Hidden History #deptford

Every Thursday I help out at a shelter. My journey takes me from New Cross Gate station along the A2 towards Greenwich. It’s a tired, tatty piece of south London which is also home to Goldsmiths College.

I’m not a man in a hurry these days. Not much anyway, so the rather magnificent Deptford Town Hall caught my eye a few times as I wandered past. It was built in 1905 and has a rather dramatic and impressive frontage.

What really arrested my leisurely progress were the four statues that stand by the first floor windows, each with a date. The third one, a one armed admiral with the date, 1805, was a bit of a giveaway. Nelson. The date: the Battle of Trafalgar. So who were the others?

The dates of the first two suggested maybe something Shakespearean. Or at least theatrical. But in fact, Henry Poole, the artist aimed at a Nautical theme as the presence of Nelson suggests, as does the rather splendid weather vane.

The first two are Francis Drake and Robert Blake whose tactical intuition helped the British Navy beat the Dutch in the 17th century and who is often called  the father of the Royal Navy.

The last figure, with the date of the Town Hall itself is a figure, nameless but grand, of an Admiral of the Fleet at that time.

The whole thing smacks of Imperial self-importance. Of confidence. Of superiority. Pride, in a word.

But pride and hubris are close cousins. Eleven years later that self-same town hall was the centre of secret trials of conscientious objectors, who refused for a variety of reasons, to fight in WW1. Many were imprisoned for cowardice – perhaps a lesser punishment than the penalty for cowardice at the front – a firing squad – but humiliation and a severe limitation on the imprisoned’s ability to earn a crust. My great uncle went to the front as an ambulance driver, not to fight. That was the only way to avoid such humiliation.

Sadly Willie Dyson died of a brain haemorrhage the day after winning the Military Medal for conspicuous bravery when rescuing colleagues under fire. Cruel, selfish times.

It is difficult these days to see such grandiose monuments without a moment’s pause for the background to its history. The building is magnificent and today it is part of the aforementioned Goldsmiths College, a rather splendid centre of learning in an otherwise rundown part of town.

It is important to look forward, as much as look back and understand context. The beauty of the architecture, in its own right, is sufficient for me. Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the first votes for women. We don’t imprison for cowardice today, either. So we move forward as we recall our past. At least I hope so.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published four books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars, Salisbury Square and Buster & Moo. In addition I have published two anthologies of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand and Life in a Flash. More will appear soon, including a memoir of my mother's last years. I will try and continue to blog regularly at geofflepard.com about whatever takes my fancy. I hope it does yours too. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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27 Responses to Hidden History #deptford

  1. Nice to go back to the old Alma Mater. One of them anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ritu says:

    Great Photos!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mary Smith says:

    Fascinating bit of history, Geoff. And, yes, in some things we have made progress though I fear some are still too quick to think goign to war solves anything.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Erika Kind says:

    Thank you for the beautiful insights of this part of the city and for giving us some information about the history. I love London and this part looks very lovely!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. trifflepudling says:

    I suppose they felt that they had something to be proud of and inevitably felt a bit superior, but there’s probably a bit more to it than that. Victoria had recently departed. They could already see a European war was probably unavoidable and possibly felt uncertain and insecure, maybe. The past is always a handy thing to resort to in the face of an unknown future. There may have been some not inconsiderable civic competition between neighbouring boroughs as well, each trying to outdo the other (or people they didn’t like!). Greenwich with its Naval College and Observatory isn’t far away. It’s easy to think we are more enlightened these days, but we’ll be judged too.

    Poor Dyson. He was a brave soul to do that. My father was in the RAMC 25 years later and seemed to be under fire just as often as the other blokes. Cruel and selfish times are always with us, alas!

    Like

  6. I love London. I spent a week there a few years ago and long to return. Thank you for the tour of this building and the history behind the statues. Interesting history and so important to remember it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Good bit of history here, Geoff. I’m pleased the building is being used more suitably than many I could name – e.g. Wimbledon’s Tesco’s.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Smorgasbord Reblog – Voting is Now OPEN for the Annual #BloggersBash Awards – Thrilled to be nominated | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  9. willowdot21 says:

    Another interesting and thought provking post , thanks Geoff.💜💜

    Liked by 1 person

  10. A fascinating post, Geoff. I love the history. You are very good to help in a shelter.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I really enjoyed this post. My great grandfather was also a conscientious objector, for religious reasons in WWI. I don’t know for sure but I presume he was imprisoned – maybe after a trial in Deptford Town Hall (he was a Londoner). By the end of the war, he was guarding German PoWs. One of these men happened to be an optometrist and, after seeing my great grandfather with his little daughter (my grandmother), begged my great-grandfather forgiveness for the impudence but asked that she be taken to an eye hospital as soon as possible. He’d spotted something no-one else had and, without him, it’s likely that my grandmother would have suffered a severe loss of sight at a very young age. As it was, she was the (un)happy recipient of glasses and plenty of intervention from Moorfields – but she never lost any significant amount of vision.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Charli Mills says:

    The history of such places grab me, too and I appreciate the context you add. It’s a striking building.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Jules says:

    Intriguing bit of history. I’m in a small New England town for a bit and while wondering I found a unique bell… then went back to where I’m staying to research : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Brown_Bell

    I enjoyed my visit to Deptford. I had watched a show one time about the unused underground…and how some at least the one station was made into a rather small apartment. Now that’s a hidden gem!

    Liked by 1 person

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