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Revealing the secret history of Deptford Town Hall

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The young men of 1916 south London returned to life through a Goldsmiths re-enactment marking the 100th anniversary of Deptford Town Hall’s secret conscientious objector tribunals.

Eager young men queue outside Deptford Town Hall to enlist in the Great War.
Eager young men queue outside Deptford Town Hall to enlist in the Great War.

On Saturday, 17 September, Goldsmiths threw open the doors of its historic Deptford Town Hall Building for the capital’s largest festival of architecture and design – Open House.

349 people came to see the ornate, neo-classical features of Deptford Town Hall, and to learn about the history of conscientious objection in Deptford during the Great War through new research, archive images, talks and performances.

“I'm very glad that I have been made aware of important events in my local area - especially as I am a life-long Lewisham resident and granddaughter of a CO [Conscientious Objector].”

Visitor feedback.

Research by Goldsmiths historians revealed striking new details that paint a vivid picture of local life during one of the most turbulent periods in world history. As the Battle of the Somme raged in northern France, young men flocked to Deptford Town Hall to enlist. Others refused, and were called to the same building to explain why.

Actors from Goldsmiths student Acting and Filmmaking Society perform scenes from Prof Tim Crook's script 'Deptford Conchies', reimagining the secret trials that took place in the Council Chamber.

 

Some were Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or socialists. Some men were the only surviving sons, their family’s only breadwinner, with fathers dead and brothers already killed at war. Dismissed as ‘slackers and cowards’, many ended up in prison for their objection to serving.

Professor Tim Crook, Goldsmiths historian and head of the MA in Radio at Goldsmiths wrote a half-hour ‘courtroom drama’ that highlighted some of the conscientious objectors’ stories, and how the intrepid local press challenged the media ban on reporting them.

Professor Crook's play is part of a wider research project into south London’s conscientious objectors, conducted by Ellie Grigsby, who starts her MA History at Goldsmiths this month. She worked under the direction of Dr John Price, Department of History, to explore local archives and Imperial War Museum records and record the testimonies of objectors’ living relatives.

Find out more about what she discovered in the booklet produced for the day: Deptford Town Hall 1916

Actors from the Goldsmiths’ Acting and Filmmaking Society performed scenes from the play in the Town Hall's Council Chamber, bringing the ghosts of Deptford’s past to life.