Lewisham history project begins by imagining lives lost to WW2 bomb

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An art installation that imagines the future lives of children killed by a World War 2 bomb will be revealed at the launch of a new initiative: ‘In Living Memory’, a people’s history of post-war Lewisham.

The aftermath of the V2 attack on New Cross Road which killed 168 people. Deptford Town Hall, now part of Goldsmiths, can be see in the background. Image courtesy of Lewisham Local History and Archives Centre.

The launch event on 26 February 2022 will feature a video response to Francis Spufford’s Booker-longlisted novel Light Perpetual. The novel was inspired by a real V2 attack in 1944 that destroyed a busy Woolworths store and the video will play across the ceiling, walls and floor inside New Cross Learning, part of the building erected over the Woolworths bombsite.

Artist Daniel Greenfield-Campoverde’s 30-minute installation, Fifteen Years Later (The Kiss), includes images of the tragic events of Saturday 25 November 1944 before piecing together video footage of London and Londoners as the decades pass from recovery and rationing to the swinging sixties and family life in the 1970s.

Accompanying the installation will be a pre-recorded reading from the opening chapter of Light Perpetual, which imagines the lives that five young people who died in the blast may have lived had they been able to grow up and thrive in south east London.

Francis Spufford, Professor of Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London, will then take part in an in-conversation with Goldsmiths historian Dr John Price, followed by a signing of the book, which published in paperback earlier this month.

Light Perpetual has been described by The Guardian as a “brilliant, capacious experiment with fiction” and “audacious meditation on life and death”. While set in a fictional south London borough, Spufford arrived on his premise while passing a plaque for the 168 people killed in the attack, close to Goldsmiths’ campus.

Professor Spufford said: “I was haunted by the difference between the tiny instant in which the children died, and the many decades in the life of London that they missed as a result.”

283 - 285 New Cross Road is now home to the library, archive, and community centre New Cross Learning and a branch of Iceland.

The launch event, In Living Memory (Prologue): Light Perpetual, marks the start of In Living Memory, a London Borough of Culture 2022 project initiated by Goldsmiths to enable local residents and community groups celebrate Lewisham’s diversity and heritage.

Seven community-led projects selected last year from around 70 expressions of interest are being supported by Goldsmiths so residents can undertake primary research into their chosen topic, gather the memories of local people and share them through cultural activities across 2022.

Community project leads will receive training, academic advice, access to the Goldsmiths campus and library, support from talented students and guidance to help them realise their creative ambitions.

Dr John Price, Senior Lecturer in the Department of History at Goldsmiths said: “The seven In Living Memory projects will uncover a range of exciting histories that are for, about, and by the people of Lewisham. People's History is an inclusive, democratic, and empowering enterprise, and we hope these projects will produce histories that are as diverse and inspirational as Lewisham itself.” 

In the run-up to the launch event, a new online portal will enable local residents to share memories or information relevant to the seven selected post-war Lewisham history projects:

  • Pioneers and protests by IRIE! dance theatre - inspired by the powerful legacy of the 1981 Black People’s Day of Action
  • Lewisham underwater: Remembering Lewisham’s 1968 floods by Quaggy Waterways Action Group (QWAG) and Lewisham Council
  • Tomorrow is built today: Lewisham Black-led community self-build by Tim Oshodi - the story of the fight against institutional barriers and racism to build eco-homes on Nubia Way, Downham
  • Where to, now that the sequins have gone? by Paul Green – uncovering the lost LGBTQ+ venues of 1970s-90s Lewisham
  • The story of social dancing in Lewisham and why it matters now by Shân Maclennan – a history of dance socials and those who danced at the Rivoli Ballroom, Broadway Theatre and other local venues
  • A Caribbean couturier in Lewisham by Joy Prime – the story of Joy’s mother as a lens to explore the textile legacies of Windrush Generation women
  • Birthing Lewisham by Anila Ladwa and Maternity Voices Partnership – capturing the radical and resilient experiences of collective family making by diverse communities, midwives, and care-workers across Lewisham’s post-war generations

Find out more about Goldsmiths, University of London’s involvement in Borough of Culture 2022 and further detail about each of the In Living Memory projects

The community memories portal will open at www.gold.ac.uk/community/boc