Monday, 14 November 2016

Is Croydon Council's Proposed Devolution To Local Communities Mere Tokenism?

Tonight Croydon Council's Cabinet is considering an officers' report proposing three pilots involving community engagement to devolve decision making to local communities. 

While devolving decision making out of the Town Hall is crucial and something I have supported for over 40 years, the paper has a number of drawbacks.

I have therefore sent my comments on the paper to all Councillors and asked them to have Scrutiny Committee call it in for public examination and debate.

This is what I have written.

1.      The report Devolution to local communities is a very welcome initiative towards residents and their organisations being more involved in decision making that affects their areas.

2.      Because it has several  major drawbacks it is to be hoped that it will be called in by the Scrutiny Committee and that the Committee will  invite people to submit their views in writing or orally at a special meeting just devoted to this paper. The delay involved is not crucial and could result in an improved and strengthened approach.

3.      Localism Act 2011. The inclusion of the paragraph ‘The Localism Act … democratic’ is misleading and should be deleted. The Act is not a serious contribution to decentralisation. It is almost Orwellian. The Neighbourhood Planning provision is a costly exercise for local community organisations. The Neighbourhood Forum provision is meaningless unless local authorities agree to discuss establishing them with local organisations. Reforms to the planning system have taken decision making away from Councils and therefore reduced the ability of local communities to influence the decisions. These include the rules relating to LDCs, GPDOs, the right of developers to turn office buildings to residential without planning permission, and the lack of the right of appeal by community groups to planning decisions they disagree with which the Government opposes.

4.      It is recommended that all Councillors read the discussion on the Act in:
·       the National Coalition for Independent Act and Trades Union Congress publication Localism: threat or opportunity? Perspectives on the Localism Act for union and community organisers and activists https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/tucfiles/localism_guide_2012.pdf
·       The report Two years on, what has the Localism Act achieved? of the views of Jules Pipe, the Mayor of Hackney and Chair of London Councils in 1913.

5.      Top-Down. The report is the views of senior officers, who traditionally have a top-down perspective, and who do not like criticism of their proposals. There are no views incorporated as to the views of those who have been involved in e.g. Thornton Heath as to the success or otherwise of the engagement initiatives there, and what lessons can be learnt to strengthen the next steps there and inform the approach in the pilot areas.

6.      Key Decision. The report says that it is not a  key decision. This is debateable. By not having a pre-Scrutiny review the views of those in the community involved in different forms of engagement cannot be taken into account to assess whether the proposed approach is acceptable with or without changes. For example, an important set of experiences will have been submitted into the parks consultation. These need to be examined and reflected upon before final decisions on the approach are approved.

7.      The Local Plan. The consultation on the  Local Plan resulted in the submission of a considerable number of views from residents and other locally based organisations on how they wanted their areas protected in the future. They sought to influence decision making on their local areas. Many of their suggestions were rejected by the officers on suspect grounds which has only fuelled hostility to the Council, increasing the belief that it is not interested in taking seriously local views.

8.      Public Health Issues. The report does not sufficiently take into account the issues raised in the Public Health Report 2016 in relation to the incidence of social isolation and loneliness, what they are in each of pilot area and what the implications are for engagement in those areas. A major flaw in the Public Health Report is that while it recognises that ethnicity is a contributing factor, there is no data provided. 

9.      Digital Divide. It does not acknowledge the digital divide and what I will call the ‘digital deficit’ (that is the number of people who while digitally connected are not in linked into the digital messages from the Council and others). There is another aspect of the divide which is rarely talked about: the problems those for whom English is a second language have in reading information in English.

10.    Print Communication. It does not acknowledge the need to find ways of engaging with people through traditionally printed means. The growing reliance on digital communication is reducing the ability of people to know about how and what to engage in. One way may be to ensure that the annual Ward budgets have a requirement to fund regular information leaflets into residents letter boxes. The English reading problems of those for whom it is a second language also apply here.

11.    Disillusionment and cynicism.  It does not acknowledge  that a challenge that will be faced in each priority area is the attitude of residents who are disillusioned and cynical about the way they have seen what they believe has been the riding rough shod over the collectively expressed wishes of local residents in the past. Why should they believe that the Council will change and that was is being proposed is not just tokenism? Two examples in a non-pilot area are:
·       the imposition of the BMX Track in Norbury Park against large scale local opposition which has damaged the potential for working on other improvements to the Park between residents and the Council.
·       the decision to approve the planning application for 18 Pollards Hill West.
There are many other examples across the Borough.

12.    Lack of Monitoring and Decision Making Structure.  There is no discussion about having a mechanism for local residents and their organisations to be involved with Ward Councillors in monitoring and holding officers to account in the way in which projects are implemented in the pilot areas. Whether these are called Neighbourhood, Ward or Area Committees, Forums or Advisory bodies, does not matter. Despite having a lot of detail about Neighbourhood Forums on its website (https://www.croydon.gov.uk/planningandregeneration/framework/neighbourhood/neighbourhoodforums) the Council does not seem to have taken any steps to ensure that any have been established. The absence of such bodies ensures that the detailed decisions will be taken by officers using the top-down approach (see above) rejecting those ideas they do not personally agree with. It will reinforce the existing cynicism that most consultations and engagement are not genuine exercises – just tick-box tokenism.

13.    Resolving Differences in Neighbourhoods. There are many different perspectives in every neighbourhood. Older owner occupiers may welcome the rise in house prices in the hope they can sell, buy cheaper elsewhere, and have money towards their old age. Their neighbours may be concerned that they are selling to buy to let landlords or developers who want to convert the houses, with the increased number of people and competition for parking and increase in noise that results.

14.    Although Croydon has the veneer of being a multi-cultural area there are deep resentments about newcomers on nationality and religious grounds. There are deep divisions between religions and within them about sexual orientation. The increase in hate crime in the Borough shows how challenging the process of acceptance of change and interacting positively is. Such tensions need to be mediated, and one method is through a formal structure supported by other forms of community engagement.

15.    Volunteering. Meaningful engagement involves the twin encouragement to people be citizen activists and/or volunteers. The two roles are very different, but complement each other. It has to be recognised that most residents’ lives, especially in areas experience socio-economic stress have least time, energy and money to be able to be either. Volunteers need organisation and managerial support especially if they are ‘working’ in public service venues.

16.    Limit of Council Influence. There is a lack of recognition that most changes in a local area are driven by forces completely outside the control of residents and the Council. The particular drivers in recent years and look likely to continue are:
  • ·       Developers wanting to carry out schemes which are not wanted by residents.
  • ·       Developers proposing schemes which do not fit with Council policies, e.g. bedroom sizes, safeguarding family sized houses, but which the Planners and the Planning Committee feel they cannot oppose because of the pressures from Government and the Mayor of London to deliver a target of new homes regardless  of whether they meet Borough policies and needs.
  • ·       The loss of employment sites, making it more difficult to generate job creation, resulting in more people having to go out of Borough to work.
  • ·       The rise in house prices (at least 10% in the last year) as people in Inner London look to move to Croydon because it is still marginally cheaper.
  • ·       The activities of buy-to-let landlords increasing the occupancy of previously owner-occupied houses thereby creating more competition for parking, more noise, litter and fly-tipping problems.
  • ·       The increasing rent levels in the private sector which make renting more expensive and also drive up the level of rents in ‘affordable’ housing because of the 80% formula link.
  • ·       Commercial property landlords putting up shop rents and driving existing businesses out.
  • ·       National planning rules that have prevented the Council from stopping the spread of betting shops and the conversion of empty office blocks to residential, and from stopping unwanted schemes which are allowed under the General Planning Development Order.
  • ·       The inadequacy of bus services in some areas, and the incompetence of the train operators to run a reliable service.
  • ·       Anti-social behaviour such as fly-tipping,
  • ·       Anti-social behaviour such as speeding cars in back streets, which cannot be solved by 20mph zones because of the lack of enforcement, cyclists riding through red lights and without lights at night, creating risks to pedestrians and to themselves from motorists.
  • ·       The sale everywhere of alcohol leading to an increase in drinking on the street, litter and alcoholism. 

17.    Council Actions. None of this is helped by:
  • ·       the Government funding cuts to what the Council can do
  • ·       the depletion in the number of planning staff when the number of applications has been increasing
  • ·       the depletion in the number of enforcement officers meaning that issues like the illegal smoking inside the premises of shisha cafes (e.g. the Havanas in Norbury’s London Rd) remain unresolved.
  • The last point feeds into the cynicism about the Council’s ability to act to protect local communities.


Sunday, 25 September 2016

Radical and Mutual Clapham - Part 3

Clapham saw a major political change in 1885 with the creation of the Metropolitan Borough of Battersea and Clapham. This was divided into two  Parliamentary constituencies: Battersea and the much larger Clapham area which included Nine Elms, and South Battersea from Lavender Hill down into north Balham.  The Clapham Liberal and Radical Association was  set up. It managed to get James Moulton elected with 52.1% of the vote on a high turnout of 80.7% of the 9,954 electors. He lost the following year.

Clapham Liberals and Radicals were now linked with their Battersea counterparts fighting the elections for the Battersea Vestry, so the story becomes closely linked with the liberal, radical and socialist politics of Battersea, in which John Burns welded together a  Progressive Alliance, creating organisations like the Battersea Labour League and the Battersea Trades & Labour Council. Clapham also had its equivalents and these were part of the Alliance and the Battersea Trades & Labour Council.  The Progressive Alliance, which achieved Burns’s election to the London County Council at the end of 1889 and as MP in 1892, went on to control the Vestry until 1900 when Clapham and Battersea were separated with Clapham going into the new Metropolitan Borough of Wandsworth. The Conservatives of the period won the Clapham Parliamentary seat between 1886 and 1900 and then the new smaller constituency from 1900.

Other radical developments included the Clapham Reform Club, at which the Irish  poet Yeats set up the Irish Literary Society in 1892. He also lectured on ‘Nationality and Literature’ at the Clapham branch of the Irish National league. The socialist Clarion movement had supporters. Frederick Arthur Maule of 6893 Wandsworth Rd was a member of its Field Club in 1895. W. H. Crisp , the Secretary of the Clapham Clarion cyclists lived at 43 Wirtemberg St. By 1907 they were members of the South London Club. The planned Clapham Clarion Cinderella Club quickly became the Clapham Socialist Sunday School at Marris Hall in 1907. Morris Hall was used by Clapham Independent Labour Party. In 1907 the South London Clarion cyclists supported fundraising for the London Clarion Van which was to tour promoting socialist ideas. The London Van Committee Secretary Frederick Hagger lived in Clapham. That year at a Fellowship Gathering the cyclists and their friends raised money for the Variety  Artistes Federation’s Music Hall Strike Fund.

1907 also saw a fund raising benefit for Thomas Atkinson at Battersea Town Hall. Born in the North East he had been an apprentice engineer on The Rocket. He was a trade union activist from the 1830s. By 1907 he was a widower and bedridden living on a union pensions with his daughter Elizabeth at 52 Courland Grove.

By now the suffragette movement was active in the area. Mrs F Underwood of 16 Newland Terrace, Queens Rd, the Secretary of the Clapham branch of the Women’s Freedom League from 1908 became National Propaganda Secretary in 1911 and then national General Secretary, and also edited its newspaper The Voice.

Following the Russian Revolution at the end of the First World War various socialist groups across Britain merged together to form the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1920. The Clapham British Socialist Party (formerly SDF) branch was represented and a member A. A. Watts became the first Treasurer of the new Party. He was also a Labour London County Councillor for Battersea.

Also at the Convention was another Clapham BSP member living the compositor Alfred M. Wall (1890–1957). In 1919 he was elected to Wandsworth Borough Council for Clapham North. He was Labour candidate for Streatham in the 1924 General Election. In 1926  he was elected as Secretary of London Trades Council. The next year he became a joint secretary of the ‘Hands Off China’ campaign. He helped to set up what became Equity. Later he was a Vice-President of the Spanish medical Aid Committee. In In 1938, Wall was elected as General Secretary of the London Society of Compositors. He retired in 1945.

During the General Strike of 1926 the Nine Elms Joint Workers Committee was based at the Clapham Trades Union & Social Club at 374 Wandsworth Rd, while the Lambeth Strike Committee was based at the New Morris Hall at 79 Bedford Rd.

In the May 1929 General Election Labour fielded the ILP member J. Allen Skinner. A conscientious objector in the First World War he went on to edit Peace News (1951-5) and be on early CND committees. At the October 1931 General Election Helen Browning was the candidate standing against the National Government led by former Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. She later worked at the Society for Cultural Relations with the Soviet Union, and Hon. Secretary of the China Defence League raising money for China in its war against Japan. Being based with her husband in Hong King, she  was captured and imprisoned by the Japanese.  Back in London in 1951 she became a Labour London County Councillor for Fulham East (1952-65) and chaired the Fabian Society’s Colonial bureau.

Clapham elected John Rose Battley as its first Labour MP in 1945 (to 1950).
The Labour MP for Clapham from 1964 to 1970 was  Margaret McKay (1911-96), a Lancashire textile worker who became Chief Woman Officer at the TUC 1951-62. She became a campaigner for the Palestinian refugees, setting up a refugee camp in Trafalgar Square, and chaired the Jordan Refugee Week Committee. She wrote a moving autobiography Generation in Revolt (1953).

I hope that this blog posting may stimulated further research by others. There are three issues that need to be kept sight of:
  • ·     What is Clapham, given its historic parish, parliamentary and local council boundaries? These postings have tried to concentrate on the parish boundaries.

  • ·     In order to make sense of population statistics did the Census area called ‘Clapham’ go through boundary changes.

  • ·     Close attention needs to be paid to the problem that some Clapham addresses are given as Battersea in early 19thC newspapers.   





Radical and Mutual Clapham - Part 2

The period of the 1830s to the 1860s sees the creation of more friendly societies: the Clapham Friendly (1843), the True Brothers of Clapham Friendly Society (1845), the Clapham & Wandsworth Burial Society and the Clapham and Stockwell Coal Club (1848), the Local Pride of Surry, the Independent Order of Old Friends and the Clapham Mutual Benefit (1855), and the Hand of Friendship Mutual benefit (1856).

There were also ‘branches’ of the largest national mutual benefit societies of the Oddfellows and Foresters, which their democratic structures between local  and national levels.   The Foresters had for example the Britannia (1846), the William Wale (1863) and The Reliance (1866) and the Manchester Oddfellows included The Europa (1848) and the Pride of Clapham (1860).

There were also the mutual loan societies: Clapham Workingmen's (1859), Provident LS, Bromells Buildings (1860), Workingmen’s LS Bedford Arms, Independent Labour LS, Union Arms, Friend in Need LS, Tim Bobbin, Orchard St, and Clapham Union LS,  Park Crescent (1861), Clapham FLLS, Bromells Rd and FLLS Olive Branch FLLLS, High St (1863), and Windmill Tavern FLLS, Park Rd and Duke of Cornwall WLS, Lyham Rd (1864).

The 1850s and 1860s also sees evidence of the establishment of retail co-operatives. The London and South Western Railway Co-operative Society was registered 1855 its members working for the railway company. Active members included James Trussler, a bolt maker, of 2 Clifton St (now Courland St), William Boyd, a carpenter and the Secretary in the 1860s, 28 Trigon Rd, off Clapham Rd. It appears to have survived until 1867.

In 1860 there was the Clapham Co-operative based at the Freemasons Arms in Courland Grove, with several of its Trustees living off Larkhall Lane, William Allen, a  hairdresser and Charles Hyde, a coachman.  The following  year it merged into the National Industrial and Provident Society.

Small local trade union organisations of builders met at places like The Sun, and that Clapham building workers took part in the 1859-60 strike for a one hour reduction in pay from ten to nine hours. This led to the formation of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Woodworkers led by Robert Applegarth. The local building unions Clapham link has continued to the present day, as UCATT’s HQ is at 1777 Abbeyville Rd, it having been created by the merger of previous unions in 1971 many of whom had their HQs in Clapham, like the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers at 11 Macauley Rd. Its Chairman between 1912 and 1916 W.W. Barnes lived in Clapham.

To protect their funds trade union leaders like Applegarth kept politics out, but were very active in a  range of political organisations, including the International Workingmen’s Association, along with Karl Marx. It set up the Reform League and one of its Clapham supporters T. Franklin was a member of the organising committee for the League’s Fete and Banquet at Crystal palace in September 1867.

J. L. Turner, the chairman of both The Hand-in-Hand and the Surprise FLLSs along and off  Wandsworth Rd set up at the end of the 1860s, gave an indication that members were in sympathy with the wider movements for social and political reform. At its first anniversary supper there was a toast to  The Beehive which had been set up by George Potter, a leader of the building workers in 1859/60, and Labour and Unity which reported on the activities of mutual societies. In September 1869  he  expressed the hope "ere long he should have the pleasure of seeing their interests properly represented in the British House of Commons by such men as Odger, Guile, Allen, Applegarth, &c." It is possible that Clapham activists were members of the Reform League branches based around Battersea Park.

The editor of the IWMA’s newspaper in the early 1870s,  The International Herald was the republican socialist William Harrison Riley who lived at 7 Bedford Rd. He also edited The Republican Herald, and advocated setting up a co-operative village.

It is likely that many of the railway workers at Clapham Junction and Nine Elms lived in Clapham, along and off Wandsworth Rd, and took a part in the formation of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants in 1871. In spring 1874 bricklayers and labourers at Clapham Baths went on strike for an extra 1d per hour. They were locked out and non-unionised labour  was employed to finish the project.

There was a branch of the National Secular Society from 1879. In neighbouring Battersea it was John Burns’s lecture on Poverty to the Battersea NSS which led to the formation of the Marxist Battersea Social Democratic Federation branch. The Federation had been formed in 1880 with Social being added in 1884. It grew out of the activists in the radical clubs across London. Two local radicals mentioned in The Radical newspaper in 1882 were H. F. Woods of 36 Richmond Terrace and Mrs Sainsbury of Rectory Grove. There was also Richard Smith, a member of the Provisional Council for the Land Nationalisation League which had split off from the Land Nationalisation Society in 1882.


Radical and Mutual Clapham - Part 1

The Clapham area of Lambeth is well known for two things: the base of the anti-slavery Clapham Sect and ‘The Man on the Clapham Omnibus’. Over the years of researching aspects of the histories of the areas covered by today’s Boroughs of Lambeth and Wandsworth I have accumulated lots of notes about Clapham, which I put together for a talk ‘Radical Clapham’ on 20 September at Clapham Library as part of the  Lambeth Heritage Festival.

I discussed the Clapham Sect – radical in relation to slavery – with William Wilberforce backing the repressive legislation on freedom of speech and organisation the Government led by William Pitt trying to keep the lid on the support for radical and Jacobin ideas associated with Thomas Paine and the French Revolution.

While I have found no information of radical/Jacobin activity in Clapham, a number of residents along with those of Battersea, published a joint declaration proclaiming that every effort would be made to seek out and prosecute anyone associated with sedition. They sent a copy to John Reeves who had organised the Association for Preserving Liberty and Property Against Levellers and Republicans.

An important piece of that legislation was the Friendly Societies Act of 1793 which required relevant organisations to register with the local magistrates giving them legal status and legitimacy. The first Clapham friendly society I have found, is the Friendly Benefit Society at the Plough Inn  registered in 1804. Later registrations include the Union Society at the Sun (1824), the Clapham Benefit Society (1825), and the Friendly Samaritan Society (1831).

While most friendly societies cannot be defined as radical politically, they were radical socially because so many of them were mutual self-help organisations run by their members, who therefore developed experience in  democratic processes, while not having a vote in elections until much later in the 19thC.

The first real evidence of radical activity comes in March 1831 when Richard Carlile’s The Prompter newspaper published a list of over 80 people in Battersea and Clapham who subscribed to the fund to support him and his wife while he was in prison for seditious libel for supporting agricultural workers campaigning against wage cuts. In September he published the names of 57 subscribers to the fund for Rev. Robert Taylor, the freethinker imprisoned for blasphemy. Some of those subscribing called themselves ‘an enemy of priestcraft’, ‘a real reformer’, ‘a republican’, ‘an advocate of free discussion’. It published a letter reporting that three building workers had been sacked by their employer for supporting Taylor.

Between 1832 and 1836 supporters of the National Union of the Working Classes in Battersea and Clapham were regularly meeting. The Poorman’s Guardian newspaper records that a Reeve(s) sold radical newspapers at the Cock Inn in Clapham - he may have been the W. Reeve(s) who had subscribed to both Carlile and Taylor. H. Levi and 5 Republicans in Clapham donated 6/- to the fund for victims of the Six Acts, a further series of repressive laws following the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 and the Cato St Conspiracy of 1820.  A man named Simpson collected 6/8d at the Duke of York on Larkhall Lane. There is further mention of fundraising in Clapham in April 1833.

At a meeting that month Reeve was one of the speakers at the Duke of York objecting to an MP’s attempt to ban secular work on Sundays. In 1834 money was collected for the Derby silk workers who first went on strike and then were locked out. A number of collectors were appointed by the NUWC ‘branch’ at a public meeting at Mr. Bowes’ workshop, which may have been near the Plough at Clapham. One of the collectors was Reeve. The Clapham Independent Lodge of Operative Cordwainers also contributed money. Later on money was collected for the Tolpuddle Martyrs including at The Cock.  In 1836, the year Martyrs were pardoned, money was collected at the Dorset Arms in Clapham Rd and passed to the Surrey District Committee of the Dorchester Committee that had been established to fundraise.

1836 saw the change of the NUWC to the London Workingmen’s Association. In 1838 it launched the People’s Charter for Parliamentary reform and suffrage. A local Wandsworth and Clapham Association was set up. It mainly met in pubs in Wandsworth Town. In those days people were prepared to walk long distances, so this would not necessarily have deterred supporters living in Clapham.

Its meeting discussed such subjects as the principles of the Charter, the nature of and relationship between capital and labour, abuses of public charities like hospitals, and issued an address to the men of Surrey to support the Charter.

In the early 1840s John Watkins a Chartist activist moved into Upper Marsh in Lambeth. He wrote regularly for the Chartist newspaper The Northern Star, was a supporter of teetotalism, was the London Chartists full-time paid lecturer. As well as writing plays on themes of the struggle for democracy and rights such as Magna Carta and Wat Tyler, he wrote an influential Address to the Women of England. In 1842 he moved into Battersea. When his father-in law died, he published The Life, Poetry and Letters of Ebenezer Elliott, the Corn-Law Rhymer. The couple later moved into Grover Court, Clapham Rise (later RD), where he died in December 1857 or January 1858.


Clapham in this period was part of East Surrey for Parliamentary election purposes. Under the Poor Law Act the Board of Guardians that was created for the area was named Wandsworth & Clapham.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Stumbling across gems in local histories


Minack Theatre 

Wherever I go in Britain I always try and look in the local history museums, heritage centres and churches.

In July Ann and I were in Penzance for a short holiday and to see Surrey Opera’s performance of the Benjamin Britten’s ‘Midsummer’s Night Dream’ at the open air Minack Thetare overlooking the sea.

At Penzance’s Penlee House there is an exhibition of local history. Four things took my interest.

·        Sambo’s Row

Mention was made in the exhibition of a road called ‘Sambo’s Row’. Katie Herbert, the curator, tells me: ‘Local rumour has it that these houses, and then the Crysede factory, were built on a field previously inhabited by a black donkey whose nickname was Sambo.’

·        Roller skating

During the Edwardian boom investment was made through the Penzance Palace and Skating Rink Ltd. One of the Directors was E. W. Phillips, who was also Manager of the Rink Department at Keith Prowse & Co Ltd, and a Director of the Rink Owners Association. Katie Herbert, the curator, tells me that as far as she knows no one has written about roller skating in the town. Its collection includes glass from Penzance Palace and Skating Rinks. ‘The glass has a moulded pattern around the top and the royal coat of arms with "Penzance Palace and Skating Rinks, Ltd" acid-etched below. The Palace and Skating Rink was situated in New Street, with the picture palace above the skating rink. It opened in December 1909 but burnt down on the night of 17th April 1914, as reported in "The Cornishman" of April 18th 1914. The palace was described in "The Official Guide to Penzance 1911 -1914" as having "a maple floor, a splendid electric orchestra and electric light".’


A little more research on the internet provides details about the opening of the rink in Rosalind Claire Leveridge’s DPhil thesis ‘Limelights and shadows’: popular and visual culture in South West England, 1880-1914’ (Exeter University. 2011), and the compnay was struck off the companies register in 1917 (London Gazette. December 1917). 

My Cousin Tom playbill 1839

This playbill advertises ‘For one night only at the assembly rooms Union Hotel Penzance. Master B Grossmith in My Cousin Tom. 29 October 1839.’

Born in 1825 Benjamin Grossmith was famous as a child and juvenile actor. Research on the internet tells us that he continued to perform this play e.g. at Dublin’s Adelphi Theatre on 8 January 1841. (Dublin Morning Register) as part of this ‘great Juvenile Monodramatic Actor’s appearance in his unparalleled Comic Entertainmenis, MY COUSIN TOM. POETS. PROCTORS, AND DOCTORS, AND EYES RIGHT! In which he makes above Sixty Changes, Transitiona, and Metamorphoses, in his Character’. The British Museum has a broadside ‘advertising the performance of Master B. Grossmith, the six year old actor prodigy, in 23 stage characters at the New Assembly Room, Peacock Inn, Northampton on "Wednesday evening next, May 15th, 1833"; with woodcut decorations of his various roles.

His older  brother William Robert Grosssmith (b. 1818) also  performed as a child e.g. at the New Theatre, Bridgnorth, on 6 August, 1825. (Black Country Bugle website). A book about William’s life was quickly written going into a second edition in 1827: ‘The life and theatrical excursions of William Robert Grossmith, the juvenile actor’; republished in 1839. The Victoria & Albert Museum has a painting, and the British Museum an etching of William playing Richard III.

Samuel Hodge, West Indian VC

Penlee House has the painting by Louis William Desanges ‘The Capture of Tubabecelong, Gambia, 1866’ which depicts Samuel Hodge (1840 – 14 January 1868) who was awarded the Victoria Cross in June 1867 for his role in the fighting. From Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, he was a member of the 4th West India Regiment. He died in 1868 serving in Belize. Penlee curator Katie tells me: ‘This is actually one of the most popular paintings in our collection and a great number of historians and VC enthusiasts (mostly in the British Virgin Islands) have written articles on it.’  Jeff Green has written about Hodge at


Hodge has also been written about (February 2016) as part of a Warwick University/British Library project.


Friday, 25 March 2016

Ruskin Square: A Revisionist History - Guest Blog by Susan Oliver


BoxPark was talked about quite a bit during the 16 February 2016 Scrutiny Committee Meeting (webcast here: http://www.croydon.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/210555 and I would like to point out a falsehood given at the proceedings.

Mr Matthew McMillan, Development Director for BoxPark, says at 29.15 that BoxPark “is using a piece of land that wouldn’t be used otherwise.”

That’s not true.

CTT Co-operation with Stanhope

Stanhope had approached Croydon Transition Town (CTT) to get involved with the land and we had started to transform the area into something more hospitable for the public. 

The following is taken from the 5th September 2013 CTT minutes, with the most important parts underlined:

At the end of August, CTT members met the architects, sub-contracted by Schroders, who are responsible for making best use of the space (Ruskin Square) before and after the new buildings have been built.
South London Botanical Society had identified 150 species of plants growing there and the architects would like to see some of the space being used for a community garden or something along those lines. If we’re able to get something going, again with the participation of people living or working nearby or passing through East Croydon, then it’s possible that it would be retained when Schroders start building...

Volunteer Input

After our initial August meeting, other CTT volunteers and I put in between 50 and 75 hours of volunteer time at the site.  We would get the key from the reception desk at AMP House to open the locked door. 

Although heavily over-grown, it was clear that effort and expense had been expended in establishing an area for activity.  Paths had been clearly established and further delineated by ropes. There was a handball court close to the Dingwall Road gate and I recall something that looked like a poly-tunnel.  Mounds specially built for wild-flowers lie closer to the tracks.  The survey done by the South London Botanical Association was formatted into an expensive-looking booklet but, sadly, not widely distributed.

It was my understanding that employees of AMP House used the area as a place to take their lunches, exercise and use the handball court. 

Open ‘House’ 21 September 2013

A public opening was held on 21 September 2013 as part of Open House London,  where people came and enjoyed the grounds; tables were set up, some selling food and drink from local establishments.

This is all to prove that BoxPark wasn’t always the chosen messiah of Ruskin Square and that Stanhope was planning to work much closely with community members to develop it.  This would have resulted in a space that was much more creative and directly supportive of businesses and organisations already established in Croydon than the BoxPark proposal.

BoxPark: “big, brash and in-your-face”

During the Scrutiny Committee meeting, at 34:00, Jo Negrini gives a colourful justification for BoxPark by asserting that, at the time, Croydon needed something “big, brash and in-your-face; something to say that things were changing in Croydon.”  

That means they wanted to hit people over the head with the look and feel of wealth.  Apparently Croydon Council believes that giving the right impression - which means creating an image associated with money, trendiness, superficiality, and material success - is the most important aspect to running a successful economy.

Let’s not turn away from the fact that this ethos is also driving the Fairfield refurbishment. 

Nor should we shut our ears from the gleeful laughter of Roger Wade, BoxPark CEO, who’s set to make a ton of money to say, “Things are changing in Croydon.” 

Stanhope Subsidies BoxPark

The public should also have the right to reject the terms of the rental arrangement between BoxPark and Stanhope.  I actually yelled out loud when it was exposed during the meeting webcast that Stanhope was giving them free rent for the duration of the project!

This is weird.  When does a developer give free rent to a wealthy business? 
This rental agreement amounts to a generous hand-out to a very successful commercial operation. Is this what we do in the U.K., help the wealthy? 
It is deeply suspicious that Stanhope has given BoxPark free rent for such valuable space when most other restaurants and cafes have to pay a landlord.  Why has BoxPark been given these miraculous terms?  How are ordinary businesses supposed to compete in an economy where megaliths are given such boosts? The Council or Stanhope itself needs to explain this arrangement because I am left with grave concerns.   


Stanhope Schroder was on course to create something very special for Croydon until someone stepped in and convinced them – or strong-armed them? – to make way for BoxPark.   A park is not “big, brash and in-your-face” but, like the Hippocratic Oath, it does no harm.  It would not have brought in competition to restaurants and cafes already operating in Croydon. BoxPark will. 

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Four Black Women in 1840s England


On 17 March leading history of Black Britain Jeff  Green talked about four black women in 1840s England at Black Cultural Archive with different origins: one born in slavery in America, another born ‘free’ in America, a third born in Jamaica and the fourth born in England. They are Zilpha Elaw, Agnes Foster, Elizabeth Magness and Harriet Ann Jacobs. 

This postings sets out the general points he made about them

‘Presenting information on people of African descent in Victorian Britain exposes several problems as well as our ignorance of black lives. British documentation is inconsistent in the use of ‘coloured’, ‘negro’, ‘black’ and so on –  and official documents are blind (there was no ‘racial’ notification in schools, street directories, cemeteries etc). Females are often obscured or ignored for the era was male-dominated.’

He hopes ‘that stereotypes about and ignorance of black Victorians will be weakened by this and similar researches.’
Having then sketched out the lives of each woman Jeff then teased out some general conclusions.
‘Zilpha Elaw’s life in Britain needs investigating but we can be sure that as a female evangelist she experienced critical comments. Her social circle would have been nonconformist Christians. We know far more about the African American evangelist Amanda Smith, active in Britain in the 1890s whose autobiography was published in London in 1894 and a biography in 1916 the year after she died.

Agnes Foster’s pioneering role in founding the Salvation Army in Jamaica is firm, but the lives of her children need investigating. Her life as a farmer’s wife in Yorkshire is outside any stereotype.

Elizabeth Magnes(s) is a very uncomfortable tale of one – perhaps two? – person’s experiences, exploited and driven to alcoholism. The terminology used in accounts of fairground and circus performers (such as ‘freaks’ and ‘human oddities’) is unpleasant but Joanne Martell’s study of Millie-Christine McKoy, subtitled Fearfully and Wonderfully Made published in North Carolina in 2000, reveals a triumphant life.

Harriet Jacobs has a firm place in the history of American feminism and in the documentation of the abolitionist era. Perhaps I am the only person who wonders how much of her narrative is true? There were several black speakers who toured Britain from the 1830s, obtaining funding and selling tracts and narratives. Jacobs could have moved into these circles without much trouble. Her brother relocated to England in the 1850s. The weekly Leisure Hour magazine of London published his ‘A True Tale of Slavery’ in four instalments in February 1861. We know about him because of his sister.

The presence of these four people in Britain – and our ignorance of their lives – shows we still have much to do to understand the black participation in British life. Each piece placed in the mosaic adds to our knowledge. The well-known Mary Seacole and Sarah Forbes Bonetta are not diminished by the stories of these four women.’
Jeff’s sketches of the lives of each of the four women can be seen on his website - http://www.jeffreygreen.co.uk
Zilpha Elaw page 149, Harriet Jacobs p. 151, Agnes Foster p. 156 and Elizabeth Magness p. 159.
Details of other black women in Victorian Britain are
Sarah Bonetta p. 20
Jane Rose Roberts p. 51
Ellen Smith p. 59
Coloured actresses p. 82
Black women p. 93
Black swans and black nightingales p. 120
Amanda Smith p. 130
Ida B. Wells p. 130
Hallie Quinn Brown p. 130
Ann Styles p 131  
Mattie Lawrence p. 153
Martha Ricks p. 158
Sarah Remond p. 152