Tag Archives: David Lodge

A Picture of the Pictures – The Brockley Picture Theatre

For a borough which had no purpose built cinema for about 15 year during the period between the ABC in Catford closing in 2001 and the Curzon Goldsmiths opening in early 2016, Lewisham has a rich cinematic history with a plethora of closed and lost cinemas.  They are documented well on the Lewisham’s Lost Cinema site, as well as Ken George’s excellent, but out of print, ‘Two Sixpennies Please.’ (1)

Running Past tends to focus on Lee, Hither Green and Blackheath, but the Brockley Picture Theatre it is a cinema that holds an interest for me in that it is one that I associate with my favourite local author, David Lodge.  Running Past has covered Lodge’s ‘Out of the Shelter’ before, and one day the blog will probably return to his first novel, ‘The Picturegoers,’ which was published in 1960.  Lodge grew up at 81 Millmark Grove, parallel to Shardloes Road and, as the closest cinema to his former home, it is the one I associate him most, although it had closed by the time Lodge was writing the novel.  But it was a painting on the ArtUK website, that really ‘sparked’ my interest.

unknown artist; The Ritz Cinema, Brockley; Lewisham Local History and Archives Centre; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-ritz-cinema-brockley-193961

See ‘Painting Note’ below for Copyright issues

The Brockley Picture Theatre was on a triangular site at the corner of Foxberry Road and Coulgate Street, any signs of it are long gone – it is now (June 2016) an almost finished block of flats, having been a garage in the relatively recent past, but with current land values and a location adjacent to Brockley station development was inevitability.

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The cinema opened in September 1913 with a capacity of around 700. It had a 40 feet wide proscenium and a 16 feet deep stage.  The initial ticket prices were 3d and 6d (2) and it was noted by Ken George, partially quoting a local newspaper (3)

‘Daintily served teas are provided and everything is done to make visitors comfortable. The result is they go again and again!’ For the patrons’ further delight, the Waldovski string band was engaged ‘at enormous expense’, which was taking a chance, as no music licence had been applied for, or given.

It was re-named numerous times – changing to the Palladium Cinema in 1915; one of the films shown early in its new incarnation was Shielding Shadow starring the Canadian actress Grace Darmond, a ticket for which was recently discovered in via a customer of Browns of Brockley who was doing some renovation work.

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It became the Giralda in 1929 when sound equipment for ‘talkies’ was introduced – without a proper licence from the licencing authority, the London County Council who ended up taking the owners to court in 1931 (4). Names continued to change, it was re-badged as the New Palladium in 1936 and finally the Ritz during World War 2.

 

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Available on creative commons via Cinema Treasures – see note here

The Ritz Cinema was closed on 14th March 1956 with a double bill of Charles Drake in ‘Tobor the Great’ (below – poster available by Creative Commons) and John Derek in ‘The Fortune Hunter.’ It remained empty for a few years, perhaps whilst its owner, the Brockley Theatre Company, tried to find a buyer.  However, there was a voluntary winding up of the company in early 1959, with the company liquidated later that year.  The building was demolished the following year.

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The painting of the cinema at the ‘top’ of the post was completed before its closure, while the listing on the ArtUK website gives it as an unknown artist; there is the name ‘Cockell’ and the date ‘1956’ clearly visible in the bottom left hand corner.  A Google search elicits nothing more about the artist with this limited knowledge though.  The ‘picture painted’ has an attractive charm of fading glory, the letters peeling with a guarded looking ‘meeting’ in front of the cinema, amidst the abandoned newsprint in an age that clearly predates the mass market motor car.  The detail of the presumably air force surplus duffel coat – would have probably helped date, had the ‘1956’ not been marked.

Notes

  1. Ken George (1986) ‘Two Sixpennies Please: Lewisham’s Early Cinemas’
  2. ibid p37
  3. ibid p37
  4. ibid p39

Painting  Note

The Lewisham Archives own the copyright to the picture; it is made available through the Art UK site which in turn allows its use for non-commercial research such as this.

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E Nesbit, The Railway Children and Lewisham

It was a simple street name sign in Grove Park that this post had its origins in …

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Between 1894 and 1899 Edith Nesbit lived at Three Gables in Baring Road – roughly between the Ringway Centre and Stratfield House flats. Grove Park was then a popular middle-class residential area and still with a number of small farms. The home backed onto the railway and there are suggestions that it may have inspired the Railway Children. Three Gables has long gone, although part of its garden is now Grove Park Nature Reserve, but Nesbit’s time there is remembered with a path which forms part of the Green Chain Walk.

There have been suggestions that the character of Albert Perks, played by Bernard Cribbens in the 1970 film version, was modelled on Southern Railway employee, William Thomson, who worked at Grove Park station and lived in Chinbrook Road.

She had moved to Well Hall by the time she wrote ‘The Railway Children’ though, a four-storey house next to the ‘Tudor Barn’, Well Hall House – shown in ‘engraving’ on the information board in, what is now known as, Well Hall Pleasaunce.  Her name is also remebered in an unattractive cul-de-sac between the Pleasaunce and the elevated A2 dual-carriageway leading to a bowling club.

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The backdrop to the children’s novel was a thinly disguised version of the Dreyfus Affair, whilst Nesbit was writing ‘The Railway Children’ Dreyfus had been pardoned, with the acquittal almost coinciding with the publication in early 1906.

I must admit to not having read ‘The Railway Children’ since school and my recollections of it are more shaped by the 1970 Lionel Jeffries film than the book and the current theatre production at the specially built Kings Cross Theatre. The film and play at least, evoke an almost idealised Edwardian rural middle class lifestyle.

The Railway Children Books About Town bench - Greewnwich 2014

The Railway Children Books About Town bench – Greewnwich 2014

Nesbit’s own adult life was very far removed from this; she was one of the co-founders of one of the Labour Party’s forerunners, the Fabian Society and had brief links with Henry Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation, although found it a little too radical for her. Another author with Lewisham connections, David Lodge, covered the period at Well Hall in passing in his biographical novel of H G Wells, ‘A Man of Parts.’ She effectively lived in a ménage-a trois with her husband, Hubert Bland, and his mistress. Nesbit too had numerous affairs, including one with a young George Bernard Shaw.

As for her other Lewisham links, Edith Nesbit lived in several locations in Blackheath, Lewisham and Lee before her stay at Three Gables. The first seems to have been 16 Dartmouth Row, Blackheath (top left photo, below) where she moved in 1879 prior to her marriage to Herbert Bland. They moved to 28 Elswick Road, off Loampit Vale in Lewisham in 1882 (top right) which was recognised as part of Lewisham’s maroon plaque scheme.

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She seems to have spent several years around Lee; the 1891 Kelly’s directory has her husband living at 2 Birch Grove, just off what is now the South Circular. There is also a small park and children’s playground at the corner of Osberton and Leland Roads which bears her name, reflecting the time the she lived in the nearby Dorville Road

Whilst at Three Gables she wrote a couple of children’s books with local connections ‘The Treasure Seekers’ (1898) where the Bastables children’s ‘ancestral home’ was ‘a semi-detached and has a garden, not a large one’ at 150 Lewisham Road, before moving to The Red House in Blackheath in ‘The Wouldbegoods: Being the Further Adventures of the Treasure Seekers’ (1899)’

A quick skim read through on-line finds mentions of The Quaggy and the Lewisham Workhouse (now Hospital) in the ‘New Treasure Seekers’ (1904) concerning attempts to get rid of a Christmas Pudding with an unintentionally soapy taste paid for by subscription by the wealthy folks of Blackheath Park and Granville Park.

Nesbit was important in children’s literature with her biographer, Julia Briggs, suggesting that she was ‘the first modern writer for children’, and credited her with having invented the children’s adventure story – paving the way for the likes for Arthur Ransome’s ‘Swallows and Amazons’ after World War 1 and Enid Blyton (whose life in Shortlands was touched upon in the blog last year) ‘Famous Five’ around 40 years later.

Literary Lewisham – David Lodge’s ‘Out of the Shelter’

I have thought about some posts about the literary heritage of Lewisham since I have been writing this blog – the idea partly coming from a display at one of the few remaining bookshops in the Borough – The Kirkdale Bookshop in Sydenham. But it was the Micro Library on Lewisham Way that spurred me into action. My thoughts on opening the door were to look for an author with a Lewisham connection – sadly I found nothing – but it got me thinking.

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A very good starting point for Literary Lewisham is David Lodge – he grew up in the borders of New Cross and Brockley – an area he frequently fictionally returns to in the thinly veiled disguise of ‘Brickley.’ There is a part of me that likes to be specific and ordered about location so I have assumed, probably incorrectly, that Lodge to have grown up somewhere in area around Malpass Road.

David Lodge is also a good place to begin because he is one of my favourite authors and I have read all his novels, a number more than once. I know many of the places he has written about and our paths crossed briefly in a paternoster lift in Birmingham, the ‘Rummage’ of ‘Changing Places’ and ‘Small World.’

‘Out of the Shelter’ is one of his lesser known works, but deserves a much wider audience. It is essentially a coming of age novel which, Lodge acknowledges in the postscript to the 1983 edition, has some strong autobiographical themes to it. Elements of it resonate considerably with my own growing up.

It starts during the Blitz around the area in which he grew up; the street is probably an amalgam of several in the area, although my mental map of the book had it as Shardloes Road, due to its proximity to the railway and, no doubt, the completely unconnected air raid shelter sign at its junction with Lewisham Way.

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The early part of the book concerns Lodge’s fictional self growing up during the war including the death of his best friend just outside the Anderson shelter she should have been inside with him. But it also includes his evacuation to the Surrey/Sussex boarders, the V2 attack on Woolworth’s in New Cross, and his trips to The Valley.

Most of the narrative centres on a holiday to see his much older sister in Heidelberg; it is the real coming of age of Timothy and the coming out of the shelter of family, conservative values and Catholicism. Lodge uses the trip to juxtapose the privations of Britain in 1951 of rationing and austerity, with the conspicuous consumption in the American zone in Germany.

His real skill is in the depth and warmth he gives to his characters – in ‘Out of the Shelter’ he subtly uses them to put some different perspectives on WW2 such as the excessive destruction of German cities, with the consequent loss of life of British airmen, conscientious objection and the way in which ordinary Germans felt forced to go along with the Nazi regime.

At the time of its first publication ‘Out of the Shelter’ didn’t sell and Lodge was not happy with it leading to him re-editing it when it was re-published in 1983. It was probably this version that ended up on the long-list for the ‘Lost Booker’ – which was deservedly won by J.G. Farrell’s fantastic ‘Troubles.’ This should take nothing away from ‘Out of the Shelter’ which is a delightful book.