot to the accompaniment of loud cheers.” (British Worker, 5th May.)

Strike-breaking buses were also stoned in Camberwell on Saturday night (8th May) There were huge public meetings at Camberwell Green, as well as at Peckham Rye and at the triangle near the Eaton Arms, Peckham. During a public meeting at Camberwell Green, waves of police with drawn truncheons marched on the people, who broke and ran after repeated baton charges.

After the TUC sold the strike out, there was confusion here. Crowds of workers gathered at the Tram Depot, not knowing what to do. Each worker had to sign a form on future conditions of service, hours and wages. Some never got their jobs back at all.

At the end of the Strike Camberwell Trades Council sent £10 to the Miners from the funds collected during the Strike, continued that support as the miners fought on alone after the TUC sellout.

Camberwell Borough Guardians took a hard line during and after Strike – issued ‘Not Genuinely Seeking Work’ forms to stop strikers getting any dole payments.

Following the defeat of the Strike, the Government brought in the Trades Disputes Act, known as ‘the blacklegs Charter’, which outlawed all General or solidarity strikes and prevented many civil service workers from affiliating to Trades Councils… Camberwell Trades Council formed a Trade Union Defence Committee to oppose the Act – without a lot of success.

A plaque put up here remembering Camberwell working people’s action against scabs in the General Strike

1935 Painters’ strike

On March 15th 1935 a strike erupted over trade union membership among the Camberwell Borough Council painters. Eleven non-union painters were employed, but a week later, there being no agreement between the National Society of Painters and the Borough council, 85 painters were sacked. The dispute became official and following a motion condemning the employers from the Camberwell AUBTW, continued for nearly two months. The borough council was prevented under the 1927 Act from making union membership a condition of employment. Two members of the Camberwell NSP branch, E. Milligan and C Laws, were Chairman and Secretary of the Trades Council Industrial Section which strongly supported the strike.

The London Bus strike of 1958.

The Tram Depot later became a Bus Depot. In 1958, bus workers struck for higher wages, in a dispute that lasted nearly two months, but was eventually severely defeated. On May 24th the T&GWU, Camberwell Bus Garage branch organised a march of 250 from Camberwell Green to Peckham Rye to publicise the busmen’s plight. But the strike hadn’t 100% support in the area. A scab organisation known as the People’s League for the Defence of Freedom recruited drivers to drive buses. The scab drivers later revelled in the fact that they had scabbed and publicised an organisation they had formed known as ‘Blacklegs Incorporated’.

In 1998 this northern section of the Bus Garage was squatted for exhibitions and parties.


Though the 1850s saw the end of Camberwell Fair, in many ways though working-class Camberwell recreation had become no less rowdy for being forced inside off the Green.

The New Grand Hall Cinematograph Theatre in Camberwell New Road, opened in 1912, on the north side of Camberwell New Road, between Depot entrance and Camberwell Passage; (it later became a Snooker Hall).

In 1956 there was a Teddy Girls and Boys riot at the New Grand, after they’d watched the pioneering rock ‘n’ roll film Blackboard Jungle, featuring Bill Haley & the Comets. Teddy girls in black jeans encouraged by their boy-friends swarmed across the rows to stamp seats free from their hinges. They stamped, clapped their hands, screamed and beat out the 12 bar blues by kicking seats until they splintered… The police scattered them, then restored order by escorting the Teddy boy ringleaders from the theatre.

Teds were the hoodies of the time: teenage working class kids, in an era of increasing prosperity emerging after the restrictions and poverty of the war years… They were listening to outlandish music that baffled their elders and betters, and getting together for dancing, drink and some splatterings of violence. Gang warfare was common between different ted gangs. The Elephant & Castle area was one of London’s strongest ted areas.  A 2000-strong crowd of teds had fought the police outside Elephant & Castle’s Trocadero cinema shortly before this, inspiring similar battles across the country, mainly after viewings of the film.  Respectable fears, moral panic and mass crackdown followed.

Teds were often scapegoated as the cause of all troubles and many paranoias of authority and conforming social hierarchies were projected onto them.

Today’s kids are similarly seen as out of control, street violence, knifings, shootings etc are widely seen as new and frightening developments: in many ways the terror and legal/political responses mirror the reaction to the teds, but similar scares have emerged repeatedly in the last 200 or so years. Usually no matter how serious developments are, they are represented as unprecedented; often in fact patterns and numbers are very similar. Not to disparage the genuine despair, fear and anger that the current crop of South London murders arouses. Fear of crime though, is always often out of kilter with the reality of crime.  Returning to Camberwell Green, many kids now avoid the place, seeing it as too dangerous to hang out there; recently Peckham and Camberwell teens have been especially targeted as being out of control.  Control of space and potential troublemakers’ access to it, seen in the enclosure and respectabilisation of the green in the 1850s, is reflected in the 6 month exclusion order regularly imposed on the centre of Camberwell over recent years, allowing the police to ‘escort’ anyone under 16 found in the area home whether they are up to anything dodgy or not.


Around 2001, the upper floor of this building housed the clandestine HQ of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), an undercover unit of the Metropolitan Police Service’s Special Branch.

Between 1968 and 2008, when the unit was disbanded, it organised the systematic infiltration of undercover police officers into campaigning and protest groups. Officers pretended to be activists to worm their way into 1000s of groups, from national organisations to small local campaigns, many using the names of dead children to set up false identities. The police spied on campaigns for justice for people killed by racists and by the police; animal rights activists, peace groups, union branches campaigning around health and safety, the anti-apartheid movement, anti-racists, environmental groups, socialists anarchists, feminists, MPs… Many of the (mostly male) officers entered into deceptive relationships with women in false names; they lived with people, fathered children and then disappeared completely when their tour of duty was done. Many acted as agent-provocateurs to get people arrested.
Over the last ten years activists have exposed many of the names and histories of these officers, but much more of what they did remains secret. After it was proved that the unit had spied on the family and campaign of Stephen Lawrence, murdered by racists in 1993, the government announced a Public inquiry into undercover policing would take place. We are still waiting for the first hearings to be held in 2020.
For more info contact:

Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance

Police Spies Out of Lives

Undercover Research Group

Blacklist Support Group

For a local slant on one of the campaigns infiltrated by the SDS, see later on when we visit the Institute of Psychiatry…


Camberwell became well-known for music halls; many were in the back hall of pubs. Music Hall arose from the last of the old tavern ‘free and easies’, where people could get up and do turns, usually songs or comedy acts.

The People’s Palace of Varieties, or Lovejoys, at the Rosemary Branch, Southampton Way, was held in “a long, shabby room adjoining the tavern, furnished with chairs and tables, and illuminated with flaming gas brackets. At one end a stage with footlights screened with blue painted glass. A Chairman sat in front of the stage facing the audience. He wore the most deplorable evening dress. Another gent sat at the piano on the stage. Everybody seemed to be drinking and talking while a man in shirt sleeves was dashing about with a tray loaded with glasses of beer. Each turn was announced by the Chair. He rapped with his hammer both to attract attention and to assist applause. A tall gent sang a song about his wife, his trouble and strife.”

The Rosemary Branch was demolished in 1971. The Castle on the Camberwell Road bears the name of an earlier pub that housed the Bijou Palace of Varieties or Godfrey’s Castle Music Hall from 1875 to 1889.

The Father Redcap pub, on the north side of the Camberwell Green, originally held a music hall built in 1853. On 2nd December, 1867, the audience here could enjoy “the great W J Collins, a banjoist from America, a Shakespearean sketch, Professor Davis in the renowned rope trick, and Mr Mucus Hellmore in his great delineation of Mephistopholes”

Later it was a gay bar at least back to the 1970s till 1997, and later again the Red Star, a party venue, holding many gigs including benefits for various worthy causes. (we will return to this building later).

In 1896, the Dan Leno company opened the “Oriental Palace of Varieties”, on Denmark Hill, which was soon replaced with a new theatre, with a capacity of 1,553, in 1899, named the “Camberwell Palace”. Famous old timers who appeared here included Marie Lloyd, Harry Lauder, Nellie Wallace and Harry Tate.  By 1912, the theatre was showing films as a part of the programme; it became an ABC cinema as “The Palace Cinema” in 1932. Later it reverted to a variety theatre in 1943, but closed on 28 April 1956 and was demolished. (The 1957 film The Smallest Show on Earth, the story of a family-run suburban cinema, was probably based on the Palace).

Nearby at the corner of Denmark Hill and Coldharbour Lane was the “Metropole Theatre and Opera House”, opened in 1894, which held transfers of West End shows: “The theatre had a very ornate interior with private boxes, stalls, dress circle, balcony and gallery. Ladies who came in their fashionable hats were respectfully informed that hats and bonnets were not allowed in the stalls or first two rows of the dress circle.”

No wonder Camberwell starred in a 1915 music hall song. Chalk Farm to Camberwell Green by Lionel Morrekton, about a young lady who went for a ride on the top of a bus with “a fellow, a regular swell”, on what is still the no. 68 bus route:

Chalk Farm to Camberwell Green
All on a summer’s day
Up we climbed on the motor bus
And we started right away

When we got to the end of the ride_
He asked me to go for a walk!
But I wasn’t Camberwell Green
By a very long chalk!

The replacement of live theatre and music by cinema was also reflected locally: the Empire was demolished to build an Odeon cinema in 1939; itself since closed in 1957, becoming Dickie Dirts (see below)… Besides these, on Denmark Hill, where Somerfield now stands, there was the Golden Domes, (later called the Rex and then the Essoldo); across the road, on the site of the Post Office, was the Bijou, known locally as the Bye Joe; and the Coronet, a small cinema in Wells Way.


Where Nandos and the flats behind now stand, was the site of the Empire, later the Odeon, which became, as we said above, Dickie Dirts clothing warehouse. Closing in the late 1970s, it was squatted in August 1984 as a back-up/centre/crashpad/gigspace holding benefits, for the September 1984 Stop the City actions/defence fund. Stop the City was a series of days of action against the capitalist exploiters in the City of London, initially against firms making profits from war and arms manufacture, later expanding to oppose many other causes… 1000s of mainly young anarchist-influenced activists attacked, demonstrated against and besieged City institutions. The Dickie Dirts squat was evicted on 3rd October ’84 by cops, bailiffs and builders; the building’s owners apparently turned up in a Rolls Royce to watch! The three people found in Dickie Dirts at the time were kicked out. The police had broken in on the bailiffs’ behalf; obviously the Met were slightly aggravated by the Stop the City link.

Dickie Dirts was resquatted several times, eg in June 86 for gigs, when  Camberwell indie band House of Love played here.

The Dickie Dirts building, after standing derelict for most of a decade, was demolished in Spring 1993, and a block of flats for homeless young people called ‘The Foyer’ was built on the site, plus a restaurant; this was later replaced by Nandos.

Camberwell has also played host to a number of other squatted venues and social/political spaces and centres, as we will relate…


Crawford squatted social centre, on the corner of Crawford Street and Coldharbour Lane, 2003. Run by the Black star collective (who had previously occupied another squat in the Coldharbour Lane area), the place held gigs, a “lost film festival”, and served as a drop in centre for some local old Jamaican dudes… After the collective handed out invitations to locals to come and get involved (in which they charmingly asserted that they ” are well-mannered and reasonable people…. Not into drugs or anything alike.” This building was still empty 5 years later after its eviction by Lambeth Council.

Looks like the remains of the old Muesli factory still stand


The old Muesli Factory behind the Joiners Arms was squatted around 1992-3… mainly for rave parties etc… By some of our remembrance,  it could be a bit nasty in fact, a lot of aggro and some bad drugs.


And others: the Old Labour Club and Groove Park, which we’ll talk about later), also some others which are bit off the route of this walk:

Location, 299 Camberwell New Rd, Squat party by LSDiezel crew is advertised for 7th Feb 1992. Were other parties held? Probably. Demolished?

Area 7, 64 Camberwell Church Street: An ex-Council Building squatted for an arts centre in 1993 but quickly evicted.

Kwik Fit on Denmark Hill, was squatted for 2 (or more?) punk shows in October + December 2003.

There have been some great local squatted social centres more recently too;

Warham Street, the Black Frog/Camberwell Squatted Centre in 2007

The Library House, behind the Minet Library, squatted 2008



The modern squatters’ movement started in 1969 caused by the contrast of rising rents and widespread homelessness, while thousands of houses stood empty, many being slum clearances and Compulsory Purchase Orders, that local councils had left to rot for years (up to 7 years in some cases). The 1970s saw a huge increase in squatting, both for personal housing needs and increasingly as part of an alternative lifestyle that questioned, opposed or rejected traditional conformist ways of life, including work, the sanctity of private property (including leaving houses empty), and conventional social, sexual and economic values.

Southwark Family Squatters Association had originated in October 1970 when Lewisham squatters occupied some empty houses in Peckham. At this time councils had, under pressure from squatters and lengthening waiting lists, started to licence squats in property they were planning going to use, notably in Lewisham.

Squatting in Camberwell began in January 1971 in Cuthill Road, Allendale Road and Kerfield Crescent (all just to south of Daneville Road) in houses left empty, while the Daneville Road/Selborne Road area was waiting for redevelopment, scheduled in 1974.  Southwark Family Squatters Association moved 4 homeless families in to nos 13 and 25 Cuthill Road, 44 Allendale, and  22 Kerfield Crescent. The Council claimed they were going to repair the houses and use them, but squatters, and others, had their doubts. The families had all been made homeless due to private eviction or were living in properties too small or unhealthy, and had been let down by the council refusing to rehouse them or dragging its feet.

The following report appeared in Camberwell Candles, in February 1971:

“You might be forgiven for not noticing anything very special about these houses. They look ordinary outside And inside, the only noticeable things are the good state of the decoration and the absence of any of those damp patches that afflict many older properties in Camberwell.
But since January, when the Southwark Family Squatting Association moved in
and rehoused four families under eviction orders from their previous homes, 4 of these houses have been the homes of squatters .
Before the squatters moved in these houses were empty with doors and windows boarded up – usually a sign that nothing’s going to happen for a long time.

The Council say that the Houses were awaiting “patch repairs” – which you might find curious if you were to go and inspect them. The only repairs needed that anyone other than the Council can see – are an outside wall that needs some attention, and a roof that leaks slightly into a landing – just enough with
an hour’s rain, as one of the squatters’ children put it, “to make a baby’s puddle” …. hardly enough to warrant boarding the place up when there is a housing waiting list of thousands, many of whom are desperate for a decent home.

Squatting sadness

The story of Southwark’s squatters is a sad one. NOT just because the squatters’ hopes for decent homes are being frustrated the Borough Council sticking to the rules of bureaucracy – though that may
NOT just because some families in really desperate need are being kept waiting because houses intended for them have been taken instead by squatters – though that may be true.
BUT BECAUSE the Council and the squatting associations are in conflict and are
frustrating each other’s activities IN SPITE OF THE FACT that their aims are basically the same – to improve the housing situation in Southwark.
THE REASON for this is simply that the two sides are not cooperating with each
THE BLAME for this non-cooperation non-cooperation is the Council’s. The Southwark Family Squatting Association wants to cooperate: the Council does not


Camberwell’s first squatters are in Cuthill Road, Allendale Road and Kerfield Crescent. Before the squatters moved in, the 4 houses were boarded up and there was no way of finding out exactly what was going to happen to them. The whole area, including Dane ville Road & Selborne Road,is due for redevelopment in 1974. It seems un likely that houses should be kept empty for that long – but it has been known to happen before.


The Press Officer at the Town Hall when asked why these houses had been boarded up, said he had no details of particular properties, but that most such houses were in development areas due for demolition. Southwark now has about 1600 empty houses, 1200 of them due for demolition this year, and the other 400 due for repairs.

The Asst. Town Clerk, Mr Thomas, said that the four houses in question aimed at putting people into property were in fact due for “patch repairs. And he complained that the squatters, by taking over the houses before the repairs were done, had deprived other families at the top of the waiting list of their rightful tenancies.

When asked what repairs needed to be done, Mr Thomas said that he could not give details – not that there was any secret about it, but because with hundreds of repair jobs either on the files awaiting approval or in the hands of various sub-contractors this would be difficult.

Why did the Council not get the repairs done before the squatters moved in? Because, apparently, there is always “considerable delay what with decisions and the sub-contractors’ – with architects’ plans and committees decisions and sub-contractors’ own schedules.


When given Mr Thomas’ information that the houses had been due for repairs, Mr Barry Stone, of the Southwark Family Squatting Association said that if only the Association had known that in advance, they would not have taken them over: “WE are only too pleased if the Council are going to USE a house.
If they would only tell us which empty houses they do not intend to use and which are awaiting repairs, we will vacate the ones they want to use. Our programme is aimed at property  that is not going to be used again.
But the Council refuse to give us any information”.

The squatters have also told the Council that if the Council would co-operate, they would give an undertaking only to house people on the Council’s housing list, and in consultation with an officer from the Council.


Aston and Zoila Bartley are now at 13 Cuthill Road, having squatted previously at Gordon Road Peckham, where they had an eviction order. Prior to that they were in Bermondsey, but the flat was damp and unhealthy and in their opinion “No place for the kids!!
They have 3 children, the youngest a baby of a few weeks born by Caesarean.
In Bermondsey Mrs Bartley had pneumonia and a lot of bronchitis – due
to some extent at least to the damp.

Joseph and Joan Peters are at 44 Allendale Road. They too have squatted before, and been evicted, having left a fiat in Lausanne Road that they found far too small for the whole family.
The Peters have had trouble even getting on the housing list at all,
apparently through letters to and from the Council going astray somewhere along the line. This has been more than usually frustrating, since one of their children is “in care” and not allowed home until “suitable accommodation” is found. But they are hopeful of hearing good news from the Council before too long.
Gloria McFarlane of 25 Cuthill Road lives there with her husband Lloyd and their 4 children. They too were evicted from Gordon Road, having already been evicted from a flat in Bermondsey when their landlord wanted the flat for his own family.
The McFarlanes were offered accommodation in Barry Lodge in Sydenham.
They refused it –  “It was so filthy!”

John & Beryl Lindsay… 22 Kerfield Crescent. They had a flat in Southwark from which the
landlord evicted them in September.
The Council refused to offer them a place at all – for the unfortunate reason that, although they have been together as man and wife for 8 years they are not officially married, and are therefore classed as an engaged couple!
Since they moved into Kerfield Crescent, they have been offered a place in Chaucer House. “But the state of the place was so bad”, said Mrs Lindsay, “that I wouldn’t take
children in there. A friend of mine was sent there –  just for 6 months
they told her – she’s been there four years!”
(Report from Camberwell Candles magazine, St Giles Camberwell Church, Feb 1971)

The were some 1600 empty street properties in the Borough of Southwark at the time. Southwark Council refused to do deals with squatters as other councils had – the local authority was old-Labour controlled, John O’ Grady (later infamously to join the gentrifying redevelopers of the London Docklands Development Corporation) was in charge, and their approach to housing and local politics in general was “we do stuff FOR people, they don’t do it for themselves.” They evicted the Camberwell squatters and trashed the houses to stop them being occupied, claiming the houses could be patch repaired & used for people in the normal way, and that squatters were “queue jumping”.

In response the squatters launched a campaign for the Council to recognise the squatters, and give them licences… their tactics included marches, demos, and deputations to the Town Hall. On 21 April 1971 FSA families invaded the Town Hall Council Chamber, 50 people barricaded themselves in and held an alternative council meeting. When Council Leader John O’ Grady tried to speak the squatters’ Mayor ruled him out of order!

They also occupied Transport House (the Walworth Labour Party HQ) on 10 May 1971, 30 people were involved, waving a banner reading: ‘Labour Southwark fights the Homeless’.

The Council still refused to deal with the squatters, and pressed on in court, but good legal defences meant cases got adjourned in many cases… Some Council social workers were in fact supporting the squatters,  despite pressure from above. Southwark applied for injunctions to stop named squatters entering council property (a tactic revived by Southwark against squatters in the Heygate Estate in Elephant & Castle in 2006) – but in fact made a mess of this.

We’ll continue this story round the corner in Grove Lane…


Camberwell’s association with mental health care/imprisonment goes back centuries: there were two large ‘lunatic asylums’ on Peckham Road in the 18th-19th centuries… (Which we’ll come to later)

The Maudsley

The Maudsley Hospital dates from 1907, when Dr Henry Maudsley offered London County Council £30,000 (subsequently increased to £40,000) to help found a new mental hospital that would:
– be exclusively for early and acute cases,
– have an out-patients’ clinic,
– provide for teaching and research.

The Hospital was always intended to be a progressive centre of treatment and research rather than confinement and “asylum”. World War I intervened and the Hospital didn’t open until 1923. A specific Act of Parliament had to be obtained (1915) to allow the institution to accept voluntary patients.

The Maudsley continues to provide in-patient and community mental health care to local people in Southwark and Lambeth and nationally across the UK, though contested, and problematic, (see below) In close proximity to the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London it is also a contributor to both psychiatric research and the training of nursing, medical and psychology staff in psychiatry.

As part of the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust (SLaM) it also has close links with Bethlem Royal Hospital – the original “Bedlam”.

Reclaim Bedlam, and Mad Pride

“In 1997, the Bethlem and Maudsley NHS Trust marked the Bethlem hospital’s 750th anniversary with a series of celebrations. Pete, who had been a patient at the Maudsley, saw nothing to celebrate in either the original Bedlam (“a symbol for man’s inhumanity to man, for callousness and cruelty,” in historian Roy Porter’s words), or the state of mental health care.

1997 saw the 750th anniversary of ‘Bedlam’ – the asylum which was the precursor of the Maudsley. Inside the Maudsley were anniversary “celebrations”, outside was a big demo of mental health survivors under the banner of  “reclaim bedlam”, organised by Pete Shaughnessy.

Reclaim Bedlam organised ‘Raving in the park”, a picnic/rave/a sit-in outside the original Bedlam site at the Imperial War Museum to protest.

“Maudsley & Bethlem Mental Health Trust saw itself as la crème de la crème of mental health. In 1997, it was more like the Manchester City of mental health. Situated in one of the poorest areas of the country, it put a lot of resources into its national projects, and neglected its local ones.

It’s history went back to the first Bedlam, the first institution of mental_health. If you pop down to the museum at Bethlem Hospital, you will see a picture proudly displayed of the 700th celebrations in 1947, with the Queen Mother planting a tree. Well, not exactly planting, more like putting her foot on a spade.

So, when some PR bureaucrat came up with the idea of 750th_celebrations, it must have all made sense. An excuse for a year of corporate beanos. The Chief Executive could picture the MBE in the cabinet. There was only one problem: in 1947, the patients would have been well pleased with a party, in 1997 some patients wanted more.

In the so-called ‘user friendly’ 90s, I thought ‘commemoration’ was more appropriate. So, a few of us went to battle with the Maudsley PR machine. It was commemoration vs. celebration.

I think for the first time, we were taking the user movement out of the ghetto of smoky hospital rooms and into the mainstream. We spoke at Reclaim the Streets and political events. We would gatecrash conferences to push the message. I know we pissed users off by our_style; personally I found some users more judgemental than the staff we talked to. They were even a few users who wanted to have their stall at the ‘Funday’ and cross our picket line. Frustrating. When that proposal was put to me, I lost my nut, which meant I threatened to_bring Reclaim the Streets down to smash up their stall. Because of that remark, I had two police stations hassling me up to the day_of our Reclaim Bedlam picnic and the picket at the staff ball, the_appropriate opening event of the celebrations, had to be dropped.

We had our first picnic at Imperial War Museum, one of the sites of Bedlam Hospital; Simon Hughes MP came and spoke. Features in Big Issue and Nursing Times, and we were afloat.

Our next event was to screw up the Thanksgiving Service at St Paul’s_Cathedral which a member of the Royal Family was attending. BBC2’s ‘From the Edge’ got in on the act for that one, and it’s widely_thought that because of our antics on the steps of St Paul’s – as well as stopping the traffic at 11am with a boat forcing Tower Bridge to open – that the Chief Exec didn’t get his MBE.

Our next event was to join up with ECT Anonymous and the All_Wales User and Survivor Group and picket the Royal College of Psychiatry. It was the first time Reclaim Bedlam had been involved in International Direct Action. Keeping up the pressure on the Royal College of Psychiatry we hijacked their anti-stigma campaign, ‘In Every Family in the Land’. The soundbite I used was: ‘the psychiatrist is patting you on the head with one hand, and with the other hand he /she is using compulsory treatment to inject you up the bum.” (Pete Shaughnessy)

Hundreds of mental patients around the country supported Reclaim Bedlam, and the BBC2 series From The Edge made a programme about it. At a time of many community- care horror stories, a very different message was finally getting out.

Pete and others around Southwark Mind organised a demo against SANE head-quarters in 1999 “opposing their support (at the time) for compulsory treatment orders being proposed by the government – to no small part because of SANE’s lobbying – things started to get serious. We managed to get 200 people turning up to the SANE march – which at the time was an unprecedented figure for a ‘mad’ demo. We had whistles, drums, a 7-foot long syringe together with a kitchen table, corn-flakes and milk, tridents (because we’re the devil), banners, flyer you name it – we pulled out the stops. SANE didn’t know what the fuck had hit them. They dropped their support for CTO’s and to this day, they’re still reeling from this event.”

Then Pete went on to found Mad Pride with Robert Dellar, Simon Barnett and Mark Roberts.

Mad Pride orchestrated a campaign of publicity and protest – holding a vigil on Suicide Bridge in Archway, to remember all of the people who’ve died there and all of the other people who commit suicide – ‘murder by society.’; protesting against the pharmaceutical industry’s predominance over psychiatric services; organising a Mad Pride open-air festival in Stoke Newington in July 2000; the publication of a book ‘ Mad Pride: A Celebration of Mad Culture,’ which was highly acclaimed and successful… “we got user-led mental health issues into the media as never before, and we inspired many people. We also, without a doubt, moved the paradigm of the British ‘user movement’ left-wards.”

Pete Shaughnessy tragically took his own life in December 2002.
Sadly Robert Dellar also died in 2016.

See Into the Deep End, Pete’s chapter for Mad Pride – A Celebration of Mad Culture. Edited by Ted Curtis, Robert Dellar, Esther Leslie & Ben Watson.

A plaque we left here in memory of Reclaim Bedlam

At the time this walk was originally thought up, South London mad folk were up in arms about the closure of the Psychiatric Emergency Clinic at Maudsley, the 24 hour emergency service for mentally ill people in crisis. mental health trust, the South London and Maudsley Trust, ran up surpluses in the preceding year, and was told it had to find £8m of savings the following year, because the two primary care trusts which fund the NHS locally were cutting their mental health budgets. The Maudsley’s walk-in emergency clinic, the only 24-hour self-referral service of its kind in the UK, open since the 1950s, was targeted for the cuts. The Maudsley said that King’s College Hospital A&E, just across the road, was creating a separate area to deal with this, and that voluntary sector providers were coming in to run an information service: None of which has happened. Rallies, demos, of mad and allegedly sane alike followed for two years, but the clinic closed for clinical admissions and treatment in January 2007.

The chief executive of King’s admitted that they never had any intention of creating a separate area to replace the emergency clinic. I’d rather be mad than a lying bureaucrat.
The campaign to re-open an emergency clinic continues.

Madness, Creativity, Individuality

“Creative Routes have identified normality as a mental health issue.”

Between 2006-2008, Creative Routes, an arts charity, run by the mad for the mad, organised the Bonkersfest on Camberwell Green: a free annual one day summer arts and music festival, illuminating and celebrating madness, creativity, individuality and eccentricity; combating stigma and promoting good mental health – A day of loony celebrations for everyone – mad or not… Sadly missed.
Creative Routes celebrated and promoted the unique creativity of mad people, promoting mental well-being, and creatively campaigning against discrimination and for the acceptance of individuality in society.

… they also believed MADNESS should be viewed positively facilitating an outpouring of immense and unique creative energy. Wahey!


Institute of Psychiatry – the South London Animal Movement picketed here regularly in the early 1980s, protesting the Institute’s policy of testing on animals. At this time we think Mike Chitty, undercover police spy run by the Special Demonstration Squad (remember them, from Camberwell New Road, above?) was infiltrating this group. The Animal Liberation Front also raided the lab here in 1984, releasing caged rats, destroying computer tapes and trashing the lab.


No 30 De Crespigny Park used to be a long term squat, a very large house, squatted on and off for many years in the 1980s and 1990s, lived in by lots of lovely people; finally evicted in 1999.


Continuing the story of squatting locally (started at Daneville Road, above)…
93 Grove Lane was the site of Southwark’s Homeless Families Department

On 2 June 1971, the office of Edna Cummings (head of the Department) was besieged, then occupied by Southwark Families Squatting Association. 25-30 people got inside, while other squatters stood outside with placards. The occupiers answered phones, and claimed they’d set up a new council squatting department! They demanded Edna Cummings’ resignation and more housing for homeless families. The 5 hour-occupation was eventually removed.

Eventually after the 1971 elections, younger, left Labour councillors who supported the squatters pushed through deals and many squats got licences. In July 1971 the council made deals with the Family Squatting Association, which led to the creation of Southwark Self Help Housing. 30 houses were initially given over to them, many of which had been previously scheduled for demolition. It is still going today, having bought all its housing stock from the Council.
The council office at no 93 was later closed and has been turned into flats.

A plaque left here celebrating the occupation of the homeless families department.


In the 1980s many of Camberwell Grove’s huge Georgian houses were lying empty, in decline. They were in a very bad state of repair, rising damp, wet and dry rot, leaking roofs, gutters/ downpipes knackered, smashed windows. But their old spiral staircases had been listed, so the Council couldn’t just knock them all down, to their great dismay.

Originally several houses, at least numbers 201 to 218, were squatted in 1983, and a community built up, which worked very communally and collectively, at least for a while. Organic gardens, growing vegetables were set up, and many houses shared power supplies with each other – some of it obtained in slightly unorthodox ways:

“I lived for a couple of grim years, in a gigantic pile on Camberwell Grove, just round the corner from the top secret government listening station (easily identified by the large graffiti we used to place on local road signs reading “This way to Top Secret Government Listening Station”). I became adept at tapping neighbours gas and water supplies. At one point a resident eight houses down was supplying 40 squatters with power from the spur that ran the train layout in his garden shed. I think he had half a dozen Hornby Dublo models that, for the six months before they caught us, were drawing more power than the British Rail London to Manchester line…”

In 1984 Southwark Council offered them a deal: short-term tenancies of 18 months up to 5 years though Hyde Housing Association. This sparked a furious debate over what to do; since many squatters in those days, especially those influenced by anarchism and other similar ideas advocated refusing to co-operate with councils and other authorities at all. A leaflet was circulated urging people to do no deals, and a meeting (at no 207 in November 1984) urged this position. The majority voted to accept the deal with Hyde, though. Nos 201-218 were ‘shortlifed’ (given indeterminate licences to remain with no guarantee of rehousing or proper rights, but free from immediate eviction) in February ‘85. They formed a Housing Co-op. Some houses were taken to the high court for eviction proceedings in July 1985, and many were evicted around 1989-90, though some squatting survived and sporadically still houses in Camberwell Grove were being occupied into the 21st Century. I’m not sure when the Co-op was evicted if it was…

We left a plaque here to commemorate the Camberwell Grove squats


This was known as Groove Park, c. 1991-2? A large squat centre/gig venue, occupying a Council children’s home (which closed down after a scandal due to mistreatment of kids in September 1990, and immediately squatted). It was renamed Groove Park, and put on gigs, cafes, raves, and other fun and games. “Human-sized ducks hang from the ceiling. Parachutes in others; industrial waste grows into metal sculptures and the walls have been decorated by a dozen Jackson Pollocks.” 20 odd people lived here, and formed an ‘Arts Co-op’. leafletting the neighbours claiming to be all teetotal non smoking vegetarians (somewhat inaccurately)… Many locals signed their petition to be allowed to remain in the building, including neighbour Terry Jones of Monty Python (though he later came round to complain about the noise, apparently!).


113 Grove Park was formerly a Listening station, run by a MI6/Police/MI5 combination.

MI6 Telephone intercepts were for some time handled at the London Station or VBR, by a group of specialists and linguists known as UKZ and operating with a team of specially cleared BT engineers known as the OND. Metropolitan Police Interception and Special Services Centre was situated at 113 Grove Park, Camberwell, London SE5 and served as a joint MI5/MI6/MPSB/C7/GC & CS unit. This had been in operation as ‘Grove Park’ since around 1919 and was still a covert listening site well into the 1980s.

Some operations were transferred to Sandridge near St Albans in the late 1930’s and that base was taken over by GCHQ in 1946. A fleet of detector vans was based there throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s. By 1970’s had reverted to Home Office control and had became a Surveillance Research centre developing equipment for Grove Park and other users.


The large house (a former youth offending training centre) and extensive land here has been empty for a while. The supposed owners are trying to sell it on for 10.5 million as it is, with the planning permission granted. They got a 4 million mortgage from the Secretary of state for communities 2 years ago.. (an expect to make a 6.5million profit when they sell).

There has been a community campaign to prevent the sale and save the land and the trees; hopefully as a community space. The house was squatted previously, and the house and land was squatted as part of the campaign (around 2017); and re-named GroveArk… Check out their wonderful facebook page

The squatters lost in court in August 2019; but on 6 November 2019, they resisted eviction: “squatters and Rebel’s barricaded and climbed on the roof, safe for now.#homes4all Resist ALL evictions. Calling for anyone to come and support tomorrow morning in case bailiffs return. Needs tree climbers , rebel feast tonight. Musical protest resistance tomorrow morning onwards. Wish list people, rebels , pallets, wood, rope, chains and locks, lock ons, food, paint tools, super glue, long ladders, transport, empty building addresses, musicians ( for round the fire in massive tree grove garden .) Cake ,flap jack, torches, bring friends hang out on the frontline for free Adrenalin. Save one of the last groves in this part of south London. Please network to media and social media” 

The building was evicted in January 2020: “The large house on Grove Park that has been squatted on and off for the last couple of years is currently being cleared. Started about 8.30 this morning. About 50 bailiffs and private security and another 30 or 40 police and community support officers. Seemed pretty disproportionate to me. Grove Park itself closed to traffic. Given the general shortage of visible policing in Camberwell and Peckham it seemed a bit galling that so many are able to turn up to oversee the needs of a private landlord. I know they are there to monitor the bailiffs too but it seemed like a lot. By the property owner’s admission the squatters only occupied the property when his maintenance team left the place unlocked. That huge area of mature woodland behind the house will, I guess, shortly be cleared for more ‘luxury’ housing.”

There’s a petition to save the space


St Giles Church features the first recorded black presence in Southwark, as being in Camberwell, in its records of the African John Primero, servant to Sir Thomas Hunt, baptised April 3 1607, buried St Giles Church 3 Feb 1615. (Obviously this only means that earlier records may no longer exist).

West Indians began to settle in numbers in Camberwell in the early 1950s, an offshoot of the Brixton community, though there were more Pakistanis and Indians mixed in here. Caribbeans moved in mainly to the north of Camberwell Green, ie in the poorer parts of the area, mostly in run-down, short lease 2-3 storey houses. The black community here was less dense, more scattered than the more obvious Brixton West Indian community; Camberwell was maybe a slightly more favourable climate than Brixton in some ways. There seems to have been less racial tension, maybe partly because the incomers were less clustered and noticeable as a group.  The long association of Harold Moody and his family here as local doctor and activist may have also contributed to a more accepting attitude (see below, Wren Street).  Camberwell Borough Council were said to be more positive towards the migrants than Lambeth. A figure of 1500 black residents comes up for 1956, perhaps though, this was for the Borough of Camberwell as a whole.

Since then clearly the population has grown, and black people now number some 20 per cent of Camberwell’s inhabitants, according to the stats.

Racism and fascism have reared their head in the area; anti-racism has been around for just as long. We will return to this later on…

Timothy Brown is also buried in St Giles Churchyard: he lived nearby at Peckham Lodge, Rye Lane, in the early 19th Century. He was known as ‘Equality’ Brown due to his outspoken democratic views. Among other things he insisted on calling a meeting of parishioners in the Church to get a resolution of sympathy for Queen Caroline, around 1820: th estranged wife of king George IV had become a cause celebre for opponents of the monarchy and establishment. But the parish churchwardens wouldn’t allow this meeting to be held on church grounds… Inspired by Brown, a deputation set out from Peckham with an address of support for the Queen; ‘Equality” Brown, however, is said to have died in the very day it set out…


Behind the Grove Tavern, at 45 Grove Lane, Camberwell Hall, built in 1748, was by the mid-19th Century used as a venue for social activities, including the Camberwell Working Men’s Institute, who held classes and lectures here. Dickens included it in Sketches by Boz.

The Working Men’s Institutes were set up initially by middle class reformers to oversee education of working class men; partly to help them improve themselves, though also to try to wean them from either drink, immoral behaviour and crime, or from extreme radical politics. They mainly encouraged adult education, sobriety, self-improvement; but they also did provide a venue for many artisans and working-class men to come together and discuss ideas and knowledge. Although politics was generally frowned upon, many groups of working men drew upon this experience, and became radically political active; some groups split directly from WMIs to form self-organised working men’s political and social clubs.

Radical groups met at Camberwell Hall: for example a meeting of the Freedmen’s Aid Society at Camberwell Hall was held to hail the abolition of slavery in the United States.

Art critic John Ruskin lectured here in 1865, it being a short walk from his house Born in Herne Hill, Ruskin lived at no 163 Denmark Hill at this time, opposite modern Ruskin Park.

John Ruskin, 1819 -1900, lived most of his life in Herne Hill and Camberwell, and is best known for his work as an art critic and social commentator; he was also an author, poet and artist. Ruskin’s essays on art and architecture were very influential in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

As an Art critic, he was heavily judgemental. He supported the pre-Raphaelites when they were widely disapproved of as being too avant-garde, and was particularly outspoken in support of Millais’ “blasphemous” paintings of Christ.

His books on architecture, The Stones of Venice and Seven Lamps of Architecture argued that art cannot be separated from morality, by which he meant that the arts should be the expression of the whole moral being of the artists, and of the quality of the society in which the artist lived. He believed that man achieved their own humanity through labour, but through creative labour, not drudgery. He attacked mechanisation and standardisation of goods; this led him increasingly into rebellion against 19th century capitalism. “Mens pleasure in the work by which they make their bread” lies at the heart of a just society, was his underlying thesis. His view was that Capitalism was turning workers into machines: he viewed craft and artisan skill as vitally important, and looked back in some ways to the Middle Ages, to craft-based guilds. He also condemned the separation of manual and intellectual labour… “the workman ought to be often thinking, and the thinker often to be working… As it is… the world is full of morbid thinkers and miserable workers.”

Fundamentally Ruskin condemned the division of labour, which formed part of the heart of capitalism. His ideas were crucially influential on the development of William Morris, and the Arts and Crafts Movement; he also influenced the setting up of the National Trust, the National Art Collections Fund and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

Following a crisis of religious belief Ruskin abandoned art criticism at the end of the 1850s, moving towards commentary on politics, under the influence of his great friend Thomas Carlyle. In Unto This Last he expounded his theories about social justice, which influenced the development of the British Labour party and of Christian socialism. Upon the death of his father, Ruskin declared that it was not possible to be a rich socialist and gave away most of his inheritance.

Ruskin lectured at the Camberwell Working Men’s Institute; his talk on “Work and Play” was given on January 24th, 1865, and took this theme: that work had to be useful, fulfilling and enjoyable.

He founded the charity known as the Guild of St George in the 1870s and endowed it with large sums of money as well as a remarkable collection of art. He also gave the money to enable Octavia Hill to begin her practical campaign of housing reform. He also taught at the Working Men’s College, London and was the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford, from 1869 to 1879, he also served a second term.

In 1871 Ruskin began publication of Fors Clavigera: Letters to the Workmen and Labourers of Great Britain. Between 1871 and 1878 it was issued in monthly parts and until 1884 at irregular intervals. Ruskin intended the work to be a “continual challenger to the supporters of and apologists for a capitalist economy”. It was Ruskin’s socialist writing that influenced trade unionists and political activists such as Tom Mann and Ben Tillett.

Fors Clavigera: 89th Letter (1873) 

”Trade Unions of England – Trade Armies of Christendom, what’s the roll-call of you, and what part or lot have you, hitherto, in this Holy Christian Land of your Fathers? Whose is the wealth of the world but yours? Whose is the virtue? Do you mean to go on for ever, leaving your wealth to be consumed by the idle and your virtue to be mocked by the vile?

The wealth of the world is yours; even your common rant and rabble of economists tell you that: “no wealth without industry.” Who robs you of it, then, or beguiles you? Whose fault is it, you cloth-makers, that any English child is in rags? Whose fault is it, you shoemakers, that the street harlots mince in high-heeled shoes and your own babies paddle bare-foot in the street slime? Whose fault is it you bronzed husbandmen, that through all your furrowed England, children are dying of famine?”

Like so much of London’s interesting underground geography, Camberwell Hall has now sadly been sold off for housing for the rich. In an advert for the sale of the building, some of its history was regurgitated as sanitised heritage, to help bump up the developers’ profit.
More on Ruskin

We left a plaque remembering the Hall’s past


The old Labour Club, at 84 Camberwell Church Street was squatted for gigs & parties in November 1990 or so… Some of crew involved had previously run the pioneering Peckham Dole House Squat 1989-90, one of first inner London Squat rave venues.

The Labour Club was described by Southwark Squatting/Housing Comic Ship News thus: “Conscientious types, world muzak, Country and western etc… Scenewise, a bit off the beaten track. Labour party nipped back in to resquat their ideological home while occupants were out…”

According to one of the organisers/residents:

“Not much I can remember about the Labour Club, bit too tripped out. Got pigged one night when Eat Static were due to play… The Caff was on a Friday called ‘Fresh From The Skip…’ or something similar… Bands that played included Poisoned Electrick Head, Back To The Planet, RDF, Brain Of Morbius… we also used to put gigs on in what is now The Stirling (or is it The Castle), over the road, even persuaded the Levellers to play for nout…The saddest thing about the place was that we weren’t evicted, we all fucked off to a festival one weekend and when got back to London the owners (the labour party) had squatted it and were turfing everything out onto the road (we’d all moved out by then, squatting somewhere a lot cleaner in Peckham, the Labour Club was very difficult to use as a home although good as a venue). This was after some woman from their head office when it was up Walworth road turned up at the door and ordered us out, then returned with the police a few minutes later after we told her to fuck off. They couldn’t be bothered and told her to take us to court. The police also turned up to check our leccy supply about a month after it was squatted, thinking we were abstracting (not at that point) as our door bell was a length of flex

hanging out the top floor window attached to some empty beer cans; if they’d bothered to look at the flex they’d seen it was attached to nothing. Thick cunts!!…”

A plaque was put up here to remember the Labour Club squat



Under the old Poor Law systems that preceded the Welfare State, the poor who were unable or unwilling to work were the responsibility of the Parish authorities. These local worthies being ratepaying respectable folk, responsible to their fellow ratepayers, tried to spend as little as possible on unnecessary expenses like relieving the skint and destitute. Poor folk were often forced out of the parish if not native, or incarcerated in Workhouses, which increasingly became prisons for the lower orders, feared and hated. Especially `after the New Poor law was introduced in 1834, the Workhouse was made as inhospitable and repressive as possible to discourage people from resorting to it unless they had no other option. Men and women were split up, families divided, backbreaking labour was normal and the food was usually scanty and of dubious quality.

The old Workhouse, Havil Street

Camberwell’s old Workhouse stood here on the corner of Camberwell Church Street and Havil Street. The Workhouse had been built in 1727-8, despite opposition from local worthies, who didn’t see why they should pay for it. It was rebuilt several times here, most notably in 1827. This latest building was “very hot in the summer and particularly draughty in the winter.”

Over the years, the Havil Street site became increasingly important as a hospital. In 1873 a large new infirmary was erected at the north of the site, at the junction with Brunswick Road. Its central administrative block was five storeys high and contained offices, staff accommodation, and special wards.

The infirmary buildings were further extended in 1899-1903 with new ward blocks, operating theatre, and nurses’ home. A large administration block fronted onto Brunswick Square (now St Giles Road). The Board of Guardians, the Borough Council officers responsible for giving out ‘relief’ (benefits)and administering the Workhouse, had their office built on the site of the old Workhouse… (maybe not just because the land was vacant:  presumably the Workhouse site would have had enough bad resonances with the poor to scare some off from applying for relief!?) The Workhouse buildings were demolished in 1905.

In 1930, the Havil Street site was taken over completely by the London County Council and renamed St Giles’ Hospital. Many of the original buildings have now been demolished to make way for flats.

In 1878, Camberwell erected a new workhouse at a site to the west of Gordon Road, Peckham. [Aside: this was the old site of the convent at Nazareth House; after the Workhouse closed its derelict sheds became a dosshouse known as the Spike. The empty hospital buildings were partly demolished for flats in the 1990s, the other half of the site became a scrap recycling project and was then squatted in 1999, to become the famous Spike. Several people lived here, had parties, and organised many projects until its eviction in 2009.]

The Right to Live

Camberwell had a long tradition of unemployed organising themselves to fight for more generous systems of benefits. (Interestingly Myatt’s Fields Park was bought & turned into a landscaped park, after over 10 years of local campaigning, and laid out 1887-8. The work was actually done by the unemployed. After unemployed rioting in the West End in 1886, the authorities set up work-for-your-charity schemes for the doleys to try to stop them causing trouble. The park opened in 1889.)

During the high unemployment of 1905, a Camberwell Joint Unemployed Committee campaigned locally for more relief from the Guardians, having a membership of 1,500.

In the early 1920s Camberwell Green was also the starting point for rallies and demonstrations against unemployment, and against government measures which hit the unemployed hard.

After the First World War, unemployment rocketed. Partly this resulted from the change in the economy from the ending of the War/munitions industries, partly employment and economic figures had been distorted with hundreds of thousands of men in uniform. With large numbers of unemployed ex-servicemen looking for work, and firms laying people off, many working class people were thrown into poverty. This was not taken lying down however. From 1920 on, local unemployed committees organised against government measures to restrict money for relief of poverty and unemployment; against local authorities who were administering these restrictions (and in many cases adding some of their own) and against firms who were laying workers off, or working lots of overtime… Many of these committees were organised by trade unionists and socialists and communists who had been active in the strike movements before, during and after the War, and many members were unemployed ex-servicemen, who had spent years in the trenches only to come back to hardship.

In 1921, most of the Committees combined to form the National Unemployed Workers (Committee) Movement or NUWM.

The early to mid 19th Century saw a sharp rise in the number of people diagnosed as insane and committed to institutions; possible reasons for this include the social dislocation and pressures of industrialisation, urbanisation, with vast numbers of people being forced off the land and flocking into factories and slums to survive; although higher numbers being diagnosed may have contributed.

Rebellious, awkward or unorthodox behaviour could also land you in the asylum; poverty and increasing turbulence of life also drove many people mad. No adequate figures exist, but large numbers of people were forced into asylums as social control, or as a cheap alternative to workhouse.

The alternative to the Workhouse… the Madhouse

As mentioned above, Camberwell has hosted institutions for the treatment/incarceration of people with mental health problems for centuries. Two such ‘hospitals’ used to stand on Peckham Road:

Camberwell House and Peckham House

Camberwell House, a huge private establishment, stood on the north side behind the Town Hall, occupying the land as far as Southampton Way (where the Sceaux Gardens Estate is now). Built originally as a school, it was converted into a ‘lunatic asylum’ in 1846. Holding up to 483 inmates it was the largest of its kind in the metropolis in the late 19th Century.

A painting of Camberwell House

The institution was held to be “the epitome of the enlightened approach to mental disorders at a time when the public asylums were busy creating the ignorance and brutality, the mistrust, that still lingers in the public mind today of mental homes” (Blanch); the proprietors’ pioneering regime contrasted with the cruel and barbarous conditions prevalent in Bedlam and other asylums. “The utmost liberty, with safety, is permitted”, it was said of the regime there.

While it was said to cater to ‘all classes’, the private paying guest was clearly at the forefront of the proprietors’ minds… Not only was care emphasised, but the hospital also provided some pretty plush facilities for its ‘patients’: 20 acres of grounds (some of which were over Peckham Road, where Lucas Gardens are now) cricket, football and hockey pitches, tennis and squash courts, croquet; there were garden parties, dances (in a purpose built ball room!) theatricals, concerts, billiards… Camberwell House eventually closed in 1955: the building are now part of the University of the Arts.

Peckham House, on the other hand, (which stood on the site now occupied by the Harris Academy, Peckham, was clearly intended for the more plebeian end of the market. An old mansion till 1826, it then became a public asylum, in response to the urgent need for “a suitable establishment for the insane poor”; and to the urgent need for local parishes to cut the cost of sending their mad poor to public asylums north of the river.

It was smaller than Camberwell House, holding around 350 people; again it was supposed to be for “all ages and classes”. but in 1844, there were 203 pauper and 48 private inmates.  Pauper inmates were sent from various parishes, (an allowance was paid for their upkeep – 17s. 6d. in 1874, though not sure if that’s per year, per week or what?)

Being a public asylum, Peckham House was regularly checked out by the authorities that paid for it. Although much more so than today, you have to read between the lines, the inspectors reported that the accommodation was ‘excellent’, but consistently there were complaints about the food. Even the stingy worthies who pulled the purse strings were stirred into action: “this house has always been a source of trouble to us upon the subject of diet…”

Peckham House in the 1950s (south elevation)

In 1844, patients received on alternate days either meat, potatoes and bread, or soup and bread. It was described mouthwateringly: “the soup is made from the liquer in which the meat from the whole establishment (private paupers and servants) is boiled the previous day.” Please sir, can I have some more?

All in all, despite its ‘excellent’ accommodation, Peckham House was considered to be in a bad state in 1844, and may have only stayed open because the vestries who paid for it realised that the only alternative place for most of its poor inmates would be the workhouse – at their expense.

Class and money divided those interned here. In 1874, ‘Private’ patients whose “friends paying from one to one and a half guineas for their board, lodging and attendance” lived in separate blocks, in better circumstances than paupers… According to a South London Press reporter,  “the rooms are light and cheerful, ruddy fires burn in the grates. Here are bathrooms, with a supply of hot and cold water, and a bagatelle table for the amusement of the patients… In connection with this block is a pleasant strip of garden…” In the next ward “we rise a step in the social scale. ‘People who have moved in a superior station” my guide whispers as we enter. They are quiet and orderly people… The apartments are superior to the last… lounges and couches give a decided air of home comfort to the place.”  The final ward was “a long and elegantly furnished room…” About 42 ‘ladies’ inhabited this ward, paying fees of 5 to 20 guineas a week… Every comfort was allotted to them.

The asylum in 1874 had clearly improved from thirty years previously  – so that it “can be fairly compared with any similar establishment in the kingdom….”
Peckham House closed in 1952.


 Camberwell unemployed in 1920 occupied Camberwell School of Art, as part of a campaign for free places for the unemployed to meet.

“Their local strength was reflected in the fact that they could ‘pack’ a Labour Party meeting in the Camberwell Baths and get the following motion carried: ‘We the workers at this meeting, under the guidance of the Mayor, realise the impossibility of any proffered solution to unemployment during the life of the Capitalist system. We pledge ourselves to work unceasingly for the overthrow of Capitalism and the establishment of a workers Republic.”

On Sept 21st 1921 there was a mass march of local unemployed, from Camberwell Green to Peckham.

In 1922, Camberwell Board of Guardians (who administered relief) planned to stop milk for babies of the unemployed… On February 1st, Camberwell women marched to the House of Commons, as the order was rumoured to have come down from the Ministry of Health. A Ministry inquiry reversed the decision.

Unemployment being high, it became a hot political issue. In 1922, elections were held for the Board of Guardians (the Council body that administered not only relief but the Workhouses etc). A flurry of electoral leaflets from various candidates addressed the issue. Labour candidates Arthur Andrews and Louis Edwards campaigned on the platform of giving out full rations to those on relief (not as was current policy, on the Mond scale, half-rations). They also opposed giving out food instead of money as out-relief. Their leaflet invoked the class nature of unemployment: “Its is only our class that go to the Workhouse or Infirmary. Send the Labour candidates to make the institutions as comfortable as possible. They stand the same risks as you do of having to go there.”  They also amusingly advised: “Don’t wait for our car [presumably to pick up voters and ferry them to the polls]. We haven’t got one. Workers don’t own cars, they only make them.”

There were also two candidates from the ‘Camberwell Central unemployed’, Burnett and Smith, who stood on the basis of their long activism in local unemployment politics, having been members of delegations to the Board of Guardians several times… What were their affiliations? They disparaged political parties in their leaflet, who would make loud noises to get elected and then make no changes.

Workers Defence

In 1927 the Government introduced the ‘Not Genuinely Seeking Work Clause’, as well as cuts in benefit. In 1931 the National Government introduced the means test, and more dole cuts … the response of the local NUWM branches was to organise more broadly-based organisations known as Workers Defence Movements. In 1931 the Camberwell WDM claimed an active membership of 1,000 and got even more support at meetings outside the Peckham Labour Exchange. With the support of the Labour MP, John Beckett, thousands marched along Peckham Road via the Unity Labour Club in Consort Road, to the Rye. (John Beckett later lurched to the right, joining Oswald Mosley’s British union of Fascists.)

Towards the end of 1931 Southwark and Camberwell Workers Defence Movement joined forces for a mass march of 4,000 local unemployed from Walworth Town Hall via Camberwell Green to the Rye. En-route factories and other places of work were visited and employers asked to sign a statement to the effect that they had no work to offer.

The Workers Defence Movement was also involved in preventing evictions, especially during rent strikes, for example in Peckham’s Goldsmith Estate in 1931-2…  They also supported NUWM-organised hunger marchers and passive resistance to public works not given to local unemployed.

Arthur Cooper, Secretary of the Camberwell Trades Council after the Second World War, remembers that a common local tactic was to inform the police that the mass unemployed would converge on a local street such as Southampton Way. Hundreds of police would arrive to find Cooper addressing a meeting of ten outside the Samuel Jones factory (a waxed paper works, by Peckham Grove) while the bulk of the unemployed were attending demonstrations in the West End!

Interestingly, in 1999 the College was occupied again, on 10 March 1999, by students in protest at lack of tutors, equipment, space, grants and hours of access.  College management used various methods to harass them, including bogus fire alarms, threats to prosecute, turning off heating & hot water. 8 students were taken to court over the occupation.

During the wave of occupations of universities and colleges over the winter of 2010, part of a wider movement against increased student fees and cuts generally, students took over the upper main room at Camberwell Art College’s Wilson Street building, staying throughout the Christmas holidays.
More here


During the cold war London was divided into 4 (later 5) groups, each reporting directly to Kelvedon Hatch,
in turn each group was subdivided into the individual boroughs, each of them having its own control centre. The South East Group War HQ at Pear Tree House, SE19 had six sub-controls, Greenwich, Bexley, Bromley, Croydon, Lewisham & Southwark. The Southwark control, designated 51C5 was located beneath a health centre at the junction of Peckham Road and Vestry Road, SE5, almost opposite Southwark Town Hall. Local officers and councillors would have taken shelter here in the event of a nuclear attack, to ‘co-ordinate action’, while the rest of us died horribly.

After the bunker’s closure, the empty health centre was demolished in the late 1990s because, according to the Southwark EPO, local children kept breaking in to it. The bunker below remains intact. The plot of land is now derelict awaiting redevelopment, one side of the stairway into the bunker below has been filled with concrete leaving a six foot drop onto the steps. A hinged grille has been fixed over the remaining part of the well and this is kept securely locked.
More on the Bunker

Lucas gardens housing peace camp 1981

From October 8-12 1984, local housing activists set up a housing peace camp on the lawn of the town hall. The main focus of the protest was against the council’s introduction of PIOs (Protected Intending Occupier) against squatters, to allow police and council officers to evict them without going to court. (As happened to your current author, PIO’d from a Southwark council flat in the Browning Estate in December 1991. 8 days before Xmas…)


Peckham Action Group

From 1977 to 1982 the Peckham Action Group (PAG) led a campaign against the demolition of the north side of historic Peckham High Street for a new town hall and huge 4-lane high road.

Southwark council came up with a massive scheme to create a dual-carriage highway through the centre of Peckham, with an effectively realigned High Street and a new, grandiose, multimillion-pound town hall.

This led to the formation of a dedicated Peckham Action Group to campaign against the plan. Action included demos and leafletting, lobbying, and the cutting of a now iconic punk rock seven-inch single, ‘No Town Hall’, recorded by the band Crisis. The cover depicted a Southwark sledgehammer embedded in a building, and a coffin bearing the legend ‘RIP Peckham’.

Winning support from councillors, the campaigners were able to help change minds about the new town hall and highway scheme.

This campaign echoed the earlier fight to prevent the South London Cross Route being built through Peckham and Camberwell, which would have led to the demolition of thousands of homes locally. This was a part of the Ringways project, a plan to encircle the capital with concentric rings of motorway and dual carriageway, with radial motorways and links roads fanning out in various directions. Two major elements of the Ringways scheme got built – the M25 and the North Circular Road. The South Circular expansion got bogged down; so did the third and innermost proposal, the ‘Motorway Box’ which would have formed an ‘inner ring road’; this was to have meant the demolition of thousands of homes and the relocation of over 100,000 people. In the north of the city new eight-lane motorways on raised concrete pylons were to be erected through Dalston, Highbury, Camden, Canonbury, Kilburn, Shepherds Bush… The South Cross route of the new autobahns would have driven through Barnes, Balham, Battersea, Clapham, Brixton, Camberwell and Peckham to Kidbrooke and Greenwich.

But locals in all the neighbourhoods threatened with mass demolition got together and fought the ringway proposals in the later 1960s and early 1970s. In 1971, opposition movements coalesced into the London Motorway Action Group. The massive economic cost and opposition eventually led to the vast majority of the ‘Motorway Box’ being shelved in 1973.

The only sections that got built of the inner ring road were the A102/Blackwall tunnel, and the tiny M41 in Shepherds Bush, (squatted for the 1996 Reclaim the Streets party on the motorway, during another wave of protests against roadbuilding).

But interestingly, the so-called Barrier Block, Southwyck House in Brixton’s Coldharbour Lane, was built with a startling resemblance to a Swedish Prison, with few and tiny windows and few entrances on the road facing side, because the motorway was expected to bulldoze down Coldharbour Lane through central Brixton (The motorway, and the grotesque Brixton plan designed to go with it, would have also reduced all of central Brixton to a Birmingham Bullring style raised interchange surrounded by 50 storey tower blocks. Its collapse left 1000s of compulsorily purchased street housing empty for several years, which was then gradually squatted for housing, projects and centres, and blues clubs, contributing much of the area’s counter-cultural life for the next four decades.

On 7 March 1990, Southwark Town Hall was stormed by 500 local anti-poll tax rebels, during setting of poll tax rate.


“It began with a faulty electronic appliance starting a fire in a flat. But the flames spread across the outside of the building, taking hold on cheap composite panels, not compliant with building regulations, which had been fitted during a refurbishment. Terrified residents called emergency services and were told to stay put in their homes, where they later died.

In the aftermath, questions were asked. How did risk assessments miss this? How did the system of building regulation allow the refurbishment to take place? How could this happen so close to the wealthiest part of one of the wealthiest cities on earth?

In social housing right now it seems history repeats itself twice as tragedy. Because this is not a description of the Grenfell Tower disaster, but Lakanal House – a fire eight years earlier …” (Inside Housing)

Lakanal House was built in 1959: a 14-storey tower block containing 98 flats. Southwark Council had previously scheduled the building for demolition in 1999, although later it was decided not to demolish it.

On 3 July 2009, a fire broke out a flat on the ninth floor of Lakanal House, caused by faulty television.

One single central stairwell was the only way in and out of the building – this filled quickly with thick dark smoke, making escape – and rescue – difficult. Around 150 people were evacuated or rescued from the flats. The Fire Brigade rescued a number of people from the flats. Many were taken to Guy’s Hospital, King’s College Hospital and Lewisham Hospital with injuries including smoke inhalation.

The fire killed three people in their flats – three people died of their injuries in hospital. Nine other people were treated at an emergency centre set up by Southwark Council. One firefighter was also admitted to hospital after being injured while fighting the fire.

The dead were three adults and three young children: Dayana Francisquini, 26, and her children, six-year-old Thais, and Felipe, three; Helen Udoaka, 34, and her three-week-old daughter Michelle; and 31-year-old Catherine Hickman.

The Fire Brigade had responded with a total of eighteen fire engines attending, setting up an operational command centre was erected on the seventh floor. People within the flats calling 999 were told to remain in their flats instead of attempting to flee, based on the theory of ‘compartmentation’ – the idea that the structure of the building meant the fire could not spread from flat to flat, so staying in their flats would help protect the families while the blaze was contained. This was supposed to be safer than braving the smoke-filled stairwells and corridors.

However, the flames spread from flat to flat and between floors on the outside of the building, as cladding and insulation caught fire. The exterior cladding panels had burned through in less than five minutes.

Catherine Hickman spent 40 minutes on the phone with 999 responders who urged her to stay in her flat; at the end of the call the responder could no longer hear her breathing.

A Fire Brigade investigation into the fire later helped bring to light that it had already been identified, before the blaze, that the structure and layout of Lakanal House posed a risk of enabling a fire to spread, if one should occur in one of the flats.

An inquest into the deaths at Lakanal House found that the rapid spread of the fire, due to the igniting of the exterior cladding, had trapped people in their homes. As in the case of the Grenfell Tower fire eight years later, residents were advised to remain in their homes in the event of a fire. The inquest also concluded that substandard renovations had removed fire-stopping material between the flats – a problem not uncovered by any Southwark council’s fire safety inspections carried out before the fire.

The layout of the flats made escape in case of an emergency difficult. The two-bedroom maisonettes were based on a two-storey interlocking design. The flats are entered from the right or left side of a central access corridor. On the access level, there are two bedrooms and a bathroom. There are stairs to the upper level where a lounge and kitchen stretch across the full width of the block. This means that the lounge for each flat is above one of the bedrooms of that flat and one of the bedrooms of the flat on the opposite side of the access corridor. The flats were built with fire exits from the lounge and the kitchen to ‘exit balconies’ on either side of the building, and also a fire exit from the largest bedroom into the central access corridor, separate from the front door.

The block had no central fire alarm system – not required by virtue of the then Building Regulations Approved Document B for England And Wales.

Southwark Council claimed after the fire that it had recently spent £3.5 million on refurbishment to meet current fire safety standards.

Residents evacuated from the flats sheltered in nearby community centres, helped by donations and solidarity from other locals and people much wider afield. Some of the residents found alternative accommodation with relatives although the majority were provided with accommodation by Southwark Council. Lakanal House was boarded up. Refurbishment work commenced in 2015, and the block had reopened to residents – many of those who lived there prior to the fire found it too painful to return, however. Southwark spent millions on refurbishment of several blocks after the event.

A number of tower blocks of a similar design exist: Marie Curie House, also nearby, is of identical design to Lakanal.

Despite many calls for a proper investigation and inquiry into the causes of the rapid spread of the fire, no public inquiry has ever been conducted into the Lakanal House fire. At the inquest it was concluded that no realistic prospect of any corporate manslaughter charge was possible, despite many clear failings by the council. However, London Fire Brigade eventually brought a case against Southwark Council to court, eight years later. The Council pleaded guilty in February 2017 to four charges concerning breaches to safety regulations. It was fined £270,000, reduced from £400,000 because it had pleaded guilty, plus £300,000 costs.

Less than four months later, Grenfell Tower caught fire, and the blaze spread in a very similar way, up flammable cladding & insulation on the outside of the building. Again, people were told to stay in their flats as this should protect them from fire better than trying to escape down the stairs.

This time 72 people died.

But might Grenfell never have happened, if proper notice had been taken of events in Lakanal? Recommendations for changes in construction and fire regulations, and to how fires are dealt with by the emergency services, after Lakanal House burned were never acted on at national level, leaving thousands of residents living in potential death traps.

After the 2013 inquest into Lakanal, Coroner Judge Frances Kirkham wrote to Southwark council, the London Fire Commissioner, and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, with a series of recommendations to prevent a similar disaster occurring in future.

She made more than 40 recommendations, including that more guidance should be given to residents in high rise blocks, including clear advice on how to react if a fire breaks out and what to do if circumstances changed – for example if smoke starts coming into a flat.  She also recommended that block layouts should be given to emergency workers responding to fires.

The Department for Communities and Local Government, led by then-minister the (Right Corrupt and Frankly Disgusting) Eric Pickles, was asked to publish national guidance on the confusing ‘stay put’ principle and ‘get out and stay out’ policy.

The government was also asked to provide guidance on building regulations and check the safety of materials and whether refurbishment work can reduce existing fire protection, and to consider retrofitting sprinklers across high-rise blocks.

The government published a response committing itself to publishing new building guidance and committing to make fire safety and priority. This was a smokescreen – no review ever came.

Grenfell repeated Lakanal – but on a scale many times worse. The impact has been massive – on residents, families, friends, communities. A wave of support and solidarity for the affected; an upsurge in social housing tenants organising, especially in blocks with similar issues. Huge lip service has been paid by politicians, corporations and councils, in response to the outpouring of outrage. A Public Inquiry has been quickly set up this time. But yet again campaigners and those most involved in the after-effects have been saying for nearly three years that this should never have happened, warnings were there before the fire, and the evacuated have been increasingly marginalised by the authorities. Cynics (AKA people with some experience of the housing system) have been expressing the view that despite everything, they suspect that things will go back to the way they were before. Deaths, outrage, inquiry, recommendations, burial, silence, normality. Repeat.

Why? How can people die in horrific fires – caused by the institutions supposedly there to look after their interests, and by the large corporations contracted to carry out the building work… and no-one puts into practice any lessons learned? How does it happen again: much, much worse?

Could it be because the people in charge of housing and housing policy overwhelmingly do not live in social housing, have never lived in social housing, will never live in social housing, and consider those that do as at best a nuisance to be ignored or ‘managed’, or an impediment to the proper and ‘vibrant’ commercialisation of inner city land, to be shifted, shafted and short-changed? Housing is for profit not people’s need, and the people had better get used to that?

Some say we need another way of living…

Justice for Grenfell

Grenfell United

We didn’t visit Lakanal on our original walk, (the fire hadn’t yet happened) and so didn’t put up a plaque. Mind you – we can’t see any other memorial to the dead on the block. Is there one anywhere?


Una Marson lived here

“No more moaning and groaning, No more self-hatred masquerading as integration. No more rejecting your own Ethiop’s child for somebody else’s Barbie doll. You are part of a strong African-Caribbean influenced literary tradition. Affirm your right as an individual, a woman and a writer to be both Black and British.”

Una Marson (1905-1965), Jamaican writer, feminist, activist, lived in 29 Brunswick Square (now 16 Brunswick Park) for a short while in the mid-1930s.

Born in a middle class rural Jamaican village, her pioneering social work in Kingston’s slum yards, and her expatriate life in London at war, Una Marson (1905-65) became a fighting partisan of Black poetics and politics.

She came to England in 1932, originally for a few weeks, but like many other migrants this turned into many years. She was the first Black woman programme maker at the BBC, where she worked from 1939 to 1946 and helped many service men and women and Caribbean people during the war. West Indies Calling was her maiden programme in her five years of association with BBC, 1940 to 1945. She founded her own programme, Caribbean Voices, in March 1943, and became the BBCs first Black woman producer. But, she became increasingly sceptical and disenchanted with the “internal battles and troubled moments” with BBC managers, who thought only of promoting British authors to Caribbean listeners, influenced by government policy to requisition colonial labour and resources while stifling nationalist activism.

Two main issues provoked her poetic work. She captured the calypsonian air of topical stories, sounds and music; and she exposed colonial fears and prejudices. She combined themes of cultural identity and female sexuality, of self-doubt and disadvantage… “her Black poetics and politics offer a firm basis for a writer’s commitment to a fair and equal world”. Marson explored the multi-layered heritage of Blacks in colonial Jamaica, emphasising ancestral African roots. In Songs of Africa (1930) she applauds the music of Afro-Creole people of the Americas that fosters race pride and the determination to be free. Fragments of colour, people, places and warmth form an intricate pattern. Again, in There will come a time (1931) she cries out for racial equality as the foundation of her dream of the oneness of the world’s diverse peoples. Marson illustrates how women used poetry to express their sufferings and avoid terrible retribution, like the Black preacher during slavery. Her first collection of love poems Tropic Reveries (1930), set in Jamaican colonial culture, explores women’s political and subversive yearning for freedom from cultural domination. Marson honed her skills in political poetry. Her narrative wartime poem Convoy salutes “my own blood brothers/ Brown like me.”

Una Marson became well known in London as a feminist and anti-racist activist, putting her energies into helping disadvantaged Black people in south London. She worked as secretary to the League of Coloured Peoples, the first Black-led political organisation in England, in the company of activist CLR James and welfare officer & cricketer Learie Constantine. Believing that building Black solidarity around the world could open the road to Black Freedom, Marson welcomed Jamaican Marcus Garvey’s pan-Africanist message of “African liberation, at home and abroad”. As a writer, she kept in touch with the icons of the “Harlem Renaissance”, African Americans writers Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson.

She railed against the maltreatment of women workers, students and nurses, (in particular the discrimination against black nurses) and joined the radical Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Later as secretary to Haile Selassie she traveled to the League of Nations with him in 1936 to plead for Abyssinia, when it was invaded by Italy; and later still the 1960s she worked in Israel. Una has gained a pioneering literary reputation, as the first major woman poet of the Caribbean and a playwright.

See The Life of Una Marson 1905-1965, by Delia Jarrett-Macauley. Manchester University Press 1998. http://www.deliajarrettmacauley.com/

Here’s a plaque we left there in 2006 – though in 2009 an official blue plaque was put up on her former home

Some other well-known feminists who have lived in Camberwell

Mary Hays:  a novelist and early feminist, friend of Mary Wolstonecraft, (author of Vindication of the Rights of Women, the first great feminist text) lived in Camberwell 1807 – 1824. Born in Southwark, almost nothing is known of her first 17 years. She took up writing, probably spurred by an early love affair with a man her parents disapproved of, who shortly afterwards died. her to take up writing. Throughout the 1780s she wrote essays and poems. A short story “Hermit: an Oriental Tale” was published in 1786. It was a picturesque tale, which warned against feeling too much passion. She exchanged letters with Robert Robinson, a minister who campaigned against the slave trade. She attended the “Dissenting Academy” in Hackney in the late 1780s (founders & members of which were very active in the reform and anti-slavery movements)

In 1792 Hays was given a copy of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft, which made a deep impression on her, and she became friends with Wollstonecraft. Hays next wrote a book Letters and Essays (1793) and invited Mary Wollstonecraft to comment on it before publication. She was inspired to leave home and support herself by writing. After borrowing a copy of Enquiry concerning Political Justice by William Godwin, she became friends with its radical author, who became a guide and teacher. About this time Hays started writing for the Analytical Review, a liberal magazine, of which Mary Wollstonecraft was fiction editor. She is popularly credited with introducing William Godwin to Mary Wollstonecraft; the two married in 1797. When Mary Wollstonecraft was dying, due to complications following the birth of their daughter, Mary (later Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein), Mary Hays helped to nurse her and also wrote an obituary of Wollstonecraft for the Annual Necrology. Hays and Godwin drifted apart after Wolstonecraft’s death.

Memoirs of Emma Courtney (1796), probably Hay’s best-known work,  draws on the experience of her affair with Cambridge mathematician William Frend, and possibly her relationship with Godwin. The heroine falls in love with a penniless man Augustus Harley, and offers to live with him as his wife, without getting married. She is rejected and then turns to Mr Francis, a character based on Godwin. They exchange philosophical letters, but in the end he advises her against becoming too emotional. The critical response to the novel was divided along political lines. Free love is seen to be aligned with social revolution, and domestic repression is shown as upholding the political order.

Her next novel The Victim of Prejudice (1799) is emphatically feminist and critical of class hierarchies. The backlash against the French revolutionary terror led critics to slate the novel as too radical and hysterical. In 1803 Hays published the six volume Female Biographies, detailing the lives of 294 women. However by this point Hays perhaps realised that it was politically dangerous to praise Mary Wollstonecraft, and somewhat bottled it by omitting her from the book.

Moving to Camberwell, Hays associated with many leading literary figures of the age, including Charles and Mary Lamb and William Blake. The last 20 years of her life were somewhat unrewarding, with little income and only her work increasingly ignored. She is buried in Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington.

Hays lived in 9 St. George’s Place, Walworth (although Hays refers to the house as being in Camberwell), a short row of houses along Amelia Street, 1803-6, then after moving around alot, then moved to Champion Hill, 1832 -1842.
More on her life and letters

We put up a plaque to remember Mary Hays

Vera Brittain: Camberwell Versus Death. From a well-to-do Derbyshire family, Vera Brittain later became a feminist and pacifist. She served  as a nurse during WW1 at the 1st London General Hospital in Camberwell from October 1915-September 1916, as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) member of the British Red Cross.

Her fiancé, Roland Leighton, her brother Edward and many of their friends were killed during the war.

Returning to Oxford after the war to complete her degree, Vera found it difficult to adjust to peacetime. It was at this time she met Winifred Holtby, a close friendship developed with both aspiring to become established on the London literary scene, and the bond developed between them until Holtby’s untimely death in 1935.

Brittain’s first published novel was The Dark Tide (1923). In 1933 that she published Testament of Youth, detailing her war experiences, (which features the Chapter Camberwell Versus Death) followed by the sequels, Testament of Friendship (1940) – her tribute to and biography of Winifred Holtby – and Testament of Experience (1957), which spanned the years between 1925 and 1950. Vera Brittain wrote from the heart and based many of her novels on her experiences and actual people.

In the 1920s she became a regular speaker on behalf of the League of Nations Union, but from 1937, after previously speaking at a peace rally with Dick Sheppard, George Lansbury, Laurence Housman and Donald Soper. she joined the Peace Pledge Union. Her newly found pacifism came to the fore during World War II, when she began the series of Letters to Peacelovers.

During WW2 she worked as a fire warden and travelled around the country raising funds for the Peace Pledge Union’s food relief campaign. She was widely denounced for speaking out against saturation bombing of German cities in her 1944 pamphlet Massacre by Bombing.

Vera Brittain died in 1970.


Squatting in Brunswick Park and Vicarage Grove

Many empty houses were squatted in Brunswick Park & Vicarage Grove in the 1980s, most of which were initially divided into flats. There were 70 squatters in Brunswick Park and Vicarage Grove, around 1984-87. It was very much a community: squatters set up an active group here, based at 9a, Brunswick Park, in March 1984. Plans for a communal centre in the basement of no 4 were being worked on in October 1984. The Council had no plans for the houses, but tried to evict squatters at first, though by April 1984 they had come to an unofficial deal (after some defeats and adjournments in court) that they wouldn’t evict them till they had plans for the houses. The squatters regarded themselves as “unofficial licensees” after this… But the Council was constantly undecided as to what to do with the buildings; there were rumours (eg one which spread in in November 1984) of plans to evict and gut them, make them unusable. In early ’85 there were still odd attempts to evict individual houses… none succeeded. Cases usually got suspended.

On 24 October 1985, Council officers and workers turned up and evicted two squats here, helped by a van load of cops… and a High Court Sheriff. He claimed there had been notice given, which was a lie. 30 squatters soon gathered outside. Several houses were evicted, people’s belongings were chucked out and their homes boarded and steel-doors attached. Then the Council and their lackeys buggered off… leaving the squatters to immediately re-occupy the houses!

The Brunswick/Vicarage Squatters group still existed in 1987, at this point it had its own van. Some squats were turned into galleries and museums.  But by January ’87 Southwark Council had evolved a pilot scheme to evict Brunswick Park and Vicarage Grove squats, do them up and use them for shortlife housing, ie to evict some young single homeless to make room for other young single homeless. This was to become Borough wide policy for long term empties.

25 squatters from the two streets here went to a Housing Committee meeting in August ’87; local council tenants had signed petition on support of them… But the scheme got voted in, and there were no more negotiations. Between 1987 and 1990, many of the squats were evicted, with some legal and not so legal resistance; several got adjournments in court on the grounds that they had had licences from the council, also the council had done work on them while squatted.

Some squatters in Brunswick and Vicarage formed housing co-ops, some of which I think still exist; and squats were still popping up in these streets occasionally until very recently.

Many other streets and estates in Camberwell have known squatting, over the last 40 years: especially the Elmington Estate, Crawford Estate off Coldharbour Lane, and the Southampton Way Estate (many of whose blocks have now disappeared), in Caldicot, Bavent and Cutcombe Roads near Kings College Hospital (many former Lambeth Self-Help Co-op flats, whose long-term residents were moved out by the Hospital, on the grounds that they were planning to demolish them to extend the Hospital for much needed ward space, were squatted, then evicted in 1999 en masse; then sold off for huge profits.)

Skyrocketing house prices, changes in housing legislation, sell-offs of council property, and inner city gentrification (as the middle class decided that decades after leaving areas to the poor, now they want it back) have made self-help housing initiatives like squatting and housing co-ops endangered species, but who knows what will happen, with the so-called credit crunch and increasing council inability and unwillingness to house anyone at all. There are fewer empties than there used to be, but many newly built so-called luxury flats are now lying unused or unsold… Squatting residential property was made a criminal offence in September 2012.

Here’s another 2006 plaque to remember the squats here


Fascism and Anti-Fascism in Camberwell

Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts reappeared on the streets of South London in 1957, having been defeated in their post-WW2 agitation (mainly against Jews) by the Jewish ex-servicemens 43 Group, which battered them off the streets.
Several parts of Lambeth and Southwark had by now a growing West Indian community, which replaced their earlier focus on Jews as their main target for race hatred. By 1961 organisations such as the European Union of Fascists and the British National Party (Mark 1) were meeting regularly in the area. In October 1961 a rally on Peckham Rye organised by the British National Party was attended by 60 people.  The BNP’s John Tyndall, later National Front leader and later still in the 80s, fuhrer of a reborn British National Party, used to speak publicly on Camberwell Green… Never will again though eh, since he popped his little nazi clogs a couple of years back.

In the 1970s the National Front achieved a much larger membership and influence than the hard right groupuscules they emerged from, and became more confident and provocative. The NF did gather a lot of members and sympathisers in South London, though the massive turnout against them in Lewisham in 1977 showed how much opposition there also was. Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party election victory in 1979 to some extent cut their support as she adopted many of their policies.

The Front marched from Camberwell to Peckham, a number of times, in the 1970s, in, 1980, and on Oct 23 1982.

Local anti-fascists opposed the rise of such racist groups: Southwark Campaign Against Racism and Fascism was set up in 1976. In 1979 SCARF secretary Rod Robertson was prosecuted under the Representation of the People’s Act, for a leaflet suggesting people not vote for the NF.

But rightwing racist ideas continued to have some local support in Camberwell…

In July 1991: The British National Party (Mark 2) stood Steve Tyler as a candidate for the council by-election in Brunswick Ward, which mostly consists of the Elmington Estate and some surrounding streets. Their campaign was vigorously opposed by local anti-fascists, leftwing groups, and some squatters who lived in the area. etc, However, they did manage to march in force round the estate.

At the time, the Elmington was very run down: Southwark was one of the poorest boroughs in London. The Estate’s local housing officer, Rachel Webb, was a well-known socialist, (also a Labour councillor in Lambeth at the time). The BNP campaign was aimed at attacking her and squatters living on the estate. ” [Rachel Webb} is more interested in evicting white residents for being ‘rascist’ than in evicting the drunken and drugged up squatters that infest our estates.”  “Squatter scum off our estate” graffiti was seen round the estate at the time. There had also been racist attacks on the estate with dogs set on black kids, and black families had their windows bricked; residents and even passers-by had been hassled by a group of 20 white kids in combat gear, who it appeared had links to the BNP… At the time BNP were doing paper sales in East Street Market and the ‘Blue’ market in Bermondsey, and saw this area of South London as having potential for recruiting disaffected white working-class residents.

10 or so people had to sign backing them from the ward, some of whom were living on the estate. It’s possible that Charlie Sargent, later supremo of nazi streetfighting group Combat 18, lived here at the time – he was officially living on the Elmington a couple of years later.

The BNP campaign was opposed by a number of groups, including the South London branch of Anti-Fascist Action, who took the position you have to oppose their presence wherever it shows its head, as it leads to/feeds on racial attacks increasing (as in Welling and Thamesmead at the time, even if electorally they were not likely to win the election. A variety of other left groups, plus some Southwark councillors were involved in the opposition to the BNP; others, like the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), informed us the BNP were irrelevant, a distraction from the real issues (tell that to the people they were attacking). The SWP later reversed this position and their reformed the Anti Nazi League.

The campaign consisted mainly of leafleting the area, talking to people, a rally on the estate, and public meetings (at least one of which turned into a disastrous squabble between lefty factions).
Tone march against the BNP; the BNP themselves had a march of about 70 people round the estate, which anti-fascists found out about too late and could do very little to oppose.

BNP leafletters weren’t as open as us, preferred to do publicity at 2 in the morning. They also didn’t attack our rally or public meeting, a favourite tactic of theirs elsewhere in those times.

A picket was held outside Town hall during the election count. The BNP’s Tyler got 132 votes, quite a lot for a fringe candidate in a council by-election. Police heavily protected Nazis at the count.

Some dodgy white residents who were strongly suspected of being among those who signed BNP forms burgled squatters living on the Elmington who were involved in Anti Fascist Action: the squatters were forced to move…

The BNP presence was not massively sustained and built on, as they never stood again. But their strategy of standing in elections did grow after this, to the point here they finally got a neglected councillor a couple of years later in East London.
A longer, and much more thought out, response to this anti-fascist campaign in 1991, can be read here

Since 1991 the Elmington estate, has changed beyond what we then would have said was possible. Development, the destruction of many social housing blocks and their replacement by private housing has radically altered the class mix here. Gentrification is a more direct threat to many people on the ground in London these days than fascist boots.


In 1974, squatters moved out of the famous Elgin Avenue in West London, were rehoused by the Greater London Council (which then owned 1000s of houses and flats all over the capital) in Rust Square, New Church Street, St George’s Way, Jardin Street and Albany Road, around the western edge of Burgess Park. 170 people were rehoused in 14 properties. These squatters had fought a long and widely publicised campaign for rehousing by the GLC, and arriving in South London, they of course got active and made links/caused trouble locally. They were still living in the houses in April 1976. At this time Kathleen Hoey and her family were squatting in Kitson Road (behind Addington Square/Rust Square). The council took them off the waiting list because they were squatting council property; however the Housing Dept were at the same time sending homeless people down to the Rust Square squatters group with letters of recommendation!  A widely publicised campaign was waged on behalf of the Hoeys.

Eventually the Rust Square squatters got rehoused again; some on the Aylebury Estate.


Camberwell magistrates Court was opened in 1971 (on the site of houses demolished by a WW2 V2 rocket) and said in the 1990s to be the busiest Magistrates Court in the country. Outside of the usual, some occasions it has seen heavy use include: after the Brixton uprising of April 1981, other riots/rebellions of July 1981, after the 1985 Brixton riot, and during the Poll Tax, when not only were non-payers from Lambeth prosecuted there but anti-poll tax rioters from various shindigs in 1990 at Lambeth Town HallBrixton Prison etc, were had up. Anti-poll tax activists generally supported non-payers here, 1991-93, including a (somewhat damp squib, by my memory) demonstration called against the first prosecutions for non-payment in Lambeth on February 14th 1991: ‘St Valentine’s Day… Massacre the Poll Tax!” 

(More personally the author has known the cells there, more than once, one time for criminal damage after being interrupted painting anti-poll tax graffiti on a wall in Angell Town in Brixton… sadly before the said graffiti made grammatical sense!)


“ the Redcap in its heyday was an ideal mix of performance and people of every bent — cheap, cheerful and sleazy, a sort of beatniks’ Silver Buckle.”

After its incarnations as a music hall, this building used to be the Father Redcap pub.

Here’s a poem on a fight in the pub in the 1960s

A number of pubs in this part of South London were well-known by the 1960s as gay venues including the Union Tavern on Camberwell New Road and the Father Red Cap, here on Camberwell Green, both of which put on regular drag nights. The Redcap gave one of the founders of the gay disco movement his first big break. On 1st July 1971 Richard Scanes (DJ Tricky Dicky), took to the decks at the Father Red Cap and began to play the new disco sound to the local crowd. His aim was to bring disco to a local audience making things more intimate and friendly (compared to what were known as the ‘gay ghettoes’ in town). Scanes said: “At my discos the gay boys and gay girls can dance together and no-one is going to say a word. This time last year you wouldn’t have seen gay people dancing together.” (Check out this issue of Gay News for an interview with Tricky Dicky) In 1975 Tricky Dicky went on to found a purpose-made gay disco, Fangs, which led the way for the first gay superclubs like Bang which opened the following year. Tricky Dicky was famous for finishing his sets at the end of the night by playing what he called a ‘Camp Revamp,’ winding down the crowd with a camp classic – like Marilyn Monroe’s ‘I wanna be loved by you’ for example – something which became a tradition in gay discos everywhere.

The landlord was Charles Holmes who was proud of his pub’s status and put up a Take Courage sign outside saying ‘The Father Red Cap, the Gayest Pub in Town’. Both men were In 1974 Holmes and the manager of the Redcap were pulled up before the courts and each fined £100 for permitting and abetting in running a ‘disorderly house’ after the police had moved in to stop the gay discos.”

But they weren’t discouraged for long and other venues began to follow their lead.

The Redcap closed as a gay pub – around 2007 ? By early 2008 it had re-opened, as the Red Star, putting on dance music and edgy club nights, including gigs by Alabama 3 and other Brixton faves. However, behind the Red Star were the owners of the Brixton Dog Star, a dubious bunch, highly implicated in the gentrification of Brixton… The Red Star lasted a few months, then the building lay empty for a while.

In 2010 the building was squatted and turned into a squat centre, as the Rat Star. The then owner allowed them to stay without threat of eviction. At this time, for a couple of years, Camberwell again became South London’s squat central. Following the Black Frog in Warham Street, and the Library House, the Rat Star was one of a series of local squat centres, with lots of events, gigs, meetings, film nights, part of London’s anti-capitalist scene… Opposite the Rat Star on the other side of Camberwell Road, several other buildings were occupied, and a thriving radical squat scene sprang up.

The Rat Star squat was raided on 27/4/2011, along with two other Camberwell squats and other squat centres, in the wake of the large anti-cuts demo on March 26th that year, which had led to some occupation of shops, damage and fighting with police, and mass arrests.

The raid against Ratstar was carried out under a Section 18 warrant to search for ‘stolen goods’; the TSG officers at the scene appeared find no evidence of theft. 14 arrests made were for “electricity abstraction” (connecting to the electricity supply while neglecting to pay the bill. Another Camberwell squat tradition – see Camberwell Grove above!) Twelve hours later, dozens of cops were still searching the premises for anything incriminating. Members of Counter Terrorism Command, S015, were present at the eviction making use of spotter cards to try and identify possible suspects from March 26th.

Hopefully more on the Ratstar and other nearby squats will be added to this post later…

The Redcap/Redstar/Ratstar is now ‘Nollywood’.


Camberwell Green Congregational Church used to stand here. Dr Harold Moody’s funeral was held here on 1st May 1947. Dr Moody (1882-1947) was a doctor, activist, and founder of the League of Coloured Peoples in 1931.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1882, the son of a pharmacist, He came to England to study medicine at King’s College.

He was completely unprepared for the colour bar in Edwardian London. He found it hard to find lodgings; after winning many prizes and qualifying as a doctor in 1910, he was rejected for the post of medical officer to the Camberwell Board of Guardians, despite being the best qualified candidate, because the matron refused to have a ‘coloured’ doctor working at the hospital’: he was told ‘the poor people would not have a n****r to attend them’. In February 1913, he started his own practice in Peckham which became very successful.

For 30 years Dr Moody helped hundreds of black people who came to him in distress, having experienced at first hand a degrading, or humiliating aspect of the colour bar: finding it hard to get lodgings, or work. Moody would confront the employers and plead powerfully on behalf of those victimised.

He was instrumental in overturning the Special Restriction Order (or Coloured Seamen’s Act) of 1925, a discriminatory measure which sought to restrict subsidies to merchant shipping employing only British nationals and required alien seamen to register with their local police. Many Black and Asian British nationals had no proof of identity and were being laid off.

Moody and other black activists founded the League of Coloured Peoples in 1931 in London, with the goal of racial equality around the world: the League was a powerful civil rights force until its dissolution in 1951.Though the League’s primary focus was black rights in Britain, it also pursued other civil-rights issues, such as the persecution of the Jews in Germany. In 1933, the League began publishing its civil-rights journal The Keys.

At the inaugural meeting, the League established four main aims:

  1. To protect the social, educational, economic and political interests of its members
  2. To interest members in the welfare of coloured peoples in all parts of the world
  3. To improve relations between the races
  4. To cooperate and affiliate with organisations sympathetic to coloured people

In 1937, a fifth aim was added:

  1. To render such financial assistance to coloured people in distress as lies within our capacity

From the League’s founding until the outbreak of World War II, its primary focus was eliminating the colour bar in the British workplace, in social life, and in housing. Throughout Britain in the 1930s, black people were refused service in many restaurants, hotels, and lodging houses, and also found it extremely difficult to find a job in many industries; the medical profession in particular drew the attention of the league, most likely due to founder and president Dr Moody’s personal struggles in that area. By 1935, a branch of the league focusing on equality in the shipping industry had grown to over 80 members. During the 1930s, The League of Coloured Peoples struck many blows for black people’s rights in the workplace.

Dr Moody died in 1947 at the age of 64. He lived in a house in Peckham on Queens Road which now has a blue plaque dedicated to him. Many hundreds of mourners attended his funeral here.

We put up a plaque to Dr Moody here.


The League of Socialist Artists.

Based at 18 Camberwell Church St in the 1970s, the League favoured ultra-marxist realist art, and sound today hilariously dogmatic. “Our art must serve revolutionary politics. We place our art unreservedly at the service of the working class.” By which of course they meant “under the overall leadership of the  Marxist-Leninist party….”

In some ways they echoed Ruskin’s view of the role of art and the artist: “Within [the] overall tasks of the proletarian socialist revolution a role of unprecedented importance devolves upon… creative artists. For it is precisely through art that science., the knowledge, understanding and experience of the laws of motion of the universe, including particularly of human society, is distilled… artists, whether of the visual or the dramatic arts, are no less than “engineers of the human soul” {JV Stalin}… Quotes from Stalin, in the 1970s, no less.

“Proletarian socialist art is a reflection in artistic form of the class struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie… The method of artistic creation of proletarian socialist art is therefore proletarian -socialist realism…”

They had some great rhetoric: “we Socialist Artists declare our aims and work to stand completely apart from and in irreconcilable opposition to the formalism and commodity fetishism of capitalist art which serves at one and the same time to mystify the movement  and conflict of social classes, to preach and inculcate the helplessness of man before the “unknowable” universe, and the  “atomic chaos” of the “existentialist” society – as also to provide the effete, luxury loving ruling class with those soporific, sensationalised and alienated titbits which might, for an hour or a day, provide an anodyne to bring forgetfulness of the moment of doom for their class which the approaching proletarian-socialist revolution is bringing ever nearer.” And so on…

Socialist realism was the only path, “In place of the pop art, mobile junk, psychedelic and other fringe lunacy of decaying capitalist art we will erect an art which expresses the dignity of working people, into which life is breathed from out of their very struggles…”

Maureen Scott was a member of the LSA. We love her portrait of Pat Burke, formidable former landlady of the Prince Albert in Brixton

We left a plaque to commemorate the LSA (though we should have made it more abstract/pop-arty)


Camberwell Public Baths was officially opened here on 1 October 1892.

The baths were built as a public resource by the then Camberwell Borough Council, at a cost of £28,575, with two large swimming pool halls, one behind the other.The original facilities at the baths in 1892 were vital for locals, many of whom had no bathroom, or even running water, in their homes, or shared bathrooms and laundry rooms with other families. In the early years, facilities included:

  • Men’s First Class: 24 private baths, one public swimming bath 120 feet (37 m) by 35 feet (11 m) with 81 dressing boxes at the side
  • Men’s Second Class: 40 private baths, one public swimming bath, 120 feet (37 m) by 35 feet (11 m) with 65 dressing boxes
  • Ladies First Class; 12 private baths
  • Ladies Second Class: 20 private baths
  • Public Laundry: 78 compartments
  • Establishment Laundry

Camberwell was one of the first baths with electric lighting, powered with its own generator. There was an apartment at the rear of the building for an engineer who also served Dulwich Baths.

By 1903 the baths were officially reported as failing to achieve their goal of being self-sufficient, being in deficit by £7,000.

This may be linked to an attempt to close the baths in 1907 (see picture) – defeated by local women, it would appear.

The baths were also used as a venue for various political events, including on 11 December 1908, an exhibition of protest banners by the National Society for Women’s Suffrage.

During World War 1 the baths serve as the local recruitment centre for volunteers to sign up to join the army; and when conscription was brought in from 1916, Conscientious Objectors were arrested and brought here as the first step to forcing them to serve, or the first step to prison or a detention camp.(See the story of Arthur Creech-Jones, above.)

In 2001 there was controversy when lifeguards at the baths refused to support nude swimming sessions of the Gay London Swimming group. The group agreed to provide their own lifeguards.

From the 1970s, the baths began to fall into decline. Although even then many people locally had no access to a bath or only to shared bathing in their homes. Gradual improvements in domestic arrangements, council refurbs, people having bathrooms put in, buying washing machines, and so on, led to a fall off in income from what had once been a self-financing operation. By the late 1990s, Southwark Council was arguing the building of new facilities at Peckham Pulse meant the baths were no longer needed.

Friends of Camberwell Baths was formed in 1998 to defend against closure.

Save Camberwell Baths Campaign march, 2006

The campaign laster several years. From May 2006 until October the Council planned that the Baths would receive £5m to £6m for full refurbishment. In January 2007 the Council had decided to “provide up to £1.5 million capital funding to ensure that the Centre stays open with its current facilities” – ie, no new money to improve the building. Funding of £1.45 million was however, later confirmed on 31 March 2009 for improving the centre with the total refurbishment budget from all sources amounting to £4.7 million. Additional funds came from the Southwark Investing in Leisure programme of more than £2 million and the Youth Capital Fund allocated £576,000 in May 2009 for a council managed youth programme within the site. The building was closed from Wednesday 25 November 2009 till its re-opening in 28 February 2011.

That’s all for now… More another time…
maybe END AT A PUB: THE HERMIT’S CAVE? assuming it re-opens after all this Corona Caboodle.

A Shabby London Suburb? A walk around the radical & working class history of Hammersmith

This walk was originally researched and drawn up by members of the West London Anarchists & Radicals group (since defunct), who guided about 30 people around the walk on Friday 3 May 2002. The walk was part of the Mayday Festival of Alternatives. The walk lasted about two hours and at the end we finished off with a few pints in one of Hammersmith’s oldest pubs, the Dove. The walk has been retrodden several times since.
Some additional information has been added by interested mudlarks with permission of the walk’s original architects.  

To contact the authors of the walk, email: hornet955@yahoo.co.uk

START: Hammersmith Tube Station

The most famous revolutionary in Hammersmith was William Morris, who we will encounter many times, but there is much more to our local radical history than Morris. For example, Hammersmith was a stronghold of the National Union of the Working Classes in the early 1830s; local NUWC ‘classes’ met at the Perseverance Tavern. Meetings were held here, as in other working class areas, in the lead up to the Battle of Coldbath Fields, where radicals fought a pitched battle with police in Clerkenwell. Later the local branch of the Chartist movement met a short distance from here in Hammersmith Road, many times between 1842 and 1848. Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor also lived in King Street in 1837.

Walk up Shepherds Bush Road to old Hammersmith Palais

Hammersmith Palais: The building was originally a roller skating rink and opened as the Palais in 1919. It was an important place of working class entertainment as a popular dance venue. You will no doubt remember it from the Clash song White Man in the Hammersmith Palais’. The Clash were closely associated with West London, the members of the band all living locally. The Palais closed a few years ago in dubious circumstances when the owners wanted to convert it to offices. When it was reopened and renamed Poo Na Na, the original sign was presented to a bemused Joe Strummer, lead singer of the Clash. It later reverted to its old name; but the Palais was demolished in 2012. The Fall played the last ever gig. When the then Tory Council gave permission for closure and demolition, radio DJ Robert Elms, whose parents met at the Palais, said “It’s all about knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing”. Private student accommodation now stands on the site.

Hammersmith Police Station (Just up Shepherds Bush Road to north.) The police station is notorious. On Christmas Eve 1990 the cops rounded up lots of Irish men for being drunk. One prisoner, Patrick Quinn, was killed in the cells by the cops, who then framed another prisoner present in the cells, fellow Irishman Malcolm Kennedy, for his murder. It took Malcolm years to clear his name.

In the late 1950s, the area between Hammersmith and Notting Hill was, at the best of times, a violent playground for gangs. Leaving aside the local warriors, it was handy for Teds from Fulham, Battersea and Elephant and Castle in the south-east who would come over for a skirmish. Violence between the various factions, the police and any unfortunate bystanders was endemic. In 1958 several policemen were injured in Hammersmith when they went to deal with a crowd of youths who were ‘creating a public nuisance’ in Fulham Palace Road.

Up Shepherds Bush Road, at no 190, was for years the old Hammersmith and Fulham Unemployed Workers Centre. Sadly now shut.

Look towards Brook Green

Brook Green was the site of St Pauls School for posh girls. The school had to stop using the public baths in 1908 as the local bad boys of Hammersmith pulled their pigtails.

Dick Turpin was known to frequent the Queens Head pub (in which you can still enjoy a pint).

Brook Green Fair: This annual event was banned in the 1820s, when such rowdy gatherings were being suppressed as they terrified the authorities and upset religious reformers because of the explosion of sex and drink that accompanied them. They also were annoying the middle classes who were colonising the villages near London to escape the Smoke.

In the 1930s Hammersmith Council planned a grand new Town Hall in the middle of Brook Green; locals protested so much they built it in King Street instead.

Look towards Hammersmith Flyover: The flyover was built in 1966-70. There were protests at the opening from nearby residents, over the traffic noise. They demanded to be rehoused.

As you walk back through Hammersmith Broadway look to your left. Here you will see the building that in the 1980s housed the offices of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) Support Group. The ALF are the militant wing of the animal rights movement, best known for freeing animals from laboratories.

There was trouble on the Broadway in the 1926 General Strike. On 6th May TUC HQ sent a panicked letter after receiving reports of a  “bad riot at Hammersmith outside OMS HQ. it is said stones were thrown and police used batons.” It seems “buses were stopped near the station, and various parts removed by the strikers. When some of the buses returned at 8.30 pm some of the occupants began to jeer at the crowd some of which became angry and boarded some buses roughly handling the drivers and conductors one of whom was badly injured” (shame). “Local fascists began to throw stones from a building near by. Later the police made a charge using their batons, and arrested forty three people only one of which was a trade unionist and he was released owing to a mistake being made.”

A People’s Plaque Remembering the battles here during the General Strike was left, guerilla-style, as near to the spot as we could. this was a laminated poster cable-tied to a lamp-post… More permanent plaques – one day…?

Shortly after this time the local National Unemployed Workers Movement branch was campaigning over the means test & the dole. The NUWM branch had 1200 members here in 1931.

Walk up Beadon Road into the square

Where Turners Florists stands was the site of the Hammersmith bookshop from 1948 -1964, which was the supplier of revolutionary and radical publications. A plaque now marks the spot.

William Morris

William Morris moved to Hammersmith in 1878, when he was already well established as a designer. In 1883 he joined Henry M. Hyndman’s Marxian Democratic Federation (later the Social Democratic Federation, or SDF). Hyndman was known by the derogatory nickname ‘socialist in a top hat’. Morris (along with others) broke with the SDF in 1884 and formed the Socialist League. In a letter dated 1st January 1885 Morris complained of Hyndman’s jingoism and sneers at foreigners, pointing out that the SDF would at best bring about a kind of Bismarckian State Socialism. He said: “I cannot stand all this, it is not what I mean by socialism either in aim or in means; I want a real revolution, a real change in Society: Society a great organic mass of well regulated forces used for the bringing about a happy life for all”.

Morris is perhaps better known today as a designer of wallpaper, but he was an important revolutionary whose view of the transformation to communism was strongly influenced by the Paris Commune. He was anti-parliamentary at a time when only the anarchists supported such views. Indeed this was to become the reason for the split in the Socialist League. For the election in November 1885 the League issued a leaflet entitled “For Whom Shall we Vote”, which concluded by urging “do not vote at all”. Two thirds of the electorate usually take his advice! Instead the leaflet explained that “the time will come when you will step in and claim your place and become the new born society of the world”. Morris combined this outlook with distaste for politicians.

We are now standing at one of the places where William Morris spoke at open-air meetings (at an intersection north of the underground). For example on 17th April 1887 his diary records “meeting fair, also a good one at Walham Green [which is in Fulham] and at our room in the evening where I lectured”. Speaking at three meetings in a single day was common for Morris at this time.

Morris speaking

In April 1886 Morris spoke there ‘at the back of the Liberal Club’, in February 1887 the local socialists started meeting there regularly. For February 7th 1887, Morris’s diary reads: “I spoke there alone for about an hour, and a very fair audience (for the place which is out of the [way]) gathered curiously quickly; a comrade counted a hundred at most. This audience characteristic of small open air meetings also quite mixed, from labourers on their Sunday lounge to ‘respectable’ people coming from church; the latter inclined to grin, the working men listening attentively trying to understand, but mostly failing to do so: a fair cheer when I ended, of course led by the three or four branch members present.”

The William Morris pub is a recent addition, replacing a market. Inside you can see pictures of the Socialist League and examples of Morris’s designs.

One cause the Hammersmith Social Democratic Federation branch supported locally before the split was that of the local costermongers (poor street traders), in 1884, after the Board of Works threatened to ban the sellers from their kerbsite market…With help from the local SDF branch they resisted. Hammersmith costermongers were eventually forced to move by King Street shopkeepers in 1886, who feared competition. They resettled in North End Road, Fulham, which still has a cheap shopping ethos today.

Walk around the corner into Beadon Road:

On the morning of 23 September 1996 Diarmuid O’Neill, an alleged IRA member, was shot dead by the cops. He was unarmed and no weapons or explosives were found on the premises. Diarmuid was shot a total of six times and as he lay bleeding to death a police officer stood on his head. With blood pouring from him he was dragged down the steps of the house to the street. Just before Diarmuid was shot, another cop was heard to shout, “shoot the fucker”. The blood was left for 2 days as a reminder to us locals.

James Tochatti

Probably here, near the approach to the Hammersmith & City Line station, stood Carmagnole House, (sometimes described as being on ‘Railway Approach’, sometimes called 7 Beadon Road). James Tochatti lived here. Born in Canada, he became a tailor, and lifelong anarchist-communist activist and lecturer (as well as writing two plays about anarchist life!). A member of the local Socialist League branch from 1886, Tochatti spoke regularly at their outdoor meetings, and wrote for Commonweal. In 1889 he helped to organise a strike at Thorneycroft’s engineering factory in Fulham, and in 1891 was arrested for causing a ‘disturbance’ at a United Shop Assistants union strike… He remained in the Socialist League after Morris and the Hammersmith Socialist Society departed, and was involved in a Hammersmith Anarchist group around 1892. Despite the Hammersmith Socialist Society’s split from the Socialist League, Tochatti remained in close contact with Morris and the Society locally. He seems to have been closer in some ways to Morris than some of his fellow anarchists in the League, disagreeing with ‘propaganda by the deed’ (the current anarchist vogue for individual bombings and attacks against state and bourgeois targets). Tochatti started a new anarchist paper, Liberty, in January 1894, partly because of unease at the incendiary line Commonweal was taking. Despite his reservations about propaganda by the deed, in April ’94 The Liberty group organised a defence campaign for a French anarchist, Theodule Meunier, who had been arrested & was awaiting extradition to France for a bombing, but Meunier was deported & sentenced to life imprisonment. Liberty attempted to maintain a dialogue between anarchists, anti-parliamentary socialists & libertarians in groups like the Independent Labour Party – at a time when divisions between these wings of the socialist scene were increasing. Sadly, Tochatti’s ill-health led to the paper’s collapse in December 1896. Around 1911 however he became active again, speaking at meetings; “his book-lined cellar under his shop…became something of a centre in Hammersmith for ‘young workmen disillusioned by the timid programmes of other parties’“ as well as old comrades. Some meetings were held at the ‘Morris Studio’, in Adie Road, Hammersmith.

See a People’s Plaque Remembering Tochatti

Tochatti later lived at 13 Beadon Rd, and 6 Hammersmith Grove. He opposed World War 1; union activist and later Communist party leader Harry Pollitt described visiting his shop in 1918 and later, and debating conscientious objection to the War, with Tochatti “alternatively favour[ing] folded arms and shooting the officers.”

There were still anarchists of this or a related scene active in Hammersmith as late as World War 2, Several were involved in workers’ organising in the transport movement, as in the East End.

If you look round the corner into Hammersmith Grove: This seems to have been a regular meeting point for demos… In May 1913: A local contingent marched from here as part of a large London-wide anti-militarist demonstration as WW1 approached.

Walk through the square cross King Street & turn left, then right on the roundabout to St Paul’s Green

Hammersmith was known as a place for free thinking and troublemakers. Hammersmith folk were involved in the Peasants Revolt of 1381: Local rebel John Pecche (a Fulham fisherman) was specifically excluded from the General Pardon. But John Norman of Hammersmith was pardoned by name.

In 1647 the New Model Army agitators, elected agents of the rank and file of the army, to put forward their political and economic grievances, were quartered in Hammersmith in the Summer. At this time the radical political and religious views in the Army were not only leading soldiers to act independently against a growing alliance between moderate parliament and the defeated king, but also to make common cause with the Levellers against Army Grandees. These latter struggles against Cromwell and Ireton came to a head in the Putney Debates in November and the Ware Mutiny that followed… The Army dissidents set up a puritan chapel, probably in Union Court, now Foreman Court off the Broadway. The Levellers also had a group & printing press here in the late 1640s.

A People’s Plaque Remembering the Agitators… put up in the Broadway

In the 16th century Hammersmith was a place of non-believers, with no churches but many taverns. In 1722, in the first count, there were 28 public houses in the Broadway area, one for every 150 residents (the oldest was probably The George, which was originally called the White Horse). The Bishop of London (from his nearby house at Fulham Palace) had suggested taking a group of heretics to Hammersmith to be burnt. St Paul’s Church was consecrated on 7th June 1630 – very late for a large Parish. Between 1757 – 1783 the Rev

Burning of a group of vagabonds accused of heresy, Paris, 1372. MS 677, folio 103 verso

Thomas Sampson presided. He protested over being required to preach on a Sunday afternoon, on one Sunday refusing to perform his duties! The current church dates from 1887.

A People’s Plaque celebrating heresy in Hammersmith – more pubs less churches!

South from here is Fulham Palace Road, leading to Fulham. Where Charing Cross hospital now stands was the site of the workhouse, which was built in 1850 to house increasing numbers of the poor under a single roof. Later it became the hospital. In December 1991, there were 2 or 3 demos over NHS cuts here.

Opposite us (on the west side of Fulham Palace Rd) is the facade of Brandenbergh House. The home of the Lord of the Manor. Later it became a post office and the interior was removed to the Geffrye Museum. King George IV’s estranged wife Queen Caroline lived at Brandenburgh House 1820-21. Died here. She had become very popular because of widespread hatred of the king, who had treated her pretty badly. When she died her funeral procession (on 14th August 1821) from Hammersmith was turned into a riotous demo, erupting into fighting and two Hammersmith men, carpenter Richard Honey and George Francis, a bricklayer, were shot dead at Hyde Park Corner. A memorial stone was built to them in the churchyard after collections in pubs all over London. Brandenburgh House was pulled down after Queen Caroline’s death.

A People’s Plaque Remembering Queen Caroline. Past Tense have gone soft on royalty I hear you cry!

George IV had a hard time of it from locals: Radical journalist Leigh Hunt, who lived at 7 Cornwall Road (now 16 Rowan Road, off Brook Green), was jailed in 1816 for libelling Georgie Porgie (while he was still prince regent) in his paper the Examiner.

Walk to Hammersmith Bridge to left side and go under bridge

Hammersmith Bridge: The first bridge was a toll bridge was built in 1827. The current bridge dates from 1887.

Regular public talks were given under the bridge by William Morris on Sunday mornings, who complained when the Salvation Army, who had the pitch before him, used to overrun. To the meeting they bought the Socialist League banner, designed by Walter Crane and worked by May Morris. There were also reports of the meetings being interrupted by the police. After the meetings, the Socialist League often marched to Hyde Park or Trafalgar Square. On 13th November 1887 (which became known as Bloody Sunday) 200 socialists were hurt and 100 arrested at a demo in Trafalgar Square.

Morris described Mayday as: “Above all days of the year, fitting for the protest of the disinherited against the system of robbery that shuts the door between them and a decent life”.

A number of his lectures have been published, including “How we live  and how we might live” and “The society of the future”.

A People’s Plaque we left here commemorating Morris regular speaking under the bridge…

The bridge later became a favourite target for IRA bombers. The first was planted on 29th March 1939, as one of first mainland targets. A passer spotted the bomb by who threw it in the river so it caused minimal damage. In 1996 another IRA attempt was foiled, but they succeeded in 2000 and the bridge closed for over a year.

The IRA connection, unsurprisingly in an area long known for its Irish community, goes back much further though: Michael Collins, later IRA leader in the War of Independence, lived at 5 Netherwood road (off Brook Green) in 1914-15 and worked in the Post Office Savings Bank in Blythe rd.

Gustav Holst

Walk along the river to the west to the Blue Anchor Pub: In 1893 the composer Gustav Holst took rooms in Hammersmith. He attended meetings of the Hammersmith Socialist League and became a socialist. In 1897 he became conductor of Hammersmith Socialist Choir. Later, in 1905, he became musical director of St Pauls Girls School (remember those pigtails), as he needed the money. Although he composed works for the posh girls, he found them to be hopeless, so he preferred teaching working class boys at Morley College. He is best known for writing The Planet Suite, but he wrote the Hammersmith Suite in this pub, in memory of his socialist days.

Walk into Furnival Gardens and stop

Furnival Gardens: Originally the Creek ran from Stamford Brook to the river, and this was the site of slums, factories and wharves, an area known as Little Wapping. On the riverside was a local centre of heavy industry: Oil mills, lead works and Boat building. Behind this teeming slums where workers lived, in overcrowded and terrible conditions. Narrow alleys wove between factories, sheds and mills, each with their fumes and effluent.

In 1846 the District Medical Officer wrote: “Almost every house is visited with epidemic diarrhoea, so violent as to be mistaken for Asiatic cholera”. The same report recorded that: “The scanty supply of water, the crowded state of the dwellings, the overflow of privies and cesspools, all combine to poison and destroy the health of the poorer inhabitants of Hammersmith and are allowed to create and perpetuate more than half of the diseases which are incidental to human nature itself.”

The Creek was filled in in 1936 but the Furnival Gardens were not created until created in 1951.

Walk under the underpass down Macbeth Street and left through Riverside Gardens

The slums stretched from the river to King Street, an area now bisected by the A4. Histories of the area comment on the stark contrast between the slums and the grand buildings in King Street.

Riverside Gardens was part of the homes fit for heroes building program as slum clearance by the Council and completed in 1928. Neighbouring Aspen Gardens was built for returning soldiers after the 2nd World War and was opened in 1948 by Labour Minister for Health Aneurin Bevan. At the fifty years celebration a plaque was unveiled by Michael Foot to his mentor, Bevan.

The Aspen Gardens estate was the first to defy a local council and vote against voluntary stock transfer in the 1980’s.

Walk to Hammersmith Town Hall

The Town Hall was built in the 1930’s, when the creek was filled in.

Hammersmith first had a Labour council in 1937 and, save for a few short periods, it remained Labour – till 2006. The first black mayor, Randolph Berrisford, was appointed in 1975.

The Council and the health authority compete to be the largest employer locally. There have, of course, been many demonstrations here and strikes amongst council workers. One we remember was the nursery workers strike, when the Council decided in the early 1990’s to close all nursery provision. A couple of council workers scaled the town hall, removed the corporate red flag, and gave it to the striking nursery workers. It was last seen shredded on the front page of the local paper.

Walk along King Street to the Hampshire Pub

Hampshire Pub: this street was previously Hampshire Hog Lane, which ran into the slums behind, close to New Street. Formerly called the Hampshire Hog. In November 1905 it opened as a social (temperance) club for working men. A mock parliament was established here in 1906 and by 1910 it was debating a ‘Poor Law Amendment Bill’ and whether there could be a socialist government in office, but not in power.

Walk down King Street to the Bull statue

Hammersmith first returned a Labour MP in 1924. Prior to that it’s most famous MP had the great name of William Bull, who practised as a solicitor in the family firm of Bull and Bull! Bull was a Tory who supported votes for Women, and an egotist. The statute of the bull was moved here from the Black Bull Inn in Holborn in 1904. The gates of the park were erected in Bull’s memory in 1933.

Walk down King Street to Black Lion Lane

The corner of Weltje Road, which we have just passed, was another of William Morris’s public speaking haunts.

The Radical Club, which was located on King Street, although we have not been able to discover exactly where, was another regular meeting place for the Socialist League. Morris spoke here, in January 1887 he described the place: “The room was crowded, and of course our socialist friends there, my speech was well-received, but I thought the applause rather hollow as the really radical part of the audience had clearly no ideas beyond the ordinary party shibboleths, and were quite untouched by socialism; they seemed to me a very discouraging set of men…” Morris class origins emerge at times in his patronising tone, as he continues: “The frightful ignorance and want of impressibility of the average English working man floors me at times.”

There were two other local Radical Clubs, in Overstone Road and the Broadway, in the 1870s.

Also In King Street was the old Hammersmith Workhouse: After 1845 it was used for men and children only, as families were split up. Women were sent to Fulham Workhouse.

Look West towards Stamford Brook: The son of the anarchist sympathiser and impressionist painter Camille Pissarro, Lucien, lived here, as did the Russian anarchist Sergius Stepniak. A rarely used railway branch line ran from Stamford Brook to South Acton. On a fateful day in 1895 Stepniak was killed by a train whilst crossing the line. Given the infrequency of the trains, this was almost certainly an accident, although some authorities suggest he committed suicide. He had fled Russia in 1878 after being involved in the assassination of the Tsarist chief of police, and at the time of his death was living in nearby Bedford Park, and involved with Hammersmith Socialists. 1000s attended his funeral in Woking Crematorium. A footbridge was built over the line as a result.

Look down King Street

The trendy Hart bar, previously the White Hart pub, was a meeting place for Protestant dissenters in 1706.

Walk down Black Lion Lane on left side. Stop at the French restaurant.

In this street is the former home of MP Stephen Milligan, another radical Tory, at least in sexual practices if not political life. In 1994 Milligan was found dead, tied to a chair, wearing women’s underwear with a plastic bag over his head and a satsuma in his mouth. No one does it like a Tory MP!

satsumas were handed out on the original walk at this point! 

Here’s a People’s Plaque remembering Milligan’s heroic effort, which never got hung for one reason and another…

Unusually, St Peters Church was built in 1829 to attract rich residents, rather than serve an existing population. One of those attracted more recently is the doyen of the Workers Revolutionary Party, the Trotskyist actor Vanessa Redgrave, who still lives in St Peters Square (behind).

Walk under the underpass to the continuation of Black Lion Lane, at bottom turn right into Hammersmith Terrace and stop at No 8.

May Morris, HH Sparling, Emery Walker and George Bernard Shaw

This street has no less than 3 blue plaques, but there isn’t one on no 8, the home of May Morris, daughter of William and an important socialist in her own right. May later edited her father’s Collected Works. She was in love with George Bernard Shaw. Whilst he flirted with her, the love was unrequited and she later married Harry Sparling, another member of the Socialist League. Perhaps there is no plaque, because she was a woman?

Here’s a Plaque remembering May Morris we made ourselves and hung up to redress the balance…

At no 7 lived Emery Walker, another member of the Socialist League and a founder of the Doves Press (he had previously lived at no 3). A typographer and engraver, Walker joined his near neighbour William Morris in typographical experiments (which led to the founding of the Kelmscott Press), then in the Arts and Crafts movement, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, and the local SDF and Socialist League branches. Walker served as the League branch secretary, organising the regular Sunday evening lectures. In 1900, Walker and

T Cobden-Sanderson founded the Doves Press at no 1 Hammersmith Terrace, (Cobden-Sanderson had begun bookbinding at 15 Upper Mall under the name of the Doves Bindery in 1893). Walker and Cobden-Sanderson didn’t get on, however, and Walker left the Press in 1909.

No 3 was also later the home of Edward Johnston, a “gifted but eccentric” calligrapher, who designed the type for the Doves Press books.

His neighbour and fellow socialist, T. J. Cobden-Sanderson, was a burned-out barrister whom Janey Morris thought capable of something therapeutic with his hands. And so the Doves Bindery and Press came about, first at 15 Upper Mall and later at 1 Hammersmith Terrace. After Walker left the Press, it gradually declined. One night in 1915, as blood flowed at the second Battle of Ypres, Cobden-Sanderson, by then a burned-out bookbinder, threw all the Doves type (from which the Kelmscott Chaucer and Bible were composed) off Hammersmith Bridge, to spite his old partner Emery Walker (with whom he had fallen out). The business closed down soon after.

Walk east along the river

In May 1906 a demonstration was held at Clare Lodge, the home of Mrs Dora Montefiore which was located near here. She was refusing to pay income tax as a protest at the exclusion of women from the parliamentary franchise’. The following month a further demonstration in her support was attended by 60 working class women who had walked all the way from Canning Town in the East End to lend their support.

Here’s a People’s Plaque we hung up to remember Dora Montefiore and her fellow suffragettes

It had been Sylvia Pankhurst who, in 1905, had helped to found the Fulham branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (the Suffragettes). William Morris of course had been an early influence on Sylvia, both politically and artistically. Later her influence was to be felt in Hammersmith, when a workers’ committee was formed at local factory Davidsons under the influence of her Workers Socialist Federation and the Russian Revolution.

A painting by Camille Pissarro contrasts the village of Chiswick with the heavy industry of Hammersmith, looking from Chiswick down the river. Ironically it is now in a private collection.

Continue along the river to Kelmscott House

The meeting hall at Kelmscott House

Morris lived in Kelmscott House from 1878 until his death in 1896, naming it after his country home Kelmscott Manor. The house is now owned by the William Morris Society and is open to the public as a museum on Thursdays and Saturdays. Inside you can see the printing press used by Morris, which is still used occasionally. On this was printed the Commonweal, the League’s paper. The second issue contained Engels “England in 1845 and England in 1885”, later published in “The Condition of the Working Class”. Other contributors included Paul Lafargue, Marx’s son in law, Shaw, Stepniak, and Belfort Bax.

George Bernard Shaw, echoing Morris’s views, said of the house: “everything that was necessary was clean and handsome; everything else was beautiful and beautifully presented”.

In 1885 Morris established the Hammersmith branch of the Socialist League with Eleanor Marx and her husband Edward Aveling, among others. Meetings were held in the Kelmscott House Coach House. Originally a stables attached to 26 Upper Mall,  Morris had it converted to a meeting room; it was described as unheated and cold in the winter. Speakers and lecturers here included:

• George Bernard Shaw, a Fabian. Reading Marx’s Capital in French had an overwhelming effect on him and he felt that he had discovered what was wrong with the world and why he was so miserable in it.

• The Russian anarchist, Prince Kropotkin, a founder of the Freedom newspaper. He maintained his independence by neither joining the League nor writing for the Commonweal.

• Stepniak, another anarchist, was a compelling speaker, but not always comprehensible.

• Lucy Parsons, the US Black revolutionary, and later founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World (as well as being the widow of the Chicago anarchist Albert Parsons, executed in 1885 after being framed for a bomb attack on police). She was a guest of the Socialist League in 1888 when she came on a speaking tour. She stayed at Kelmscott House.

• Socialist Annie Besant, one of the organisers of the 1888 East End matchwomens’ strike also spoke here.

The audience often included included figures such as Oscar Wilde, HG Wells and WB Yeats.

The League was increasing split between the ‘parliamentary’ (Eleanor Marx/Aveling) and anti-parliamentary (Morris) factions. In 1888 the anarchists seemed to be taking charge of the League and Aveling and Eleanor Marx split off. In 1890 Morris himself left the Socialist League and founded the Hammersmith Socialist Society, which again held their meetings here. His last lecture had as its title “One Socialist Party” and was given on 9th January 1896. On 3rd October that year he died. His body was taken up Rivercourt Road and by train to Kelmscott Manor.

Shortly after his death the Socialist Society folded, in December 1896.

But in May 1911, a Hammersmith Socialist Society revived, as a result of a direct action-oriented split from the Social Democratic Party (the old SDF). In the 1930s Guy Aldred’s United Socialist Movement had some support in London among old adherents of this long-defunct second Hammersmith Socialist Society.

Cobden-Sanderson lived at no 15 Upper Mall; here the Doves Bindery and Press were started. 

Kelmscott Press was located opposite the Dove pub at no 16 Upper Mall. Over the five years between its foundation and Morris’ death in 1896 it produced 52 hand-printed works, most with type and ornaments designed by Morris.

This ends our walk. But we can well imagine Morris, Eleanor Marx and the printers retiring to the Dove for a pint or a coffee!



This walk is available as a pamphlet, ‘A Shabby London Suburb’ which can be bought from the publications page on our website.

And why ‘A Shabby London Suburb’ eh? Bit rude?
It’s from the opening chapter of William Morris’ classic utopian vision of a post-revolutionary communist society, ‘News From Nowhere’. The book opens with an argument ‘Up at ‘he League’ – the Hammersmith Socialist League’s meeting hall, at Kelmscott House ? – as to what Britain would look like ‘after the revolution’. Dissatisfied with the debate, the narrator storms out into the night:

“he, like others, stewed discontentedly, while in self-reproachful mood he turned over the many excellent and conclusive arguments which, though they lay at his fingers’ ends, he had forgotten in the just past discussion.  But this frame of mind he was so used to, that it didn’t last him long, and after a brief discomfort, caused by disgust with himself for having lost his temper (which he was also well used to), he found himself musing on the subject-matter of discussion, but still discontentedly and unhappily.  “If I could but see a day of it,” he said to himself; “if I could but see it!”

As he formed the words, the train stopped at his station, five minutes’ walk from his own house, which stood on the banks of the Thames, a little way above an ugly suspension bridge.  He went out of the station, still discontented and unhappy, muttering “If I could but see it! if I could but see it!” but had not gone many steps towards the river before (says our friend who tells the story) all that discontent and trouble seemed to slip off him.

It was a beautiful night of early winter, the air just sharp enough to be refreshing after the hot room and the stinking railway carriage.  The wind, which had lately turned a point or two north of west, had blown the sky clear of all cloud save a light fleck or two which went swiftly down the heavens.  There was a young moon halfway up the sky, and as the home-farer caught sight of it, tangled in the branches of a tall old elm, he could scarce bring to his mind the shabby London suburb where he was, and he felt as if he were in a pleasant country place—pleasanter, indeed, than the deep country was as he had known it.”

He has been transported to the future, to a world of free communist existence…
You can read this excellent vision of the future as seen from the past, for free, here

“Go on living while you may, striving, with whatsoever pain and labour needs must be, to build up little by little the new day of fellowship, and rest, and happiness.”

Yes, surely! and if others can see it as I have seen it, then it may be called a vision rather than a dream.”