Another gong for Gabriel Gbadamosi’s novel Vauxhall

vauxhallgbadamosi-194x300Gabriel Gbadamosi, Vauxhall-born novelist, poet and playwright (and Vauxhall Society committee member), has just won the ‘Best International Novel’ award at this year’s Sharjah International Book Fair for his autobiographically-tinged novel Vauxhall. Even before it was published Vauxhall was a winner, for in 2011 it collected the Tibor Jones Pageturner Prize.

Gabriel leads ‘My Vauxhall’, November’s free guided local history walk (Thursday 19 December, 1230-130pm) which is funded by Vauxhall One and organised by The Vauxhall Society. These monthly lunchtime walks are primarily for employees of Vauxhall firms, but if you like the sound of one, contact Vauxhall One and you may well be able to book a place, again free of charge, courtesy of Vauyxhall One. We’ll publish full details of the December walk in a day or two.

Sharjah Best International Novel Prize

Vauxhall, the novel

Vauxhall One

Two books to buy if you’re London-bound and will stay in a Vauxhall apartment or hotel

Vauxhall: A Little HistoryTravelling to London on business or pleasure and staying in one of the apartments or hotels in Vauxhall on the South Bank of the River Thames? Albert Apartments? Comfort Inn? Dreamhouse? Travelodge? Novotel? Park Plaza Riverbank? St George Wharf? Thames View? Then do a little planning, and before you go buy a copy of the popular Vauxhall Society paperback guide Vauxhall: A Little History. In any of these hotels or apartments you’re not far from London’s best-known sights such as Tate Britain, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Trafalgar Square. But in Vauxhall, you’re also in a historic district, good for walks close to where you’re staying. Vauxhall: A Little History is full of local stories, and helps you to go and see for yourself what happened where. Hotels rarely stock local books, so best order your copy of Vauxhall: A Little History on our website before your trip.

If you’re coming to London for the 2014 World War One centenary, you should also check out Naomi Lourie Klein’s much-praised paperback These Were Our Sons, available from Elefant Books.

Vauxhall: A Little History – order direct

Vauxhall: A Little HistoryVauxhall: A Little History is a full-colour paperback by Ross Davies, Chairman of the Vauxhall Society. Described by the London Evening Standard as ‘must-read for members of Parliament’, Vauxhall: A Little History is, writes Vauxhall author, film and TV star Joanna Lumley, a book that ‘wears its learning lightly and charmingly’. Novelist Will Self says ‘This is local history written with a light touch, but backed by heavyweight learning,’ while Vauxhall MP Kate Hoey adds that it’s a book that ‘has you constantly saying “Well, I never knew that!”

Vauxhall: A Little History tops the Vauxhall One agency’s list of research sources for the Vauxhall Area.

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You can also buy Vauxhall: A Little History in the retail outlets listed below.

UK customers should order here:
£8.99 per copy (plus £2.75 P&P)


Non-UK customers should order here:
£8.99 per copy (plus £9 P&P)



Shops where you can buy Vauxhall: A Little History include:

The Book Warehouse
158 Waterloo Road
SE1 8SB

Clapham Books
120 High Street
SW4 7UH

Florence Nightingale Museum
2 Lambeth Palace Road
SE1 7EW

Foyle’s at the South Bank Centre
Belvedere Road SE1 8XX

Friends of St Thomas’ Hospital
Lambeth Wing
St Thomas’ Hospital

Garden Museum
Lambeth Palace Road
SE1 7LB

Herne Hill Books
289 Railton Road
SEQ 0LY

The Kennington Bookshop
306-308 Kennington Road
SE11 4LD

Lambeth Libraries

LASSCO
30 Wandsworth Road,
SW8 2LG

Michael’s Shoe Repairs,
Michael’s Trophies & Engraving
45 South Lambeth Road
SW8 1RH

Museum of London

Parco Café
(Vauxhall Park)
190 Fentiman Road
SW8 1QY

Tate Britain, Tate Modern

Tea House Theatre
(Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens)
139 Vauxhall Walk
SE11 5HL

Wandsworth Museum
38 West Hill
SW18 1RX

Enquiries: vauxhallcs@gmail.com

These Were Our Sons – order direct

These Were Our SonsIn 1922 the names of 574 local men who perished in the First World War were carved into the panels of Stockwell’s War Memorial.

Who were they?

The book contained the stories of the jack-the-lads, fraudsters and underage volunteers, as well as seasoned soldiers, steady family men and hardworking artisans. They were bank clerks, printers, prison officers, railwaymen, barmen and plumbers, Christian and Jew, volunteer and conscript, young and old, brothers, fathers and sons. Their stories and secrets, told through family letters, personal accounts and official records, are told here for the first time.

“Klein makes a memorial come alive – and records lives that deserve to be, as the hope remains, Not Forgotten.” – Ian Hislop

“The shock of reading of the sheer numbers lost, in our own neighbourhood, and the youth of so many of the fallen, makes me look at our war memorial with renewed humility and gratitude.” – Joanna Lumley (Stockwell resident)

These Were Our Sons is by Vauxhall Society committee member (and Chairman of the Friends group for the memorial), Naomi Lourie Klein, and is available direct from the publisher.

£3 from each sale goes to the Friends group, which is raising money to cover the cost of renovating the Memorial’s wooden double doors.

How an advertising pioneer revived Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens

Thomas Bish

Kennington resident Gary Hicks has contributed a page on advertising pioneer Thomas Bish to the Vauxhall Society’s History section. Bish, whom Hicks describes as “a strange mixture of idealist and spiv” helped raise the equivalent of £2 billion for good causes, and made a mint in the process. Royalty and politicians courted this early media star and society figure, who was one of the best-known men in the land and allegedly more famous than the prime minister himself. In 1821, with his old business cronies Frederick Gye and Richard Hughes, Bish bought the Vauxhall Gardens lease from the Tyers family. Read more here.

Gary Hicks’ book The First Adman. Thomas Bish and the Birth of Modern Advertising is published by Victorian Secrets. Available through www.amazon.co.uk

Book review: Stockwell orphanage boy makes good

 Much More of This, Old Boy…? by Peter Paterson, is the best memoir of a life in print journalism I have read since H. L. Mencken’s rollicking Newspaper Days (1941).

Mencken, however, wrote of the reporter’s life in the Baltimore of the early 1900s. Paterson looks back on the Fleet Street of only yesterday. His title refers to the words engraved forever on any old hack’s heart, if he or she has one. Before email (i.e. yesterday), a reporter working away from the office would telephone in the story, which then became ‘copy’, typed up by a telephonist or ‘copy-taker’, usually a man, and then handed to the news desk. However preening the reporter, however flushed with self-satisfaction at having got the story and phoned it over in time to meet the edition, however pungent the prose, there would come a point when a bored telephonist would drawl ‘Much more of this, Old Boy?’ (‘Dear’, if the reporter were female). This book is the one you knew Peter Paterson could write, hoped he would and now you thank the great copy-taker in the sky that this consummate hack was able to complete his ‘copy’ before he died, aged 80, in July of this year. Much More of this, Old Boy…? is sardonic, bittersweetly funny, an elegy for a craft that is no longer what it was. Not a word is wasted, and every one of them is intelligently pressed into the service of telling the story, and what a fascinating story it is.

Paterson lived and thrived in what now seems like the last days of a golden age of newspapers, before they sank into moron culture and even felony, their economic base undermined by e-everything, their offices cheaply staffed by expensively-educated and well-connected ‘interns’. Things did not begin well for Paterson. When he was four years old (1935), he was consigned him to Spurgeon’s Orphan Home on the Clapham Road, Stockwell, where he spent ten tough years. Paterson was not an orphan, but a bastard, in the days before the production of illegitimate children became a career. Towards the end of his stay at Spurgeon’s (council flats now occupy the site) Paterson and the other boys and girls once saw a V1 pilotless flying bomb drone low over the playground to explode perhaps half a mile away. Life at Spurgeon’s was tough, but not wretched. Paterson writes:

I would not contest that some of the circumstances in Spurgeon’s were uncomfortable, even shocking in the light of today’s official attitudes towards childcare, but I have no intention of producing a ‘misery memoir’, but a report on how, in my recollection, things were.

Today, sexual abuse looms large in ‘official attitudes towards childcare’, in part because of newspaper priorities. If there was sexual abuse at Spurgeon’s, Paterson never saw it. The only sexual abuse Paterson ‘suffered’ was at the hands of an uncle, except Paterson did not ‘suffer’; his uncle did. It was a bit of kiddie-fiddling that merely puzzled the boy, but his aunt walked in on it and emptied a cup of hot tea in her husband’s crotch.

Looking back, Paterson concludes that he had a lot for which to thank the orphanage. Had he not been dumped there, he thinks he might have grown up with the same ‘poverty of expectation’ that blights so many school-leavers today. There’s an irony in the reflection that when the 14-year-old Paterson walked out of Spurgeon’s gates for the last time, he was better fitted for productive life than many of the children now living in the flats on the Spurgeon site will be when they leave school.

Paterson had the gumption to learn something useful. He signed up at the Wandsworth Technical Institute, where he learned shorthand. When the time came to do National Service, shorthand earned him a soft billet on the staff of a Kennington boy, Field-Marshal Montgomery, in London and Paris. That same shorthand, via part-time parliamentary reporting, paved Paterson’s path to Fleet Street. There’s no point summarising what Paterson tells so much better, so here’s Much More of this, Old Boy…? in a nutshell:

It’s conceivable that my good luck in falling so easily into a calling that required no entrance exams and offered companionship, variety, and enormous fun also had the effect of infantilising its practitioners, seduced by the feeling that life was not a doleful or serious business, but a constant lark. I certainly cannot remember, until I became a TV critic, among the loneliest of journalistic tasks, when it was not fun.

There’s more:

But the greatest and most long-lasting satisfaction I felt during my learner-driver years as a journalist lay in the close-up view I had a of a truly golden age of British politics, a period I was privileged to witness so closely that I felt part of it, which in a sense I was, albeit an insignificant one. This was a time when fine oratory was still a requirement of politicians, when the differences between parties seemed clear-cut and deep-seated [….] and more than 80% of the voters routinely went to the polls to elect a government. A contrast with today’s idea of civic duty, which appears largely to consist of paying premium rates to cast votes over a telephone to choose between contestants in TV reality shows. We have turned our backs on the political class in disgust over their greed and apparent irrelevance, but in the unjustly scorned 1950s, even the young regarded politics as a thrilling and entirely free activity; today it bores most of them to death.

There’s also a lot of travel, drinking and a fair amount of womanising and other newspaper high jinks and low living in Much More of this, Old Boy…? But go read the book; Paterson tells it better than I can.

This is a book I wish were twice as long.

Ross Davies 

Much More of This, Old Boy…?  
The Muswell Press

You can find more reviews of local authors or books about the Vauxhall area on our Books and Writers page here: www.vauxhallcivicsociety.org.uk/books

Growing Up in Lambeth

We recently rediscovered , written by Mary Chamberlain (born in Lambeth in 1947) and published by Virago in 1989. It paints a fascinating picture of life in Lambeth in the 20th century through oral history and her own experiences. You can pick up a copy for 1p on Amazon.

Coin Street Chronicles by Gwen Southgate – life in pre-war SE1

coinstreetchronicles.jpg-1
I read this book, a few pages at a time, on the bus to work. Every day I get off at the Elephant and Castle and walk down Great Guildford Street to Southwark Street. I pass the junction with Lavington Street, where Gwen Southgate, according to her fascinating memoir of life in Waterloo, regularly went to the public swimming baths in the Thirties.

There is no sign of the baths now. Gwen’s world has almost completely disappeared, done for by the Luftwaffe and post-war slum clearance. The remnants of streets that she lived in and played in have become bijou dwellings, occupied by, mostly, well-off singles who want an easy walk into the City. That Coin Street Community Builders have managed to preserve something of the working-class nature of the area is a massive achievement. Waterloo is nothing if not premium development land. But here, brought to life in this gem of a book, are the grimy working-class communities of Aquinas Street, Coin Street, Commercial Road.

There is beautifully rich detail, not only of the trajectory of Gwen’s early life and the members of her family – which is interesting enough – but in the pictures of life as a child in London in the Thirties and Forties. Gwen Redfern, as she was then, was brought up in extreme poverty. It’s a kind of poverty we have largely forgotten. It means damp, cramped shared houses, with no electricity, no bathrooms, no indoor toilet. It means moving often, always trying to cut living costs. It means frequent unemployment and dole. It means going to the hospital by bus when you have a serious injury because you can’t take a taxi. It means bad teeth and pain.

Sometimes it means early death. Gwen’s father, a gentle, builder’s labourer and First World War veteran, was in poor health and often out of work. When the family lived in Dagenham, he cycled twelve miles into London and back, in all weathers, looking for a day’s work. He died when Gwen was eight but he left her a legacy – a love of books and words. And he made Gwen’s no-nonsense mother promise to further their children’s education. With one or two wobbles, she honoured that promise.

It is the astonishing detail that fascinates here. What an “airy” was, how children in Coin Street played on the street, the layout of the homes the Redferns lived in, how rooms were arranged. How, where and when you wash discreetly if you do not have access to a bath. How you deal with day-old bread. The qualifications required before you are allowed to take a neighbour’s baby out in its pram.

All this is delivered in the context of the story of how clever, academically-inclined Gwen overcame her social disadvantage to claim her education and, ultimately, a way out of the slums. The support came from her widowed mother, but the turning point was the war. Gwen and her two brothers were evacuated to Dorset in 1939, and during a string of placements all over the country she acquired a grammar school education, new friends and experience of different worlds.

Gwen’s sense of humour, humanity and astonishing powers of recall are what make this a truly enjoyable read.

Highly recommended.

Naomi Klein

Coin Street Chronicles: London’s Vanished Old South Bank Area
by Gwen Southgate
Published by iUniverse, 2010
£12.50 (Amazon)
355 pages

These Were Our Sons: Stories from Stockwell War Memorial by Naomi Lourie Klein

These Were Our Sons book cover
In These Were Our Sons Naomi Lourie Klein has researched the lives of 574 men whose names are carved into the stone panels of Stockwell War Memorial.

Using census information from 1911 and earlier, Commonwealth War Graves Commission information, original Service and Pension files, rolls of honour, contemporary maps and the vast resources of the internet, she has pieced together the lives of men whose stories would otherwise be known only to their families. Some of the families have contributed additional information and unique pictures.

The stories paint a picture of the hardships and sufferings of the men, and speak eloquently of their terrible fates.

“The book is quite wonderfully moving and reminds us just how many families were torn apart in these streets that we love so dearly. The shock of reading of the sheer numbers lost, in our own neighbourhood, and the youth of so many of the fallen, makes me look at our war memorial with renewed humility and gratitude. It deserves a place in every Stockwell home.”  Joanna Lumley (Stockwell resident)

“Klein makes a memorial come alive – and records lives that deserve to be, as the hope remains, Not Forgotten.” Ian Hislop

Available from www.elefantbooks.comhttp://www.elefantbooks.com
ISBN 9780956586506

Published 3 September 2010