The BBC's 'Secret History of Our Streets' programme about Deptford has been much commented on. Crosswhatfields? points out that much of the ground was covered by Jess Steele in her 1993 book Turning The Tide, The History of Everyday Deptford. (Available via Amazon or any good library).The Deptford Dame pointed out that far from being the history of Deptford High Street, it was the history of Reginald Road. I do not accept that it was 'history' in any credible sense of the word. It is well worth reading the comments on both blogs.
It is not unfair to characterise the story told by John Bullman and Century Films as:
Settled white working class area full of salt of the earth types earning an honest crust destroyed and dispersed by nasty middle class Cholmonderly-Warner types who then shipped in people who have to be sub-titled on television because of their skin colour.
The reality is somewhat different.
Church records show Black and Asian people being baptised in Deptford in the first half of the 18th
Century. Anthony Black 'an Indian from Madras' was baptised in St Nicholas Deptford on 28 January 1704.The Deptford St Paul Baptism register records on 17 April 1737:
"John S[on] of John Greenwich (Negro) Joyner Butt Lane"The father may well be the same John Greenwich who was apprenticed to Deptford Joiner John Berry in 1730.
The Continuing Search for Black, Asian and Non European People in Early Modern Kent (pdf) contains details of many more baptisms, marriages and burials.
In the 19th Century waves of Irish, Italian, but particulary German immigrants settled in Deptford. After World War I locals with German names anglicised them. William Albert Schultz who had twice been Mayor of Deptford became William Albert Scott.
During World War II Deptford not only suffered during the Blitz, but was on the receiving of Hitler's V1
Flying Bombs and V2 Rockets: SE8 SE14 The makers of Secret History remarked on how the High Street emerged from the war unscathed, but glossed over the extent of damage in surrounding streets. After the war the Attlee government introduced rent controls to stop private landlords cashing in on the housing shortage. The rent controls made it uneconomic for the big insurance firms such as the Prudential to continue to be residential landlords. In Deptford the Evelyn family sold the housing between Evelyn Street, Edward Street, the railway and Abinger Grove to the council in 1963.
Last weeks programme told us that the Price and Ovenell families owned many of the houses in Reginald Road and gave viewers the 'impression' that the houses had been bought with the income from 2 or 3 market stalls. The programme makers' idea of research was apparently sending an assistant producer to the London Metropolitan Archives to 'discover' records extensively referred to by Jess Steele nearly twenty years ago. If they had employed a competent researcher they might have discovered a more likely source of family wealth. A basic, perhaps the most basic of all, research tool for anybody researching London in the last 200 years is 'The Times' Digital Archive 1795 - 1985. Search for Reginald Road Deptford and this pops up:
Art Thefts Organised
A judge at the Central Criminal Court was told yesterday that there appeared to be a highly organised group, possibly of several gangs stealing valuable paintings in England.
Earlier Judge Edward Clarke, QC had sentenced two people to three years' imprisonment after they had been convicted of dishonestly handling a Watteau painting "Les Noces" valued at £150,000. They were Joseph Edward Tyrell, aged 45, builder, of Conduit Road, Plumstead, SE, and Pamela Doreen Price, aged 39, a stallholder of Reginald Road, Deptford, SE.
The judge told them: "This sort of offence must be discouraged...whether the people who take part are rich and unscrupulous art dealers or people who form the necessary link in the chain of disposing of property of this enormous value."
On the direction of the judge, the jury found Mr Tyrrell and Mrs Price Not Guilty of burglariously entering Sir John Soane's Museum in Lincoln's Inn Fields, Holburn, and stealing the painting.
Detective-sergeant Hill said an organised attempt was made to steal the painting and pass it on for export.
In reply to the judge, Sergeant Hill said: "Inquiries in the last 18 months indicate it is not just the work of one highly organised gang but possibly of several gangs. The whole operation appears to be highly organized."
The prosecution said in a statement Mr Tyrrell was alleged to have said that Mrs Price had asked him to help her dispose of the painting.
The Times, Thursday, Dec 18, 1969; pg. 4; Issue 57746; col E
One of the most irritating aspects of the programme was the extensive use of stock footage, that had nothing to do with Deptford. Good Film Reseacher will find footage of just about every town and city in the UK from any decade in the last 100 years. Any professional film researcher would have pointed the programme makers in the direction of the 1972 Children's Film Foundation production Hide and Seek starring Gary Kemp. The script and the acting may be a bit naff, but it was shot on location in Deptford and shows the extraordinary extent of demolition in a way that The Secret History Of Our Streets completely failed to do. It is available on DVD from Amazon.com for $9.99 + shippin.
The Director of the programme told Broadcast Magazine that "We wanted these films to be a Who Do You Think You Are? for a street – but without the celebrities." Mr Bullman apparently fails to comprehend that Who Do You Think You Are? is based upon a solid base of professional research.
UPDATE: 9.40pm 13 June 2012
The Guardian has published a letter from Nick Taylor's son explaining how his father was stitched up by the programme.