Saturday, January 21, 2012

Conservation Area update: Gay Crossfields 1985-1995

In the recent consultations on the proposal for a Creekside Conservation Area, it became apparent that residents of Frankham House were most concerned at having been left out of the zone (see the map and find the reports here). Several attended the event at Creekside Discovery Centre on 7 January, resulting in Frankham Housers being sent the questionnaire which everyone else has received so that they can argue for their inclusion.

Other areas suggested for inclusion are the Nature Park and land extending north to the borough's boundary along the Creek, plus west to include the old Tidemill School (a fine building that deserves preservation).

The consultation closes next Friday 27th January, so if you haven't responded yet, go to the online questionnaire and fill it in! If you missed the consultation and want to find out more, Phil Ashcroft, head of Lewisham's Conservation Team, has been invited to Crossfields TRA meeting this coming Thursday 26th January to explain – arrive for a prompt start at 7.30pm as this subject will be first on the agenda.

When exploring the area, the Conservation Team took into account not only the buildings and architecture, but the "radical arts and music scene that gained Deptford an almost legendary status in the 1970s and 80s". The 'character appraisal' compiled by the team concludes that "Crossfield Estate gains a place within the history of British punk and rock music culture that raises its significance to a national level".

The issue of Frankham House being initially excluded has brought to the fore some interesting cultural history pertaining to the block itself. Apart from the fact that Crossfields Tenants & Residents Association has for a long time been housed in the Pink Palace on the corner, another important cultural factor has come into play: that of gender identity.

Chris Mazeika, who once lived in Frankham, was moved to write to the Conservation Team about the part Crossfields played in the development of London's gay community, and the team have welcomed his evidence and his argument for including Frankham House in the zone. Chris writes:

1985-1995 A decade of Lesbian and Gay Identity in Deptford's Crossfield Estate

The Lewisham scheme to house single people in hard-to-let flats was known locally as DFRS – the "dykes and faggots residents scheme". This must have been the unofficial title! It was rumoured that there was a very helpful Housing Officer at the time who would look favourably on applications from lesbian and gays.

The scheme led to there being a community of lesbians that were known as the Deptford Dykes and if I remember correctly this was a very radical feminist group. They had the Fountain and the Dover Castle pubs on Deptford Broadway as their social spaces. 
When I lived in Frankham House in 1990, I knew of at least ten flats that were still lived in by lesbians and gays creating a strong sense of community identity which was very important as this was the time of the heart of the Aids crisis. At the time, the lesbian community was very strongly feminist and men were not permitted in some of the women's flats, which led to officially sponsored training schemes in plumbing and other building trades so that women could carry out the works needed. When Sarah Daniel's play about the women workers in Deptford's Foreign Cattle Market was performed in the Albany in 1988 ("Gut Girls"), the lesbian community found their very own historic links to Deptford.

In the 1980s and early 90s the gay community faced an onslaught by the Thatcher government through Section 28. Gay urban identity was very political. Along with our Enemy Within badges left over from the Miners' Strike, we wore pink triangles, read the Pink Paper (available at the Albany along with Capital Gay), and met in the Pink Palace. Whether lesbian or gay, we wore Levis 501's, Doc Marten shoes, MA1 air force jackets and lived in gritty council blocks such as Frankham House. There was a strange correspondence between us as marginal people and the buildings, one of found values and mutual recognition, nobody wanted the flats and nobody wanted gay people. It was love at first sight.  
At that time the Albany ran a very successful gay night called OutDance where we danced in safe spaces to Jimmy Sommerville/The Communards' You are my World. One of Jimmy Sommerville's videos showed him getting off the East London Line at Surrey Docks – we all knew he was heading for the Pepys Estate, another haven for gay people where the high rise views over the city afforded their own sense of freedom.
The 1993 play by Jonathan Harvey, Beautiful Thing, filmed later in 1996 on the Kidbrooke Ferrier Estate (another infamous South London council estate) and in the gay pubs in Greenwich, further validated and consolidated the sense of the urban gay community in South London.

There was only one gay cafe in London at the time, First Out, which was not a pub. Father Diamond at St Paul's Church Deptford also ran a gay night in the Crypt, and although not openly gay himself was very supportive, especially of the older working class gay community in Deptford. Deptford was very gay in the late 80s and through the 90s and the centre was Crossfield Estate, mostly concentrated on Frankham House.
An early gay play on BBC Radio 3 or 4 about a gay pub in Rotherhithe, The Only One South of the River, and the club night Tattooed Lover Boy in Brixton further bolstered Deptford's gay scene – meaning that South Londoners forged their own identity with 'high' and 'low' culture apart from the more commercial West End. These South London venues were possible because of the concentration of lesbian and gays in places such as Crossfields and Pepys Estate. Getting home was easier and hopefully safer.
A new, younger, and less political generation of gay people arrived in the mid 1990s. Though he had less commercial success that other Deptford bands, James Gray, who arrived at number 13 Frankham House when he was 18, wrote and performed his own songs, sometimes inspired by the area – such as Glamourland and White Malaise, and Boom Cover Trade based on Deptford's seafaring past.

Crossfield Estate was and remains an important factor in the forging of an urban gay identity in London, in South London and in Deptford and Frankham House in particular.

Crosswhatfields has dug out some images that, in addition to Chris's piece, may jog people's memories of these times in Deptford. Please feel free to add your own recollections in our comments section – especially if they include time spent on Crossfields, and in particular, Frankham House!

Above, a photo we found at www.Stradivarius-London.co.uk, posted by Paul, who DJ'd at The Dover Castle, featuring staff Jason, Owen and Terry behind the bar at a Caribbean night in August 1985 (more pics at that website).

A night at If..., the late night lesbian and gay club at the Albany in the late 90s, which continued the tradition begun by Outdance in the 80s.

Below, some memorabilia showing the range of lesbian and gay nights programmed by The Albany in 1987 and in 1997.




6 comments:

  1. I remember the Dover Castle and The Fountain! We used to have a brilliant time at the Dover which always had a cabaret of drag acts on their little stage, and we weren't even gay. The loos were either side of the stage and the drag act would always make a saucy comment on those going for a pee...Everyone was welcome. I think it burned down in mysterious circumstances, and later the Fountain opened on the corner where the Noodle House is now, but by then we were mostly in the Duke or the Oxford/Birds Nest I think...

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  2. A fascinating addition to the archive; I had no idea frankham house was such a hotbed of radicalism!

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  3. Umm - Wasn't "Beautiful Thing" set and filmed in Thamesmead, not the Ferrier Estate?

    I lived down the road in SE4 for a while in 1990/1 and remember visiting the 'Fountain' once or twice - I got the impression that the owners had then only just taken the place over.

    Also vague memories of somewhere around the north end of Deptford High Street, possibly north of Creek Road - think it was more of a club than a pub - would this have been the Albany?

    Further away from Deptford, there was the 'Ship & Whale' in Rotherhithe (off Redriff Road), the 'Gloucester' in Greenwich (as appeared in the film of 'Beautiful Thing' - they took a minor liberty diverting the 180 bus up King William Walk for the purposes of the film), the 'Lone Sailor' in Thames Street (just north of Creek Road) - all no longer gay pubs.

    RC

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  4. @Anon. You're right it was Thamesmead.

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  5. Interesting to read about Father Diamond keeping an eye out for the older working class gay community. I remember one old chap who was a right dandy who was often taken advantage of by young guys he invited back to his flat. But on Crossfields we had two old fellas, Derek and his Welsh boyfriend (can't remember his name) living in Holden. They used to have a monkey that they daily let out in a cage on the balcony to get some fresh air. I think they had quite a menagarie with a parrot as well. They were great fun although they loved a good moan. I wonder where they are now? Hopefully still alive and still together by the seaside somewhere...

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  6. This is wonderful stuff!
    I worked at the Dover Castle in the early 80's, whilst a student at Laban.
    From there I went to work at The Albany, initially behind the bar and then as the co-promoter of The Outdance Club along with Oscar Watson- I was in the production of "Quick Phyllis....." mentioned in the flyer above. The Outdance started life in October 1987, 25 years ago this year, initially on Friday nights but was soon promoted to Saturday night as it was an almost instant hit. We had some extraordinary nights - our 'ABBA Special' featuring the first ever UK appearance of Bjorn Again, and our 'Prisoner Cell Block H' night, which had queues snaking down Douglas Way, as the event was full within 30 mins of opening!
    The club ran for 4 and a half years and through some very dark times for The Albany.
    These were fantastic vibrant times in Deptford.

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