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Arts & Listings


21 July 2006

There are fifteen nominees for this year's Southwark News / Southwark Council blue plaque scheme,

Following on from our last profile of nominees, to help you make an informed decision and enable you to cast your vote before the end of August, here are seven more nominees over the following two pages:

John Stansfield

John Stansfield started the Oxford and Bermondsey Boys Club, whose work helped to nationally define the shape of the work done by modern boys' clubs and many wider issues in British social policy.

Our hero was born in Lincolnshire and originally worked in the Civil Service whilst studying at Exeter College, Oxford. After sensibly transferring to London, he completed his medical training at Charing Cross Hospital.
Stansfield was strongly associated with 'The Oxford Pastorate', which was an evangelical reaction to the Oxford Movement (a fresh rising of Catholicism within the Church of England) and was first invited to Bermondsey by Henry Gibbon and Edwyn Barclay.

After his visit, Gibbon and Barclay invited him to set up a medical mission. At this time the area of Bermondsey where he began to work (Abbey Street and Dockhead) was one of the poorest and most deprived areas of London.
Work in what became known as the Oxford Medical Mission began in 1897 in a small house in Abbey Street (are there any others?) and 'The Doctor' lived upstairs. No charge was made for treatment or medicines - but there was a box for gifts - which largely paid the drugs bill.

As a condition for receiving free medical treatment, young men and boys were asked to attend a Bible Class on the next Sunday. These classes became the centre of the work and it was out of these that clubs initially formed.
John Stansfeld was able to gather a remarkable group of men around him in Bermondsey. They made a significant impact not just on boys' club work - but also on social policy generally. As a doctor, worker and priest he had a very direct impact on people's lives.

Sam King

Sam King is a well-known local figure and was proud to be made Southwark's first black mayor.
Born in Jamaica in 1926, Sam first came to England during the war in 1944, where he was stationed with the RAF in Scotland. Against his wishes, he was sent back to Jamaica after the Allied victory but returned shortly afterwards on the original Empire Windrush in 1948.

Sam rejoined the RAF straight after returning to Britain and served until 1953, after which he worked for the Post Office. In 1950, he and his brother became the second black family in Southwark to buy their own home. This family was extended when Sam married Mavis Kirlew at Emmanuel Church on Camberwell Road in 1954.

Around this time, Sam also became involved in his local community and became circulation manager of the Brixton-based West Indian Gazette. It was this monthly newspaper that spearheaded the origination of the cultural event that celebrated Britain's Black Caribbean communities, which has since grown to become the world renowned Notting Hill Carnival.

Sam served as a Labour councillor for Bellenden ward between 1982 and 1986. Although there were other black councillors in Southwark at the time, Sam was the first to become Mayor in 1983.
Since retirement, he has moved to Bexley and become the leader of a Pentecostal church. In 1998, he received an MBE from the Queen for his extraordinary services to the community.

Sam Mussabini

One of the United Kingdom's first sports coaches, Scipio Africanus (Sam) Mussabini was born in London, of Arab, Turkish, Italian and French ancestry.

He lived at 84 Burbage Road from 1913 until his death in 1927 and coached in athletics and cycling at the Herne Hill Velodrome. He is described by people who should know about these things as one of the greatest ever athletics coaches.

His most famous success was in coaching Harold Abrahams to a gold medal in the 100m and silver in the 4x100m at the 1924 Paris Olympics - an achievement which was since been immortalised in the Oscar winning film Chariots of Fire.

His coaching career spanned five Olympics (London 1908, Stockholm 1912, Antwerp 1920, Paris 1924 and, a year after his death, Amsterdam 1928) during which time he was able to achieve eleven Olympic medals. Bearing in mind World War 1 caused the cancellation of the 1916 games, this feat deserves even more recognition.

Frustratingly Sam was also an accomplished journalist, billiards player and a keen cricketer. However, his coaching achievements were genuinely incredible, so don't let the fact he was clearly a bit good at everything put you off!
Despite his astonishing success, during his career Mussabini was ostracised because he was a paid coach in an amateur area, therefore never gaining the recognition that he deserved.

The Mussabini Medal is awarded annually by Sports Coach UK to honour coaches for putting extraordinary efforts on behalf of their charges.

Harry Cole

Born and brought up in Bermondsey, Harry Cole left school during World War Two when he was fourteen and became a cricket-bat maker, soldier and stonemason before he joined the Metropolitan Police in 1952.

For thirty years, until he retired in 1983, Harry served at Carter Street Police Station in Walworth Road as a Police Constable. Upon retirement, he became a well-known and popular figure in the local community. Eventually, the rest of the world caught up with Walworth and Harry became a national celebrity when he wrote a series of best-selling memoirs about his experiences as a bobby on the beat.

These include Policeman's Lot, Policeman's Patch, Policeman's Story, Policeman's Patrol and Policeman's Progress. Poignant and entertaining, this series also provides rare published memories of the life and times of a London policeman in the 20th century.

In addition to his Policeman series, Harry wrote Policeman's Prelude, an autobiographical account of his childhood and teenage years in Bermondsey before and during the war. His fiction books include Queenie, Billie's Bunch and Julia's War.

In 1978, Harry was awarded the British Empire Medal for voluntary work and still writes widely about his experiences as one of South London's finest and as a long standing Millwall fan.

National Youth Theatre

Probably the UK's premiere youth theatre outfit, the National Youth Theatre, which is re-nominated after missing out last year, has helped many of the UK's biggest stars take their first steps in the murky world of showbusiness.

Founded in Dulwich in 1956, the National Youth Theatre has bred British talent including many of the best known names in the business such Sir Ben Kingsley, Sir Derek Jacobi, Dame Helen Mirren, Kate Adie, new James Bond Daniel Craig, old James Bond Timothy Dalton, Daniel Day-Lewis, Timothy Spall and 'Pirates of the Caribbean' star Orlando Bloom. As well these star names, the NYT has also produced scores of fine lesser known actors and generations of superb stage managers, lighting technicians and other, less lauded but equally crucial, behind the scenes roles.

An English Teacher named Michael Croft, who taught at Alleyns School in Dulwich, founded the NYT back in 1956 after having left Alleyns in 1955 to take up a full time writing career. However, his presence at the school was greatly missed by the pupils who attempted to persuade him to continue producing plays with them, outside of school hours. Croft agreed and the Youth Theatre was born in the summer of 1956.

Despite it originally having no financial backing, Croft was eventually able to recruit from schools across London and by 1959 was recruiting from across the entire south of England. Its stratospheric growth meant it became a national organisation in 1960 and in 1961 was registered as a charity under the name "National Youth Theatre".

During 2006, the NYT have been celebrating their fiftieth anniversary. One of the events held to mark the occasion was an attempt to break the World Record for the longest continuous play reading. The group successfully read every play they had ever produced, starting Henry V by William Shakespeare starting on Friday May 26 and eventually ending on Sunday June 4.

Despite the fact they have since relocated to North London, the National Youth Theatre is a Dulwich institution and certainly offers something different to many of the other nominees this year.

J L Johnston (1839-1900)

John Lawson Johnston was a nutrition promoter, food manufacturer, entrepreneur and philanthropist. He created Bovril and made his home at Kingswood House in West Dulwich.

J L Johnston was born (not locally) in Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland, on September 28 1839.
Johnston went out to Canada in 1874 and whilst there began a tomato-canning business, which also produced Johnston's Fluid Beef, a meat extract. This sold well in Canada as a hot drink - largely due to Johnston offering tastings at the ice carnivals held every winter in Montreal.

Later in the year, the entrepreneur secured a contract from the French government to supply a large quantity of canned beef as emergency rations for its forts.

Johnston sold his North American business in 1880 and decided return to London. Within a few years, he had established a factory at 10 Trinity Square, Tower Hill, from which he sold what was originally described as 'Johnston's Fluid Beef (brand Bovril)'.

The product's success grew partly as a result of its innovative and striking advertising, as cutting edge at the time as it is iconic today. He was aided in this effort by S. H. Benson (1854-1914), who joined Bovril in the early 1890s and then went on to establish his own business as an advertisers' agency with Bovril amongst his first clients.

Johnston bought Kingswood House in Southwark in 1892 and spent £10,000 extensively remodelling the house and grounds with help of architect Henry Vaughan Manchester. The house became known as Bovril Castle. Whether that was due to the appalling smell, the house's acidic but strangely warming taste or the fact the Johnston had a bit of a big ego is sadly left unrecorded.

Throughout his life, Johnston was an ardent teetotaller and this fuelled his determination to find a nutritious substitute for alcohol. Sadly, despite its relative popularity in 2006, it is safe to say he gloriously failed in that endeavour.

Johnston died on board his yacht, White Ladye, in Cannes harbour on November 24 1900. He was buried in Norwood cemetery on December 6, and was survived by his wife and giant brood of thirteen children.

The Mint Street or St. Saviour's Union Workhouse, Mint Street, Southwark

One of the few remains of London workhouses, Mint Street has been made famous by the continuing popularity of Charles Dickens' classic novel, Oliver Twist.

A Workhouse with all the appalling Victorian connotations of deprivation, human misery and cruelty stood on this block from 1782 until its final demolition in 1935 and, as alluded to, the story goes that this 'institution' was Dickens' model for the workhouse in Oliver Twist.

Mint Street Workhouse is generally described as having been completely demolished - but this is not true. The workhouse was subsequently used as, amongst other things, a furniture warehouse and a factory producing coffee essence. It was demolished - except for one remaining wall - in 1935. 

An important aspect of Min Street's historical resonance above other workhouses is its association with Charles Dickens. Dickens had lived for a long time on nearby Lant Street, and often used his experiences of living in the area as the basis for many of his great novels.

In 1865, the Mint Street Workhouse was the subject of a scathing report in respected medical journal The Lancet, describing the dreadful conditions:

"This house is situated in Mint Street, Southwark, a densely crowded district on the South East of the Thames, with a population of 55,510 and is surrounded with every possible nuisance, physical and moral. Bone-boilers, grease and cat-gut manufactories represent some of them, and there is a nest of thieves, which has existed ever since the days of Edward III…The house was built for 624 inmates, but when we visited it there were only 420 in residence, and yet it appeared very full. Classification there is none, excepting the common division of male and female wards, and the separation of the 'foul cases.' In a house so conditioned there can be neither order nor method…We cannot doubt that, with such a history and so many surroundings, it is our duty to condemn this workhouse, which ought to be removed, and one built better adapted to fulfil its duties to the poor and sick of the neighbourhood."

This description provoked outrage across the land, and was instrumental in leading to the passing of the Metropolitan Poor Law Act of 1867, which went some way to alleviating the grotesque conditions in these institutions.


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