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The loneliness wrought by social cleansing in London, my city.

October 19, 2013
Be Civil

A view of Pimlico

I was struck by the rank hypocrisy of Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, pontificating on the loneliness of people in old age, while shifting responsibility for their plight on their wider families, here. Watching TV news reports and interviews with elderly Londoners, it soon became apparent that the wider network of people – ‘the community’ – which might have been counted on before as some kind of informal support, has been comprehensively obliterated, both by the development of the economy and government policy to facilitate this development. Time and again, old Londoners spoke of their children and grandchildren living hundreds of miles away – Devon, Northampton and beyond. I know from experience that this dispersal of millions of working class Londoners from their city has not been wholly voluntary, or a ‘free choice’. It is a process of social cleansing which is continuing apace, sterilising what was once alive.

Upright

The real domination of capital… it makes lonely strangers of us all.

I envy those who live in the same areas their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents lived, alongside friends and relatives, and the history that they share. They can’t have that sense of being uprooted and not quite belonging anywhere… I don’t regard Hampshire as ‘home’. Then again, within the global and thoroughly commodified condition of the real domination of capital, we are all of us estranged from a world which has become foreign to us through wage slavery and the circulation of commodities – what Karl Marx called alienation, that nagging sense of exile and loneliness. That aside, I still have elderly relatives living in Westminster and South London and know of the long family histories in what I continue to regard as my city – brewery draymen, cleaners, domestic servants, lightermen, hansom cab-drivers, coal-heavers, hooligans… While I realise that I have a rose-tinted view of ‘old London’ – a symptom of the general alienation – I remain fiercely proud of that history.

London belongs to me…

I visit London whenever I can, sometimes on an ‘ancestral heritage trail’ around Pimlico, Wandsworth, the Strand, Battersea, Lambeth… Morden, Carshalton. The pints I’ve quietly enjoyed in the White Swan on Vauxhall Bridge Road, Pimlico, knowing that it was comprehensively wrecked by my grandad’s uncles, described in the recollection of an elderly cousin as ‘crop-headed wild men’ who steamed over from Nine Elms to avenge my great-aunt’s godfather, who had been beaten up in there. A glass raised to ‘the boys’.

Another jaunt took me to Salamanca Street in Lambeth, where my great-great grandfather was resident at the time of his untimely death in 1885. He had, two days before, started a new job as a hansom cab-driver (he had been a sawyer). His horse bolted in Palace Street, Lambeth, dashed past St. George’s Cathedral and crashed near a cabstand at the Elephant and Castle. Mindful of this sad story, I positioned myself at the top end of Salamanca Street, facing across the Thames to Millbank. I took a photograph. As I clicked the shutter a black cab shot into view. I clicked again, but it had been a one-off.

black cab

I couldn’t help thinking there was a little bit of magic at work there…

Edit 13th September 2014

In the months since this post it has dawned on me how this area of Salamanca Street must have been the context for the first meeting of my great-grandparents. My great-grandfather was 14 years old when his dad was killed in the hansom cab accident. The parents of his future wife lived at Gunnell’s Cottages, which were situated off Salamanca Street, at the back of the Doulton Pottery Factory. The Cottages and the top end of Salamanca Street were demolished to make way for the Albert Embankment, which I suppose would explain why my great-grandparents would ultimately make their life in Pimlico.

Pulford Street, where my grandad was born in 1914, survives as an entrance to the Tachbrook Estate in Pimlico. I remember taking part in a mass kickabout with a tennis ball here (about 1966ish); someone managed to kick it out of the courtyard into the Thames.

Pulford Street, where my grandad was born in 1914, survives as an entrance to the Tachbrook Estate in Pimlico. I remember taking part in a mass kickabout with a tennis ball here (about 1966ish); someone managed to kick it out of the courtyard into the Thames.

 

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