Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

Battersea Rise literary connections

Posted in Battersea Rise literary connections by sheelanagigcomedienne on November 25, 2015

Battersea Rise runs from the corner of Clapham Common Northside up to  the Roundhouse pub and forms part of the south circular road. The literary connections are associated with the section from the junction at the bottom of the Hill which is slightly more salubrious. This is alluded to by Pamela Hansford Johnson one of our three authors who lived here as did John Walsh -journalist and author – whereas EM Forster once visited the house called Battersea Rise in which his paternal great grandparents had lived and which he commemorated in the book Marianne Thornton who was his patron and great aunt. image

In the Survey of London Battersea,which has become somewhat of a bible for those researching the area, dubiously states: No doubt for snobbish reasons residents usually gave their addresses as being in Clapham, Clapham Common or Wandsworth, but Battersea very seldom, unless Battersea Rise, a name with cachet. 

Battersea Rise Crossroads from my window by leonora Green

Leonora Green Crossroad from my window

I think that remark about Battersea residents, even the more recent ones,  about their address is wrong and subjective. It has been businesses that have often used Clapham in their title. I know that the naming of Clapham Junction in Battersea has caused confusion. This was noted at the time of the disturbances in 2011 when reporters referred to riots in in Clapham High Street opposite Clapham Junction station. The is a campaign about getting the name right.Battersea Junction – the ‘SW11tch’ campaign continues …

Battersea Rise


Battersea Rise House was bought in 1792 by Henry Thornton who was a banker and one of the celebrated Clapham Sect.  Much of this information has come from the Survey of London. Battersea – The Bartlett

The picture below is from a watercolour by FN Bursill

Battersea Rise house watercolour FN Bursil

Henry Thornton (1760-1815) was a philanthropist and economist. In 1780 he entered his father’s counting-house, and two or three years later became a partner, then he joined the bank of Downe, Free & Thornton, of which he was an active member until his death. In 1782 Thornton was elected MP for Southwark, and he held the seat until the end of his life. He was an influential member of the ‘Clapham Sect’, and a friend and supporter of William Wilberforce. In 1792 he bought a house at Battersea Rise on Clapham Common and lived there initially with his cousin William Wilberforce. It became his family home. He gave freely to charity.  In 1796 Thornton married Marianne Sykes.  Wilberforce went to live at Broomfield (later Broomwood) House on his marriage in 1797. Henry and Marianne had nine children including Marianne, who didn’t marry and was great aunt to EM Forster. Her sister Laura married  the Rev. Charles Forster. The marriage of Charles and Laura Forster produced Edward Morgan Llewellyn Forster, an architect, who married Lily and their only son was Edward Morgan Forster (1879-1970), novelist and man of letters. There was a mix up with the names at EMs christening who came to be known as Morgan. His  great aunt Marianne, known as Monie left him £8,000, which enabled him to go to Cambridge and be financially independent enough to exist as a writer. He repaid his debt by writing her biography in 1956.

Marianne Thornton

Two of Thornton’s brothers Samuel and Robert owned villas on Clapham Common Southside and Thornton’s aim in buying Battersea Rise House and the land surrounding it was to create a community of like-minded and high-minded friends. Two substantial houses, Glenelg and Broomfield later renamed Broowoood were built in the grounds, with Wilberforce moving into Broomfield House when he married in 1797.
Battersea Rise House became the centre of and meeting place for the Clapham Sect dedicated to, in Wilberforce’s words “the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners”. Thornton was the prime organiser and financier of the campaign and Wilberforce provided its heart and charismatic leadership. God and Mammon easily went hand in hand
 Thornton provided much of the movement’s organization and funding. Wilberforce, charismatic leader of the anti-slavery campaign.Battersea Rise remained in Thornton hands until 1907, hallowed as the shrine of the ‘Clapham saints’. They used to attend The Holy Trinity Church on Clapham Common which is close Trinity Hospice.
The Thornton house’s pièce de résistance was the library in the south-west position. Part of the 1790s additions ,it was higher and longer than the front rooms. It was latterly called the Pitt Room because of the Thornton family tradition that William Pitt designed it. The story is plausible, as Pitt was close to Wilberforce when the room was created, and interested in architecture.
As Battersea Rise evolved, it became an amalgam of cherished rooms,

possessions and Thornton family memories. The house has often been described as‘Queen Anne’.


The Library Battersea Rise House

The one unifying factor was the garden. In his essay of 1844,‘The Clapham Sect’, Sir James Stephen recalled it as the meeting point for the community of Clapham adherents and their children in debate or play, and depicted the key members issuing forth into it from their surrounding houses.
Battersea Rise House garden with flowers by bursill

Battersea Rise House by FN Bursill Wandsworth Museum

The fullest description of the Battersea Rise grounds comes from Dorothy Pym (1934), another descendant who visited often in the 1890s. She names many flowers and shrubs, and underlines the high standards of horticulture and maintenance: ‘the paths at Battersea Rise were as speckless and spotless as the carpets themselves’

The eldest son, Henry Sykes Thornton, became titular head of the clan, and continued the family’s evangelical connections, participating in

various religious initiatives in Battersea. But the guardianship of the family’s intellectual and moral traditions passed to his older sister, Marianne Thornton. In 1852 a rift occurred when Henry Sykes Thornton elected to marry his deceased wife’s sister, Emily Dealtry—technically still an illegality. It was this which led Marianne Thornton to leave Battersea Rise for Clapham village. He died in 1881, and his will allowed for his widow to retain a life-interest in the House, which was to be sold after her death, which happened in 1907.
When we bought our house in 1968 it was from Edwin Evans who only closed down in 2014.  A consortium headed by Edwin Evans who was a local developer/estate agent bought the twenty-two acres that were auctioned and plans were approved for the building of houses, a church and a school. It seems that it was only at this point that it was realised the importance of Battersea Rise House as the locus of the anti-slavery movement and a campaign was got up to save the house as a memorial.
Evans offered to sell at ‘cost price’ the house and two acres of land to Battersea Council, but because he was a prominent Conservative and the Council was in ‘Progressive’ hands, the offer was rejected and the demolition went ahead.
NPG 4698; E. M. Forster by Dora Carrington

by Dora Carrington

This is the background to the Battersea Rise House that EM wrote about. He understood the significance of home and house which is reflected in Howards End and in his attachment to his own home Rooksnest.
His book is based ‘almost entirely upon family papers’. Parts of Forster’s narrative call into question the family values. His decision to focus upon her rather than one of his more publicly famous ancestors enabled him to emphasise the private implications of public life and give pride of place to the inner life. She had lived there most of her life with her brother and his family till the rift occurred.
Christopher Tolley has written an account of this book. Marianne Thornton: E. M. Forster and Clapham Domestic Biography: The Legacy of Evangelicalism in Four ..
EM did not share his predecessor’s particular religious views and this is why he identified more with Marianne and her more down-to-earth attitudes. He also questioned inherited wealth, the wealth that he felt produced the imaginative poverty of Henry Thornton and his spiritual materialism.  EM was an avowed  Humanist which is, of course, one reason why he would appeal to me. E M Forster – British Humanist Association
Forster wrote about his Humanism in a famous essay entitled What I Believe. He was President of the National Council for Civil Liberties, now  Liberty. Forster called himself a humanist, and was President of the Cambridge Humanists from 1959 to his death. He was a Vice-President of the Ethical Union in the 1950s, and a member of the Advisory Council of the British Humanist Association from its foundation in 1963.
His work and viewpoint were summed up in a series on British Authors (Cambridge University Press) as:“the voice of the humanist – one seriously committed to human values while refusing to take himself too seriously. Its tone is inquiring, not dogmatic. It reflects a mind aware of the complexities confronting those who wish to live spiritually satisfying, morally responsible lives in a world that increasingly militates against individual’s needs. Sensitively and often profoundly, Forster’s fiction explores the problems such people encounter.” He shared many ideas with, and was friendly with, members of the Bloomsbury Group.
John Walsh, journalist and author of The Falling Angels – a memoir of growing up second generation Irish on Battersea Rise refers to EM Forster  when talking of Battersea Rise and contrasting it with his own view of it growing up there in the sixties. Sin sceal eile – it is another story in this trilogy of literary connection and Battersea Rise.

Last things and final flings

Posted in Last Things and Final Fling by sheelanagigcomedienne on September 17, 2015

Last things and final flings.

I came across the website  Silversurfers – Over 50s Lifestyle & News Website    I looked for the section on last things – end-of-life, death, funerals and memorials in their Lifestyle section – well where else!  Alas, there was none. Does it mean that the over fifties are not ready to face their mortality?

Standing post box coffin

Standing post box coffin

My every day work revolves around death, funeral arrangements, bereavement, giving talks about our ceremonies and pastoral visits to non-religious people who are dying. I have given thought to what I want when I am dying and for my funeral and what I most certainly do not want like embalming, a hearse, men in black, wreaths etc.

vintage hearse  Hearse Poppy's

The funeral business is still fairly conservative and many people who are planning a funeral go along with what’s being offered in those very busy and stressful few days in which to organise one.

We all need to be open to talk about death and to let those who will be making decisions for us and with us to know our wishes and thoughts on this crucial and inevitable phase of our life. I think that everyone should be concerned to let their next of kin know what are their end-of-life and funeral wishes. It would make things easier for them knowing that they were carrying out your expressed wishes and would confirm for other people that what was happening was what you wanted.

Our generation is very aware that we are living longer than previous generations and what might be in store for us as medical science intervenes. We are aware of diseases like cancer, Alzheimers and of the proliferation of residential care homes for elderly people. The majority of us do not want to die in hospital but it is where the majority of us die. I believe that it since the inception of the NHS after the war that these changes occurred. People mostly died at home and were cared for by family and friends after their death before the Funeral Directors took over this role. We have to start taking back control from those to whom we have handed it over.

We also know that some older people are breaking records and achieving things unheard of for our own parents and grandparents. We enjoy cruises, adventure holidays, attend UEA groups, book clubs, theatres, cinema and concerts, join choirs, embark on new hobbies, go fishing and have embraced the internet and new technologies. But we also need to face our mortality and plan for that too.
There are some great websites on this. One is Final Fling, founded by Barbara Chalmers, after attending a few bad funerals. It is for “people who like to be in control of life and death decisions” It suggests “Sort your paperwork, make plans, leave instructions, tell your story. Save others the bother. Know your options and stay in charge. And meantime, live life to the full”. Final Fling

fun funeral clowns
There is the very informative and entertaining one, founded by Charles Cowling, The Good Funeral Guide
It has a useful section plan and structure a non-religious ceremony.


The Natural Death Centre is helpful The Natural Death Centre. It has information on suppliers of crafted coffins eg. Respect Everybody Shrouds and

I think that researching and talking about the possibilities of what can happen at a funeral long before one’s time is fascinating. I do not like the standard coffin with ornate metal-looking plastic handles that are not even designed to be handled. To me it is another example of the fakery of funerals. I have a cardboard coffin in the attic. I would like to have a coffin coffee table but my family wouldn’t. I did once contact IKEA asking if they would consider producing a flat pack coffin. The reply told Madam that ‘the item she referred to is not one that is in our the future product plans’.

We do not have to have a funeral at all but could have a memorial ceremony instead. All FDs should be able to oblige but Poppy’s Funerals in London specialise in them.Alternative Funerals – Simple Cremation – Poppy’s Funerals …

Transport options for those who would like to eschew the black hearse and limousines are vans, estate cars and motorcycles and vintage lorries

lorry hearse  motorcycle hearse

One of the first changes that I would love to see happening is that non-religious funerals should be happening in people’s homes, gardens in residential homes, in pubs, community venues, hotel function rooms, gardens etc with a small group going to the crematorium for a brief committal and returning to the venue and reception afterwards.
This way there is not the time constraints of the crematorium, more scope for slide shows, music and speakers in a place that is not solely for the purpose of disposal of dead bodies by cremation. So often people do return to a pub or hotel for funeral ‘afters’ (it is not a wake!)

fun funeral  fun facebook funeral

So, I think that we need to be talking about what we would prefer to happen and not accept the traditional sombre Victorian black funeral derived from a standard Church of England service or a Catholic mass. I think that all funerals should be about celebrating the person and include their lifestory and thoughts and memories of them from family and friends. There should be some humour in funerals as there is in life. A good funeral will include laughter as well as tears and sadness. Those attending should learn something new about the person who had died – their home and family life as well as well as their work life and their social life and interests.

It is good to hear about the person from different perspectives from spouses, children and grandchildren, colleagues and friends. It is often said to me that the person who has died would have appreciated the service. The obvious response is that we should be holding such dedication ceremonies while people are alive! I like to collect memorable phrases from funerals that I call ‘Oh bits from obits’ eg “ After father died mother and I enlisted in the Indian Army in Gwalia”. or “When Lawrence was told by his instructor to get a feel for the pedals he duly went down on his knees to touch them” ‘Oh bits from obits’.

funeral cupcakes   funny funeral cake

I hope that some of you are ready to start the conversation on last things. So, Silversurfers let’s get creative, have fun and get talking about how you want your final fling.

Proper Palliative Care means Assisted Dying for terminally ill people who want to take control over their life and death

Posted in Assisted Dying is part of true palliative care by sheelanagigcomedienne on September 17, 2015

Demo aas dying closerJeanne at demo

Those of us pressing for a much needed change in the law for the humane treatment of terminally ill people were out in force and represented the 80% of people who are in favour of the need for parliament to legislate as things are unfair and muddled now. The result was so disappointing.

I unexpectedly met some people I knew at the demonstratio One was Allison the mother of a baby I named called Arno. I also got into conversation with a lovely Irishman suffering from motor neurone disease who was there with his wife and son.

Dignity in Dying advocates a change in the law on assisted dying. We believe that, subject to strict upfront safeguards, the law should  allow terminally ill, mentally competent adults to request life-ending medication from a doctor. The dying patient would then have the choice to self-administer that medication at a time that was right for them.

A change in the law on assisted dying would not lead to more deaths, rather it would lead to less suffering for those dying people who want the choice to control how and when they die. This change is reflected in Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill which was first tabled in the House of Lords in June 2014. Falconer

Lord AveburyLord Avebury who is an active supporter of the bill said: I have been in Parliament for over fifty years and have worked on many important issues. To have the opportunity to legalise assisted dying is one of the most crucial parts of my political career. Due to my health I am sometimes unable to participate in certain debates that go on late but the Assisted Dying Bill is an obvious exception!
I am pleased that it has so far been a great success; it was passed unanimously through Second Reading, and was constructively amended during the first day of Committee Stage. The House of Lords received much praise for the way it has so far conducted the debate, and my colleague Lord Falconer quite rightly won the Spectator’s 2014 Peer of the year award.
I attended an excellent panel discussion that was organised by St Luke’s Church with Lord Falconer and the wonderful children’s author Judith Kerr last year and it was attended by Jane Ellison and I was hopeful that she would support the bill but alas.The tiger who came to teaJudith Kerr

The Law that was introduced by Bob Marris as a private member’s bill would if enacted:

Result in fewer dying adults – and their families – facing unnecessary suffering at the end of their lives, subject to strict upfront safeguards, as assessed by two doctors.
Bring clarity to an area of the law that is currently opaque and thereby provide safety and security for the terminally ill and for medical professionals.
Neither legalise voluntary euthanasia, where a doctor directly administers life-ending medication nor act as a slippery slope to do so.
Protects anyone who doesn’t have a terminal illness, including elderly and disabled people, by not in any way affecting the law that makes it a criminal offence to assist ending their lives.
Above all it will give dying adults peace of mind that the choice of assisted dying is available if their suffering becomes too great for them in their final months of life.
Without a change in the law, terminally ill patients will continue to take decisions without adequate safeguards, whether by travelling to Dignitas to die, ending their lives themselves or being illegally helped to die by doctors.

The T shirt image

People who are terminally ill and dying who are under the care of a hospice or Mac Millan Nurses at home have access to  morphine that they are given to relieve their pain and have better palliative care precisely because of the place where they are dying and recognition that their are dying.

But true palliative care for the dying should include self administered mediation.

Palliative care: The last hours and days of life – UpToDate

Patients in the last days/hours of life often have unrelieved physical suffering, as well as significant emotional, spiritual, and social distress. Recognizing that a person is entering the dying or terminal phase of their illness is critical to appropriate care planning, with a shift to comfort care. 

Despite the benefits of palliative and hospice care, many patients in the terminal stages of a serious life-threatening illness die in settings where they do not receive care designed to address suffering in the last hours of life. Recognizing that a patient is dying before his or her last week of life is associated with fewer deaths in the hospital and more deaths in a preferred place. Patients enrolled in hospice programs are also less likely to die in the hospital.

With the exception of patients who have a precipitous, unexpected fatal event (eg, massive hemorrhage), certain signs are usually present when patients are within days of death. A checklist for identifying actively dying patients is presented in a table, and is applicable to a variety of clinical conditions

Once a patient has begun the transition to the actively dying phase, the goals of care should shift toward maintaining physical comfort, and alleviating emotional, spiritual, and social distress for the patient and family. Among the issues that are important to resolve are preferences for location of care and preferences for limits on invasive or aggressive resuscitative therapies that often are ineffective in a patient with end stage disease.

Discussions about cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) are of vital importance for patients with a terminal illness, and preferably these discussions should take place prior to the active dying phase. For patients who are actively dying from a terminal illness, CPR constitutes a non-beneficial or harmful and inappropriate medical treatment. Nonetheless, it may be an intervention that is expected by patients and their families, and as such, it should be addressed through proactive communication.

People are not getting the humane palliative care they WANT. I hear the distressed stories all the time from families. We have lost this opportunity and now, it seems, that it will be through the courts that progress will be made because the out of touch, paternalistic and craven MPs who voted against this including many Labour ones.

Battersea Power Station’s sky pool and letters from 1987

Posted in Battersea Power Station's sky pool and letters from 1987for community groups by sheelanagigcomedienne on September 7, 2015


When I saw this crazy gimmicky pool which is part of the Battersea Power Station development I checked out these two letters from 1987 from my archives which I had out for the 1000 Londoners film crew.

These letters are from 1987 when I served on two somewhat farcical and short-lived  committees organised by Wandsworth Council Planning Department. They had long titles.



COMMUNITY SPACE STEERING GROUP        and the other was


The Community Space Steering Group letter

The Community Space Steering Group letter

One of Brian Barnes posters

One of Brian Barnes posters

We used to joke about where our COMMUNITY SPACE was going to be – attached to one of the  walls or suspended between the chimneys. Maybe I should send this to the developers and make a claim for the sky pool for the community.

I recalled getting a call from Ernest Rodker who said: ‘ I am ringing about Battersea Power Station’ and I thought he was going to suggest that we should occupy it. I said:’Ernest, we could never heat the place’.

I found this funny piece on the Margaret Thatcher Foundation website from 1988 when they made a big fuss of the launch of the development under Broome who was the chairman of Alton Towers.image

Margaret Thatcher Foundation

Remarks re-naming Battersea Power Station | Margaret Thatcher …
Thatcher’s laser launch

Mrs Margaret Thatcher sparked a four-engine fire alarm yesterday at the naming of the project to redevelop Battersea Power Station, south London, as the biggest tourist attraction in Europe.
Armed with the biggest laser gun in Britain, she fired a beam which detonated two mid-air maroons and dropped a white curtain to reveal the building’s new name, picked out in flame, while purple smoke plumes billowed from two of the 337 ft chimneys.
The explosions caused four fire engines, a fire boat, an emergency rescue tender and several ambulances to race to the scene after 999 calls from alarmed local residents.
The power station, styled by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, is the biggest brick building in the world. Its main hall could accommodate a 22-storey building or engulf St Paul’s Cathedral with ease.
Mr John Broome, chairman of the Alton Towers leisure park, north Staffordshire, has taken five years since the power station closed to develop his scheme for its regeneration.
When completed in 1990 it will include 200 rides, shows and exhibitions, London‘s biggest ice rink, restaurants, shops and conference facilities.
Outside there will be acres of pleasure gardens and “white knuckle” rides. The complex will be linked by windowless bullet trains to Victoria Station.
Mrs Thatcher, wearing a white helmet, toured the eight floors of the gutted building, appearing on rusty iron platforms and plywood walkways high above her audience.
She earlier hailed Mr Broome as a man of enterprise and vision. However, just as she was saying that the building could contain 500 jumbo jets, one passed unhelpfully overhead.
Suggestions for the name of the building have included Alton Towers II, Tower Inferno, the Battersea Powerhouse and South Chelsea Fun Palace. However, in spite of the flamboyance of the launch, it is to be known simply as The Battersea, London.
Mr Broome promised that his project, already employing 1,000 on site and 4,500 jobs in future, would be opened at 2.30pm on May 21, 1990.
Mrs Thatcher said: “We have seen the past today. We will be back again in two years time to see the future.”

I will highlight

When completed in 1990 it will include 200 rides, shows and exhibitions, London’s biggest ice rink,

The complex will be linked by windowless bullet trains to Victoria Station.

Suggestions for the name of the building have included Alton Towers II, Tower Inferno, the Battersea Powerhouse and South Chelsea Fun Palace. However, in spite of the flamboyance of the launch, it is to be known simply as The Battersea, London.

Mrs Thatcher said: “We have seen the past today. We will be back again in two years time to see the future.”

1000 Londoners video of me number 97 and pop up cinema at Patmore 19th September 2015

Posted in Jeanne Rathbone video 1000 Londoners by sheelanagigcomedienne on August 27, 2015

Here is a video of me from 1000 Londoners produced by Chocolate Films. I had encountered Chocolate Films when they screened The optimist of Nine Elms from 1973 which starred Peter Sellers and was followed by a fascinating Q&A with the director  Anthony Simmons

Me, Anthony Simmons director of The Optimist Of Nine Elms and Joan at the screening at the Battersea Power Station site.

Me, Anthony Simmons director of The Optimist Of Nine Elms and Joan at the screening at the Battersea Power Station site.


It was very enjoyable working with the young film makers most of whom were A level students. Although this is part of the 1000 Londoners it is also part of their NINE ELMS past and present. Number 96 is of Brian Barnes, Battersea’s own muralist and fellow campaigner concerned with Battersea’s heritage.

Chocolate Films organised an outdoor pop up cinema on Saturday 19th September in the evening of the morning that we had the unveiling of the plaque to Hilda Hewlett.

Hilda Hewlett and Charlotte Despard from the mural

Hilda Hewlett and Charlotte Despard from the mural

The large inflatable screen was showing a still of Brian Barnes mural ‘Battersea in Perspective’ which, of course, featured Hilda and and one of the planes from 1911 when she had her gained her pilot’s licence – the first British women to do so.

Nine Elms popup cinemaPop up cinema

It was a balmy evening with a purple/pink sky. I was interviewed again about the campaigning then and now. I said I don’t like the word apathy to explain disengagement and feelings of powerlessness.
One obvious difference is the use of technology and videos. I mentioned the recent engagement of young people in the Scottish and Irish referenda and the JC election as Labour leader a reason for hope and referred to the Suffragettes and Femen tactics.

Sumi Tikaram, her friend and I at the pop up cinema

Sumi Tikaram, her friend and I at the pop up cinema

Met Sumi Tikaram at both events.
There were the 4 local 1000Londoners films of Brian, Gabriel, Ted and Jeanne. Then after interviews the London Calling shorts- interesting, moving but subjects were nearly all male. The Two Dosas was very funny.

The young filmakers and I at the pop up cinema on the Patmore 19th September 2015

The young filmakers and I at the pop up cinema on the Patmore 19th September 2015

We finished a busy but interesting day with a drink at the Duchess which is opposite the Power Station which is usually quiet on a Saturday – only us three and had a lovely chat with the two bar women.

Pamela Hansford Johnson author of 27 novels was born in Battersea Rise

Posted in Pamela Hansford Johnson Battersea born novelist by sheelanagigcomedienne on July 15, 2015

Pamela Hansford Johnson was born in 1912 and lived at 53 Battersea Rise SWII (now occupied by Tim’s Kitchen on the ground floor) which  is just around the corner from Lavender Sweep where I live.

I recommend her as a worthy recipient of  The BATTERSEA SOCIETY blue plaque scheme. There are still very few women commemorated in this way so local amenity/ history societies should be trying to redress this.

PHJ was the daughter of Amy Clotilda née Howson, an actor and singer with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, and Reginald Johnson, a colonial administrator who worked as chief storekeeper on the Baro Kano Railway in what is now Ghana. Pamela Hansford JohnsonHe was frequently absent, and she grew up with her mother’s family of actors and theatrical administrators. Her mother’s father, C E Howson, worked for the London Lyceum Company, as Sir Henry Irving’s Treasurer. Their home, she described in the first of the autobiographical essays contained in her book Important to Me, as “a large brick terrace house”on Battersea Rise. The house had been bought by her grandfather in the 1880s, a time when “it looked out on fields where sheep might safely graze. But by the time I was born, the railway had come, and the houses had been built up right over the hills between it and us. Not pretty, I suppose.” I think her description of the house looking out on ‘fields where sheep may safely graze’ was somewhat fanciful for 1880. 53 Battersea Rise home of PH Johnson Most commentators claim she was born in Clapham, including her biographers. We are used to such confusions and some of us get more irritated than others about this! Of course, Battersea Rise is close to Clapham Common and, with its leafy, rustic connotations, is why our station got misnamed. There is a  contemporary book written by John Walsh -‘The Falling Angels’ 1999 – who lived at 8 Battersea Rise, SW11. The house is at the corner of Lavender Sweep which, to him, looks like the prow of a ship. He describes a very different place in the 60s – Battersea was a dump, a service area for Clapham Junction: the busiest railway junction in the country. It was a stridently working-class and immigrant neighbourhood then, a tough, coarse-grained part of inner suburbia.  

This delightful painting from 1934 by Leonora Green which resides in the Wandsworth Museum is looking up Battersea Rise  towards Clapham Common but from the other side. Nando’s chicken restaurant is on the corner opposite the Northcote pub and 53 Battersea Rise is just out of view.

Wandsworth Museum; (c) Wandsworth Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Battersea Rise Crossroads from my window by Leonora Green

Pamela attended Clapham County Girls Grammar School, where she excelled at English, art history, and drama. walsingham In 1953 Coronation year it was noted in QUONDAM, the old girls/teachers association that “One of its most memorable occasions was the visit by the former 1920’s pupil, writer & novelist Pamela Hansford Johnson, wife of Lord C.P. Snow.” In 1959 she wrote a poem for the school’s golden jubilee.

After leaving school at the age of 16, she took a secretarial course and later worked for several years at the Central Hanover Bank and Trust Company. She began her literary career by writing poems, which were published by Victor B. Neuburg in the Sunday Referee. In 1933, Pamela wrote to Dylan Thomas, who had also been published in the same paper, and a friendship developed. Marriage was considered, but the idea was ultimately abandoned. His drinking habits were already evident.

Pamela and Dylan Thomas

Pamela and Dylan Thomas

Her first novel, This Bed Thy Centre, was published in 1935 when she was 22. The preface to the latest edition is by Zoe Fairbairns. It was set in a south London area. Her ‘neighbourhood’ has a Woolworth’s, a draper’s, a hairdresser’s offering “Perms from One Guinea”, and a set of traffic lights which, recently installed, are an innovation and a talking-point: passers-by discuss which of the colours they like best. There’s a Library, with a capital L and a no-better-than-she-ought-to-be librarian, and cafes where you can enjoy “a hearty meal of kidneys on toast” and where the workers push barrows, pull pints or work shifts in the candle factory”. Out on the Common, hot gospellers with bands and hymn-books compete for public attention with the communist orator and the man selling corn plasters.

Apparently, it was Thomas who suggested the title from Dante. However, PHJ had originally called it Nursery Rhyme and admitted to second thoughts about allowing him to influence her into making the change as the book is about the transition from school to the world of work and marriage and she weaves references to them in the novel. it is claimed that the book was banned from Battersea Rise Library. There is no record of such a library – probably a small private lending library as our main one built in is on Lavender Hill and I checked with the history librarian  and they had no record of a ban. (the librarian told me she had already been asked that when the Clapham Library was closing down, ( now Omnibus Art centre) and had held an exhibition in 2012 dedicated to PHJ and opened by her daughter Lady Avebury. (She also told me that publications were not banned but declined eg. The Blackshirts magazine!)

Wendy Pollard has written the first biography of PHJ which was published in 2014 and with the approval and cooperation of her children Lindsay Avebury, Andrew Stewart and Philip Snow using unpublished diaries and letters. I ordered mine from Battersea Library as I thought it proper that they should have a copy of one of their acclaimed Battersea born and bred novelists. The first chapter is entitled A Clapham Childhood which rankled somewhat. However, I was delighted when I read the first paragraph: Some years ago, idling  while on holiday  in a second-hand bookshop in Galway, I came across a penguin edition of a novel called Too Dear for My Possessing. The name of the author, Pamela Hansford Johnson …. This was serendipitous as I have just returned from a trip home to Galway.

Pamela HJ biog by Wendy pollard

In 1936 she married an Australian journalist, Gordon Neil Stewart. Their son Andrew was born in 1941, and a daughter Lindsay, Baroness Avebury, born 1944 who lives in London. Pamela and her first husband Neil were divorced in 1949. In 1950, Pamela married her second husband, the novelist C. P. Snow, later Baron Snow. Their son Philip was born in 1952.

Pamela HJ and Snow wedding

The Panmacmillan website states: She wrote 27 novels. Her themes centred on the moral responsibility of the individual in their personal and social relations. The fictional genres she used ranged from romantic comedy (Night and Silence, Who Is Here) and high comedy (The Unspeakable Skipton) to tragedy (The Holiday Friend) and the psychological study of cruelty (An Error of Judgement). Her last novel, A Bonfire, was published in the year of her death, 1981. She was a critic as well as a novelist and wrote books on Thomas Wolfe and Ivy Compton-Burnett; Six Proust Reconstructions (1958) confirmed her reputation as a leading Proustian scholar. She also wrote a play, Corinth House (1954), a work of social criticism arising out of the Moors Trial, On Iniquity (1967), and a book of essays, Important to Me (1974). She received honorary degrees from six universities and was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

They became a celebrated literary couple, travelling widely, and being fêted in academic circles in the USA and the USSR, but also attracting adverse attention from the satire movement emerging in Britain in the 1960s. I like the photo with Olivia Manning and appreciated quotes from her diary mentioning her new literary acquaintances – Stevie Smith, ‘a toothy pleasant girl’ ,Graham Greene, ‘looking clever and inhibited’.

Pamela wearing mantilla with Olivia Manning

Pamela wearing mantilla with Olivia Manning

I enjoyed PHJ’s  description of her Labour Party activism when she was married to Neil Stewart- ‘ Tomorrow there is a Party meeting. Unconstitutional. Point of Order. Refer it back to the G.M.C. That knocks the glory out of you for the time being’. This reminded me of John O’Farrell’s book Things can only get Better when we used to do our little roadshow at conference when I sang with the Battersea Labour Singers.

PHJ received the CBE for services to literature in 1975. C. P. Snow died in July 1980. Less than a year later, Pamela died in London.

A review of the biography by Hilary Spurling in the Spectator Literature’s least attractive power couple » The Spectator  claims that it ‘takes this spiky novelist – and her dreadful husband, C.P. Snow – at their own inflated valuation. She continues ‘The senior partner was initially Pam Johnson, a rising literary star, 28 years old and happily married with five novels under her belt and a fiction column on the Liverpool Post, when she singled out a novel by an obscure Civil Service scientist called C.P. Snow. He responded with a fan letter assuring her she could if she wanted ‘become quite easily the best woman writer in the world’.

Lindsay Avebury, responded to this review with a letter to The Spectator:

Sir, Hilary Spurling’s vituperative article (Books, 20 September), claiming to be a review of Wendy Pollard’s biography of my mother, Pamela Hansford Johnson, was mainly an expression of the writer’s loathing of my stepfather, C.P. Snow….

My mother should be remembered as Pamela Hansford Johnson, novelist, critic and Proustian scholar, rather than as Lady Snow.

Lindsay Avebury
London SE5

Lindsay Avebury is married to Lord Avebury who is an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society and a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association. In 2009, Lord Avebury was awarded (with Dr Evan Harris MP) the Secularist of the Year  Award in recognition of his role in the abolition of the common law offence of  blasphemous libel. More serendipity for me!

I liked this appraisal of the biography from website Heavenali  Pamela Hansford Johnson – her Life, Work and Times 

‘Although I developed some sympathy and a lot of respect for PHJ a woman who continued to work hard in her later years despite ill-health – I wasn’t always sure I would have always liked her much as a person, but C P Snow, I have to say I thoroughly disliked….. I found their relationship to be more than a little uncomfortable, she so obviously adored him, even while recognising his faults, I just wonder if he was worthy of her really, it certainly appears that the two were sexually incompatible. CPS was self-promoting, egotistical, vain and frequently absent, and she was almost certainly a better writer than he was, while he was not quite the genius he obviously believed himself to be. Wendy Pollard shines a most fascinating light on this rather oddly disjointed literary union, which is totally absorbing.’

I, too, believe that Pamela Hansford Johnson should be celebrated more and I think that with her books being available again that she will be re-appraised and enjoyed by a new, younger generation who appreciate novels by women who were writing in the last century about the changing times they lived through.

I would hope that Pamela Hansford Johnson will be commemorated by The Battersea Society Blue Plaque Scheme on her previous home 53 Battersea Rise London SW11 on the south circular. I shall certainly be pleading her case. Welcome to the Battersea Society websiteBattersea Matters

Anna Parnell – a great Irishwoman and role model who should be celebrated.

Posted in Anna Parnell a great Irishwoman by sheelanagigcomedienne on May 28, 2015

Anna Parnell

Anna Parnell is one of my favourite Irish Nationalist heros along with Hanna Sheehy Skeffington. We went to a play entitled The Ladies Cage in 2007 in the Finborough Theatre which was about Anna and women’s role in Irish political life at that time. The title referred to her regular bulletin to the Celtic Monthly of her visits to the Ladies’ gallery in the House of Commons when she lived in London for a spell studying art and at the time her brother Charles had become MP for Meath. The play was by a group called Scary Little Girls and the play written by Maureen McManus with input from Margaret Ward, Irish women’s historian. We enjoyed the play and as I was leaving the theatre I noticed Mike Leigh beside me and I asked him if it gave him any ideas for a film!

As usual I have used various sources for this post. This is from Anna Parnell – Our Wicklow Heritage

Anna Parnellby Rosemary Raughter.

Anna Parnell was born at Avondale near Rathdrum on 13 May 1852, the tenth of eleven children of John Henry and Delia Parnell. Her father died suddenly when she was seven years old, and the Parnells found themselves in much reduced circumstances. The heavily indebted Avondale estate, inherited by Anna’s thirteen-year old brother Charles Stewart Parnell, was let, while the family moved to a series of rented homes.

Like most girls of their class at the time, Anna and her elder sister Fanny were educated at home by a succession of governesses. They were, however, fortunate in that their American mother permitted a degree of independence rare at the time, and both girls were encouraged to read widely and to pursue their studies in literature, history and politics. In particular, Anna and Fanny shared with Charles a keen interest in Irish nationalism, and at the age of sixteen Fanny published her first poems in the Fenian newspaper, the Irish People. She became a prolific author of verse, much of it on patriotic themes, and her most famous poem, ‘Hold the harvest’, published in 1880, was   described as the ‘Marseillaise of the Irish peasant.’ However, her health was poor and, though politically committed, much of her short life was spent out of Ireland.

New York Ladies’ Land League

With the outbreak of the Land War, Anna moved from being an observer of political events to a participant. The Irish National Land League was founded in 1879, with Parnell as president, and the aim of securing ‘the land of Ireland for the people of Ireland’ by a programme of peaceful and constitutional action. In the short term, however, a series of poor harvests and falling agricultural prices left many tenants facing eviction for non-payment of rent, and in 1880 Parnell arrived in New York to seek Irish-American support for the campaign and to relieve hardship. Anna and her sister Fanny were already in the US, and immediately threw themselves into the effort, working closely with Michael Davitt, the Land League’s secretary and principal organiser. In an effort to maximise American support, Fanny decided to establish a women’s league, and in October 1880 the New York Ladies’ Land League was founded, with Delia Parnell as president, and Anna and Fanny spearheading a successful campaign which raised thousands of dollars for transmission to Ireland.

The Ladies Land League

The Ladies’ Land League

In late 1880 Anna returned to Dublin, where the expectation was that the government would shortly take the decision to imprison the leaders of the Land League. Inspired by the example of the American women’s organisation, Davitt proposed to establish a similar body in Ireland, which would keep the agitation alive and distribute grants to evicted tenants and their families. With some reluctance, Parnell and the other leaders agreed, and on 31 January 1881 the Ladies’ Irish National Land League was founded, with Anna Parnell as its effective leader. When arrests began shortly afterwards, the Ladies’ Land League set about its appointed task of processing applications, supplying money for relief purposes and distributing literature. Finding the Land League records to be deplorably kept, the women compiled their own ‘Book of Kells’, with detailed information on every Irish estate, described by Davitt as ‘the most perfect system that can be imagined.’ In spite of the male executive’s ambivalence and criticism from some Catholic church leaders and many newspapers, numbers grew rapidly, with more than five hundred branches of the Ladies’ Land League throughout Ireland by the beginning of 1882. Members included the poet Katherine Tynan and eighteen-year old Jennie O’Toole from Baltinglass, who as Jennie Wyse Power would play a leading part in the nationalist movement and in the early years of the Irish Free State.Eviction

In October 1881 Parnell himself was arrested together with most of the leaders of the Land League, and in retaliation issued the No Rent manifesto. The Ladies, who had not been consulted about this move, were faced with the prospect of trying to enforce a policy which had little chance of success, but they soldiered on, assisting evicted tenants and their families, organising the provision of huts in which they could be housed, and providing for growing numbers of male prisoners and their dependents.   In December the Ladies’ Land League was also suppressed and a number of their members were arrested and imprisoned, but the ban failed to end their activities:  as the nationalist United Ireland pointed out, while the men of the Land League had ‘melted away and vanished the moment Mr Forster’s policemen shook their batons’, the women ‘met persecution by extending their organisation and doubling their activity and triumphing.’


As the campaign dragged on, relations between the Ladies and the Land League worsened. With evictions giving rise to widespread agrarian violence, Parnell’s need to reach a resolution with Gladstone became more pressing, and in April 1882 he and the other leaders were released from gaol as part of an agreement to end the agitation. Shortly afterwards the Ladies’ Land League, disillusioned by the outcome of the campaign, expressed its wish to disband, and after prolonged wrangling succeeded in doing so. The gulf between the Land League and the Ladies was epitomised by the estrangement between Anna and her brother which lasted until his death ten years later. According to his wife, Parnell regretted the breach, and tried unsuccessfully on a number of occasions to repair it, but Anna ignored his letters and refused to acknowledge him when they met accidentally. After his death, however, she did write to the Irish Times to object to the choice of Glasnevin as his burial place: his body ‘belonged to the Irish people’, she said, only if their having killed him gave them a title to it.

Tale of a great shamThe Tale of a Great Sham

Her sister Fanny’s death in July 1882, combined with the stress of the campaign and its aftermath, left Anna in a state of physical and nervous collapse, from which she did not recover for several months. For the rest of her life, she lived mainly in England, sometimes under a false name and at times in considerable poverty. Although she remained in contact with former Ladies, such as Jennie Wyse Power, she played little part in nationalist politics, and the response when she did campaign for the Sinn Fein candidate in North Leitrim in 1908 persuaded her that ‘the character of Irishmen is at present incompatible with any great change for the better in Ireland.’ However, Michael Davitt’s charge, in The fall of feudalism in Ireland, that the Ladies had encouraged agrarian violence, galvanised her to produce her own account of the Land League years, The tale of a great sham. In it she argued that the Land League in fact failed in its objective by neglecting to pursue the No Rent Manifesto to its logical conclusion. She also complained about the hostility of the Land League leaders towards the Ladies throughout the campaign: regarding the women as subservient assistants rather than equal partners, they had relied on them to carry on Land League policies in their absence while seeking to reassert control over them as soon as this should become practicable. Failing to find a publisher for her work, she entrusted the manuscript to Helena Molony, editor of the nationalist woman’s paper Bean na h-Eireann. Molony, too, was unable to get the work published, and in the upheavals which followed, the parcel disappeared from view.

Death and reputation

In 1910 Anna moved to Ilfracombe in Devon. On 20 September 1911 she accidentally drowned while swimming, and was buried in the churchyard there a few days later. Her passing received little attention: as Katherine Tynan wrote a few years later, ‘her life ought to have been written, for she was a great woman, and yet I think that she herself would have preferred that her name be writ in water.’ And so, for many years, it was. The centenary of the Land League in 1979 passed with scarcely a mention of Anna Parnell, and it was not until the publication – finally – in 1986 of the rediscovered Tale of a great sham that a reassessment was possible of a woman regarded by some contemporaries as the equal in ability and judgement of her celebrated brother, and without question a central figure at a pivotal moment in Irish history.

History Ireland Irelands History Magazine.

by Danae O’Regan, a post-graduate student of Irish Studies at Bath College of Higher Education.

Anna’s League was not merely a fund-raising organisation but a militant force. She trained rural women to come out of their homes and play an active role in withholding rent, boycotting, and resisting eviction. When resistance failed she organised the provision of temporary housing and support for those evicted. She also provided support for Land League prisoners and their families. The women of the League faced hostility on all sides, from government forces, the church, the press, and probably, indeed, from most of their contemporaries, but Michael Davitt was to say in The Fall of Feudalism in Ireland (1904): ‘Everything recommended, attempted, or done in the way of defeating the ordinary law and asserting the unwritten law of the League…was more systematically carried out under the direction of the ladies’ executive than by its predecessor’. But their success had its disadvantages. Anna’s methods were exceedingly expensive and funds were running low. Rural violence had increased to such an extent that the British government began to panic. Irish politicians began to see the activities of the women as a danger to their long-term plans. Finally, as part of the Kilmainham Treaty, Charles Parnell agreed to do away with the League. In 1882 it was dissolved. Anna never again had any communication with her brother.

The Royal Irish Constabulary dispersing a meeting of the Ladies' Land League. (Illustrated London News, 24 December 1881)

The images that have survived

Anna had become a modern, militant woman activist. But this was not what the nineteenth century wanted of a woman. When she disappeared from politics her male colleagues must have given a sigh of relief, and society quickly forgot her.
Social attitudes have now reversed. Anna has taken over the role of heroine for our times, and Fanny has been moved to the sidelines. In a way one can see that these Parnell sisters mark a watershed for women in the political sphere. Both were equally effective activists in their different ways, both were probably equally important to the work of the Land League, and the two types of female action they represent continued into the twentieth century. Times were, however, changing. The traditional philanthropic middle class woman, of which Fanny was an outstanding example, did not disappear, but it is Anna, prepared to challenge authority, break down barriers between male and female spheres of public life, and pave the way for radical change, who speaks to us most clearly today.


Adrian Mulligan The Ladies Land League and the development of Irish Nationalism. The crucial role they played has been at best relegated to a historic footnote ignoring the history of poiltical activism by such Irish women contributes to a situation today in which they are woefully under-represented in the Republic of Ireland , as evidenced for example by the fact that of 166 TDs most recently elected only 21 are women.

Durig the brief existence of the LLL Anna Parnell and her female colleagues proved that they could orchestrate and lead an  agrarian relief effort and Irish nationalist campaign as ably as the men, and in the eyes of some contemporary observers perhaps even outperform them. For example, following the disbanding of the organization, the American correspondent for the Irish World, Henry George, commented that the women had “done a great deal better than the men would have done.”
Additionally, Andrew J. Kettle, a prominent Land League member at the time, later remarked that “Anna Parnell would have worked the Land League revolution to a much better conclusion than her great brother.”
Both of these individuals could be characterized, however, as subscribing to the more revolutionary republican stream of Irish nationalism. They speak of Anna Parnell therefore not just as a very capable woman, but more importantly as an Irish nationalist whom they believed shared their vision.
This is an important point, that the LLL was disbanded and subsequently forgotten, not solely because it empowered Irish women but rather, perhaps, because it had also genuinely come to the aid of the most impoverished tenant farmers, for whom only a republican revolution rather than Home Rule offered any hope that they might stave off eviction and subsequent destitution or emigration.’

I found this strange piece by St John Ervine (1883-1971) published in 1925. He had a particular hatred for Delia Parnell and accused her of being the source of her children’s antipathy to England and English domination of Ireland.He was a playwirght, biographer and critic from a working class Belfast who was a socialist Home Ruler in his youth and friend of fellow Fabian George Bernard Shaw but became a rabid Unionist in later years. He had a plaque commemorating him in East Belfast March this year. FullSizeRender

Parnell: His Family by St John Ervine Published by Ernest Benn Ltd, 1925

They had a distinguished ancestry on their father’s side and on their mother’s side, but they had inherited from it a physical weakness and a strongly emotional and morbid nature which impelled some of them dangerously near to lunacy. It was their misfortune that their easily-disturbed minds should have been dominated, during their most impressionable years, by a mother who could give them no better purpose in life than to “hate England,” and was herself mentally unbalanced.

Mr. Barry O’Brien, her son’s biographer, met her in 1896, two years before she died of burns at Avondale. She was then over eighty years of age, and “animated by one fixed idea, a rooted hatred of England; or rather, as she herself put it, of ‘English dominion.’” When Mr. O’Brien enquired of her why her son had such an antipathy to England, she replied, “Why should he not? Have not his ancestors always been opposed to England? My grandfather Tudor fought against the English in the War of Independence. My father fought against the English in the year 1812, and I suppose the Parnells had no great love for them… It was very natural for Charles to dislike the English; but it is not the English whom we dislike, or whom he disliked. We have no objection to the English people; we object to the English dominion. We would not have it in America. Whey should they have it in Ireland?  Why are the English so jealous of outside interference in their affairs, and why are they always trying to dip their fingers in everybody’s pie? The English are hated in America for their grasping policy; they are hated everywhere for their arrogance, greed, cant and hypocrisy. No country must have national rights or national aspirations but England. That is the English creed. Well, other people don’t see it; and the English are astonished. They want us all to think they are so goody-goody. They are simply thieves.”

A review by Myles Dungan of Patricia Groves, Petticoat Rebellion – The Anna Parnell Story states:

She was portrayed as the wilful extremist to her brother’s canny pragmatist, the strident harpy to her sister’s gentle poet. For many years it was the fate of Anna Parnell to be compared unfavourably to her tragically short-lived brother and sister, Charles and Fanny. In fact she was, according to Roy Foster, ‘in many ways . . . the most formidable character in the family’. Anna Parnell was principled, resourceful, dogged and, ultimately, disappointed and disillusioned by those who had been happy to capitalise on her indefatigable energy and organisational abilities.

Lucy Keaveney: Forgotten Women » Guest Blog » The …

Five people attended her funeral, her family being unaware of her death. Later her sister, Theodosia Paget, erected the headstone and a plaque was placed on it in 2002 by the Parnell society with a quote from Anna: –

“The best part of Independence,Anna_Parnells_Grave2
The independence of the mind”
It took some time to locate Anna’s grave earlier this year and some hours to renovate it by cleaning away weeds and spreading gravel. The headstone is very fragile, a fact which I brought to the attention of the Minister Deenihan during the centenary celebrations. He announced that Anna’s grave and that of Eva Gore Booth ( and her parner Esther Roper) in London would in future be maintained and would never be let deteriorate again. (Deenihan is now Minister for the Diaspora).
Anna headstone
It does feel like that things are slowly changing in recognition of women’s role in Ireland’s history.  Let us hope that women will be will be celebrated in the 2016 commemorations and not just the part they played then but before and since the  Easter Rising.
  • Patricia Groves, Petticoat Rebellion – The Anna Parnell Story, Mercier Press , Cork, 2009.
  • A. Parnell, Tale of a Great Sham, Dublin, 1986.
  • Jane Côté, Fanny and Anna Parnell: Ireland’s patriot sisters, Gill and Macmillan Publishers, Dublin, 1991.
  • Jane Côté & Dana Hearne, Anna Parnell in Mary Cullen & Maria Luddy (eds.)
  • Women, power and consciousness, Dublin, 1995
  • Danae O’Regan, Anna and Fanny Parnell in History Ireland, Spring 1999.
  • Margaret Ward, Unmanageable Revolutionaries: women and Irish nationalism, Pluto Press, London, 1983

Jeremy Paxman is just another arrogant, over-paid, establishment, media Tory bully like Clarkson,

Posted in Clarkson is a Tory establishment media bigot, Paxman is a Tory media bully by sheelanagigcomedienne on April 2, 2015

London Mayor, and wannabe PM Boris, gushingly extols the Jeremys in his Evening Standard election interview on behalf of the Tory White Boys Network. He cringingly praised Paxman as ‘ a genius’ and saying he is ‘absolutely brilliant. So is Clarkson. Bring back the Jeremys’. It has become ‘de rigeur’ for Tory politticians to show their laddish machismo, as Cameron did,  by endorsing the petrolhead misogynist bigot Clarkson. These guys enjoy being called rotweillers and grumpy old men. Boris PaxmanThey see them as terms of endearment. I am nauseated by the adulation of these powerful, over paid middle class, establisment, media figures like this pair of Jeremys.



I had blogged about anti-Irish racism Anti-Irish racism. | Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone  and being invited to speak on News Night about it when an Irish maths professor Des MacHale brought out another of his dreadful Irish joke books.  His Worst Kerryman Jokes book published by Mercier Press is available on Amazon for 69p. Des Mac joke book Des paddy books Des M dublin wit








This was sometime in the 90s when I was still doing my Sheela-na-Gig act. What I am about to reveal is that Paxman is really quite cowardly and was seemingly threatened by this Irish comedienne.

“Anyway, getting back to my anecdote this nutty Professor of Maths from Castlebar has a most nerdy obsession to collate puerile jokes, mainly ethnic and Irish compilations as a sideline probably to ingratiate himself with his students or just to gain attention. He was  invited to be a spokesperson in defense of racist/ethnic jokes/humour and given further opportunities for remuneration over and above his salary from the University Of Cork.  However, on this occasion he was not available for comment for the Newsnight programme so they invited a Welsh Professor to defend the position that Irish jokes are not racist and me, as a comedian Sheela-na-Gig, to put the opposite view.

As I was invited as a comedian I asked Paxman if I could do two very quick visual gags with an English and Irish reference. In my act I used a novelty penis and made a further gag about how it made me think of the Irish  deputy Prime Minister who was called DICK SPRING and for balance I showed the British audience a packet of cigarettes called MAJOR implying the Irish were ‘taking the mickey’ by naming a cigarette packet after John Major the Prime Minister at that time. Major cigaerettes Penis nose





When I spoke to Paxman for the briefing he reacted vehemently against this and he put his researchers on ‘handbag duty’ to make sure that I didn’t make a move to reach for my props. Perhaps he doesn’t like to be upstaged or his programme seem to irreverent  I was disappointed.

I compared the Irish and the Welsh stereotypes saying that the Irish being portrayed as stupid, drunken, violent and potential terrorists had more serious effects compared to the Welsh being depicted as ‘sheep shaggers’.  He got caught in a ‘have you stopped beating your wife’ scenario by having to reply that he didn’t mind at all if he was perceived as a ‘sheep shagger’ !!

I have this abiding memory of Paxman and team viewing me as a potential hijacker and being under surveillance to make sure I didn’t reach for  my handbag. Women’s handbags and their contents can be dangerous.

I do hate these powerful interviewers/talk show hosts who play god. Smarmy Gay Byrne with The Late, Late show was my Irish bete noir. Gaybo and fryHere he is interviewng Fry recently and he looked askance/gobsmacked by the response he got.

Mick Lally, actor, had a Humanist funeral.

Posted in Mick Lally- great Irish actor and Humanist by sheelanagigcomedienne on February 8, 2015

I was prompted to do this when I read about the death of that lovely Galway actor Mick Lally who died untimely and suddenly at 64. His family held a Humanist funeral for him. I remember seeing him acting with the Druid Theatre Company in The Coachman which was a tiny space at the back of a hotel in Domnick Street. I had assumed that the Druid founders had come directly from UCG Dram Soc but it transpired that he had acted in Taibhearc na Gaillimhe  and was approached by Gary Hynes and Marie Mullen to form Druid. Mick Graduate

He was a big man who played, inevitably, those roles reflecting his physique, personality and his blas as a native speaker from Tourmakeady which is a gaeltacht – an Irish speaking area. I encountered his sister Rita many years ago as an activist in the Irish community in London.

We saw him in Wood of the Whispering in 1983.

Mick in wood of the Whispering in 1983

Mick in wood of the Whispering in 1983

Garry Hynes writes: Mick Lally was a lion of a man. In the early 1970s, he strode through the streets of Galway with his tawny mane, beard, long coat and growing reputation as an actor and significant member of Galway’s arts/music/pubs/whatever you’re having yourself scene.

Mick Lally obituary | Stage | The Guardian

Lally attended St Mary’s College in Galway and University College Galway, where he read Irish and history. In extra-curricular time, he acted in the Irish-language college drama society, and won the British and Irish intervarsity boxing championship. He would later comment that acting, even in ensemble, was not unlike being alone in the ring.

From 1969 Lally taught at a vocational school in Tuam, County Galway, meanwhile acting at Galway’s Irish-language theatre, An Taibhdhearc, until in 1975, with Garry Hynes and Marie Mullen, he founded Druid Theatre Company, which transformed the way in which Irish and international, audiences received both classic and contemporary plays. Their first production was a challenging, chthonic reappraisal of JM Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, in which he played Christy Mahon, revisiting the play in 1979 as Old Mahon and again in 2005 in the DruidSynge celebration of the playwright’s entire canon on stage and film. Druid went on to lead the way in Irish theatre, and forged an international reputation for presenting new and classic works.

Film also claimed Lally’s attention. In 1978 he played opposite Cyril Cusack, Niall Toibin and Donal McCann in Bob Quinn’s Irish-language Poitín; in 1990 with Julie Christie, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Iain Glen in Pat O’Connor’s production of William Trevor’s Fools of Fortune; in 1994 with Albert Finney, Michael Gambon and Brenda Fricker in the Wilde-inspired A Man of No Importance; and in 2004 with Colin Farrell in Oliver Stone’s Alexander. These were cameo roles, complemented by similar TV appearances in James Plunkett’s Strumpet City and Thomas Flanagan’s The Year of the French. His TV portrayal of James Duffy, in Joyce’s story A Painful Case (1984), is regarded as a classic interpretation of a classic character.

I remember him in POITIN as Irish Women In Wandsworth screened this film in a few of the libraries in Wandsworth back in the eighties. Indeed, I had to collect the film from Bob Quinn from the Irish Club in Eaton Square.

Druid Unveils Memorial to Mick Lally on the First …

Mick Lally auditorium

I was heartened that his family held a Humanist funeral for him in the Crematorium in Dublin lead by fellow Humanist celebrant Brian Whiteside. By all accounts there were wonderful, honest, poignant and humorous tributes paid to him and his memory. There they could pay proper tribute to him, without the false promise and  religious stuff  which would have been so wrong for an atheist/humanist who thought religion was codology.

Whenever a Humanist funeral of a well loved and well known person happens in Ireland it will always publicise Humanism and the increasing numbers of good, honest, moral people who reject religion and the supernatural. It helps others to come out as humanist/atheists although it still seems like there is a long way to go as parents still insist on imposing the shameful infant exorcism  on their babies when they have them baptised and then won’t withdraw them from the awful Holy Communion/Confession medieval stuff now coated in kitsch mini-Bride/Groom outfits.

Mick was an atheist who did not believe in an afterlife, and in a radio interview, regarded religion as nonsense and “codology”.   

Up the Junction screening with Nell Dunn presented by the Battersea Society at the Dyson Building Royal College of Art Battersea Bridge Road 25th February 2015 at 7.30

Posted in UP THE JUNCTION film with Nell Dunn Q& Aat Dyson Building 25th Feb 2015 at 7.30 by sheelanagigcomedienne on February 2, 2015

The Battersea Society is presenting a screening of the film UP THE JUNCTION with Nell Dunn for a Q&A at the Dyson Theatre in The Dyson Building of the Royal college of Art  Hester Street/Battersea Bridge Road on Wednesday 25th February 2015 at 7 for 7.30. Admission £5. Great value. Please reserve place by ringing Maureen on 7228 4873 or email

Come along and see this iconic and evocative film of life in Battersea in the 60s in Battersea with a Battersea audience with Nell Dunn.


Royal College of Art | Postgraduate Art and Design University

Up the Junction book cover


The College has a new, purpose-built campus in Battersea, which houses the School of Fine Art – the Painting, Photography, Printmaking and Sculpture programmes – as well as InnovationRCA and the Moving Image Studio. Dyson BuildingDyson Lecture Theatre and River Foyer at Hester Road are accessible via lifts.

It should be an interesting evening with this screening in Battersea of this film made in 1968 usually described as ‘gritty’ with Nell Dunn of the adaption of her book who also wrote the screenplay. Today the film is often fondly remembered by fans of sixties cinema for its south London setting, colorful mod fashions, beehive hairdos, boastful bikers and jazzy psychedelic pop score by Manfred Mann. But UP THE JUNCTION has more to offer viewers besides an abundance of great style and an unforgettable soundtrack.

upjposterup the J manfred mann  UPJ Waterman







Nell Dunn left her middle-class home and moved to Battersea where she began to write about the area and the people she encountered there. Some critics understandably accused her of ‘slumming’ after Up the Junction was published but Dunn’s writing is sharp, perceptive and nonjudgmental. She had a wonderful ear for dialogue that painted an intimate portrait of the working-class women she befriended.

Nell Dunn by Lord Snowdon

Nell Dunn by Lord Snowdon

Nell Dunn


Nell Dunn recently wrote a play HOME DEATH  Award-winning writer Nell Dunn on her new play, Home Death  She wrote  Home Death because after the death of her partner Dan at home, she realised  that she knew so little about how to comfort and take care of the dying. She began to ask other people, and what she learned she put into the play. The main impetus was curiosity – a desperation to know. This has, of course, very much resonated with those of us involved in death and funerals.

Rough, Raw & Randy: UP THE JUNCTION (1968)

Kimberley Lindbergs wrote: UP THE JUNCTION presents a gritty snapshot of postwar Britain. The film adaptation centres around a pretty, well-heeled and naïve 21-year-old woman named Polly (Suzy Kendall) who decides to abandon her swinging lifestyle in Chelsea and move to Battersea. Polly sees poverty stricken Battersea as a kinder and simpler alternative to the posh and pompous world she grew up in but the war torn houses that litter the streets and the ragged faces that occupy them tell us another story.

Up-The-Junction- 3 girls in arms

Director Peter Collinson is probably best known for his classic crime caper THE ITALIAN JOB (1969), which starred Michael Caine.  Collinson, who came from a broken home and grew up in an orphanage, was no stranger to poverty and adversity so it’s not surprising that he was drawn to Nell Dunn’s vivid descriptions of life in South London. Dunn was one of the few women writers who came to prominence during the British New Wave, which is often associated with Angry Young Men such as John Osborne, Kingsley Amis, Alan Sillitoe and David Storey.

UPJ girls singing

Up The Junction – pub scene (1968) – YouTube

After getting a humble job at a candy factory, Polly befriends two fun-loving sisters (Adrienne Post and Maureen Lipman) and falls for a working-class lad named Peter (Dennis Waterman).Up The Junction Intro – YouTube

Polly’s innocence, determination and optimism are refreshing to Peter but her sheltered existence has also made Polly somewhat immune to the hardships faced by her less fortunate neighbors and their budding romance is complicated by Peter’s desire to have the kind of luxurious life that Polly happily left behind starring Dennis Waterman, Suzy Kendall, Adrienne Posta, Maureen Lipman and Liz Fraser.upjunction and power station

The motorbike clip coming on a fracas.Up The Junction Clip – YouTube

The bigoted landlords, abusive husbands, lack of gainful employment and back alley abortions might not make much of an impact on pretty Polly but the film doesn’t shy away from showing us the bleaker aspects of this poor London borough. The film ends on a downbeat note suggesting that any happiness is hard gained and fleeting no matter what side of the tracks you come from but Polly’s naiveté remains intact.

The Power Station clip . Up The Junction Scene 2 – YouTube

up-the-junction-ws-rmst_360 The film looks stunning on Blu-ray thanks to Olive Films’ pristine widescreen disc. Colors pop and the gritty streets of Battersea have never looked more alive.

upj women

This should be a great evening as the oldies reminisce about Battersea then and the younger folk look amazed at how things have changed – how radical, socialist Battersea became gentrified and and is now a Tory Borough vying with its neighbour Westminster Council as it oversees a huge transformation of north Battersea from Nine Elms at Vauxhall back to the Power station site in one of the biggest regeneration sites in Europe.

I worked as a laboratory technician in Gartons Glucose, next to Price’s Candle Factory, in 1966 and have seen those changes too as I arrived from Ireland initially in 1962. Price’s was built on the site of York House, a London home of the Bishop of York and where it has been claimed Henry V111 first met Anne Boleyn.

My friend Joan O’Pray was pregnant in 1967 when Up the Junction was being filmed as she walked through Clapham Junction Station Approach and was asked if she could be filmed walking along as they told her they were making a film about a pregnant woman! However, she didn’t make the final cut but she will be at the screening.


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