Paul Hendrich: 10 years on

I can’t believe it is ten years since we lost Paul Hendrich. Here I am posting: a remembrance of him I wrote for the CUCR magazine Street Signs in Autumn 2008, and below that a dedication I wrote for the book Pirate Strategies, edited by Adnan Hadzi, also published in 2008. 

From Street Signs

Paul Hendrich, from “#Megsmiles and the joy of living”, Go Feet

I first met Paul when I was an undergraduate student at Goldsmiths, in 1995, a time in Paul’s life characterised at his memorial event by his wife Sasha as ‘partying, partying, partying’. Over a May Bank Holiday weekend, I travelled down to Brighton to visit my old school friend Laura Shepherd, and found myself at a party at what turned out to be Paul’s flat. I don’t remember the party very clearly, but I vividly remember us lying the following morning on the uncomfortable pebble beach, talking about soul music and anarchism in the weak English spring sun, while a Brazilian percussionist busked nearby.

It would be a decade before I met him again. His talk at [the CUCR postgraduate conference] Failing Better, part of a wonderful session on pirates, struck an immediate cord with me. He got to know each other well when we were two of the five people who organised the Lewisham ’77 project, a walk, conference, concert and oral history project marking the thirtieth anniversary of the Battle of Lewisham. At one of our meetings at the Marquis of Granby pub, Paul mentioned Laura, our mutual friend, and the jigsaw piece of our earlier meeting in Brighton clicked into place. I remember telling my partner Vanessa about meeting Paul, and about instantly feeling certain that we would become friends, a rare experience in this age of emotional caution.

Paul was working with John Hutnyk and others on Migrating University, organised as part of the No Borders camp at Gatwick Airport in solidarity with migrants. The Lewisham ’77 commemorative walk became part of the ‘curriculum’ of Migrating University. Both Migrating University and Lewisham ’77, like Paul’s Town Hall Pirates project, were about exploding the border between the academy and various communities outside it. This border-crossing was not an empty radical gesture that scored easy points against the ivory tower in the name of a heroic proletarian “real world”
beyond its walls. For Paul, the first in his family to go to university, it was about opening up access for everyone
to the genuine knowledges housed in the academy, while refusing the feudal authority and aura of credentialised expertise that constitutes the academy’s social power.

This ethic of border-crossing resonated with Paul’s youth work with refugee young people in South London, and his ethnographic engagement on La Linea in Bisbee, Arizona. For Paul, these two parts of his life – day to day labour and academic theory – were clearly part of the same project. Something related that Paul brought into Lewisham ’77
was a rare spirit of openness. Oral history always reveals different, sometimes contradictory and occasionally incommensurate perspectives on the recent past, and this is especially so with political pasts, as old factional disputes throw their long shadow on the present and today’s battles are projected back in time. The anti-racist world is an exceptionally fractious one, and it was important that Lewisham ’77 recognised all of the contending histories. Paul’s generosity of spirit and disarmingly easy manner was vital in keeping the different parties on board.

The humanist Marxist historian EP Thompson wrote of rescuing the ordinary working people he wrote about
from the condescension of posterity. Paul’s work on the history of Deptford Town Hall, on the Battle of Lewisham and on present-day grassroots activists in Bisby was in this spirit. The stories he valued, to use a phrase of one of the Lewisham ’77 speakers, Martin Lux, were the footsoldiers’ stories, the stories of those normally consigned to the margins of history, not the stories of the leaders and celebrities. Paul was a footsoldier in this way; he derived no personal glory from his involvement in these projects, yet through them, and through the friendship with which he was so giving, he left the world a better place than he found it.

– Ben Gidley
A special edition of the on-line journal Anthropology Matters ( was dedicated to Paul’s memory, and includes an appreciation of him by his PhD supervisor Alpa Shah as well as Paul’s MA piece on Deptford Town Hall. Paul’s article “Over-Written in Stone” can be found in the Spring 2007 issue of Street Signs. The Deptford.TV book, Pirate Strategies (, is dedicated to Paul’s memory. Appreciations to Paul also appear at the John Hutnyk’s weblo (( and Transpontine (


From Pirate Strategies

This book is dedicated to Paul Hendrich, who died at the age of 36 in January 2008. Paul was a South London-based activist, youth worker, family man and scholar. He was doing an anthropology PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London, on cross-border activists on the frontier between the US and Mexico.

Paul’s interest in borders permeated his recent projects, and resonate with the Deptford.TV project. Like Deptford.TV, his work was about transgressing the border between academia and the “real world,” both in the local community of Deptford and New Cross and in the wider global public sphere. For example, he was one of the organisers of the Migrating University based at Goldsmiths in 2007. As part of the No Borders activist camp at Gatwick airport (campaigning for the freedom of movement across borders of the world’s citizens), the Migrating University brought a motley crew of activists and refugees into the space of the academy, opening up a very different model of pedagogy. (You can see footage of the Migrating University, including of Paul busily helping to make sure everything hung together, on the Deptford.TV archive.) A similar project in which Paul was a moving spirit in was Lewisham ’77, which commemorated the victory of local people and anti-racists over the fascist National Front in New Cross in 1977 – also documented by Deptford.TV as part of its commitment to recording the underground and alternative histories of the area.

Paul curated the Deptford Town Hall Pirates project, which similarly aimed to reconfigure the relationship between the university and its neighbourhood. The project focused on Deptford Town Hall on New Cross Road, transferred from Lewisham council to Goldsmiths as part of Deptford City Challenge on condition it retained community access. Paul’s project was about making this community access meaningful. It also commemorated the histories of slavery and colonialism that made Deptford what it is – histories inscribed in the area’s urban landscape in the form of the statues of imperial naval “heroes” on the façade of the Town Hall: four men who were involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

By emphasising the way these men acted as pirates for British mercantile capitalism, and by seeking to creatively re-appropriate the enclosed space of the Town Hall, Paul staged the tension and ambivalence in the concept of piracy. On the one hand, there is the robbery which Marx named ‘primitive accumulation’: the plunder of goods from the commons which forms the foundation of capitalism. As Paul wrote: ‘it is remembered as only a footnote in most histories that in 1568 John Hawkins [one of the figures in the statues], accompanied by his young nephew and protégé Francis Drake [one of the figures in the statues] and bankrolled by Elizabeth I, was able to ‘obtain’ between 400—500 West Africans and sell them in the West Indies. Such were the profits from this arrangement that they were soon repeated with Deptford and its renowned shipyards producing many of the vessels that were used in this commerce.’

But on the other hand, there is the piracy which Deptford.TV celebrates: the capture of social value back from the robber barons of capitalism for the benefit of the commons. In this spirit, Paul started a Pirate Society at Goldsmiths, temporarily capturing The Island (the traffic island at New Cross Gate) as an autonomous pirate republic in 2006.

In Paul’s memory, long live the island!

About bengidley

Senior Lecturer at the School of Social Science, History and Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London. View all posts by bengidley

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