Wednesday, 15 August 2018

The Story of London in 50 Novels: 10 - "A Journal of the Plague Year," by Daniel Defoe.

In 1663, news first reached London of a plague that had been devastating the city of Amsterdam. The extensive trade links between England (especially London) and the Netherlands (most significantly Amsterdam) made it more or less inevitable that the sickness would, in time, make its way to these shores. The plague (both bubonic and pneumonic) was no stranger to Londoners: there had been periodic outbreaks over a period of more than three centuries, the most serious, by far, being the "Black Death" of 1347-8, which wiped out somewhere between a third and a half of the population of England, and set the ground for fundamental social and economic change.

The Great Plague of London, 1665 (image is in the Public Domain).

The most recent strain of the plague reached London in the autumn and winter of 1664-5, and raged through the summer of the latter year. Many of the City's wealthier citizens fled into the countryside; as did King Charles II and his court, settling first in Salisbury, and later in Oxford. There was only a limited window of time in which such escape was possible: as soon as the news of the plague spread to the rural districts, the people of the countryside became unwilling to accommodate their urban neighbours, or even allow them to pass. 

The Lord Mayor of London, Sir John Lawrence, and most of the Aldermen, had, in any case, opted to remain, and to oversee the City's defences against the unseen killer. Between the, they saw to it that the dead were buried; that regular "Bills of Mortality" were published; and that those known to be suffering from the disease were quarantined in their homes to prevent the spread of contagion.

Bill of Mortality (image is in the Public Domain).

Bill of Mortality (image is in the Public Domain).

A Plague Doctor (image is in the Public Domain): the "beak" held aromatic plants, believed to stave off contagion. Seventeenth Century doctors could, in fact, do nothing to help patients suffering from the plague, although they could, and did, record the progress of the disease in such a way as to improve the understanding of the process of infection.  

Ultimately, the disease would kill around 100,000 people (roughly a quarter of London's population), and it would disappear almost as suddenly as it had fallen upon the City. The role of the following year's Great Fire of London in destroying what remained of the disease has probably been over-stated: it seems, rather, that he disease had simply completed its life-cycle. The over-land trade routes that connected the Mediterranean world with the Far East, and along which the plague seems originally to have spread into Europe, were, by this time, in decline, replaced by the maritime routes around the southern tip of Africa and across the Indian Ocean, that were being opened up by Portuguese and Dutch navigators.

Daniel Defoe's book, A Journal of the Plague Year, published in 1722, has often been seen as a work of non-fiction reportage. It is written in the first person, and appears to be a detailed eyewitness account, but can hardly be so, since Defoe had been just five years old in 1665. The account is credited to "H.F." (possibly Defoe's Uncle, Henry Foe, on whose reminiscences the author may have relied). Although Defoe has sometimes been cited as the first English novelist (John Bunyan and Aphra Behn arguably have stronger claims), those making this suggestion have generally had in mind Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Moll Flanders (1722). Recently however, A Journal of the Plague Year has itself been reconsidered as a novel (and, indeed, a historical novel, since it was written fifty-seven years after the events that it describes took place. Writers of Defoe's generation had yet to agree on a clear definition of what a novel actually was, but this account, though clearly rooted in detailed empirical research, has a number of the features that we might recognise as typical of the novel, including characters (though not many of them), and dialogue (though not very much of it). As such, it gives a fascinating insight, not only into London life during the Great Plague, but also into the embryology of the historical novel in English.

Daniel Defoe, possibly after Sir Godfrey Kneller, National Maritime Museum (image is in the Public Domain).

"It was about the beginning of September, 1664, that I, among the rest of my neighbours, heard in ordinary discourse that the plague was returned again in Holland; for it had been very violent there, and particularly at Amsterdam and Rotterdam, in the year 1663, whither, they say, it was brought, some said from Italy, others from the Levant, among some goods that were brought home from their Turkey fleet; others said that it was brought from Candia; others from Cyprus. It mattered not from whence it came; but all agreed it was come into Holland again."

London in 1665, by Wenceslas Hollar (image is in the Public Domain).

" ... now the weather set in hot, an from the first week in June the infection spread in a dreadful manner, and the bills rose high; the articles of the fever, spotted fever, and teeth began to swell; for all that could conceal their distempers did it, to prevent their neighbours shunning and refusing to converse with them, and also to prevent authority shutting up their houses; which, though it was not yet practised, yet was threatened, and people were extremely terrified at he thoughts of it ...  I lived without Aldgate, about midway between Aldgate Church and Whitechapel Bars on the left hand or north side of the street; and as the distemper had not reached to that side of the city, our neighbourhood continued very easy. But at the other end of the town their consternation was very great: and the richer sort of people ... thronged out of town with their families and servants ... this was a very terrible and melancholy thing to see, and ... it filed me with very serious thoughts of the misery that was coming upon the city, and the unhappy condition of those that would be left in it."

"I say they had dug several pits in another ground, when the distemper began to spread in our parish, and especially when the dead-carts began to go about, which was not, in our parish, till he beginning of August. Into these pits they had put perhaps fifty or sixty bodies each; then they made larger holes wherein they buried all that the cart brought in a week, which, by the middle to end of August, came to from 200 to 400 a week; and they could not well dig them larger, because of the order of the magistrates confining them to leave no bodies within six feet of the surface; and the water coming on at about seventeen or eighteen feet ...

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

The Story of London in 50 Novels: 9 - "Nothing Like the Sun," by Anthony Burgess

The golden age of English theatre spanned the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. It was overwhelmingly a London phenomenon (although productions did tour, especially when the plague was raging in the City), and is not really matched in any of the other major cities of Europe, where the main cultural achievements of the late Renaissance were in the fields of painting, sculpture, architecture, and music. We have already looked at this in relation to Christopher Marlowe, but his career was cut short by murder, and his reputation, in modern times, has been eclipsed by that of his longer-lived contemporary, William Shakespeare.

William Shakespeare, by John Taylor, 1610 (The Chandos Portrait). Image: National Portrait Gallery (Public Domain).

Unlike Marlowe, Shakespeare did not have the advantage of a university education (he might, perhaps, have taken a degree at Oxford, had his family not fallen upon hard times, the result of ill-advised business risks taken by his father). Shakespeare probably arrived in London some time between 1585 and 1592, and joined an acting troupe, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, who staged productions at The Theatre in Shoreditch. He soon began writing, as well as acting, attracting the jealousy of rival playwrights. Robert Greene (when did we last see a play of his performed?) wrote, in 1592, that " ... there is an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you; and being an absolute Johannes Factotum is in his own conceit the only shake-scene in a country."

Coat of arms procured by Shakespeare for his father, 1596. Image: College of Heralds (Public Domain).

The Theatre had been built by James Burbage, the father of the actor, Richard, who played the leading roles in many of Shakespeare's plays, but the lease on the land expired in 1599, and the actors, assisted by a carpenter, dismantled the theatre, and transported the timber, beam by beam, across the Thames. Their new theatre, The Globe, opened in 1599, and it was here that several of Shakespeare's plays, including Julius Caesar and Henry V, were first performed.

The Globe in 1647, by Wenceslaus Hollar (image is in the Public Domain).

The reconstructed "Shakespeare's Globe," opened in 1997. Photo: ChrisO (licensed under GNU).

The original location of The Globe. Image: Old Moonraker (licensed under CCA).

Conjectural reconstruction of The Globe, by Walter Hodges (1958). Image: Folger Shakespeare Library (licensed under CCA). 

Shakespeare's true home was always in Stratford-upon-Avon (in London he lived in rented rooms), and he retired there in 1613, dying three years later. In 1642 the theatres, including The Globe, were closed by Parliamentary decree, marking the end of the London theatre's golden age.

Anthony Burgess's novel, Nothing Like the Sun, follows Shakespeare's perambulations between Stratford and London, and explores his personal and professional relationships, including his romantic entanglements with both women and men (of the private life of the historical Shakespeare we actually know very little, although there are good reasons for believing that he may have been, in modern terms, bisexual). The novel presents a vivid picture both of Shakespeare's (imagined) character, and of the London through which he walked.

Long View of London, by Wenceslaus Hollar, 1647 (image is in the Public Domain). 

Panorama of London, by Claes Visscher, 1616. Image: Library of Congress (Public Domain).

"Far from the river now. North of the divers fair and large builded houses for merchants and suchlike. North even of the City Wall and the fair summer houses north of the wall. Good air in Shoreditch. The Theatre a finer playhouse than The Rose. Burbage as good a man of business any day as Henslowe and an old player too, though, from what I see, of no great skill. But now, his son promises, this Richard. He may yet go further than Alleyn. Is that Giles Alleyn from whom old Burbage got the land of Ned's kin? It may be so. In '76 it was. A lease of twenty-one years. A mere patch with rank grass and dog-turds, even a man's bones they say. A skull grinning up at the surveyors. And now a fair playhouse. Twenty-one years, let me see. To '98, which is but four more. Will this Alleyn renew? Were I he I would not. But it is the men more than the playhouse, sure. The Lord Chamberlain's Men."

"Let me take a breath, let me take a swig, for, my heart, she is coming. She is about to make her entrance. It was while he was walking off Bishopsgate - Houndsditch, Camomile Street, St Helen's Place, St Helen's Church - that he saw her. She stepped from her own coach outside a house near St Helen's, escorted by her unveiled maid. But, in the fresh fall wind, her veil lifted an instant; he saw. He saw a face the sun had blessed to gold ... They were rehearsing Romeo at the Theatre when, in a break or brief ale-intermission, he asked old James Burbage ... 'There be many tales touching her origins. Her own story is (or they say so) that she was brought back as an infant from the East Indies by Sir Francis Drake himself, in the Golden Hind that lies at Deptford now. It is said that both her father and mother were a sort of noble Moors of those parts and were killed by Drake's men in a fight they had there, then she was left all alone and weeping and so, in pity, was brought to England to be in a manner adopted.'"

Saint Helen's, Bishopsgate, where Shakespeare was, for a time, a parishioner. Photo: Lonpicman (licensed under GNU). 

Richard Burbage:

"They have relented: we may play again.
Gain, though - what gain? Only the Rose hath gained
With three new petals that to us be thorns.
Spencer and Shaa and pestilential Ben
Have navigated the rough Marshal's sea
And are three masts now for the Admiral."

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

The Streets of Old Lambeth: Streatham - The Road South

A visitor to London, exploring the Borough of Lambeth, and having visited Brixton, can take any one of several buses (159, 133, 333, 118) southwards to Streatham Hill. The railway station here opened in 1856, as part of the West End of London and Crystal Palace Railway, the arrival of which made this area of south London more attractive to London's burgeoning population of commuters. Even before this, however, horse-drawn omnibuses had opened up Streatham to residential development; and, going back to the Eighteenth Century, it was a place to which Londoners came to "take the waters" from local springs; and where the wealthy built their mansions, away from the smoke and noise of the City, yet close enough to commute on horseback, or by carriage.

The current A23 (Streatham Hill, which becomes Streatham High Road as we move south) was a minor Roman Road connecting London to Portslade (now part of Brighton and Hove) on the south coast. In the Seventeenth Century, it was "improved" as a coaching route running through Croydon and East Grinstead to Lewes and the port of Newhaven. England's first supermarket (Express Dairies Premier Supermarket) opened here in 1951.

The stables of the Red House Coaching Inn, Streatham, by William West Neve, 1884. Image: Praefectus Fabum (licensed under CCA).

Streatham Public Library. Photo: Matthew Black (licensed under CCA).

Streatham High Road in 1895 (image is in the Public Domain).

Bomb damage in Streatham, caused by a German Zeppelin raid in September, 1916. Photo: Imperial War Museum, HO 101 (image is in the Public Domain).

To the east of the road, two churches stand opposite one another. Saint Leonard's dates back to Saxon times (Estreham is mentioned as a village in the Domesday Book of 1086, its sheep producing wool to make habits for the monks of Bec-Helloun Abbey in Normandy), but only the Fifteenth Century tower predates 1831. The second, taller, church is the Roman Catholic Church of the English Martyrs, opened in 1893, to serve the large community of Irish origin, many of whom worked on the railways which their grandfathers and great-grandfathers had helped to build.

Saint Leonard's Church. Photo: Robert Cutts (licensed under CCA).

The interior of Saint Leonard's Church. Photo Stephen Craven (licensed under CCA). 

Continuing south along the road, and passing Streatham railway station on the right, we come to Streatham Common, one of the many green spaces that make the London suburbs a pleasant place to live. Most of its mature trees were planted in the late Nineteenth Century. Overlooking the common is Park Hill House (not accessible to the public): it was built, in 1830, by the banker and silver-merchant, William Leaf; but was home, from 1851 to 1899, to the sugar-merchant and philanthropist, Sir Henry Tate. Born in Liverpool, the son of a Unitarian minister, Tate was a self-made man, who endowed not only Streatham's and Brixton's public libraries, but also the Tate Gallery, Liverpool Royal Infirmary, Liverpool University, and the University of London's Bedford College for women.

Streatham Common. Photo: Noel Foster (licensed under CCA).

Autumn on Streatham Common. Photo: Nicky Johns (licensed under CCA).

Park Hill House, Streatham (image is in the Public Domain).

Sir Henry Tate, by Sir Hubert von Herkomer, 1897. Image: Tate Britain (Public Domain).

We have now completed our exploration of the Borough of Lambeth. From outside Streatham railway station, one can take a bus (159, 133, or 118) back to Brixton, and then the Victoria Line to Vauxhall, walking across Vauxhall Bridge into the City of Westminster.

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

The Story of London in 50 Novels: 8 - "The House of Doctor Dee," by Peter Ackroyd

London during the Sixteenth and early Seventeenth Centuries was a bustling port, with ships arriving on a daily basis from the most dynamic cities of Europe: Stockholm & Copenhagen; Rotterdam & Antwerp; Bordeaux & Seville; Genoa & Venice. These ships brought furs, timber, wine, silks, and spices, but, just as importantly, they brought knowledge and information, and they brought books. Following the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turk in 1453, waves of Greek immigrants settled in Italy, some of them bringing manuscripts from the Byzantine Imperial Archives. Many found work as tutors, teaching Greek to the children of  aristocrats and wealthy merchants, and some, at least, of these, must have found their way to England. The brightest among these immigrants, however, set to work translating the classic works of Greek philosophy, mathematics, and literature into Latin. These works soon appeared in Italian, English, Dutch, and French translations.

In 1527, a boy named John Dee was born in the shadow of the Tower of London, the son of a merchant family of Welsh descent. As a child, he probably spent time on the London docks, and developed a prodigious gift for languages. By the time he began his studies at Cambridge in the 1540s, he could read both Greek and Latin, and probably French, German, and Dutch as well.

Doctor John Dee, Ashmolean Museum, anonymous portrait (image is in the Public Domain).

He became one of the first fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge, following its foundation in 1546, and began the tradition, which survives at Cambridge to this day, of staging Greek plays in the original language. His production of Aristophanes's Peace gained him a reputation as an illusionist or magician (nobody was quite sure which), as he sent an actor into the roof-space of Trinity College, clinging to the back of a giant beetle, probably with the assistance of college porters who had served as Petty Officers in the Royal Navy. 

The logo of Venice's Aldine Press (image is in the Public Domain). Aldines were the Penguins of their day. Working in partnership with the Doge's brother, the publisher, Aldus Manutius had a monopoly of books printed in Greek on Venetian territory: he played a key role in establishing a pan-European and multi-lingual market for the Greek classics in Renaissance Europe. 

The Aldine Latin translation of the works of Herodotus (image is in the Public Domain).

Despite his Cambridge connections, and his extensive European travels (Louvain, Brussels, Paris, Krakow, Prague), Dee remained, for much of his adult life, a Londoner, accumulating a vast library at his home in Mortlake. He was a philosopher, an alchemist, an astrologer, and a mathematician; an early English enthusiast for the philosophy of Plato, but also for the more esoteric ideas of "Hermes Trismegistus," a supposed Egyptian contemporary of Moses. Like many of his generation, Dee made no distinction between what we would call "science," and what we might think of as "occult" activities. He believed in a harmonious synthesis of all forms of human and divine knowledge: he taught Euclidian mathematics to navigators; but he also experimented in communication with angels. The British Museum holds a collection of objects that he used for these experiments, including an obsidian mirror, probably seized by a Spanish conquistador from an Aztec priest in Mexico.

Crystal ball, believed to have been owned by John Dee. Photo: British Museum (non-commercial license CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0).

The "Seal of God," believed once to have been owned by John Dee. Photo: Geni (licensed under GNU).

The "Corpus Hermeticum," translated from Greek to Latin by Marsilio Ficino in 1471 (image is in the Public Domain). Thought by Ficino, and by his patron, Cosimo de Medici, to have been written by an ancient Egyptian sage, the original is probably a Roman forgery of the 1st Century AD. Ficino's translation was a key source for Dee's occult experimentation.

Peter Ackroyd's novel, The House of Doctor Dee, brings together two London-based stories, both narrated in the first person: the first by a fictional modern character, Matthew Palmer; and the second by John Dee himself. The connection between them arises from Palmer's inheritance, from his father, of a house that once belonged to Dee (although Ackroyd uses artistic license to move this from Mortlake to Clerkenwell - nothing, in fact, remains of Dee's actual home). The worlds of the Sixteenth and Twentieth Centuries come together, as Palmer researches and imagines the ghosts of London Past; and Dee divines and imagines those of London Yet to Come.

"But why was I thinking about these people, as I sat in the house at Clerkenwell? They were no more than phantoms conjured up out of my weakness, their voices less real to me than the shape of this ground-floor room and the texture of its thick stone walls ... I heard myself talking into the air in my sudden exaltation: 'Let the dead bury their dead' ... Then I noticed something ... And there came upon me a curious fear - that there were, somehow, shadows where no shadows should have been. No, they were not shadows. They were patterns in the dust, caught suddenly in the changing light of that summer's evening."

"We were so close to the waterside that we would take our quadrant ... down Water Lane to Blackfriars Stairs where, among the barges and the herring buses, we called out 'Westward! Westward! until one of the passing watermen noticed us. The wherry took us by the open fields beside Lambeth Marsh where, with the quadrant established upon firm earth, we would make various observations of the sun's progress. Sometimes, coming or going, we were close to falling into the Thames over head and ears with the cumbersomeness of the quadrant, but we always escaped onto dry ground ... There were sly citizens who were accustomed to call us sorcerers or magicians for all this measuring ... 'They had nothing to do with what is vulgarly called magic.' I took more wine to consume the fire within me. 'Mine are wonderful sciences, greatly aiding our dim sight for the better view of God's power and goodness. I am, by profession, a scholar, sir, and not some magician or mountebank.'"

"Now look upon this. Look upon the world without love. I awoke and found myself in as black a night as I have ever known; but I was not in my chamber. I was walking abroad, with the help of a lantern and candle, and now stood below the wall of the city. The stone rose before me like the face of that idol discovered in the Devonshire mines, yet as I raised my lantern I saw all the wrinkles, cracks, crevices and flaws that lay within the ancient stones ... I passed in through the More Gate even as there came the sound of a horn, and one blown with such force that the echo redoubled again in the dark London air. I knew these streets so well that without any light I could have made my way but, when I put up my lantern by All Allowes in the Wall, I saw many citizens walking slowly through the lane there in long gowns and velvet coats. Each one held a wax candle lighted in his hands, and sighed continually as if his bowels might break ... Why did they walk and moan continually, down Wormwood Street and Broad Street?"

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction whose books can be purchased from Amazon.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

The Streets of Old Lambeth: Brixton - From Countryside to "Inner City"

A visitor to London, exploring the Borough of Lambeth, and having arrived at Vauxhall Bridge, can turn southward, and cross the roundabout to Vauxhall Underground Station. From here, on the Victoria Line, it is just two stops to our penultimate port-of-call within the borough, Brixton.

In the Eighteenth Century, Brixton was open countryside, producing food for the London markets, and known, especially, for its strawberries. There is even a windmill, close to the station, built in 1816, at just the time that the whole character of the district was set to change, prompted by the construction of Vauxhall Bridge, which opened the area up to commuters. The houses built by developed along Brixton Road and Brixton Hill, and on the roads leading off from them, attracted wealthy residents: Whitehall civil servants; proprietors of West End shops; City solicitors and architects.

The Brixton "Hundred" in 1760, by Eman Bowen (image is in the Public Domain).

Ashby's Mill, Brixton, in 1864 (it was built in 1816) - image is in the Public Domain.

Sheep grazing on Rush Common, 1892, close to the site of the Tate Library (image is in the Public Domain). 

Brixton Road from Acre Lane, 1883. Photo: Lambeth Archives (image is in the Public Domain).

Brixton Road, 1907 (image is in the Public Domain).

The arrival of the Chatham, London, and Dover Railway in the second half of the Nineteenth Century provided a further boost to the burgeoning suburbs: in 1880, Brixton's Electric Avenue became the first street in London to be lit by electricity; and residents soon had the benefits of a public library (courtesy of the sugar magnate and philanthropist, Sir Henry Tate); and one of the first purpose-built cinemas in England (then the Electric Pavilion, now the Ritzy).

Electric Avenue, Brixton, in 1895. Photo by Frederick Rolfe (image is in the Public Domain)

Tate Library, Brixton (image is in the Public Domain).

The arrival of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) to open Brixton's Tate Library, 1893 (image is in the Public Domain).

The upper reading room of the Tate Library (image is in the Public Domain).

Charles Booth's (1889) "Poverty Map" of Brixton, but there is little poverty here: Yellow indicates "upper middle class;" red "lower middle class;" and pink "fairly comfortable, good, ordinary earnings." Image is in the Public Domain.

The Ritzy Cinema, Brixton. Photo: C. Ford (licensed under CCA).

By the early years of the Twentieth Century, however, wealthier residents were moving further out from the centre of London, into leafier suburbs. Many of Brixton's grand houses were subdivided into flats, and some fell into disrepair. Others suffered bomb damage in both World Wars.

Bomb damage in Brixton, following a raid by German airships, September 1916. Photo: Imperial War Museum H098 (image is in the Public Domain). 

In the aftermath of the Second World War, a new wave of immigrants arrived in Britain from the Commonwealth territories of the Caribbean. Many had fought on the British side in the war, but they now returned to fill an acute labour shortage in the British Isles. 492 of these people arrived in London on the steamship, the Empire Windrush, in June 1948. They were initially accommodated in the Clapham South Deep Shelter (which had served as a bomb shelter during the Blitz), and, since the closest labour exchange was in Brixton's Coldharbour Lane, and cheap rental properties were available nearby, many settled in Brixton, finding work in the National Health Service, and in London's transport infrastructure.

West Indian airmen in the Second World War. Photo: Imperial War Museum (non-commercial license) CH11478.

A reception at the Colonial Office for West Indian women of the ATS, hosted by the Duke of Devonshire (foreground, centre). Photo: Imperial War Museum (non-commercial license) D21361.

The Empire Windrush. Photo: Michael Griffin (image is in the Public Domain).

In fact, the Windrush was only ever a symbol (albeit a powerful one) for a wider social and cultural phenomenon. Its arrival did not mark the beginning of Caribbean immigration to the British Isles (around 15,000 West Indians had worked in Britain's munitions factories during the First World War), and many more immigrants arrived, over the coming years, on subsequent crossings, or by air. Many were shocked by the racism that they encountered in England, with politicians, such as Enoch Powell, and, later, neo-Fascist organisations such as the National Front and British National Party, whipping up fear and hatred of anyone who was not white.

Nurses in London, 1954 (image is in the Public Domain).

A West Indian family in Brixton, 1950s (image is in the Public Domain).

Over the course of the 1970s, Brixton became increasingly impoverished. The term "inner city" (which never referred, as one might expect, to the Cities of London or Westminster, but rather to the run-down residential suburbs, with high immigrant populations) became associated with urban decay, poor housing, and high unemployment and crime. All of these factors contributed to the riots that broke out in Brixton in April, 1981, but the spark was ignited by "Operation Swamp," a Police initiative to crack down on street crime, making extensive use of the "Sus Law," allowing them to stop and search people at will. This law was applied in a blatantly discriminatory way, with the public humiliation of young black people by a Police force that was overwhelmingly white. Over the course of a number of days, several hundred people were injured; more than 150 buildings damaged; and 100 vehicles burned.

Th 1981 Brixton riots. Photo: Kim Aldis (licensed under CCA).

In the decades that have followed, Brixton has been extensively regenerated, and efforts made to heal the wounds. The reform of the Metropolitan Police happened more slowly than many would have wished, but it is now a very different organisation to that whose officers struggled to force their way along Brixton High Street in 1981. Black and Caribbean culture are celebrated in Brixton, yet the shadow of racism has not altogether been swept away. The British Home Secretary was recently forced to resign, over a scandal in which Caribbean immigrants of the "Windrush Generation" were denied access to essential services, and, in some cases, threatened with deportation, because they found themselves unable to prove their right to remain in a country in which most of them have worked and paid taxes for the whole of their adult lives. 

Mural, celebrating Brixton's rural past, by artists Mick Harrion and C. Thorp. Photo: Leticia Golubov (lemanja75, licensed under CCA).

Mural at Brixton Station, by artists Karen Smith and Angie Biltcliffe. Photo: Leticia Golubov (lemanja 75), licensed under CCA.

Lambeth Town Hall, Brixton, opened 1908. Photo: Steve Cadman (licensed under CCA).

Windrush Square, Brixton. Photo: Felix-felix (image is in the Public Domain).

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon