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Floods, riots, and pirate radio: Exploring Lewisham's forgotten corners

Updated: Oct 12, 2022

by Thomas Chambers

"I spent a lot of my childhood trudging through the river, finding all sorts of treasures–from crates of discarded pirate DVDs to lumps of rusty iron"
Wild fishing in the River Quaggy swamp
(Image: Jack Thurgar)

Wildcornerz opens this Saturday 8th October at 6pm at Satellite Store in Peckham. The exhibition brings together work by Jack Thurgar, Andrew Finch, Ed Carter and Tobias, presenting a collective response to the mythologies, archives and social geographies of Lewisham’s wildcorners.

The turbulent history of South East London undercurrents the work, referencing tower block architecture and pirate radio, the 1968 Lewisham floods and the 2011 London riots.

Presenting collage assemblage, video, photography and screenprinting, the exhibition challenges notions of privatised urban space whilst celebrating the singular acts of individuals who traverse these sites.

There'll also be a screening of The Love Below. Direct by Andrew Finch, this documentary explores the South East London waterways and their dwellers.

The film follows those who venture into these rivers searching for something below their embankment walls and depths. It's a journey of early-2000s cultural homage, graffiti culture, train networks, ecology, urban fishing, folklore and the joy of wandering off the city’s beaten track.

I sat down with Andrew, Jack, Ed and Tobias to talk river rewilding, speedway racing, Amazonian adventures and nighttime excursions in the South East.

How did you four get involved with each other and begin working on the exhibition?

Tobias: I first discovered Jack’s work when I came across his Wildcornerz online blog many years ago. Several years later, I met him in person at my Welcome to Lewisham exhibition in 2018. Since then, I have shown a lot of my friend’s his interesting work documenting South East London. Ed Carter I believe I first met at a jam I organised at the abandoned Lethbridge Estate on Lewisham Road. Later in the year I visited him in the River Ravensbourne and have been good mates since.

Andrew first contacted me through Instagram a year or two ago and expressed his interest for meeting people connected to the river. I put him onto all the unusual and obscure South East London characters that have a connection to these ancient tributaries. A few months ago, we all met up for a pint in the best pub in SE London, the Dacre Arms, and Andrew told us of the exhibition he wanted to plan.

Andrew: I encountered Jack’s film from 2011, Internal Networkz [Vol:1: The Quaggy], in which he explores secret markings left by the fabled Lewisham Natureman in the waterways. During lockdown, I bought some wellies, jumped over a fence and started exploring the River Ravensbourne and River Quaggy.

Like a lot of hidden spaces, I found wading through the rivers to be an incredibly peaceful way of seeing the city in a totally different way. Tobias’s generous spirit and encyclopaedic knowledge on South East London was a huge resource in researching people connected to the river. That was how I came to meet Ed, if I remember correctly.

While making the film, it dawned on me just how much these wild spaces mean to everyone involved, from ecological, archival, creative and personal perspectives. From that point, I knew I wanted to curate a show with everyone involved. Making The Love Below was a series of calling on favours from filmmaker friends, dropped cameras, tequila, wringing out trousers, nighttime excursions, getting lost, dead ends and entrances uncovered.

Why do you have an affinity to the river? Is there some special presence the Quaggy has or, does it have more to do with the way public space is used and managed in London today?

Jack: There is something particularly special to me about the Quaggy as it runs behind and underneath so many places I or family members, have lived, worked, played and attended school. So there is a real nostalgia about it for me. But yes, also with other urban rivers, it's another relatively unregulated space.

Most local people don’t give it a second thought and certainly have never gotten in it, so its a lesser walked path. Its a bit of a wild corridor and feels and smells old when you walk in it. Graffiti doesn’t get removed and things from above get washed down and tend to hang around. 

Tobias: I guess the concrete-encased Quaggy is the closest thing us South East Londoners have to the big drainage ditches they have in the States. Ever since watching Grease Lightnin’ as a kid I’ve been fascinated by those big banked empty man-made spaces.

I spent a lot of my childhood trudging through the river, finding all sorts of treasures, from crates of discarded pirated DVDs to lumps of rusty iron. It felt like an Amazonian adventure to a 7 year-old me.