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The V2 Woolworths rocket bomb disaster 25th November 1944

National Fire Service people and Heavy and Light Civil Defence rescue squads search for survivors of a V2 rocket bomb on London during the autumn of 1944. Image: War Illustrated.

A V2 rocket bomb which descended from the sky on the Woolworths and Coop stores in the New Cross Road Saturday lunch-time 25th November 1944 became the most devastating Home Front disaster caused by the world’s first long-range guided ballistic missile.

New Cross experienced mass destruction of buildings and human life.

This catastrophic event happened a stone’s throw from Deptford Town Hall, now an important building used for teaching by Goldsmiths, University of London.

The people’s history dimension of this event is more bound up with the history of Goldsmiths than has hitherto been fully appreciated.

Goldsmiths now owns the site of the former St James’s Church, which has been converted into gallery and teaching spaces and is part of the memorial and human geography of what happened in the Second World War.

The founder of the League of Coloured Peoples, Dr Harold Moody, would have taken part in the rescue and saving lives operation. He was in the network of emergency medics drawn from local GP surgeries and hospitals. The historian Stephen Bourne in Under Fire: Black Britain in Wartime 1939-45 published by the History Press in 2020 wrote:

‘On Saturday, 25 Novmber 1944, Dr Harold Moody left his surgery in Queen’s Road, Peckham, to attend the aftermath of a V-2 rocket incident in New Cross Road. This was in the very heart of working-class Deptford in south-east London. It wasn’t far from where 168 people were killed and more than 120 were seriously injured, mainly mothers and their children who were among the Christmas shopping crowds’ (Bourne, 190, 2020).

Stephen Bourne explained: ‘Dr Moody attended as part of a team called in from the surrounding area. They struggled night and day amidst the chaos and carnage to bring comfort to the survivors’ (ibid).

121 people had been seriously injured and needed treatment among the rubble.

The wreckage area covered a wide expanse of the junction between  St James’s, New Cross and Goodwood Roads.  Woolworths had been obliterated along with half of the neighbouring Coop store. The office buildings on the corner of St James’s Road and New Cross Roads were also destroyed and the prefabricated 1940s style single story blocks which replaced them and now used by Goldsmiths are evidence of devastation wrought on this side of the explosion.

George Arthur Roberts BEM MSM (1891-1970) Great War veteran, Leading Fireman WW2 and educator. Image: By Figures CC BY-SA 4.0

There is also strong evidence that there was another Black doctor practicing in the area and giving his medical services to the victims of the V2 strike.

In the 1994 publication Rations and Rubble: Remembering Woolworths The New Cross V2 Disaster Saturday 25th November 1944 there is an account by Patricia Blay who was 14 years old and working in the post office of the Cooperative Store next door to Woolworths.

She survived the blast and recalled: ‘We lived in Childeric Road and my mum came looking for me. She came round the front and they were laying the people out in the street that were dead. She went searching for me like mad but couldn’t find [me]. The doctor on the corner came out and sent to the army where my dad was and got him sent home on leave. That was Dr Chundun, the first black doctor that we’d ever seen, but he was very nice’ (Steele, 1994, 24).

Dr Walter Chundun would have performed a very active role in emergency medical assistance to the victims of the disaster. He was a serving Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps having been first commissioned as a lieutenant in April 1940 with promotion the following year. Dr Chundun practiced at 12 Clifton Rise (east side) New Cross and 102 Foxbury Road Brockley up until 1981. He demobilised from the British Army in 1946 with the rank of honorary captain in the RAMC.

Dr Chundun was born in what was then Dutch Guiana (now Suriname) on 16th November 1906 and travelled from British Guiana (now Guyuna) to study medicine in Scotland where he qualified in 1937  as a licensed doctor of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and the Royal Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. Both the Scotsman and Edinburgh Evening News papers described these as ‘Triple qualification successes’ in their editions of 28th October 1937.

One of the hero doctors attending the victims of the Woolworths V2 disaster- Dr Walter Chundun features in this group photograph of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, summer 1935. He is standing fourth from left second row from the front. He was then a 29 year-old medical student before qualifying in 1937. Archive photograph by very kind permission of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.

Dr Chundun married Sheila A Deakin in Marylebone in 1965 and took British citizenship in 1967. He would have been a witness to the ‘Battle of Lewisham’ on Saturday 13th August 1977 when hundreds of far-right National Front activists tried to march from New Cross to Lewisham but were challenged by thousands of counter-demonstrators.

Violent clashes between the two groups and police took place on Clifton Rise and a plaque was erected on the corner with New Cross Road in 2017 to mark the 40th anniversary of the event.  Dr Chundun passed away in Greenwich in 1994 where he had been a director of the Shooters Hill Residents Association with the address of 63 Shooters Hill Road.

Heroism was also in abundance throughout the Second World War on the part of founder member of the League of Coloured Peoples and decorated Trinidad born Great War veteran George Arthur Roberts.

Between 1939 and 1945 he was a leading fireman at New Cross fire station and attended four bombing attacks and fires at Goldsmiths which devastated the building and left the swimming pool turned mortuary a roofless and blackened shell in May 1945.

Crews and appliances from his New Cross station would have been the first on the scene of the Woolworths disaster on Saturday 25th November 1944. Stephen Bourne wrote: ‘It is likely that George A. Roberts, the Trinidad-born fireman based as nearby New Cross Fire Station, would have attended the scene also (Bourne, 190, 2020).

George would be awarded an MBE recognising his pioneering discussion and education groups in the fire service.

Much has been written about an event which tore the heart out of the local community; largely because so many women and children died. Norman Longmate in his book Hitler’s Rockets: The Story of the V2s devotes pages 207 to 212 to a detailed description and analysis along with eye-witness accounts.

After WW2 Deptford Borough Council set about rebuilding on the site of the Woolworths tragedy and by 1947 the building now standing was constructed enabling Woolworths to return to the New Cross Road and with the provision of two storey maisonettes for council tenants above. Image: Goldsmiths History Project

In 1994 there was a major project on the part of Deptford History Group and local organisations to fully commemorate what had happened thirty years before. An exhibition in the New Cross Library, public meetings, the unveiling of the Lewisham Borough Council plaque, and publication of the 55 page book Rations and Rubble: Remembering Woolworths The New Cross V2 Disaster Saturday 25th November 1944, edited by Jess Steele provided an outstanding commemoration to those who died and tribute to those who took part in the rescue operation.

 

Lewisham Council Local History and Archives Centre has provided a list of the details of those who died and could be identified. At present it does not include all of the 168 cited in the street memorials said to have been killed. This ongoing online memorial project seeks to identify them all and to provide more information about the lives of those killed.

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Remembrance at Goldsmiths- a question of resilience?

Goldsmiths, University of London Richard Hoggart main building entrance in 2023 with a jet plane flying overhead. Image: by Tim Crook for the Goldsmiths History Project.

Armistice Day- the eleventh day of the eleventh month symbolises the UK’s immeasurable losses to armed conflict in the Great War of 1914 to 1918. It is then followed by Remembrance Sunday.

The memory of those who died in war is one of the first displays seen when walking through the Goldsmiths entrance. It is set out in the polished and carved brown oak panel in the alcove to the left.

It is very tactile in the sense you can touch the surface with your fingertips and outline the names commemorated for ‘They Died For Freedom And Honour.’

When the sun streams in through the windows, light can shine on the group of individuals where rank and service is identified with the names of people who had mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and more often than not young children; sometimes infants who would grow up without any memory of a father’s voice, smile, touch and loving eyes.

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Mary Quant- the entrepreneurial fashion legend whose genius was inspired by her time at Goldsmiths

Dame Mary Quant has been hailed as the fashion genius who changed the way people thought, felt and looked in Britain.

After her passing at the age of 93 on 13th April 2023 she featured on at least 10 of the front pages of the UK’s national newspapers with tributes such as the ‘Designer who revolutionised British fashion in the 1960s’, and ‘The 60s high street fashion trailblazer’ who ‘blew the doors off fashion as we knew it.’

The headlines reflected her iconic status: ‘Farewell, Ms Miniskirt’ (Metro), ‘Pioneer of mini-skirt who shaped Sixties’ (Express), ‘Visionary British youth culture pioneer and 1960s fashion icon’ (Financial Times), ‘Fashion owes so much to her” (Guardian), ‘Farewell to the queen of fashion’ (i newspaper), ‘The genius who invented modern fashion’ (Mail), ‘Revolutionary Quant’ (Scotsman), ‘Mini skirt queen Mary’ (Star), ‘Farewell, contrary Mary’ (Telegraph), ‘fashion designer who popularised the miniskirt and created a liberated look for young women that defined the Swinging Sixties’ (Times).

In her two autobiographies, Quant by Quant, first published in 1966, and Mary Quant Autobiography, published in 2012, she started with her time at Goldsmiths and the years she pursued her passion for art and design in The Goldsmiths’ College Art School of that time.

She celebrated her dramatic and stylish first encounter at a Goldsmiths Christmas Arts Ball with her first husband and partner, the aristocrat Alexander Plunket Greene and she relished talking about the influence and experiences with the avant-garde world that Goldsmiths opened up for her.

She was taught by leading modernists and surrealist artists, designers and illustrators such as Sam Rabin, Betty Swanwick and the legendary embroiderer and textile artist Constance Howard.

She was surrounded by fellow disruptors and cultural subversives- the notorious art forger, Tom Keating, who dedicated his talent and painting career to expose the capitalist greed of the art world, and Quentin Crisp ‘The Naked Civil Servant’- writer, illustrator, actor, and artist’s model. The celebrated abstract artist and designer Bridget Riley was another contemporary student.

Mary Quant would always remain a friend to Goldsmiths. On 23rd September 1993, she returned to receive an Honorary Fellowship and her advice thirty years ago to the graduating students in the Great Hall of the Richard Hoggart main building remains prescient in the present day.

She predicted the impact and significance of ‘the knowledge explosion’- which is now the digital information age of artificial intelligence, the implications of people living longer, and the need to be flexible and seize the opportunities of the future.

Mary was born Barbara Mary Quant in Blackheath in 1930 to high achieving parents, Jack and Mildred from tough working class backgrounds in Wales. They both gained firsts at university and became teachers- her mother actually lectured at the London College of Fashion.

Her family evacuated to the Kent countryside during the Second World War where she witnessed the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940.

portrait of Mary Quant in 1966

Mary Quant in 1966. Jack de Nijs for Anefo. Creative Commons.

Mary was a pioneering counter-culture rebel and decades before being one was the zeitgeist.

She wanted to go to fashion school. Her parents wanted her to become a teacher.

The compromise was enrolling on the art teaching diploma course at Goldsmiths’ College Art School.

Mary never had any intention of being a teacher. The tensions and rows at home predicted the intergenerational discord of the 1950s and 60s.

Mary explained why her parents’ implacable resistance to her dreams of going to fashion school proved to be an advantage in the end:

‘There is no future in fashion, they said, and from their perspective they were probably right. There was no future in the old ways, fashion came direct from the top couturiers of Paris, and was produced in cheap copies by mass manufacturers for everyone else. Dior’s ultra-luxurious and opulent New Look, for instance, was developed out of a longing for past ideas of female beauty and a desire to sell more fabric – Dior being owned, directed and backed by the millionaire cotton manufacturer Marcel Boussac. The look was so impossibly extravagant and unwieldy for everyday street life that it probably helped hasten the demise of the domination of Paris couture. If I had gone to a fashion school at that time I would have been taken to Paris to see the collections and taught to adapt them for mass production, as that was the way things were done. Luckily I wasn’t. But I longed to design clothes. My parents and I settled on a compromise. I enrolled at Goldsmiths.’

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Eric Fraser- the Goldsmiths Art Student who symbolised the age of modernist broadcasting

2022 is the 100th year of the BBC’s history.

For at least 50 years of that century it was Goldsmiths Art School graduate Eric Fraser who provided many of the illustrations imagining Broadcasting’s Radio Age and its journey and transition into the television world.

The cover for the ‘Radio Drama Number’ 1st March 1929 captures the sense of excitement in pioneering creative sound drama from seven different studios.

All the sources are mixed together using the new ‘Dramatic Control Panel’ live to air from the BBC’s then headquarters at Savoy Hill on the Embankment near Blackfriars Bridge.

It’s only a short walk away from the famous Savoy Hotel on the Strand and the hub of London’s West End theatreland.

There’s a sense of Art Deco futurism, cubism and the Machine Age all contributing to an imagined iconography of the culture and creativity of the BBC’s first ten years.

This special issue is devoted to radio drama for the first time.

At the top is the outline of the orchestrating, piloting, conducting radio producer flying or playing the control panel of sound feeds.

These feeds are panelled in seven parts around the titles of the main articles discussing the past, present and future of the microphone play.

Eric has drawn in pen and ink the pulsating rhythm of live band and symphony, sound atmospheres and spot effects, and actors performing singly and in ensemble.

There are tributes to ‘The Kaleidoscope’- a modernist experimental sound feature auteured by Lancelot De Giberne Sieveking, D.S.C , ‘The White Chateau’- the first anti-war play written by Reginald Berkeley M.C. for Armistice Night 1925 and the first British radio play ever published in book form, the dramatisation of Joseph Conrad’s novel ‘Lord Jim” by Cecil Lewis, and “Carnival” by the novelist Compton Mackenzie who performed the narration of his own book, and had plenty to say about ‘The Future of the Broadcast Play.’

The reference to ‘Speed’ was BBC Radio’s first and original foray into science fiction on the radio- written by its first Director of Productions R E Jeffrey under a pseudonym.

Goldsmiths’ Library has its own collection of most of the original issues of the Radio Times published during the 20th century.

The Goldsmiths History Project has also acquired two original invitation cards designed by Eric when a student in New Cross.

He illustrated the cards for the School of Art’s Fancy Dress Ball on 10th February 1923 and the Fancy Dress Ball for St Patrick’s Day 17th March of that year.

This online feature has been researched, written and published to coincide with an exhibition of Eric Fraser’s work and links to Goldsmiths in the Library’s Special Collections area from June 27th to 12th August 2022. (See more details at the end of this posting.)

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Meg Hinwood and her life as a Goldsmiths student in words and pictures-1907 to 1909

This remarkable postcard of a tram travelling past the snow-covered front of Goldsmiths’ College in Lewisham Way just before Christmas 1908 was in an album donated to the University’s archives by Meg Rayner, née Hinwood, in 1968. She had been a student at Goldsmiths between 1907 and 1909. The outline of the tram with an advert on its side can be seen towards the right of the picture as it travels past the iron side gate. Image: Goldsmiths Archives. All rights reserved.

Introducing Meg Hinwood

This is the story of a working-class girl from Dover who exceeded her wildest dreams at the beginning of the 20th century of being able to go to University to train to be a teacher.

In her excitement and joy when studying in London for two years and embarking on a future career as a professional young woman Meg would continually buy postcards depicting life and scenes during her Goldsmiths’ College life.

These would be produced by a resident College photographer called Mr Wilkinson.

An impromptu, informal and popular image of male senior and junior students getting together raucously to pull faces and make gestures in front of the College’s photographer in 1909. Standing at the back is the tall figure of one of the two Egyptian students holding four books during a break between lectures. There was gender segregation during the early 20th century with men’s and women’s entrances and corridors and separate follow-up assemblies and College Vice-Principals. Image: Goldsmiths Archives. All rights reserved.

Meg would write notes on the back with her latest news and post them to her mother with instructions to put them in an album.

Meg Hindwood's handwriting on the back of one of her postcards.

Meg Hinwood writing a note to her mother on the back of the ‘fellows in the quad’ picture of Senior and Junior male students taken by Mr Wilkinson, the College photographer. Image: Goldsmiths Archives. All rights reserved.

This was the early 20th century medium of email or Instagram.

A social news picture and text message.

Though at this time it needed a stamp bearing the portrait of King Edward VII and the auspices of the Post Office to carry it to its destination.

Meg was at University during a crucial period in the social history of Britain.

The London Meg Hinwood chose to study in between 1907-9 was the biggest and richest metropolis in the world, but New Cross and Deptford were mainly working-class with much over-crowding, poverty and child mortality. Around seven million people lived and worked in London. The Jewish community was the largest immigrant group. Chinese and Indian immigrants became more prominent and established, and a small but significant African and Black Caribbean community continued to prosper. The Pan-African Conference had been held in London in 1900 and this was a sign of the capital becoming an important centre of counter-imperial political activism.  The 1901 census recorded 33,000 Londoners as having been born in the British colonies or dependencies. This is a crowded scene in Petticoat Lane market around 1909. Image: George Bain news agency, US Library of Congress. Public domain.

Suffragettes were taking direct action in the campaign to win the right to vote.

London was the capital of an imperialist world power boasting that it controlled one fifth of the world’s surface with racist subjugation of many other countries and peoples.

This was an age when the working classes were beginning to organise for better pay and conditions through trade unions, and Parliament through Liberal governments were laying the foundations of a Welfare state.

The Edwardian period was attended by growing industrial unrest as trade unions began to organise Labour to improve pay and conditions. This is the entrance to the Great East India Dock during a strike circa 1910. Image: George Bain news agency, US Library of Congress. Public domain.

A disadvantaged and Working Class Background

Meg (Marguérite) Hinwood was brought up in her grandparents’ home in Dover by her widowed mother.

Her father, William Hinwood, was only 27 years old when he died in 1889- just two years after she had been born.

She was too young to properly remember him.

He had been an accountant’s clerk and Meg and her mother Anne had been devastated by what the local newspaper described as his ‘deeply regretted death.’

They had to leave their life in Malmesbury Wiltshire to move in with Anne’s parents in Dover.

Meg was brought up in the terraced house at number 30 Clarendon Road overlooking the port and only a few streets away from Dover Priory railway station. They called their home ‘Fern Bank.’

The house is still standing in this residential part of the town.


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Nigel Perkins- a Zen lecturer who gave Goldsmiths more than four decades of teaching and inspiration

A portrait of Nigel Perkins in sweater and open necked shirt taken in studio of Goldsmiths main building in 1996.

Nigel Perkins in the third floor studio of the Blomfield building of Goldsmiths, University of London in 1996. Image by kind permission of Paulo Catrica.

Lecturer Nigel Perkins passed away from COVID in January 2021 after a brilliant career lasting forty one years teaching photography and image communication in the Department of Media, Communications and Cultural Studies.

The postgraduate MA he convened, now called ‘Photography: The Image & Electronic Arts’ has been one of Goldsmiths’ most successful.

Nigel can be credited with producing more than forty cohorts of students from all around the world who have had outstanding careers as artists, photographers, and influencers in all spheres of culture, media, and academia.

He should also be remembered fighting for and preserving film making at Goldsmiths when in the 1980s the pressure to focus on television and media theory threatened its extinction.

The story of Nigel at Goldsmiths is the story of advancing and sustaining the arts in university media and the wider cultural industries.

The powerful expression of tributes from past and present staff and students in the days following his death provides a significant document about the purpose and value of the arts and humanities in university teaching.

It is clear he was a legend and inspiration.

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Golddream- the music culture at Goldsmiths in the late 1960s

The top of the psychedelic poster design for Golddream at Goldsmiths’ College between June 26th and July 1st 1969. Image: Poster donated to Goldsmiths Archives by Greg Conway.

In 1969 Goldsmiths’ College student union organised a third Golddream summer festival of music and arts.

This festival was going to last an entire week and one of the organisers, the late manager of the Sex Pistols, Malcolm McLaren (then known as Malcolm Edwards) wanted it to be free and open to everyone.

Some of the world’s leading performers filled the campus performing rock music, folk music, poetry and readings.

The poetry readings included a performance by the respected film actor of the period, David Hemmings, who starred in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup in 1966 in which Goldsmiths’ College students took part as extras; particularly in the scenes filmed in Maryon Park, Charlton.

There was also a political speech from the black revolutionary and civil rights activist of the 1960s Michael X who was under surveillance by Britain’s intelligence services.

The first poster announcing the Goldsmiths’ College Arts Festival of 1969 being ‘Absolutely Free’. Image: Dave Riddle

He was born with the name Michael de Freitas and also known as Michael Abdul Malik and Abdul Malik.

His controversial life ended with his execution in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, in 1975 after being convicted of murdering a member of his political commune.

Many thousands of mainly young people played, partied, danced, and ‘rock’n rolled’ for seven days and seven nights.

The sound of the performance of the progressive rock group  King Crimson could be heard many miles away with massive mega-watt speakers facing out from the College main building onto the back field.

One of the organisers, the then Student union social secretary Dave Riddle, has loaned his unique collection of event posters and memories from the period for a special exhibition in the Kingsway corridor running from early March to April 13th 2019.

Dave recalls:

“King Crimson’s performance was spectacular at dusk with Pete Sinfield’s light show and strobe lighting effects creating the illusion of the disintegration of the rear wall of the building.”

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Goldsmiths, Art and Winston Churchill

Winston_Churchill_statue,_Parliament_Square,_London_(cropped)

Parliament Square statue of Sir Winston Churchill by Goldsmiths College’s Head of Sculpture Ivor Roberts-Jones. Photo by Eluveitie – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

It was the worst day of their lives.

That was the sense of emotional and professional disaster for Goldsmiths Art School alumni Graham and Kathleen Sutherland in 1954.

The Prime Minister Winston Churchill had sent round his official limousine with a letter furiously rejecting the portrait of him that Graham had been commissioned by Parliament to paint.

Winston had thundered:

“…there will be an acute difference of opinion about this portrait…it will bring an element of controversy into a function that was intended to be a matter of agreement between the Members of the House of Commons where I have lived my life … the painting, however masterly in execution, is not suitable…”

This was Parliament’s gift to celebrate the eightieth birthday of Britain’s war-time leader between 1940 and 1945.

Its unveiling a few days later in Westminster Hall would be another catastrophic humiliation for the Sutherlands; this time played out live on BBC television and reported in newsreel cinemas.

The irascible statesman, having been persuaded to avoid publicly rejecting the gift, used sarcasm to twist the knife into the portraitist he believed had made him look like a decrepit old man:

“…the portrait [turning to look at it] is a remarkable example of modern art. [Haughty laughter as well as applause] It certainly combines force and candour. These are qualities which no active member of either House can do without or should fear to meet.”

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