I should state that I’m not a huge fan of Robert Elms – legendary muso and BBC presenter. I find his style a little bit "tea and biscuits" if you know what a mean. A bit twee, a bit too ‘nice’. However, he knows his onions not just about music but also about London. His show on BBC London is practically given over to people’s stories of the city and many of his guests are proper diamonds. Things magazine alerts me to a site on BBC London Radio where he tells some of the stories he’s heard about London over the years and they are well worth a look. ‘The Black House’ a social centre at the bottom of Holloway Road is one such story. Michael X , a devotee of the Black Panther movement and an ex-bouncer for the slum landlord Peter Rachman [who is himself a fascinating character] ran a social club, come music-venue come cultural-space, for Afro-Caribbeans. White folk were not allowed to enter this funky den, being called ‘botrums’, after a brand of bleach, they were turned away at the door. Anyway, it transpires that this Michael X ran away to Jamaica with the daughter of a Tory MP [!] after he was charged for extortion and torture of a local businessman. Micheal X was subsequently hanged for murder on his homeland. Grizzly, great stuff.
I love stories like this. The [secret] histories of the tube are another good source of material for understanding the weaving of the fabric of the city. The Strand Station was used as a bunker during the war but also as a store for the Elgin Marbles. There’s loads more, go see…
One of the reasons these stories appeal to me is that they represent living histories. I pass the place on the Holloway Rd. where Michael X ran his club every day and I work next door to the old Strand Station [a colleague has even run a workshop down there..]. It would be nice wouldn’t it if people would photograph these places and add notes that could be geo-tagged in some way – perhaps through the OU project to map London I posted about before. Or enable x-y co-ordinates on flickr so we could get large scale maps of London to navigate it’s personal histories: to flag up the changes and how life of the city ebbs and flows as we pass through it. Oh, I’m off on one now…
[Elms via Things Magazine]
Flickr ‘Chinatown’ Group