May 2018 pictures

June 16th, 2018

May was another busy month, despite my intentions to take things easier and a rather painful right leg which did make me decide to miss a few events. Going away for one weekend  and attempting to celebrate my birthday also had little effect on the amount of work. I did manage several walks with myself and family which are included here; though relaxing in some ways they often take more time in researching what I have photographed – the late May Bank Holiday stroll from Falconwood to North Woolwich being a good example.

May 2018

Woolwich wander


India complicit in Thoothukudi killings
March Against Turkish Occupation of Afrin
Youth Peace Walk by Korean-based cult
‘Be the Change’ Knife and Gun Crime
Windlesham Walk
Universal Credit rally & march


Universal Credit protest at Tate Modern
Stop Charter Flight to Pakistan
DPAC protest GTR rail discrimination


Solidarity with Gaza – end support for Israel
Barclays Stop Funding Climate Chaos
Zionists defend Israeli shootings


Israeli massacre of protesters
Erdogan, Time To Go
Grenfell Parliamentary Debate Rally
BNP say release Khaleda Zia
Manchester walk
Manchester marks the 1948 Nabka
Rochdale Canal
Capital Ring Greenford to South Kenton


Windrush Immigration Act protest
Windrush rally against Theresa May
Anti-Abortion March for Life
Women protest anti-abortion march
Croydon march for May Day
Lambeth Housing Tell Us the Truth
CAIWU Mayday Mayhem at Royal Opera
Precarious Workers – King’s College


Precarious Workers – Ministry of Justice
May Day Rally
May Day March on the Strand
Against Deportation Charter Flights
Lyme Disease epidemic


London May Day March meets

London Images

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There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images

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Dark Practices

June 15th, 2018

Outsourcing of staff is a dark practice used by many organisations to retain their own shining images while screwing their workers, who get the kind of management, employment rights and wages you would expect from least scrupulous of companies whose only concern is making profits while reducing their bids for the contracts to the lowest possible levels.

So it was perhaps appropriate that this protest by the IWGB which represents cleaners, security officers, receptionists, porters, gardeners and others who work at the University of London keeping its central services running outside Vice Chancellor Sir Adrian Smith’s graduation dinner should be one of the darkest that I’ve ever tried to photograph.

The protesters were in their usual good spirits, making a great deal of noise and calling for the university to employ them directly, for an end to zero hours contracts and to implement promised pay rises.

In the days of film, the only possibility would have been to use flash (or pay a fortune to light this as a film set.) But digital has shifted the possibilities, and I decided to work with what little available light there was, and just occasionally to supplement this with my handheld LED light source. This event soon showed the limitations of this, a Neewer CN-216, at least when running from rechargeable AA batteries, when the power drops off considerably after only a few minutes of use, though it continues to give some light for several hours. Most pictures were made without its help. The light will also run from a number of Sony and Panasonic batteries and Neewer also make high-capacity ones to fit which might improve the performance.

Almost all the pictures were made with the camera set at ISO 12,800 and with an exposure bias of -0.3 or -0.7 stops, and were still mainly underexposed, at shutter speeds mainly around 1/30 – 1/50s. Neither of the two lenses I was using was a fast lens, the 18.0-35.0 mm f/3.5-4.5 and the 28.0-200.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, and I often had to stop down a little for depth of field. I don’t own any very fast lenses, but hadn’t expected these Stygian conditions or might have replaced the 28-200 in my bag with the heavier Sigma 24-70mm and added the petite Nikon 20mm f2.8 for luck. Neither is particularly fast but a stop or two does make a noticeable difference.

But apart from being heavier, and running out at only 70mm when I often want something longer, somehow I just don’t trust the Sigma. It wasn’t a cheap lens, but I think isn’t quite sharp enough wide open to be worth carrying the extra weight. I bought it for use on DX where it perhaps does better.

The IWGB met outside Barbican station and marched to protest outside the dinner through the tunnel under the Barbican. There the lighting was much brighter and I was able to work at a lower ISO even using shutter speeds around 1/100s.

More pictures: IWGB protest at Graduation Dinner

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There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images

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Grenfell – One Year On

June 14th, 2018

A year ago, Grenfell Tower was still burning, and I woke up to hear the news on the radio. I didn’t know the block, though I’d walked through the area on various occasions. Often very different to now as I made my way to or from Latimer Rd station on my way to or from carnival.

I  lay in bed listening to the terrible news of people trapped, burning to death, some phoning to say goodbye to relatives and friends knowing there was little or no hope of rescue. Thinking of those too who had managed to make their way out, finding their way to the stairs through thick smoke and making their way down the stairs, floor by floor.  Many years before I’d walked down eleven flights from my room, but fortunately it was for a false alarm.

Once I got up I went to my computer and started looking things up about Grenfell. One of the first things I came to was the blog by some of the residents, the Grenfell Action Group. The post KCTMO – Playing with fire! which stated as inevitable that the fire would happen at some time was only the latest in a series of posts raising the residents concerns about fire safety in the black.

There are many other posts on the Grenfell Action Group’s blog worth reading, and which expose the cavalier attitude of the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea’s council – councillors and officers – to those in the housing it owns as well as the council’s TMO to which it delegated management. There is also an excellent recent long interview with Eddie Daffarn from the group published by Channel 4 News last month.

One of the first serious reports on the fire and its physical causes was ‘The Truth about Grenfell Tower: A Report by Architects for Social Housing‘, also available as a PDF, published just five weeks after the fire – and much of what it contains came from a public meeting they organised only 8 days after it, and recorded in edited version in the film ‘The Truth About Grenfell Tower’ which is also on the ASH page.

The official response has of course been much slower, with hearings only recently getting under way and dragging on for many months. Many see the deliberately slow pace of this and other public inquiries as being a deliberate tactic to allow the guilty to escape judgement, and it seems unlikely to unearth much that isn’t already known. Mainly it – and other major inquiries – allow the parties involved to spend huge amounts employing barristers whose task is often more to obfuscate than elucidate. And of course earn large fees in the process.

Probably the least useful document to emerge about Grenfell is the recent publication by the London Review of Books,’The Tower‘ by author Andrew O’Hagan. In ‘O’Hagan And His Ivory Tower‘ the Grenfell Action Group publish a letter of complaint to the LRB by one of the local residents interviewed by O’Hagan who was appalled to see how her input, and that of others, was misrepresented, and how inaccurate much of the essay was.

The LRB also produced a film, ‘Grenfell: The End of an Experiment?‘ by Andrew Wilks, which is considerably better, although still at times attempting to cast the council as the victims rather than the perpetrators. But at least we see some of the evidence, and not just the author’s recasting of it and can make our own conclusions.

Also well worth reading is the long and detailed refutation of O’Hagan’s essay by Simon ELmer of ASH, ‘The Tower: Rewriting Grenfell‘.

Grenfell of course isn’t just about Grenfell and those who died and the survivors who are still suffering – and will continue to feel its effects for the rest of their lives. Grenfell is a symbol of a much wider malaise in our society, and the attitudes of the wealthy towards the poor. It’s perhaps a curious and largely unnoticed coincidence that the first issues of the anarchist magazine Class War were actually produced in Grenfell Tower, Ian Bone’s first London home.

Tonight I’ll be on the silent march marking the anniversary – one of a programme of events. There are also marches taking place in other cities.

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There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images

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Horsing around London

June 13th, 2018

I don’t like police horses. It’s perhaps something that goes back to 1968 and those student demos I took part in, at at least one of which horses were deliberately ridden into crowds unable to move out of their way. But even though I’m sure that both the Met’s horses and riders are highly trained, every time I see them in action at protests there are times when the horses are clearly out of control. One in particular at this protest was proving my point, its rider spending most of her time shouting at everyone to get out of the way as it pranced and kicked out randomly.

Of course, it’s partly this lack of control that makes them effective, particularly in confined spaces and crowds, where large, heavy animals with only partly controlled movements are extremely frightening. If a vehicle with similar properties were to be built, it would quite rightly be banned. There is a place for horses, and they certainly can look impressive on ceremonial occasions, but they are a far too blunt and unpredictable force for crowd control.

March With The Homeless was an event by grass-roots groups which work on the streets with the homeless, providing them with food and shelter, filling the gaps that have become much more gaping in our society, thanks to successive governments failures to deal with problems. In my lifetime we have moved from a society where we cared for everyone and homelessness was rare to one where there are beggars on the streets and people sleeping all over our major cities.

When I was young, there were a few tramps. Some would knock at our door – a small semi on an outer London street – and ask for water, and my mother would give them a cup of tea and talk to them. They tramped to find seasonal work. We seldom had pennies to spare, but I think she would find a few for them. But it was only when in my twenties that I went to Paris that I first saw beggars – and at first I didn’t realise what they were – and people living on the city streets.

People squat unused commercial buildings – there are many around London – and set them up as unofficial community centres, offering free food (often scavenged or donated) and a roof, as well as friendship. They sometimes have problems with police, though officers often see they are providing a vital service and saving lives, police orders come to protect property and the officers enforce them. Owners get court orders and bailiffs come to evict, often helped by police even when legally their role should be to see that the bailiffs keep to the law.

The protest was a relatively small one, and taking place towards the end of the evening rush hour. It was unlikely to lead to any great public disorder, and would have gone ahead rather more smoothly with no police presence at all. The horses – and rather more on foot than was needed – were I think there in case the protesters had decided they wanted to march down the Mall to protest outside Buckingham Palace – as they had at a previous protest.

In fact they had other plans, though they were not letting the police know, wanting to go through Covent Garden and parts of the West End to finish at the squatted Sofia House on Great Portland St. There were a number of confrontations as police tried to get them to go a different way at several road junctions, though it was hard to see why, other than to try to show they were in charge, before the march finally came to a halt at the top of Haymarket, where the police horses were joined by others in the sculpture on the corner and the road was blocked by police and demonstrators.

There were some lengthy discussions between police and the march leaders, with the police insisting the march go down Haymarket, but the protesters intending to go forwards to Piccadilly Circus. I think eventually the officer in charge realised the futility of the police action, which was merely increasing the disruption caused by the march, and an agreement was reached with the march going on towards its destination. But by this time I was tired and hungry and went home.

More at  No More Deaths On Our Streets.

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There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images

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Weegee the Unknown

June 12th, 2018

Arthur Fellig, the self-styled ‘Weegee the Famous‘ is certainly one of the oddest figures in the history of photography and his best images of his New York have a remarkable raw power. I’ve tried to write about his on various occasions with varying success, and one of the great problems has always been to separate the facts from his inventions.

Writing a biography of the man would seem to be a rather Herculean task, and one not attempted before but it looks as if Christopher Bonanos’s ‘Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous‘ is a remarkable effort. I’ve not read the book, but there is an excellent long article about it in the New Yorker which I’ve just enjoyed by Thomas Mallon, Weegee the Famous, the Voyeur and Exhibitionist. As Mallon says, all we have had before is “a host of fragmentary recollections and the loudmouthed, unreliable memoir, ‘Weegee by Weegee’, published in 1961.” And of course the pictures, available in various books of which Weegee’s own ‘Naked City’, published 73 years ago is still possibly the best. But to go with Bonanos’s book you need a rather wider collection of his work since he refers to too many of this pictures to be included in the biography.

As well as various more recent publications, some listed in The New Yorker, there is also the web, and the ICP has quite an extensive archive of his work on-line. For a better short introduction I would recommend the 42 images at Amber, which also has a short version of his life. A Google Images search also throws up an interesting collection of pictures, though not all by Weegee. It also led me to the graphic novel, Weegee: Serial Photographer, by Belgian cartoonists Max de Radiguès and Wauter Mannaert, now translated into English and published last month, and the hour long “documentary” from 1993, The Real Weegee, not in great quality, but the few scenes I’ve dipped into have been, as one comment says, “Terribly produced and horribly executed.” As well as using his photographs it is based around footage of Weegee himself acting out an extremely silly script of a fake story of his life.

I’m never quite sure how much knowing more about a photographer’s life helps us to understand his work, though certainly in Weegee’s case it does answer some of the questions that have long bothered me about some of the pictures. There are also some photographers whose work would never have emerged into the art world had it not been for their biography. But sometimes I find myself thinking that I wish Minor White or Edward Weston had written less and had less written about them, and perhaps rather more about their actual pictures.

Snowy HE protest

June 11th, 2018

London felt more like Moscow, or rather how I imagine Moscow as I’ve never been there, as I made my way from the bus stop to Malet St. There was a wind that made it hard to walk and drove the snow into my face, and I’d slipped and almost fallen, just “catching myself and my camera bag before either hit the couple of inches of snow on the ground in Byng Place”. By the time I was in Torrington Place it was hard to see the crowd standing there with a large banner, having to wipe my glasses and my camera lens and trying to take pictures. It slackened off slightly and between squalls I managed to get one picture that wasn’t ruined. I always hope that I’ll get a nice arty result from rain and snow on the lens, but somehow it never seems to happen, and in any case I don’t think Alamy would like it.

One book on ‘Bad Weather‘ is probably enough for the whole of photographic history, and it remains in my opinion one of Martin Parr’s better titles. I even paid money for it, though my first edition seems to have gone missing. Being unsigned might make it something of a rarity!

Once I was in the crowd they afforded some shelter from the weather and things were a little easier and I could make the occasional picture without snow on the lens. And even some in which people’s eyes weren’t covered by snowflakes. Fortunately the snow didn’t keep on for too long, though there were some short and heavy showers as the march made its way towards Westminster.

This was a protest by the UCU, lecturers in higher education, with support from their students, and some of the placards reflected this. They wanted proper talks with their employers about pensions and pay, particularly as the universities had announced their intention to steal much of their pension funds. And they were joined by some FE staff from the London area who were on the first day of a two-day strike over their pay and conditions.

If you’ve ever tried walking backwards on snow or ice, you may appreciate the problem I faced on photographing the marchers, where most of the time you are walking backwards at the same speed as they walk while taking pictures. Usually the main hazards of this are lamp posts and kerbs, but snow does add a dimension. Fortunately once we got out of Russell Square and were onto busier roads (they would have been busier but for the marches) most of the snow there was now slush and rather less slippery.

It wasn’t a particularly long march, I think about two and a half miles, and I walked the whole way, though there were some long sections where I took no pictures when the snow came on again. I’d dressed well for the weather – with long-sleeved thermal vest and longjohns over my normal underwear, a cashmere scarf, thick socks and a woolly hat, as well as my usual wind and waterproof winter jacket, but I still got cold. Better gloves would have helped – but photographers need to be able to use their fingers. I had a pair of thin silk gloves under a thicker wool pair, which still allow be to operate the camera controls, but I think I need to research for a better solution.

I don’t usually cover indoor rallies, but went into Methodist Central Hall with the first of the marchers largely to sit in the warm. I spent around an hour or so in there, and took pictures of the speakers, who included some well-known trade unionists and Labour politicians, so the time wasn’t wasted, though the light wasn’t too good and I could have got a little closer. But I got nice and warm by the time I had to leave to cover another protest outside a short distance away.

HE and FE march for pensions and jobs
HE & FE rally for pensions and jobs
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There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images

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David Douglas Duncan (1916-2018)

June 9th, 2018

Vietnam was the perhaps the greatest war for photojournalists, the last war where photographers were allowed the freedom to work and report what they saw with relatively few restrictions. The coverage in magazines and particularly on TV in America had a powerful effect on public opinion, stimulating the anti-Vietnam War movement there and across the world.

While the iconic images by Nick Ut and Eddie Adams are seared into our minds, there were many, many others and so many fine photographers, many of whom made their names there. And too many who died there, as had Robert Capa years earlier in 1954 when we knew it as Indo-China and it was the French colonial power who were fighting and losing.

There were far too many photographers of note in Vietnam to mention them all, but two stand out for the body of work that they produced and also for the books they published. One was the greatest Welsh photographer of the century, Philip Jones Griffiths, with his ‘Vietnam Inc‘, published in 1971 and the second, a man twenty years older than Griffiths, was David Douglas Duncan, who died on Thursday. His ‘I Protest!‘ (1968) was also a denunciation of US policy in Vietnam.

Duncan had made his name as a photographer in an earlier war, in Korea, and his book ‘This Is War!’ is a classic of photojournalism which Edward Steichen called “the greatest book of war photographs ever published.” It was a view very much from the position of the fighting man, reflecting his own past in the Marines, aiming to see war through their eyes. He went on to photograph many other things, and to produce a remarkable document of the life of Picasso as a friend and resident photographer.

You can read more about this remarkable photographer and his life in the TIME Lightbox celebration of his 100th birthday in 2016 and in the New York Times obituary.

D Day and more

June 7th, 2018

Perhaps because the media have been so preoccupied with the anniversaries of the First World War there was little publicity this year about the anniversary of D-Day, June 6th 1944. Which perhaps explains why I’m only writing about it a day late, having seen some posts about it on Facebook late last night.

Although we now know much more about the iconic images taken by Robert Capa – and the myths that have grown up around them and are still being stated as fact, even by some who are perfectly aware of the investigation by A D Coleman and his team, a three year study concluded around a year ago, when I last wrote about it. I suppose they are following Capa’s example; his most famous dictum was ‘If you’re pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough‘ but perhaps the attitude that most shaped his life was to never let the facts get in the way of a good story, though to be fair the story that he wrote was intended more as a Hollywood treatment than real autobiography.

I don’t mean by this in any way to belittle Capa as a photographer. The investigation is one that I think paints others in a worse light than him, though he certainly went along with the deception. Nor do I in any way minimise the shock of landing on that Normandy beach; for the military who went as a team to do a job they had trained to do it will have been far less horrific than for a lone individual, and I doubt if many of us would have handled the situation there any better. If anything I admire him more for his courage in realising that he had to return as soon as he could and get on with doing the job.

I’ve fortunately never been under fire from an enemy army. The nearest I’ve come is having milk bottles thrown at me from six floors up on a council estate, beer cans and bricks thrown from far right groups and a firework rocket aimed horizontally at me early one Sunday morning by kids in Bermondsey that missed by inches. And a paintball which splatted on my chest from the black bloc, probably like other missiles aimed at nearby police. I’ve been spat at, threatened, cursed, pushed and punched by the right, assaulted by police… But generally I’ve chosen to avoid violent situations, and I know I would never be a good war photographer. So Capa and the others who have chosen that course deserve and get my respect.

I hadn’t meant to do more than briefly mention D-Day and Capa, but as so often I got a little carried away. On being reminded of the anniversary I took another look (as I do fairly often) at Photocritic International. A D Coleman’s latest post there has the rather uninformative title Spring Fever: Ends and Odds 2018 and is, as always, worth reading, with a typically acute analysis of the case of Naruto, a crested macaque who picked up David Slater’s camera and took a few pictures with it. Coleman explains and comments on the decision by the Federal Appeal Court that copyright law covers the actions and creations of humans, and only humans, as well as on the concept of animals having names.

The post also contains Coleman’s incisive comments on two other matters, one of which is also – like the names of animals – related to ideas of ‘identity’ and brings in Alfred Korzybski’s argument that we should beware of all variants of the verb to be, which is perhaps rather relevant to some current debates, and a second more specific to photography, and in particular the devaluation of photojournalism, something some previous guest posts on Photocritic International have explored. It’s perhaps ironic that while some photographs now sell for undreamed of amounts in the art market, the rates for photojournalism are actual cash terms are lower than they were 30 or 40 years ago, despite huge inflation. Or if not ironic at least pretty desperate for those trying to make a living.

Reclaim Love 15

June 6th, 2018

It was back in 2005 that I first met Venus CuMara, the founder of London’s Reclaim Love Pavement Party celebrated at Piccadilly Circus, a free and joyous event which she organised for 14 years. I didn’t go to the first of them, not hearing about it until after the event, but since then it has become a permanent date in My London Diary, though I think there has been the occasional year I’ve been out of London at the time.

Back in 2008 I wrote:

‘”We are O-I-L
We are Operation Infinite Love because we are…
One In Love”

says the web site, and OIL sets out to reclaim St Valentines Day from its commercial appropriation in the very temple of consumerism that is Piccadilly Circus, dominated by a giant wall of advertising neon. Appropriate too because at the centre is a statue of Eros.

Venus says “Love is the most important resource on this planet and that without love we are nothing.” The event culminated in the formation of a large circle when everyone present joins hands around the area, and there was lots of music, including that finest of street bands, the samba of Rhythms of Resistance, along with other musicians and sound system, as well as free food, free T-shirts and a great atmosphere.’

This year there was still much of the same atmosphere, people getting together and celebrating life, but there was a little sadness this year, as Venus could not be there, as she was in Indonesia and being treated for cancer, and the event was missing her huge energy and enthusiasm.

And people still joined hands in what Venus called a “Massive Healing Reclaim Love Meditation Circle beaming Love and Happiness and our Vision for world peace out into the cosmos” around Eros, repeating  the mantra as in previous years, “May All The Beings In All The Worlds Be Happy And At Peace”, and we all thought of Venus, seen below in one of many pictures I took of her at the 2015 event.

Back in 2016, when I was unwell and unable to attend, I wrote a post on this site the links to my coverage of the event in earlier years, . If you want to see more pictures from the earlier years this is a good place to start.

Pictures from this year: 15th Reclaim Love Valentine Party

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There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images

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Lambeth’s Fake Library

June 3rd, 2018

Lambeth Council have a problem with their libraries. Put simply they cost money to run but don’t generate any income. You might think that a Labour council would understand the idea of public service, would recognise the value of libraries to the community, but apparently not.

As someone who grew up in poverty I know from personal experience the value of a library, which opened a whole world to me. We did have a few books at home, I think most had come as presents or from jumble sales or passed down from relatives, but the weekly walk to the library with my siblings was an important part of our week. I was fortunate that only half a mile away there was a good library, part of a early 20th century civic centre, with swimming baths, library (and a later children’s library) and council offices. It’s perhaps a sign of the times that the site is now a shopping centre.

Lambeth Labour are turning the Carnegie Library in Herne Hill into a gym, which will serve the few in the community willing to pay for its services. The main room, where there are now some books and which we were allowed into, will no longer be a library but will be a hall for hire, although with very limited facilities.

Andrew Carnegie was born in Scotland, where his family struggled to make a living and emigrated to the USA when he was 13. Times were tough there too, and he started work there in a cotton mill in Pittsburg, working 12 hour days 6 days a week for the equivalent (allowing for 170 years of inflation) of around 38p an hour. A few years later he became a messenger boy for the Ohio Telegraph Company in Pittsburgh, impressing people there with his hard work and skill. While there, Wikipedia states:

Carnegie’s education and passion for reading was given a great boost by Colonel James Anderson, who opened his personal library of 400 volumes to working boys each Saturday night.[21] Carnegie was a consistent borrower and a “self-made man” in both his economic development and his intellectual and cultural development. He was so grateful to Colonel Anderson for the use of his library that he “resolved, if ever wealth came to me, [to see to it] that other poor boys might receive opportunities similar to those for which we were indebted to the noble man”.

It was a promise he made good on, after having made a small fortune in railways and following this a very large one in building up the US steel industry, selling his huge share in this to J P Morgan in 1901 for around $230 million, and devoted the rest of his life until his death in 1919 to philanthropy. By the time of his death he had given away around 90% of his wealth – a total of around $350 million, and the residue was given away in his will.

Carnegie was clearly a remarkable man, but Carnegie Steel was a ruthless organisation responsible for one of the bloodiest anti-union fights in history, the 1892 Homestead Strike, when his business partner (Carnegie was away in Scotland) ordered in Pinkerton Agents to protect the strikebreakers who had been brought in to keep the mills rolling. Ten men were killed and hundreds injured and the strike beaten, with the workers replaced by non-union immigrants.

It’s perhaps particularly appropriate to mention now that Carnegie Steel’s huge success owed a great deal to secret lobby of the US Congress by Carnegie to get favourable US trade tariffs for the steel industry, and that, according to Wikipedia Carnegie’s success was due to his convenient relationship with the railroad industries, which not only relied on steel for track, but were also making money from steel transport. The steel and railroad barons worked closely to negotiate prices instead of free market competition determinations.” Not for nothing did he and the others become known as “robber barons.”

Carnegie had already begun his philanthropy in 1879, building swimming-baths in his home town of Dunfermline and the first Carnegie Library there in 1880. Many educational establishments benefited from his wealth and he funded around 3,000 free public libraries throughout the United States, Britain, Canada and other English-speaking countries for a total of around $60 million. Carnegie provided the buildings and fittings, but the local authorities had to provide the land and agree to provide the money to maintain and operate them.

Its a promise that councils in Lambeth more or less kept, though the maintenance has often been skimped, from when the Grade II listed library was opened in 1906 until its closure in 2016 when it reneged on this commitment.

The closure for the building to be converted into a gym run by a private company led to a community occupation and a number of protests. We were there in February for a partial re-opening, of what the library campaigners described as a ‘fake library’, offering a very limited service on a temporary basis. They say it is being done a few months before May’s local elections in an attempt to defuse the closure issue politically.

Among those taking part in the protest were Unison safety inspectors. The library managers who were staffing the library for the opening attempted to prevent them from making an inspection, but they went ahead, and after we had been inside for 15 minutes called on everyone to leave as they declared the premises unsafe, with building work and gas cylinders obstructing the fire exit, unsafe temporary toilet facilities, unsafe heating and a lack of disabled access. They are advising union members to refuse to work there.

We left and the protest continued with speeches on the steps outside. One woman had brought out a book from the library, pointing out that there were no security measures in place to stop members of the public from stealing books.

More pictures: Lambeth Council opens fake Carnegie library

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My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

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