The Industrial Revolution created an increase in the middle classes who were both well off and politically powerful, but it also created a huge influx of job seekers to cities. London’s population grew six-fold in the century between 1800 and 1900; sanitation and housing could not keep up with the revolution’s progress. Many people worked in poorly paid, unstable labouring or factory jobs. As Charles Booth’s Survey of London showed, poor communities lived in the shadow of rich ones, untouched by the optimistic progress of the Victorian era. In the late 19th Century, reformers tried to improve conditions by breaking the segregation between rich and poor neighbourhoods – and more importantly, by giving a neighbourly hand up, not a condescending handout. This neighbourly help came from settlement houses – community centres – that relied on live-in volunteers to organise, provide services, and lead courses. These volunteers were usually privileged young people, who gained the opportunity to live and work in urban communities and broaden their horizons. Settlement volunteers and users alike shared their skills and knowledge to help improve the communities they shared.
A number of Southwark’s settlements were founded specifically to meet women’s needs. While poor women faced dire living conditions, many better-off Victorian women (expected to be decorative, obedient, and largely confined to their homes) found their skills and education going to waste. In 1887, a group of women, led by Mina Gollack of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), founded an organisation to help these young women of education and leisure use their ‘time and talents’ to help others – this ideal was so important that it gave the organisation its name.
Time and Talents London settlement moved to Bermondsey Street in 1899. It offered classes in arts, crafts, cooking, reading, and writing, a library and canteen, clubs for young people, and from 1913, a hostel even provided girls with a safe, supportive place to live. It remains a vital community centre for Rotherhithe today.
Other settlements sought to harness the time and talents of other groups of women. The Women’s University Settlement began in 1887 in Nelson Square: Octavia Hill was one of its founders, and Helen Gladstone (daughter of the Prime Minister) was the first warden.
The Settlement gave female university students the opportunity to live independently as they provided educational and youth services to one of the poorest areas of London. It offered mother-and-baby clinics, youth clubs, and workshops providing employment opportunities for disabled people. After the Second World War, its work expanded to other areas of the community, which prompted its renaming to the Blackfriars Settlement in 1961. Blackfriars Settlement is still an important hub for the community and beyond, located in the heart of Blackfriars.
The Union of Girls’ Schools Settlement (better known later as the Peckham Settlement) was founded in 1896 and first operated from Calmington Road, Camberwell. By the early 20th century, the Union of Girls’ Schools for Social Service as it then became, had expanded to include hundreds of schools all over the country: this made the Peckham Settlement one of the biggest in London. Its wide base of support allowed it to provide funds to other organisations, and pioneer social welfare: the Settlement’s savings club was a model for the National Insurance Act of 1911. In 1935, it opened London’s first nursery school, and a government sponsored job club – the first in a charity – in 1987. The settlement had royal approval, being supported by Princess Margaret until her death in 2002 and then the Countess of Wessex until 2012. Although the community centre closed in 2012, the Peckham Settlement continues to fund local charities and communities.
We have mentioned a few of Southwark’s historic settlements in this blog but we have a range of reading material on the history of many others. If you would like to visit Southwark Archives to view this material, please book an appointment by emailing email@example.com.
Alo-Wa was a black women’s Oral History group in Southwark, they formed in January 1990 and ran until 1991. Members of the group were seven women in total, all from African and Caribbean descent, and all living and working in Southwark at the time. They were based at the Southwark Women’s Centre, 2-8 Peckham High Street.
At Southwark Archives, we first came across the group through a selection of photographs from the Phil Polgaze collection. These photographs document a writer’s workshop specifically for black women, taking place during Black History Month in 1991, where some of the Alo-Wa group attended.
We have been able to speak to two members who were part of the group, Marion Desouza and Gillian Walters, to find out more about the group’s history and activity. The story of Alo-Wa begins with the Southwark Women’s Centre, 2-8 Peckham High Street. Women who formed the group were attending the centre, and were already acquainted with one another.
Alo-Wa formed through an invitation from Wendy Francis. Francis was employed by the Willowbrook Urban Studies Centre in Peckham specifically to carry out oral histories. She had heard about the women’s centre, and went down to invite black women to form a new oral history group. The Willowbrook Urban Studies Centre was a community education project based in Southwark who worked with schools and adult groups to reflect on changes and issues in the borough. The centre was located 48, Willowbrook Road, Peckham.
The group started by meeting once a week on a Sunday, coming together at the Women’s Centre where they would share food, and look at the inspirational stories of women such as Mary Seacole, Claudia Jones and Nanny Maroon. When they began to turn to their own stories, they started to use a tape recorder to document their conversations. Marion said, “Wendy was good; she got us to tape everything. It was a good time in our lives.”
ALO-WA’s name comes from the Yoruba term for Our Story. The name of the group sets an expectation for a collective form of storytelling. The group’s main aim was for “self-appreciation and appreciation of others, self-understanding and understanding of others”[i]
During the sessions, they asked questions about one another’s families, and Gillian said it was much about understanding parent’s stories, in order to understand their own. Gillian remembered that a point of inspiration for her was how Lillian had taped her father before he died:
“Her father was of African heritage and came here when he was 19; that was also quite an interesting aspect. The majority of us had Caribbean parents. That was a tie in regards to looking at things to help us understand each other differently. Some of us were from different islands. Therefore, that also incorporated our understanding of people’s experiences and expectations.”
Some of the questions they asked were documented in a book they went on to publish called Our Story (1991).
The Alo-Wa group existed in a wider context of woman’s activity. The international women’s liberation movement of the 60s, which went on well into the 70s and 80s, brought direct attention to women’s histories, and women’s lives.
Marion Desouza was the Afro-Caribbean worker at Southwark Women’s Centre from 1990- 1992, where the Alo-Wa group met. At the Women’s Centre, Marion carried out various sessions to encourage women to get together and discuss women’s issues regarding sexuality, race, and offence. Marion told me it was a very inclusive space. There was also assistance to help women gain access to housing, benefits and pregnancy testing.
The Southwark Women’s Centre was the result of active work during the women’s movement. It was set up through the Southwark Women’s Actions Group linking up with the Southwark Women’s Equality Unit to find premises. A local housing association had four empty commercial units on Peckham High Street, and they said it could be used for the Women’s Centre. This created a very accessible space for women to drop in, whether that be on the way home for work, or, as it was a child friendly location, during the daytime. Alo-Wa’ s Gillian said that she would head there in-between work shifts and that Southwark Women’s Centre allowed her a place to rest, relax and be amongst other women to talk.
Alo-Wa produced Our Story in 1991. They had a book launch, attended by Harriet Harman and the South London Press and, it took place during Black History Month 1991. To produce the book, Wendy Francis ran writing skills workshops for the women, and worked with them as an editor during the project.
During the project, the group applied for external funding which they received and put towards the cost of producing a book to document the group’s activity, and tell stories through writing. In both conversations with Marion and Gillian, they stressed to me that the oral aspect of the project, the live moment of the storytelling and the interactions and relationships that grew within the group, was though the real work and activity:
“We came from a place of being able to verbally say these things, and now you are asking us to write them down and put them in a book. When we spoke to Wendy afterwards, this is about us maturing as people and we stepped into an area that we had some understanding of, Lilian had a small understanding. The rest of us possibly had none. It was about putting it down on paper, in a way that can be visualised by other people. When you tell a story, when you tell a good story the person is having a visual experience of when they read the words. We had never done that, we always used our voices.”
The women went to Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden, where they were shown how to use computer software to work out the layout and graphics for a book. After this, they discovered that Southwark had its own printers, and this is where they did the printing for the book. They were shown around behind the scenes and learnt about the paper, grades and ink, and able to see the printing process in action.
During the conversations with Marion and Gillian, they both stressed that the relationships have been long lasting, and that a few of them have managed to stay in touch across the years. This seems like a testament to the group’s activities. Gillian said:
“It would be interesting for all of us to be coming together again. However, would it be that people would wish to be in the format together again, and what would we be discussing? The thing about it is, life goes on. The truth of it is, it was a fantastic experience.”
During the few years in which the group was active, they also worked with the well-known social historian Anna Davin, were interviewed for a BBC radio show by, Nerys Hughes, a copy of which we are still trying to track down. They worked closely with Jackie Holder, from the Willowbrook Urban Studies Centre and alongside others Brenda Ellis, the LGBT worker at the Women’s Centre, Nashmin Sukasad, and Madhu Patel – both at Southwark Women’s Centre. They also worked with Peckham Black Women’s Centre located at 69 Bellenden Road.
At Southwark Archives, we are in the process of digitising a booklet containing texts the group used to inform their autobiographical writing, which may have influenced the writing in Our Story.
Southwark Archives are facilitating a creative writing session on Tuesday 5 October 2021 as part of the Poets in the Archives series, taking inspiration from Our Story.
When you come home after work or school, what do you do? Turn on the lights, put the kettle on, start making dinner…? Maybe you play some music, or, if you really want to relax, turn on a dehumidifier. All these processes require the flick of a switch or press of a button to turn on electricity. It is these everyday, routine actions that remind us of the continual significance of Michael Faraday, who’s discoveries on electromagnetic induction enabled the development of electricity and its wide spread use across the world. Today we celebrate his 230th birthday, marking the date 22 September, 1791 when he was born.
In the 1830s, Faraday was building on the research of the scientific community into electricity. He discovered that a magnetic field could produce an electric current, paving the way for generators to produce electricity and transforming how electricity could be applied to technology. Faraday’s discovery of electromagnetic induction has reverberated through the years to the point that, now, his principles are continuously put to use, from using our phones to driving a car.
Faraday is considered a giant of the scientific community due to this discovery and his contributions to the understanding of electromagnetism and electrolysis: no one can doubt the relevance of his legacy in our everyday lives.
But nowhere is his legacy felt more on a physical scale than in the borough of Southwark. Take a walk around the borough, and you will find his name in several places. He was born in Newington Butts (around Elephant and Castle, now part of modern Southwark) but his family moved to north London soon after and so, there is not much said about his time in Southwark. Despite this, Faraday may be the most prominent of Southwark’s former residents: From his ambiguous blue plaque on Larcom Street (which gives no hint as to why it is located there), to Michael Faraday Primary School, Faraday Gardens and even an entire Electoral Ward named Faraday, Southwark remembers the scientist.
His legacy is loudest and shiniest in the middle of Elephant Square thanks to the Michael Faraday Memorial. This is not a public toilet, an ill-timed realisation that many (myself included) have come to, but is, more appropriately, an electricity substation for the Northern and Bakerloo tube lines that go to Elephant and Castle. The modernist architect Rodney Gordon designed a stainless steal box structure emulating the endless possibilities of science hailed in by Faraday and his contemporaries, and in 1961 it was constructed in proximity to Faraday’s birthplace. There is not a lot of visible interpretation that explains the Faraday connection and many pass the monolith everyday without acknowledging the reason behind its existence. Despite this, the memorial is still considered an iconic part of Elephant and Castle. In the 2012, Southwark Council implemented a new disco-themed lighting scheme that reflected pinks and purples off its stainless steel sides, following a nation-wide competition to improve public space. This Blue Peter competition was won by a local schoolgirl who wanted to see the memorial lit up in colour.
This year, another dedication has been made to Faraday further down Walworth Road where the Southwark Heritage Centre and Walworth Library has recently opened – here you can experience one of Faraday’s electromagnetic experiments.
Walk through the doors of the library, go up the stairs, and you will discover at the very back a room you probably weren’t expecting. The walls are lined with copper, and it is dimly lit with two low hanging lights, creating the atmosphere of a secretive World War 2 bunker. This is a real Faraday Cage, invented by Faraday in 1836 to block electromagnetic fields. The effect of this is used in microwaves and to protect planes from lightening. In the library, it stops you from accessing the internet while in the meeting room. Visitors to the library will be able to book the room (Covid allowing) and immerse themselves in an authentic experience free from the distraction of phones and the Internet. This experience is supported by a display of objects from the Cuming Collection that were owned by Faraday: his watch, a family bible with notes marking births and deaths, and a disk dynamo (which was shown at the 1851 Great Exhibition) as well as a bust of his likeness – all creating a personal insight into the man behind the science. These are set next to another display of early 19th century scientific instruments, illustrating the transformative scientific world that Faraday and his contemporaries both were shaped by and contributed to.
Readers can use the Faraday Room to get their scientific fix and be inspired by the wonders of physics and electricity. The placement of this room in a library, surrounded by books, has more meaningful depth than meets the eye. Faraday did not have a formal education, but left school early to work in bookbinding. While surrounded by books, he discovered his passion and drive for science and looked to improve his knowledge through reading and attending lectures. We are left with another of Faraday’s legacies: the legacy of the joy of learning, discovery and experimentation, which was key to Faraday’s success and enduring memory; and can now be discovered in the Southwark Heritage Centre and Walworth Library.
It counts everyone, and everyone counts in it – that’s the point of the census. For Southwark’s current communities, an accurate census means accurate population data, which means funding for vital services like schools, transport, and doctors’ surgeries. But for people in the future, the census is a treasure trove of information on individuals, families, households, and communities – one that lets family historians re-trace family connections through the ages and helps explain how the neighbourhood populations of London’s most historic borough have changed through nearly two centuries’ of time.
Every 10 years since 1801, the census has asked questions about the population of England and Wales and compiled information about the make-up of local neighbourhoods; data on individuals survives from 1841 onward. The personal information shared at every census is kept confidential for 100 years. After that, it’s open for the public to explore, and to learn about the life and times of their ancestors and those who lived in their communities in the past.
The census return is a list: of all the buildings in a given street, including unoccupied ones, and all the households within a given building. Separate returns exist for large institutions, like workhouses, hospitals, schools, and prisons. Each household’s return includes the people present there the night the census was taken; these may include visiting friends, lodgers, and even patients in hospital wards and prisoners in jail cells! The information collected about individuals varies with each census, but usually includes their name, birthplace, age on census night, occupation, and how they relate to others household members.
This information can be incredibly valuable for people interested in family, local, and social history. Tracing a person through the census shows them growing up; tracing an address shows how neighbourhoods change through the years. But it also provides unique insights. Answers to census questions on health, birthplace, and immigration shine a light on the diversity of Southwark’s residents – a diversity that often doesn’t show in other record collections. Questions about employment show how common child labour was in the past, and a host of occupations, from brushmaking to toshing, that no longer exist.
On a street or neighbourhood level, census information shows changes in environment and land usage, but questions about housing also show how values and norms have changed; over time, what counts as “overcrowded” or “sub-standard” residences vary a lot. Sometimes what you find is totally unexpected, like the 5 year old homeworker Roger Little of Dulwich – as the return explains, Roger was an Airedale Terrier, and his work was being the Little family’s watchdog.
But more than that, the census gives the future a snapshot of the past that includes everyone. The voices – and the silences – in the census send a message about who we are, where we live, and what we value. It can provide vital evidence of the problems we thought were important and how we sought to fix them. But it does something even more important: it ties all our individual stories together into the story of a place and a time. That gives people – now and in the future – a hook to hang their own stories on, an opportunity to belong somewhere and somewhen.
Taking part in the 2021 census is your chance to help future generations discover their past. By completing your census questionnaire on 21 March 2021 you leave your mark on history. And maybe that’s something your friends, family, and colleagues hadn’t thought about. So we hope you’ll encourage them to do their bit too.
We recently had a request at Southwark Archives for images showing the inside of Jones and Higgins department store in Peckham. Most available photographs show the exterior of the store with its iconic clock tower on the corner of Rye Lane and Peckham High Street. Diving into our Jones and Higgins archive collection though, we found these pictures from inside the store, and they were too good to not share for History Begins At Home under the theme of Trading Spaces.
The images show a variety of departments from about 1910 as well as in the 1960s-70s. Do you remember shopping at Jones and Higgins or other similar department stores of the past? Share your memories on Twitter.
Sometimes a historic moment plays out like a scene from a movie – think of the opening of Saving Private Ryan, for instance – but other times it’s as everyday as the change in your pocket.
Today is a moment in history that everyone in the country took part in, because 15 February 2021 is the 50th anniversary of D-Day. Not the D-Day shown in Saving Private Ryan, that opened the Battle of Normandy – that’s in June – but the day British currency went decimal.
To understand what that means, 50 years later, we have to dig into the foundations of British money, and those go a lot further back than you’d think. All the way to two of the Roman Empire’s coins, in fact: the silver denarius and the gold solidus.
The denarius was the main circulating coin of the Roman Empire for several hundred years, from the 3rd century BCE to the end of the western Empire in the late 3rd century CE. The solidus began circulation as the denarius stopped being minted, and continued being minted by the Byzantine Empire (as well as copies, known as dinars, minted by various Muslim Caliphates)well into the Middle Ages.
In the late 8th century CE, Charlemagne – whose empire spanned much of modern France, Germany, and northern Italy – revised coinage because of a shortage of gold in western Europe. The new coinage was based entirely on silver: a libra, or pound, of silver weighing a bit less than 500g would be divided into 240 denarii, each weighing about 21 grains. Although the denarius was the only coin in circulation, the solidus remained as a unit of accounting, with 12 denarii to the solidus.
The early English king Offa of Mercia adopted this system with slightly different weights – a “Tower pound” of about 350g, divided into 12 solidii (shillings) and 240 denarii, containing 1.5g of silver each. This system survived for centuries all over western Europe and beyond, and left its marks on languages all over the world.
The libragave us the name for a number of currencies, including “pound” and “lira” as well as the pound’s abbreviation: “£”.
The denarius’s name survives in the currency name “dinar” used by a number of countries in and around the Mediterranean; the Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese words for “money”; and the abbreviation for the smallest unit of British pre-decimal currency, “d”.
The solidus gave us “shilling” and “soldier”, since the Roman military’s pay came in the form of these coins, as well as “sou”, an obsolete French coin whose name still survives in French idioms relating to money.
Southwark is a part of the story of pounds, shillings, and pence; specifically, Suffolk Place, a 15th century mansion house that was rebuilt in 1522 by Henry VIII’s brother-in-law, Charles Brandon, 1st duke of Suffolk. The site is at the corner of the modern Borough High Street and Marshalsea Road. In 1536, Henry exchanged Norfolk Place on the Strand for Suffolk Place; nine years later, the site became a mint – a place where money was literally made. Although the house itself was demolished in 1557, it left its mark on the area – in the names Mint Street and Great Suffolk Street, and in the Liberty of the Mint, an area that was a notorious slum until the end of the 19th century.
The 19th century – some failed attempts
The £sd system, as it was known, was useful in terms of doing mental arithmetic with money, since 240 can be split into a large number of fractional pieces: halves, thirds, sixths, eighths, tenths, and twelfths (so unit-pricing dozens of things like eggs was easy). However, it was not easy to do basic addition on pounds, shillings, and pence, and that difficulty increased with the scale of the transaction. As foreign trade increased, having non-decimal currency became more and more unwieldy.
Efforts to change the system began as early as 1824. Another attempt in 1848 led to the introduction of the “florin”, a coin worth 1/10 of a pound – 24 old pence, or 2 shillings – which remained in circulation until 1993 interchangeably with decimal 10p coins. A final attempt to decimalise in the 19th century was scuppered when two members of the Royal Commission appointed to study the problem – the governor of the Bank of England and an executive of the London and Westminster Bank – stifled the idea.
The 1960s – pressure from international trade
By the last quarter of the 20th century, most countries had moved to decimal currency based on units of 10, making international trade significantly more complicated for those countries which still held to the £sd system (generally, those in the Commonwealth). Starting with South Africa in 1962, these countries converted to a decimal based currency: most followed South Africa’s lead in creating a new currency unit equal in value to 10 shillings, or exactly half of a £sd pound.
In 1961, the UK government set up the Halbury Committee to study and report on decimalisation; its report, presented in 1963 and adopted in 1966, noted that the British pound’s value on the foreign exchange market meant that the new currency approach wasn’t feasible. Instead, the pound and its value was retained, but the number of sub-units to the pound was slashed from 240 to 100 – so the value of the new penny was 2.4 pre-decimal pence. In 1969, the Decimal Currency Act came into force, starting the conversion process.
Decimal coins valued at 5p and 10p – the same size and value as the 1 and 2 shillings coins they replaced – entered circulation in April 1968. A 50p coin followed in October 1969, with its predecessor the 10-shilling note being removed from circulation shortly thereafter. The pre-decimal halfpenny and half-crown (worth 2 shillings 6 pence, or 1/8 of a pound) were withdrawn by the end of 1969.
1971 – D day finally comes
Banks closed at 3:30 PM on Wednesday 10 February 1971, and remained shut until 10 AM on Monday 15 February 1971: Decimal Day. February was chosen because it was the least-busy time of year for banks, transport, and retail; the closure allowed for the distribution of stocks of new coins, processing of outstanding cheques and credits in the clearing system, and the conversion of account balances to decimal – the latter task mostly done manually!
The run-up to decimalisation put the conversion into the spotlight. In 1969 and 1970, increasing numbers of retailers priced goods in both currencies, which probably helped cushion the change and cement new values in shoppers’ heads. Shoppers could get a rough idea of the pre-decimal value of a decimal price by doubling the new price and inserting a slash between the digits. For more exact conversions, shoppers’ guides, conversion tables, and specialist calculators between £sd and decimal values became increasingly familiar – the pen company Parker created a special edition of its Jotter pen with conversion tables in a window. Waddington’s even published a board game about decimal conversion!
The early weeks of 1971 saw a huge publicity campaign as D Day approached. Flyers, leaflets, and posters sprouted, as well as a song by Max Bygraves, a series of short films on the BBC, an ITV drama entitled Granny Gets the Point, and – on D Day itself – a special Merry-Go-Round broadcast for schools featuring Peter Firmin.
On the day, new ½p, 1p, and 2p coins entered circulation, and prices – while still in both currencies – featured decimal first. From D Day, shops still accepted old pre-decimal coins, but returned change in decimal currency — shoppers and travellers using 1d and 3d coins were asked to pay them in units of 6 old pence (equal to 2 ½p) to simplify converting change. Because of this, old 1d and 3d coins were out of circulation by the end of February 1971, and 6d coins were rare; 1d and 3d were officially withdrawn at the end of August 1971, ending the transition period.
But the story doesn’t end there. Popular protests – perhaps because of their central role in wedding lore – meant that 6d coins remained legal tender until 1980. Decimal halfpennies were demonetised at the end of 1984, since inflation had eroded their value. Shillings and florins remained in circulation alongside 5p and 10p coins until 1990 and 1993 respectively, when smaller versions of the decimal coins were released. A smaller 50p appeared in 1997; only 1p and 2p coins remain legal tender from D Day.
“If I can’t see what the customer wants, I’m in a bit of a flutter… until I get hold of the plane and a piece of wood and then all is peace.”
Fred Gandolfi speaking in the BBC documentary, The Industrial Grand Tour: The Camera Maker, 1974.
The National Science and Media Museum in Bradford holds a rare collection of exhibits that are a part of Peckham’s history. The items in question are large plate cameras and tripods made by the exceptional family of craftsmen, the Gandolfis, whose business was started by Louis Gandolfi in 1885, first at premises in Kensington Place and from the late 1890s onwards at addresses in Old Kent Road, Park Hall Road and finally Borland Road, Peckham.
Louis was born in Clerkenwell in 1863 and by the age of 12 was an apprentice to a cabinet maker. Having acquired enough skills at age 17, he began working for a small business of camera-makers – Lejeune and Perken, making large plate cameras in the city. However, after 5 years it is said that he had to leave the business as his skills earned him more money than his colleagues and this caused too many complaints against him. It was then that Louis decided to set up his own camera making business.
Louis and his wife Caroline (who initially undertook the French polishing and brass work within the business) instilled a strong work ethic into their six children. At one time all of the children were involved in the Gandolfi camera business and before Louis died in 1932, he had ensured his legacy by passing on his skills as a camera maker to his sons Thomas, Frederick and Arthur which would see it run for over 100 years.
Photography was a booming business in the late Victorian period thanks to advances in the processing of film, particularly the introduction of dry plate emulsions made from gelatine. Glass plates of different sizes were put into the back of a camera and when the photographer was ready to ‘take’ his photo, he would expose the glass plate to the light, and thereby the image would be captured on the chemical coated plate. The dry plate process meant that the glass plates were coated with the new emulsion, dried and stored until needed. The plates could then be loaded into cameras at convenience and processed any time after they were exposed. This was a huge improvement on wet plate photography. This process involved hand coating the plate with a light sensitive wet emulsion and loading into the camera just before exposing it to light and then developing the plate straight away – a much more laborious chemical operation with larger, more unwieldy equipment. So the new development in processing meant you could separate the plate from the camera as storage was a much simpler affair and cameras could now be smaller and mass produced.
Initially, Louis’s camera designs were fairly simple to make and assemble, and sold cheaply to accommodate the new mass market. The 1880s also saw a boom in bicycle riding. The convenience of being able to attach one of Louis’s cameras to a cycle increased the company’s success and profile and, of course, profits. However, by the time he was at his new premises at 752 Old Kent Road in 1896, it would be the pre-dry plate camera designs that would give the Gandolfi brand the greatest success and return Louis back to his original skills as a furniture maker and craftsman.
These large format, folding wooden framed cameras were more traditionally made and attracted professional photographers. Louis made two designs – the Universal (which was a square bellows style) and the Imperial (a tapered bellows style similar to the one pictured here). The cameras were made to order and comprised three main areas of work – woodwork (including French polishing), brass work (with up to 125 pieces in one camera) and assembly. The cameras were patiently and beautifully crafted from the finest Cuban mahogany. The baseboard of a 15” x 12” Gandolfi camera was made up of 11 separate wood panels alone and a 5” x 4” camera would incorporate some 100 brass fittings, each one lacquered and hand finished. The bellows were meticulously prepared from a variety of fabrics including leather, felt and velvet. It could take around 3 weeks of joint working between the brothers to produce a 10” x 8” Gandolfi camera.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, Louis started to secure overseas government contracts, some of which required the new ‘Imperial’, designed to withstand hotter weather conditions and made to any order from half-plate to 15” x 12”. The design was later updated by his sons as ‘The Precision’ and continued to be produced up to the 1970s. By 1928, the business had moved to an old hatpin factory at number 2 Borland Road, Peckham, where there was plenty of room for their workshop.
Gandolfi cameras were specially commissioned for events like Captain Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition from 1910 to 1913 and Lord Carnarvon’s Tutankhamun expedition, as well as a commission from Queen Mary. The Gandolfis were also the first company commissioned by the Royal Naval Air Service to provide aerial cameras, which helped the business survive the First World War. Their expertise would also be required during the Second World War supplying cameras for the War Department.
The core values of good craftsmanship and use of quality materials meant that the three Gandolfi brothers would not substitute quality for quantity and turned down lucrative contracts as it was impossible to fulfil them with so few staff, preferring bespoke commissions. However, their reputation for excellence continued to see them receive numerous commissions. It’s likely, for example, if you see a prison mug-shot from around the mid-1940s, that it was taken from a Gandolfi portrait camera. The Gandolfi tripod – the ‘Portable Studio Stand’ was also a successful line and over 25,000 were produced over the lifetime of the business.
After Louis’s son Thomas died in 1965, the business continued with brothers Arthur and Frederick at the helm. They would receive commissions from professional photographers, magazines, students and colleges among others. Their skills were in great demand and they were becoming the last of their kind in making hand-made quality cameras. Long waiting lists for their ‘Precision’ camera continued into the 1970s and Thomas’s son, Thomas junior left his career in engineering to join the firm in 1976. Another side of the business was the importance of teaching others the value of hand making cameras and Frederick made several demonstrations for institutions.
In 1980 The Science Museum held a special exhibition commemorating 100 years of camera making by the Gandolfi Family. By 1982, Arthur and Fred decided they were unable to run the business themselves and reached an agreement to sell it to Brian Gould and Sir Kenneth Corfield. Both men were staunch advocates of the Gandolfi brand and ethos.
Fred died in 1990 aged 86 and Arthur died in 1993 aged 87. Like their father Louis, they ensured the legacy of the Gandolfi name with their cameras continuing to be made well into the early 2000s and immortalised at The National Science and Media Museum in Bradford.
To celebrate Disability History Month we have teamed up with Southwark Disablement Association (SDA) and Southwark Resource Centre to launch a new series online of documents from the archives that tell the story of disability services in Southwark.
The new collection is hosted on the Internet Archive and includes records of the SDA from its founding in 1978 onwards including its Newsletter, Annual Reports and Handbooks on local disabled services in Southwark. All of the records can be read and searched through online, and will be of particular interest for learning about the history of disability during the 1970s to 1990s.
Through the SDA records we learn about how the organisation played a key role in piloting the GLC’s new Taxi Card Holders scheme in 1983, as well as taking part in protests in Central London over disabled rights such as the rally in Trafalgar Square in 1990.
The resources launched with Southwark Resource Centre include the book Speaking For Ourselves, which was written and dictated in 1983 by service users of the Aylesbury Day Centre and tells of their experiences at the centre:
While exploring the history of Anti-Racism in Southwark (see our recent post for details), we came across a rich history of marching and protests. Documents and photographs held at Southwark Archives show local people and organisations rising up over the decades to fight for equality and human rights.
Campaigns against racism in the 1960s were established in the borough through the petitioning of Southwark and Bermondsey Trades Councils and Southwark Rotary Club, who led the call to launch what became the Southwark Council for Community Relations. Other early organisations include the West Indian League, set up in 1964 following the suicide of a young West Indian nurse at Lewisham hospital. The League aimed to combat loneliness for West Indians in London, and fight racial discrimination.
In the 1970s the Southwark Campaign Against Racialism and Fascism was set up and took to the streets of Walworth and elsewhere to stand up to the resurgent National Front. Socialist organisations and local branches of the Labour Party also took a prominent part in marching. In 1983 the Southwark Black Consortium was founded to represent the community voice at the new Southwark Race Equality Committee. Later, as Southwark Black Communities Consortium, the organisation ran large protest marches against racism in Peckham and Bermondsey. The Southwark Anti-Apartheid Group took the lead in marching against apartheid in South Africa, something reflected also by the council who declared ‘war on apartheid’ in 1984 and ran yearly Anti-Apartheid programming until the early 1990s.
The following is a selection of images found so far, please get in touch with us if you’d like to contribute further images or information.
This Black History Month at Southwark Archives we have been delving into our collections to try and discover more about the history of anti-racism at the council and in the community. Over the decades countless individuals have fought for equal rights, the removal of the colour bar, and against racism in its many forms, and there are many milestones along the continuing journey.
Pioneering community-led initiatives included: the work of Dr Harold Moody and the League of Coloured Peoples in the 1930s, among whose many achievements was the lifting of the colour bar in the armed forces; the West Indian League started in 1964 by George Croasdaile, who campaigned for racial equality and supported young people for over 30 years; and the Southwark Inter-Racial Council that became Southwark Council For Community Relations in 1966 and oversaw black and minority ethnic communities’ liaison with the borough over the following four decades.
The 1970s saw a rise in activity from the National Front and organisations rose up to protest against them including the Anti-Nazi League, Southwark Campaign Against Racialism and Fascism, and Southwark Black Communities Consortium, supported by Southwark Trades Council and the local Labour parties. In 1978, Southwark residents and organisations marched to the ‘Rock Against Racism’ rally and protests at Brockwell Park, the UK’s largest anti-racism rally. Through the 1980s and 1990s the community organised local marches and rallies to combat racism across the borough, in Peckham, Walworth and Bermondsey.
In 1983 Southwark Council established a Race Equality Committee and Unit, which provided funding and support for a range of community initiatives, as well as embedding anti-racist practices across the council and leading the way in addressing racist hate crimes. In 1994, Southwark Council won the Commission for Racial Equality’s first Local Authority Race Award for its work prosecuting the perpetrators of racial harassment on housing estates.
The shocking killing of George Floyd this year and the Black Lives Matter movement and protests around the world have shown that racism is still widespread and there is still much to do. The ongoing Southwark Stands Together programme gives detail on the council’s current work in this area and how “as a borough we knew that now, more than ever, we had to listen, react and together develop solutions”. The latest progress report for the programme can be read online here.
We hope to turn what we find into an online study resource in the coming months, but in the meantime we present here a selection of some key items from the archives that begin telling this story. If you would like to be involved in the project, please drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Click through the slideshow below to see a selection of posters and flyers from 1930s to 2000s about anti-racism in Southwark:
Dr. Cecil Belfield Clarke was born in Barbados in 1894 and on winning an island scholarship came to London in 1914 to study medicine. In 1918 he graduated from Cambridge University, became a qualified surgeon and then set up his medical practice at 112 Newington Causeway, Southwark. He worked as a doctor, serving the local community for over 40 years and London for over 50. During that time he served as a doctor and medical professional in Africa, the Caribbean and throughout the UK.
Clarke was one of the founder members of the League of Coloured Peoples (LCP) which began in 1931. The organisation was set up to achieve a number of objectives with a focus on racial equality and civil rights for Black people in Great Britain. Clarke was an active member but was also associated with other Pan-African causes, including as the first chairman of the House Committee of Aggrey House, a hostel for students from Africa and the Caribbean. Clarke was diplomatic and this enabled him to be an effective communicator between the politically left and right of the Pan-African movements of the 1930s and 40s, so much so that he was a mediator during the planning for the Conference on the African Peoples, Democracy, and World Peace held in London in July 1939.
Clarke hosted many LCP events at his home and was a good friend of author and American civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois, with whom he continued correspondence right up to the 1960s, supporting many of his civil rights causes. Many of Dr Clarke’s letters to Du Bois can be read at the Special Collections and University Archives, at the University of Massachusetts Amhurst. The letters reveal the great affection and respect Clarke had for Du Bois and the importance of continuing the civil rights message. In one such letter dated 4th July 1929, Dr Clarke encloses his annual subscription to The Crisis magazine which he felt was his “duty” as “one of the few coloured Drs practising in London”. He kept the magazine in his doctor’s surgery waiting room and it proved to be a popular read. The Crisis is the official magazine for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) co-founded by W.E.B Du Bois and is still operating.
What may be little known about Dr Clarke is that he formulated the early mathematical dosage for paediatric medicine known as ‘Clark’s rule’. He was the first black District Medical Officer for London in 1936 and the Belfield Clark Prize, which first began in 1952 at St Catharine’s College, Oxford is still awarded to students in Biological Natural Sciences Tripos examinations.
Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries
The Keys magazine (Southwark Local History Library and Archive).
Matera, M., Black London: the Imperial Metropolis and Decolonization in the 20th Century, 1st ed., University of California Press, Oakland, California, 2015.
London’s Screen Archives has been an indispensable resource for Southwark Local History Library and Archive. It is a fantastic network of organisations including museums, galleries, charities, community groups and public sector bodies who hold heritage film and whose aim is to ‘preserve and share London’s history on film’. They started digitising our film and video holdings in 2011 and now host them on their website and YouTube channel. Over the years they have offered us training and advice on how to catalogue and license our holdings and have welcomed us as a steering group partner. This has enabled us to keep on top of developments in this ever changing sector. We are very grateful to them, so it was naturally to LSA that I turned when a can of film was discovered in our archive store by my colleague, Lisa Moss, in 2014.
Some lessons from the Brandon Estate Cine Club collection
Previous to this discovery, the last time I had had the opportunity to look at film held in the archive was in 2009. I bought an 8mm viewer on eBay and tentatively began looking through what was to become the Brandon Estate Cine Club film collection. With no accession paperwork, tracing the provenance of that collection of around 22 films was the first step in a journey that turned out to be one with a few twists and turns.
I knew that there were two film makers as they credited themselves in intertitles made of what looked like magnetic alphabet.
I established via a telephone call with his sister, Dorothy that Richard (‘Dickie’) Morgan was alive but I was unable to get any more information about Brian Waterman. Suffice to say that despite my best efforts, which included holding the first ever screening of the films in one of the estate’s community centres, (which I thought might elicit some memories about the film makers), contacting local tenants’ associations (a member of whom knew Brian but did not know if he was alive), contacting local newspapers, writing letters and making other general enquiries, I had assumed Brian’s demise. So, obviously I was shocked when a few weeks after the film show, I received an email from Brian himself informing me that he was ‘very much alive’! I am well aware of the moral to that story.
So, when my colleague found another can of film in the archive I knew there were two things I needed to do immediately; get the film viewed and assessed and research the provenance thoroughly and that’s exactly what I did.
How I assessed the condition of the film
The can of film was in a flat archival box. There was little information on the outside other than the words ‘film can’ and no accession documentation to be found so we had no idea who deposited the film or under what agreement.
On opening the can, I got a slight whiff of something chemical and I wondered whether the film had vinegar syndrome, (safety film, introduced by Kodak in 1923 is made of cellulose acetate plastic and can degrade if not kept in the right conditions giving off a vinegary smell).
I couldn’t see any warping or buckling of the film however, which is a clear sign of film degradation.
I also wasn’t sure if there was any mould deeper into the reel. Perhaps the smell was just the release of chemicals built up over the years. This is where the possession of AD strips would have been useful. They can detect the severity of acetate deterioration and can therefore also be used on 35mm stills film.
The gauge of the film was 16mm, so I wondered who made it,as this was a format commonly used by municipal organisations, professional businesses and broadcasters between the 1930s and 1970s, though it was still popular with amateur film makers despite the introduction of the smaller Standard 8mm. The Bermondsey Borough Council films for example, were mostly shot on 16mm.
The problem with this film was that there was no leader (a piece of film at the head and tail that helps to thread or ‘lead’ the film into the projector). The head end could sometimes contain written information about the film such as title or filmmaker.
As I carefully unravelled a few inches of film away from its roll I wondered if we had stumbled across a local amateur film. Without a 16mm viewer I couldn’t be certain of the source or content and if the film was not relevant to Southwark, we would have to consider transferring it to another relevant archive. For now, I needed to keep the film as cold (but dry) as possible to prevent further degradation.
Some expert help from the Cinema Museum
As luck would have it the Cinema Museum were having one of their fantastic open days in October 2014 where anyone could bring along their film and have it viewed and assessed by a professional film archivist for free! It was important to view the film before sending it to a professional organisation like LSA or British Film Institute first, since the volume of material they receive (or did at that time) would mean I would be waiting a long time before I received any information about it and I may not have been allowed to view it while they worked on it. So, Home Movie Day was next on my list of things to do.
Volunteer film archivist, Sally, made the following observations
The film was approximately 600ft in length (that’s approximately 25 minutes duration).
It contained mixed film stock from Ilford dated 1965 and Kodak dated 1966. (The date a film was manufactured can be worked out from the symbols on the edge of the film – here’s a handy guide that you can download).
Part of the film was shot at 24 frames per second and part at 18 frames per second. (It was cheaper to shoot at 18fps as fewer frames per second means you could save on film stock.)
The film was spliced in several places. (An edit of two separate films, so they can be shown continuously.)
It was perforated on both sides of the film. (Otherwise known as ‘double perf’ and therefore the film was silent with no separate sound track.)
There is evidence of ‘slight mould’ on the edge of the film in places although it is inactive with ‘slight shrinkage in places.’ (This was perhaps the most important point, and meant that regardless of its overall good condition, film conservation was going to be an important step in this film’s journey.)
Sally’s recommendations were to get the film professionally assessed and digitised.
Once the assessment was completed, I was invited to look at the film via a film projector in another part of the main hall. As the viewing started I immediately realised that I was looking at footage from Clubland.
Clubland: Walworth’s pioneering youth club
Clubland was founded by Reverend Jimmy Butterworth in 1922 and was based in the Walworth Methodist Church on the corner of Camberwell Road and Grosvenor Terrace for over 50 years. It was a Christian youth club which pioneered a new approach to youth work and became one of the most successful in the UK, with royalty and celebrities among its fan base.
The film began in quite grainy black and white, showing the exterior of the Clubland building and went on to show young people from Clubland cleaning a property, presumably for the purposes of club activities. Rev. Butterworth is clearly seen managing the youth with his trademark pipe in mouth. As the film went on, I was aware of more and more people in the hall joining the viewing and would occasionally hear the utterings from film enthusiasts about details of the filming.
The film went from black and white to colour, indicating a different film and showing footage of the club’s outings including one to Wissant in France and sports day in Burgess Park, Camberwell. All of it was in remarkable condition and the local history details were fantastic! Shops no longer on Camberwell Road were revealed, the old factories that lined the perimeter of Burgess Park, and of course the Rev. Butterworth who featured regularly.
I was keen to know who the film maker was but there was no doubting the significance of the film to the borough. But did the film exist in another format elsewhere?
Since the subject matter of the films meant there was significance to the borough of Southwark, I decided that the next steps would be to research the film’s origins.
A few days after the Cinema Museum’s Open Day, I called Mary, daughter of the late Rev. Butterworth. I had spoken to Mary on numerous occasions, the family have close ties to the archive as it holds the majority of Clubland’s records. I told her about the film. Did she know anything about it? Mary said it was filmed by her mother, who she said did most of the filming of the club’s activities and was probably part of a larger donation of items by the family over 20 years previously. Mary and her brother, John were happy to transfer the rights in the film to Southwark Local History Library and Archive, particularly as it had stored it for so long. Documentation would later be drawn up between the archive and the Butterworth family but for now, we had the permission to pursue the film’s preservation and digitisation with London’s Screen Archives.
Digitising the film
Timing is everything and as luck would have it (again) in the late Autumn of 2014 London’s Screen Archives were checking archives with moving image across London to see whether they had any film material they would like to put forward for their Unlocking Film Heritage programme in association with the British Film Institute. I recommended the Clubland film and it would be a couple of months of back and forth emails before I would receive confirmation that it would be accepted into the UFH programme. Hurrah!
It was not until the following year in March 2015 that I finally handed the film over to the LSA in person at their then offices in the Tea Building in Shoreditch. I met with film archivist, Louise Pankhurst, who began the official assessment process. Of course the film had no name and so one was assigned to it – ‘Clubland Activities of the 1950s and 60s‘ since that’s what the film showed (or so I thought).
That was the last time I saw that can of film which is now safely stored courtesy of the LSA.
It would be another 9 months from the handing over the film before I would get a DVD copy of Clubland Activities of the 1950s and 60s. Such was the success of Unlocking Film Heritage that thousands of films were being assessed, preserved and made available to the public. However, it was worth waiting for and our archive is grateful for the opportunity to have our films digitised for free and made available for the public to enjoy. The film is available on both the London’s Screen Archives website and the BFI Player for free forever. The BFI assigned their own title: Rev. Jimmy Butterworth and the activities of Clubland (1966).
If you have old film, significant to the borough of Southwark, and would like help to get it digitised or would like to deposit a film of any format with the archive, do get in contact with us by email at email@example.com.
With thanks to David Whorlow, Volunteer and Archives Co-ordinator and Jack Reichhold, Information and Media Officer at London’s Screen Archives.
In May 1945, British forces in the northern German port of Kiel captured a German ship, the MV Monte Rosa, as war reparations. She was built in Hamburg, in 1936: after a short pre-war career as a cruise ship with the Kraft durch Freude (“Strength through Joy”) programme, she became a transport, then a hospital ship. Monte Rosa had been converted to a troop transport and assigned to the Ministry of Transport by the beginning of 1947. She also received a new name, one that marked her as a prize of war and highlighted a tributary of the Thames — a name that made history: HMT Empire Windrush.
The government commissioned the New Zealand Shipping Company to operate Windrush; she ferried British service personnel and their families between the UK, the Far East, and points in between for the next year. Windrush arrived at the port of Tilbury from Bombay on 8 April 1948. Her next voyage broke the mould, – rather than returning to the Far East, Windrush made her first – and only – trip to the Caribbean. One source claims that the trip was part of a repositioning cruise to Australia via the Atlantic; most others claim that she was sent to Kingston, Jamaica to pick up British service personnel who were on leave there. The latter seems more likely, since ads appeared in Jamaica’s premier newspaper, the Daily Gleaner, in late April, offering cheap passage to London. Travellers paid £28 for a berth on the open troop deck, or £48 for a cabin: for someone in Jamaica in 1948, that was more than a month’s pay, and would be like paying nearly £1,000 and more than £1,700 respectively today!
Windrush arrived in Trinidad on 20 May 1948, embarking local passengers as well as others who had travelled from other Caribbean islands and British Guiana (now Guyana); she then made scheduled port calls at Kingston, Jamaica, and Bermuda; however, in between she detoured to Tampico, in Mexico – where 66 Polish refugees embarked, all but one to join husbands and fathers who’d fought in the Polish forces-in-exile under the terms of the Polish Resettlement Act 1947.
At Kingston, as passenger Alford Gardner told the Guardian in 2018, there were more would-be travellers than tickets available. The Great Depression wrecked the agricultural export market Jamaica’s economy relied on; the resulting unemployment, poor living conditions, and inequality still lingered. A hurricane in 1944 meant the farm economy was still depressed, and many people took the opportunity to try their luck in the mother country. In fact, about one-third of Windrush’s passengers were either serving members of the RAF or veterans looking to re-enlist.
As Windrush steamed toward the UK, immigration was a hot topic. The mother country faced major labour shortage in many sectors, and needed to repair huge amounts of war damage. Eearlier in 1948, a government working group had ultimately advised against large-scale colonial immigration to fill this gap. Additionally, Parliament was debating the British Nationality Act 1948, which passed just over a month after Windrush arrived; this act created a single citizenship for the United Kingdom and its colonies. Even Creech Jones, the Colonial Secretary, commented on a BBC broadcast that, while Windrush’s Caribbean passengers were British passport holders with the right to settle, there was no reason to worry, because they wouldn’t last one English winter.
HMT Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury on 21 June 1948, with 1,027 listed passengers (and two stowaways) on board. Men outnumbered women by about 3 to 1; more than 800 came from the Caribbean, and nearly half were Jamaican. Pathé News sent a reporter to interview the new arrivals – the first immigration en masse from Britain’s colonies. The transport industry and the fledgling National Health Service were both especially badly hit by labour shortages and welcomed the newcomers. However, their welcome wasn’t universal: the day after Windrush docked, a group of 10 MPs wrote to Prime Minister Clement Atlee in protest; in his response, (held at the National Archives), the PM attempted to placate them, ending the letter by noting that “I doubt whether there is likely to be a similar large influx.”
While many of her passengers had plans, or had already organised housing or a job, just over 200 had neither on arrival. They were temporarily housed in the deep air-raid shelter at Clapham South tube, some 15 storeys underground. More than half had found work within a week or two; the nearest labour exchange (what we now call a Job Centre) to Clapham South was in Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, – planting the seed of one of the largest Afro-Caribbean communities in the country.
Southwark is especially proud of one of the Jamaican veterans on board the Empire Windrush: Samuel Beaver King, MBE. He was born in Priestman’s River, Portland, Jamaica, on 20 February 1926 – one of George and Caroline King’s ten children. Mr King worked with his father on the family’s banana plantation, and intended to take it over, but the Second World War changed those plans. In 1944 he saw a Daily Gleaner advert recruiting for the RAF, and asked his mother for advice; decades later, he remembered her response: “My son, the mother country is at war. Go – and if you survive, you will not regret it.”
Mr King passed the entry exams, completed RAF basic training in Kingston, and set sail for the UK in 1944. His first posting was in Greenock, just outside Glasgow – both the cold and the devastation created by German bombers shocked him. He served at aerodromes around Scotland and England, first as ground crew and then as a skilled aircraft fitter, before being demobbed in 1947.
He returned to Jamaica, but the 1944 hurricane – which destroyed an estimated 90% of Jamaica’s banana trees – had devastated the family plantation, and there was little other work available. Once more, Mr King answered a Daily Gleaner ad, and booked passage on the Empire Windrush to re-enlist: his family sold three cows to raise the funds for a troop deck berth. On board, there was a bit of a holiday atmosphere, and special camaraderie among the RAF veterans. However, he noted in his memoir Forty Years On that there was also enough apprehension about the government turning the ship back that he organised two ex-RAF wireless operators to play dominoes outside the radio room – and monitor incoming messages.
He re-enlisted in the RAF in 1948, serving until 1953. While Black service personnel found they were respected and supported when they were in uniform, civvy street was far too often a different story. Racism restricted job opportunities: Mr King applied unsuccessfully to the Metropolitan Police in 1953 – it took them another 14 years to appoint its first Black officer. Racial discrimination also made it extremely difficult for many Black people to find housing — and thereby start putting down roots. In 1950, Mr King, then an RAF corporal, and his brother Wilton attempted to buy a house in Sears Street, Camberwell, but bank officials responded to a mortgage request with a letter suggesting he return to Jamaica. Mr King took the letter to the owner of the house, who was so disgusted that he gave him mortgage himself; this made the Kings the second Black family in Southwark to own a home. For other Black residents, the only way to own a home was to join a savings club, known as a “partner”: Mr King took an active role in setting up many partners.
His status as a veteran ensured his application to the Post Office was successful; his career there lasted 34 years, beginning as a postal carrier and ending as Postal Executive for the South Eastern postal district. On 26 June 1954, Sam King married Mavis (Mae) Kirlew, a student nurse at Emmanuel Church in Camberwell. They had two children, Michael and Althea, together; Mr King also had a daughter, Daslin, from a previous relationship.
Faith and community were at the centre of Mr King’s life. He was a lay preacher who trained in ministry at Goldsmiths College; in the 1980s he actively championed gospel music, supporting a number of broadcast licence applications for community radio stations and helping organise the 1985 Songs of Praise broadcast from Southwark Cathedral that pioneered gospel music on a BBC national flagship show.
Mr King was also active in the postal union, the local Labour party, and as a community organiser. He helped Claudia Jones launch Britain’s first major Black newspaper, the West Indian Gazette, in March 1958, and served as its circulation manager. In 1959, he helped her organise the first Caribbean-style carnival in St Pancras Town Hall — the precursor to the Notting Hill Carnival. Sam’s ability to communicate with and connect the Camberwell and Peckham local communities and the police also helped avoid violence in the aftermath of the 1958 Notting Hill riots and during National Front agitation in the 1970s and 1980s.
In the 1982 local elections, Mr King was elected councillor for Bellenden ward, and six months later, in 1983, he became Southwark’s first Black mayor (leading to death and arson threats against him from the National Front). Mae died in 1983; he married Myrtle Kirlew in late 1984.
Mr King was also active in the postal union, the local Labour party, and as a community organiser. He helped Claudia Jones launch Britain’s first major Black newspaper, the West Indian Gazette, in March 1958, and served as its circulation manager. In 1959, he helped her organise the first Caribbean-style carnival in St Pancras Town Hall — the precursor to the Notting Hill Carnival. Sam’s ability to communicate with and connect the Camberwell and Peckham local communities and the police also helped avoid violence in the aftermath of the 1958 Notting Hill riots and during National Front agitation in the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1982 local elections, Mr King was elected councillor for Bellenden ward, and six months later, in 1983, he became Southwark’s first Black mayor (leading to death and arson threats against him from the National Front). Mae died in 1983; he married Myrtle Kirlew in late 1984.
After retiring from local politics in the mid 1980s, Mr King focussed on preserving the experiences of his generation. He founded the Windrush Foundation with Arthur Torrington in 1996 to highlight the contributions of Britain’s African and Caribbean communities, safeguard the memories of Britain’s first post-war settlers, and promote good community relations. He was perhaps best known for his campaigning to make the anniversary of the Empire Windrush’s arrival a holiday, and in the process becoming known as “Mr Windrush”. In 1998, Sam King received the MBE as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations for Windrush. He published his autobiography, Climbing Up the Rough Side of the Mountain, the same year. In 2009, a public vote awarded him a Southwark blue plaque which was installed during a ceremony at his long-time home at Warmington Road, Herne Hill, on 31 January 2010, and in May 2016, he received the freedom of the borough of Southwark.
Sam King MBE died on 17 June 2016, less than a week before the 68th anniversary of his arrival on the Empire Windrush: more than 500 people attended his funeral at Southwark Cathedral. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, paid tribute to Mr King, saying “[h]e educated Londoners with Caribbean food, Caribbean culture, Caribbean music. London is a better place, Britain is a better place, thanks to him and his family.”
On the 72nd anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush at Tilbury Dock, the people of Southwark are grateful for Sam King MBE: his love of his community, hard work and spirit of service and the sacrifices made by him and the whole of the Windrush generation.
The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists.; Class: BT26; Piece: 1237
Telegram concerning passengers on the Empire Windrush, 6 July 1948 (Catalogue ref: CO 876/88)
Today one of Southwark’s collections, the Crutchley Archive, joins the UK Memory of the World Register. Here we’ll share the story behind it and explain a bit about how we help to preserve the history of the borough.
One of our early blog posts talks about what the archive holds, but it doesn’t necessarily tell you what an archive is. An “archive” can be one of two things: a building that holds historic records, or the historic records themselves.
So what are records? They’re documents someone – a person or organisation – creates over the course of time that put their opinions, decisions, and actions in writing. They’re different than books, magazines and other documents because their main purpose isn’t to communicate something into the future.
One way to think about it is that records are the memory of their creator: telling us not just when and where something happened, but how and why. They give us the information that lets us call people and organisations to account for their actions. This evidence value means we need to keep some records as long as we can – those are the records that archives collect.
Obviously, archival records can get destroyed or damaged – if you think about how easy it is to chuck papers in the bin, or how creased and torn an old, much-read love letter can get, you’ll understand what we mean. If an archive’s importance isn’t obvious, it’s more likely to get damaged or destroyed. And that’s a tragedy, because archives are unique and irreplaceable: once they’re destroyed or unusable, the information in them is gone forever.
You may be familiar with “listed building” status or the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s World Heritage Site programme. These programmes aim to protect buildings by highlighting their architectural or historical value. There’s a similar UNESCO programme for archives – the Memory of the World Register. The international programme started in 1992, and a UK national programme in 2010.
Both registers highlight records, or collections of records, that are outstandingly important – they tell stories that help us understand and make sense of, the history of a region, the whole UK, or even the entire world. That recognition, like listed building status, helps protect the records. The international Memory of the World Register includes the personal papers of Sir Winston Churchill, George Orwell, and archaeologist Gertrude Bell, the Magna Carta, and the film The Battle of the Somme, which was shot during the early days of the battle. Some of the collections with national inscription are the Domesday Book, Michael Faraday’s notebooks, the London County Council’s Second World War bomb damage maps, Alfred Hitchcock’s silent films, and Royal Mail’s archive.
Today one of Southwark’s collections, the Crutchley Archive, joins the UK Memory of the World Register. The collection – a group of 15 volumes or parts of volumes – came to us in 2011 as a gift from Annie Crutchley. What we learned from her was that these records were from a dyeing business her husband’s ancestors ran in Clink Street in the 18th century. We could see that there were samples of cloth in many of the volumes, and also that the nearly 300 years between then and now weren’t very kind to these records: they’ve been damaged by pests, water, and mould.
To be honest, that’s about all we knew, until Dr Anita Quye visited us in June 2014, and made it very clear that these records were special. Anita, and her colleagues Drs Dominque Cardon and Jenny Balfour-Paul, have been researching the Crutchley family, their business, and their records since then.
Some of their research gives us more background. John Crutchley, the firm’s founder, was born in 1676 – his family were dyers, and he began as an apprentice to John Trimmer, a prominent dyer, in 1691. By 1710, he was a liveryman – a full member – of the Worshipful Company of Dyers, and he’d started his own company by 1718. Four of John’s sons – Thomas, William, Coleman, and Jeremiah – trained as dyers. John died in 1727 – you can see a memorial to him in Lee Old Churchyard in Lewisham – and Jeremiah took over the business. The 15 items in our collection document the period between 1716 and 1744, a time of explosive economic growth and radical intellectual development in the fledging United Kingdom that set the stage for the Industrial Revolution; the family firm, however, continued its work until the 19th century, eventually becoming major suppliers to the British East India Company.
Dyeing was a hugely important industry in this period – as well as being a cornerstone of fashion, dyed textiles were an important export. Modern synthetic dyes hadn’t been invented in the 18th century. Instead, dyers coloured cloth using natural dyes, often extracted from plants: essentially boiling cloth in a giant vat of herbal tea. A lot of dyeplants had to be imported, and finished cloth needed to be stretched and dried – so places within easy reach of water, wharves, and wide open spaces were ideal sites for dyehouses.
It may be hard for us to imagine today, but Bankside fit that bill perfectly. Southwark’s riverfront, especially between Blackfriars and St Mary Overy Dock, was a centre of the dye trade for decades – wills and contracts the Crutchley family still hold tell us the firm had premises in Deadman’s Place (the modern Park Street), and Clink Street near Borough Market, as well as in Maze Pond, where the modern buildings of Guy’s Hospital are today. All of these places are only a short walk from our searchroom – you can walk in the Crutchley family’s footsteps – but there are only a few traces of their Bankside left: names of streets and lead seals used to mark quality of cloth bales, which are a fairly frequent find on the Thames foreshore. These records push our window into this vanished industrial Bankside open wider.
In fact, they throw it wide open — the collection isn’t just special, it’s spectacular. The collection includes two cash books, three hardcover pattern books, five dye books, and four calculation books. Taken together, they give us a complete and well-rounded view of a contemporary textile business that few other collections – in the UK or abroad – can match.
The cash books tell us that the firm took orders from more than 140 named individuals (including one woman, which is rare) between 1721 and 1725, as well as the British East Indian, Dutch East Indian, and South Seas companies. A single order could cost the equivalent of £250,000 today.
The three hardbound pattern books are large, impressive volumes that cover a period from the spring of 1736 to the winter of 1744. Each entry in the books gives brief instructions on how to create a specific colour for a specific named person; each order is dated, and most have a small sample of finished dyed fabric attached. These may well have been used in a showroom or sales office, to entice buyers with the skill of Crutchley’s employees. The colours are still vivid after nearly 300 years; they range from the delicate pastel yellows, lilacs, and pinks we associate with period dramas, to bright oranges and yellows that wouldn’t look out of place in the 1980s.
All but one of the dye books are softcover, and their instructions are much more detailed – they cover a period between 1722 and 1732, although pasted-in inserts provide details of techniques going back to 1716. Many of these recipes have fabric samples attached: they tell us that the Crutchley firm specialised in red colours. These books also record some instructions in Flemish or Old Dutch, and again translated into English – this unique survival shows the firm’s specialists learning and adopting techniques from European colleagues.
It’s the four calculation books that give us perhaps the best view into the firm’s work, though. They don’t have samples – instead, they’re working technical manuals, giving details of agents and quantities to produce specific effects. One of the books has monogram marks that resemble the notations on lead cloth seals found in the Thames: they may well specify specific cloth as well. These books even have red stains on them, proving they were used in the dyehouse itself. As Anita notes, they’re as close as we can get to watching over the shoulder of a working Crutchley company dyer.
As you may be able to tell, we’re very excited about this collection. But you may be wondering why it’s so important – there are other collections of dyeing records all over the country, including ones with samples. These records, however, are single items or small groups of records that we can’t put into context well. The Crutchley collection, on the other hand, is firmly grounded to a specific time, place, and community; that means it’s an amazing source of information on the history of an important industry.
The Crutchley collection also records techniques that were, for the most part, lost with the discovery of synthetic dyes. The hundreds of samples in the collection provide an unmatched pool of research data for chemical analysis – not only to prove that the recipes produce what they say they do, but to compare to recipes, techniques, and samples from different time periods and parts of the world. Synthetic dyes can have huge negative impact on the environment and water access; the Crutchley collection can help find ways to improve historic natural dye techniques with modern science.
Most importantly, maybe, it ties Southwark’s present back into its past in an engaging, compelling way. The pattern books pull visitors to the searchroom in with their clear Georgian handwriting and vivid colours – they’re just that enthralling. Combined with the right maps, you can use them to follow the traces of Bankside’s colourful past beyond the hundreds of years of change and development to the dyers and their vats. The collection has something to offer almost anyone – it touches chemistry, history, economics, trade, international relations, textiles, fashion, even botany. Modern Southwark is justly proud of its creative industries, not least its small fashion enterprises. We look forward to introducing designers, artists, and craftspeople looking for inspiration and collaboration to their colleagues of nearly 300 years ago.
Any effort this big is a team one, and we need to thank many people. First and foremost is the Crutchley family, whose care kept the collection safe, and Annie Crutchley, who generously donated it. Lisa Moss, our former Archive Officer, liaised with our academic colleagues and successfully applied to the National Manuscript Conservation Trust for assistance with conserving the collection: without her hard work, we wouldn’t be celebrating. Anita Quye, Dominque Cardon, and Jenny Balfour-Paul have been researching the collection since 2016 – without their efforts, it would still be a colourful curiosity in a box in our collection store. Ian Mackintosh, the archivist at the Worshipful Company of Dyers, generously assisted with research. Nell Hoare has provided support and advice on conservation. The National Manuscripts Cataloguing Trust provided financial support for conservation work; Textile Conservation Foundation and the Worshipful Company of Dyers provided research funding.
When I moved a few years ago the house was in a very bad condition. Most of the heavy work was clearing a path to the house, because it was sodden, broken up and in a pretty poor state. Having moved 4 tons of soil by hand (Ok wheelbarrow) we can actually get in now and the place is drier. But there’s a long way to go. We found layers and layers of broken stuff chucked by the decades of tenants before us. We saved these bits to clean and use for decoration or because we just liked them. In the wood behind the house there’s whole heap of broken toys but as we’ve enclosed the back yard this is not as accessible right now. Still, we also tidied up the wood as well as our patch.
In olden times people threw fewer things away but also these things were more biodegradable. But bones, glass, pottery and clay, some metal and even fabrics survive for several hundred years depending on the soil, even for thousands of years. Most homes would have had what in Scotland we called the “midden” where broken things were thrown. I don’t think the word is exclusive to Scotland but the midden survived in both use and language until the 1970s.
Bottles and what might possibly be a parasol handle in the foreground
All the best bits
Pelvic bone from an animal
Old Spice bottle
What is a pickle jar from Peckham doing miles from London?
See what you can find outside
Take care though when sifting through anything.
Ideally a pair of washing up or gardening gloves are always good to have to hand (pun intended) and a couple of little bags.
Wash everything very carefully, ideally outside, before you handle them. You never know what has been in those containers and bottles and things need a good scrub and a soak. Normally we wouldn’t give museum objects a dunk in detergent but in this case we should make some exceptions!
Animal bones should not be directly handled and do no suffer cleaning very well. Best to look and leave them.
For this week’s archives keep fit regime, we thought it was time to feature some more pictures from the fabulous Phil Polglaze collection. Phil worked as a photographer for the borough in the 1980s and 1990s covering local events for the Southwark Sparrow newspaper and the council’s Leisure department. These pictures show Southwark residents in their finest Lycra taking part in fitness and aerobics events at Peckham Leisure Centre, Elephant and Castle and elsewhere. Most of the images have never been published or seen before and Southwark Archives has been working with Phil to digitise his collection. We hope to feature more of his photographs in the coming months, but in the meantime check out the selection below for exercise inspiration!
I live aboard a boat built in the same year as the Imperial War Museum’s largest object; HMS Belfast. I offer this as an excuse as to why my conversations often meander into the subject of how the Second World War affected the lives of ordinary people. And so it was that in speaking with Southwark’s Harbour Master, Patrick Keating about current shortages and the stockpiling of items such as loo roll, that he suggested that I write something for this blog about rationing in the 1940s. I have decided to focus on a few lesser known aspects of how people coped with restrictions and shortages; and therefore loo roll seems a pretty good place to begin…
Ngaire’s boat being towed in for some maintenance
The story told by one Liverpool woman of a loo roll being offered as a prize during a whist competition, and the fact that the shortage of loo roll was debated in Parliament in 1944 suggests that then, as in the last few weeks, this vital article was an item rarely sighted on shopkeepers’ shelves. Paper in general was in short supply throughout the long years of the war, with orders to shops to reduce paper consumption to 30% of their pre-war usage, and employees in offices regaled by messages of ‘Don’t waste paper’. We often think that recycling is a modern invention but waste paper was pulped and then re-pulped throughout the war, although as it went through these cycles of usage it began to take on a khaki colour. Of course used paper could skip the pulping phase and be re-purposed directly for service in the lavatory; one former evacuee I know remembers being tasked with cutting up newspaper into squares for use as toilet paper. The bare shelves where once toilet paper was in abundance is a reality of our current situation, but even here there are wartime echoes. One lady in the Women’s Voluntary Services for Civil Defence devoted part of a letter home to her mother about her experience of actually finding loo roll in the shops:
‘May W. asked me to get some toilet paper if I could. I managed to get some thick stuff at a terrible price and commented on the price to the shopkeeper who agreed with me heartily and said it was an awful price, especially as it was only reconditioned.’
Meanwhile a woman in Croydon would let her neighbour know that the lesser-spotted rolls were on sale by calling out to her: ‘Boots have stationery in’.
Some rationed supplies and ration book, courtesy of Imperial War Museums
Keeping calm and making tea was, and remains a very good coping strategy, but with tea rationed at just 2oz per person per week, this had to be used sparingly at home and the government advised doing away with the habit of adding a ‘spoon for the pot’. Tea went on ration in July 1940, but sugar had been amongst the first items to be restricted when the national rationing scheme began in January of that year. For many the limit of 12oz per person per week was one way the war impacted on their lives every single day, and one 10 year old girl remembers her grandfather being firmly told off when he stole an extra teaspoon for his tea when he thought her mother’s back was turned.
For many a cup of tea is incomplete without an accompanying biscuit but many found their pre-war favourite for ‘dunk-ability’ was no longer available due to repurposing factories and labour, the pre-war 350 different types of biscuit were reduced to just 20! As today, with manufacturers switching production to make protective equipment and ventilators, in 1940 a series of laws were passed to ensure that raw materials, factory capacity and labour were diverted towards making munitions, and one of the seldom considered effect of this was the shortages of crockery and cutlery in the shops, which links back to our ‘tea-time theme’ because teaspoons became increasingly hard to come by as cutlery production was cut to just a quarter of the level it had been at in 1940.
Perhaps a good place to end would be the necessity, now as then, of good hand-washing, although fortunately we are not having to contend with soap rationing which was introduced to wartime Britain in February 1942 at an allowance of 3 oz per person, every 4 weeks. One housewife remembered how she stretched her family’s ration by placing the scraps into a tin with holes punched in the lid, and that this ‘when swished in a basin of hot water washed greasy plates, stockings or our hair’. If our current soap stocks on the marina ever run low I would prefer to follow her example than the advice offered in one women’s magazine, which in August 1942 printed an article that began: ‘It is very little known that any material, but particularly woollens, can be most successfully washed with glue dissolved in hot water.’ In these challenging times, and the need for children to be home schooled, this is one piece of 1940s advice I would urge you not to follow as a potential science experiment!
The Collection Creatives have been meeting every four weeks at Canada Water Library, hearing the stories of objects from the Cuming Collection from our Curator, Judy Aitken. Every month, the group produce poetry and artwork in response to the museum objects and the memories they inspire. Watch this space for a Stay-At-Home special edition of Collection Creatives that you can join in with wherever you are – and here is a glimpse of the group’s work over the last twelve months:
The Lovett Collection is a wealth of superstitious and supposedly magical objects collected by Edward Lovett in the late 19th and early 20th century. You can see many of the objects on the museum’s dedicated pages to Lovett’s Charming World. In May, the Collection Creatives saw some of these objects up close, and the group conjured up their own magicians, poetry and artwork in response.
Peter Le Petit
Later in the Summer we met a collection of goddesses! – from the Egyptian Isis, to the Etruscan Leocothea and beyond. We were struck by the way these evocative figurines from all over the world and thousands of years of history complemented each other. The group were inspired to artwork and poetry.
Farah Al Hashimi
On our suitably bright day in August our theme was the sun – and the moon. We were struck by a ‘man-in-the-moon’ Christmas decoration with a gaping mouth and an insurance plaque from the Sun Insurance Company, among other intriguing objects introduced by Judy Aitken.
Then in September as the schools went back, the Collection Creatives saw some artefacts from schools of the past – among them a school bell and an ominous ‘punishment book’. We also reminisced about our own early learning.
Our next session was focused on teeth and tusks. In times past local docks were host to whaling vessels, and Southwark has whales’ teeth in its collection, as well as an elephant’s tooth the size of your head and a street dentist’s cap – a hat festooned with human teeth and supposedly worn to advertise his trade. The group produced art work and writing – we kept coming back to ‘big or small, we all need our teeth…’
November sees the Illuminate festival in Rotherhithe and Collection Creatives have been part of the programme every year since 2017. This year the theme was ‘Trade’, and we had exclusive access to the old Office Mixing Book from the Peek Frean biscuit factory; full of the original ingredients lists for both well-remembered and long-forgotten treats. One of many curious things about the ingredients listed is the code numbers for different kinds of sugar… this inspired ‘100 Kinds of Sugar’, performed at Illuminate’s Community Show at the end of the festival.
Preetha Leela Chockalingam
We marked the threshold of the year with a selection of objects associated with thresholds – real and imaginary doors, doorways and keys; including an ancient key to Bermondsey Abbey and an even-more-ancient-than-that fragment of a doorway for spirits from an Egyptian tomb. Many of the group members kept their creative outcomes from this session to themselves – to see the full range of artwork from the Collection Creatives, you have to come along and join in! But we are glad to present this homely portal by Alison Clayburn.
Most recently, the group had a session focused on lost things. In 2013, Walworth Town Hall where the Cuming Museum was housed was damaged by fire. Although the vast majority of objects survived, one that was lost was a figurine of St Anne, the Patron Saint of Lost Things. This inspired ‘A natural selection’ – figurines modelled on an image of the original, and remembering things lost by the museum’s team and audience – by the artist Janetka Platun in 2015. The group saw these models up close and thought about the different kinds of loss that people experience. The responses shared here included a sketch of St Anne by the workshop leader, Wes, and a pair of poems by Jenny Mitchell. You can find out more about Jenny and her work on her own page on her publisher’s website here.
Peckham’s Pioneer Health Centre was open to local families to enjoy communal sport and leisure activities between 1926 and 1950. It was also a major experiment into the meaning of health. If you’re struggling to stay active at the moment, try some of these exercises, demonstrated on the roof and in the glorious Art-Deco interiors of this iconic building.
In parts 1 and 2 we learnt about the origin’s of the Peckham Health Centre. Here, we’ll look at some of the findings of this great experiment into public health and what became of the centre during and after the Second World War.
Between 1935 and 1939, a survey was undertaken of 3,911 individual members of the Pioneer Health Centre (around 1200 families). 91% were found to have some kind of disorder, whether that was a decaying tooth or a cancer and only 9% of those were having treatment for those disorders. A second report 4½ years later, comprising over 4000 individuals, again found that around 90% were found to have a disorder of some kind but only 30% were actually aware of it. The other 60% stated that they were well which meant that they were unaware of their disorder or coping with it. These findings were addressed by the Pioneer Health Centre:
“…In the Pioneer Health Centre the situation was altered in two ways. First, through periodic health overhaul, masked disorders were disclosed and made known to the individual who usually took steps to have them put rights. Second, on discharge from medical treatment, he found himself in a social environment inviting activity of many sorts. He tended them towards health.”
How poignant these words seem at a time when we are collectively remaining isolated from friends and loved ones, not taking part in outdoor social activities, the gym, parties, the cinema, clubs, restaurants, not hugging, not together – to maintain the health not just of the individual but humanity.
The war years
In 1939, like most large buildings in the country, the Pioneer Health Centre was turned over to help the war effort and used as a munitions factory, despite its laboratory and staff being offered to the government as a medical examination centre. Regardless, a building made of glass was too dangerous for the general public to meet.
During the war years the Centre adapted. The mothers and children of some of the member families were evacuated to the home farm at Oakley House in Bromley, seven miles south of Peckham. The evacuee families could be self-sufficient using the milk from its own herd of Jersey Cows and fresh vegetables grown on the farm. Later, however, in November 1942 this project also came to an end when the Admiralty requisitioned the farm as an orthopaedic rehabilitation centre.
Oakley House, Bromley
By 1946 the centre’s former members were campaigning vigorously for its reopening. A team of volunteers gathered to clean and repair the site, which had been left in an almost derelict state. In the years following the war the centre was recognised for its value in the rebuilding of family and social life. Dr Pearse was sent by the War Office on a lecture tour to the Middle East and both doctors were invited to give talks at Yale and Harvard universities. The centre continued to receive visits from scientists, students and academics and in 1948 it received Queen Mary and Prime Minister Clement Attlee. A film commissioned by the Foreign Office, The Centre (1947), was distributed around the world.
The end of ‘The Centre’
The Centre flourished between 1935 and 1939, and between 1946 and its closure in 1950. During April 1938, it is recorded that membership of the Centre comprised 600 families with an average daily use of around 770 people. At its peak there were 850 families registered.
The establishment of the NHS and lack of funding finally brought about the end of the ‘Peckham Experiment’ and the Pioneer Health Centre in 1950.
The centre was not designed to treat disorders. Its purpose was to understand the positive aspects of health. Suffice to say, that although it is some 94 years since the Pioneer Health Centre was envisaged, its work remains relevant; social conditions have changed, but our basic human needs and capabilities have not. This is why Williamson’s and Pearse’s ethological studies into the health of families are still important today within the field of medical and social research. Their experiment showed that the nature of a person’s health is satisfied if the essential needs of a person or their community are met. Children and adults can develop more healthily, happily, physically and mentally within the right physical and social environment and the Pioneer Health Centre enabled this positive health by having a healthy environment which influenced all the members of the centre and even helped relationships outside of it.
If there was one wish I could be given, it would be to go back in time for a year at the Centre in either period. they were extremely happy years” (Charles).
“It was a great place for mixing people who met and socialised. The cross section was fantastic – dustmen to lawyers. People of natural interests used to gather together. We had clubs within the club” (Adge)
“My early and continuing personality development was enormously influenced for the good through my family membership of the Centre.” (John)
The Centre was later transferred to Southwark Council, who initially used it as a leisure and adult education centre and then sold it in the 1990s, after which it was converted into housing. The building remains among English Heritage’s grade II listed buildings. The Pioneer Health Foundation continues to promote the work of the Pioneer Health Centre.
During this difficult time when we are all being asked to stay home and give up some of our basic human needs, we do so in the hope that we can minimise danger to life for the greater good. As a community we are supporting each other whether that be through a friendly phone call, a delivery, working on the frontline or staying home, whatever the support is. At the beginning of Dr Pearse’s and Dr Williamson’s research, they found that isolation and loneliness contributed to the community’s lethargy where people were not living to their full capacity and many of us are feeling that now during this Coronavirus pandemic. However, the emphasis on community is even more important now. We can still be connected, albeit differently, whilst maintaining that crucial physical distancing and in this way we may be able to both maintain health and preserve it.
Dr Innes Pearse and Dr Williamson with former members of the Pioneer Health Centre, early 1950s at Mill House, East Sussex
Research and photographs sourced from the collections at Southwark Local History Library and Archive and include:
Peckham: the first health centre by Scott Williamson, reprinted from ‘The Lancet’, 1946.
The Quality of Life: the Peckham approach to human ethology by Innes Hope Pearse, 1979.
Being Me And Also Us: lessons from the Peckham Experiment by Alison Stallibrass, 1989.
‘The Centre’, a film dramatisation about the work of the Pioneer Health Centre commissioned by the Central Office of Information has been made available online by the BFI.
In Part 1 we met doctors George Scott Williamson and Innes Pearse and learnt about their ambitions to study the meaning of health. Now we’ll see how this led to the creation of one of Peckham’s most iconic listed buildings and what went on inside.
The New Pioneer Health Centre
The first centre was a successful beginning to the Doctors’ research and attracted a good number of families but it was small. It therefore became necessary to find new premises in order to continue the health research and for families to continue to socialise and take part in activities. After 6 years of fundraising and planning, the new Pioneer Health Centre opened in May 1935 in St Mary’s Road, Peckham.
This new centre was bigger and better equipped and would enable around two thousand families to develop better health in a way that the old Peckham Health Centre could not cope with.
The design of the new building in Peckham was of particular importance to Dr Scott Williamson. He wanted a space that would provide the right kind of social environment for families to spend and enjoy their leisure time but also one in which he could observe those activities for the essential research into their health. Hence, the appointment of an engineer – Sir Evan Owen Williams – rather than an architect to design the building.
The centre was a modern building and praised nationally for its design. It provided easy movement and good visibility from area to area enabling people to wander around, take part in activities, make contact with friends and family or enjoy watching others in their activities. There were no closed doors or corridors and glass replaced concrete for the main internal walls. It was an open building.
The building contained the second largest swimming pool in London, which could be seen from the cafeteria. It also had a gym, theatre, badminton court, two open spaces that could be used for different activities like dancing; committee rooms, a theatre, adult games rooms and children and baby play areas.
The Rules Of Membership
Within the centre, families were free to do what they liked. The only time staff exercised authority would be in preventing someone else exercising it. The Centre was a democratic space. However, there were four rules to membership of the Pioneer Health Centre:
The centre was for families only – this could be a couple with children or without; this was because Williamson believed that the smallest family could be a couple living together in their home what he called “the smallest biological whole”. The family must live locally to the Centre. They must pay a weekly subscription to help maintain the health centre in its voluntary capacity and finally and most importantly, they must have a periodical health overhaul – this was both a physiological and biological one and could be at both the staff’s or the family’s request. There were also ad hoc consultations and check-ups, for example before conception, during puberty or menopause. This was in order to deal with issues and problems as they were raised in a holistic way.
There were no other rules at the Pioneer Health Centre and a family would not be excluded so long as they adhered to them. The doctors felt that in order for the centre to run successfully, there needed to be a non-authoritative environment where open dialogue between families and the doctors was encouraged. This last point was particularly important to the doctors in order to make all families feel welcomed and to gain their trust.
There were activities to suit just about every taste at the Centre. As well as the usual indoor sporting and recreational activities, there was also evening dances and various outdoor activities that included vegetable growing and physical pursuits.
A calendar entry of activities for a boy aged 11 at Pioneer Health Centre, Peckham. Note the restriction of two swims a day during the school holidays. This boy taking full advantage of the swimming pool by doing two swims and two dives during the school holidays!
The ‘health overhaul’
Every member of the ‘Centre’ had a Periodic Health Overhaul which involved laboratory tests, a complete bodily examination and a family consultation.
During the consultation, everyone was discussed individually, starting with the children first. All results were honestly shared and no advice was given unless the families requested it and no treatment offered. All questions were answered.
There was a holistic approach to the health of families at the Pioneer Health Centre. As well as being examined during consultation, families were observed during their social and leisure activities in the centre. These observations were also shared with the families which gave parents vital information about their children which in turn helped them understand their children’s health. These observations were also important for young couples wishing to have children; their health could be monitored before conception, during pregnancy and after childbirth.
There was a mutual flow of information between families and doctors about how they were developing. Once the families had all the information they wanted, they could use it as they needed, their health was their responsibility. If that meant deciding to undergo a necessary treatment, the Centre would be available to help find a hospital that was right for their circumstances and financial situation. Let’s bear in mind that the NHS had not yet been established.
In Part 3 we’ll look at the findings of the research, what happened to the centre during the Second World War and the arrival of the NHS.
Peckham: The First Health Centre by G Scott Williamson, reprinted from The Lancet 16/3/46
In thinking about our health and how we are all looking after ourselves and our loved ones during this COVID-19 pandemic, it’s interesting to think about how health has been researched in the past. How did health professionals view its meaning and what did it mean to have good health? In this blog, I want to look at the Pioneer Health Centre which began life in 1926 in Queens Road, Peckham by Dr George Scott Williamson and Dr Innes Pearse. The Centre was a place where a community of families took part in a range of activities designed to be advantageous to their physical and mental health as part of an experiment to research and advance health. Does their health vision still have relevance today?
Who were Pearse and Williamson and what was the motivation behind the Pioneer Health Centre?
Before going on to say something about the Pioneer Health Centre it’s probably useful to say something about the doctors who started it which I think reveals much about their motivation and ambition to see it succeed.
Dr George Scott Williamson (1884-1953)
Dr Innes Pearse (1889-1978)
George Scott Williamson was born in Fife, Scotland in 1884 and was the eldest child of seven siblings. He was awarded the Military Cross for his services in charge of the Field Ambulance Unit during the First World War. From 1920 to 1935 he was a pathologist at both the Royal Free Hospital in London and the Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital. During this time Williamson also undertook medical research into the thyroid gland which he continued at St Bartholomew’s Hospital.
Williamson’s interest in health was probably started by an early experience he had whilst caring for his brother who was sick with Diphtheria. Williamson would come into close contact with him, even clearing his throat of phlegm with his own fingers, but never actually contracted the disease himself. A similar experience was to occur in a hospital in 1899 when he was 16. Williamson was thought to have had scarlet fever and put on a scarlet fever ward. It turned out that he’d never contracted the disease. He pondered the question of why some people became ill while others did not. So, he decided to study pathology to understand the processes involved in disease. Fundamental to Williamson’s research, however, particularly that which was undertaken at the Pioneer Health Centre with Dr Innes Pearse, was the importance that a person’s social as well as physical environment were to health.
Innes Hope Pearse was born in 1889 and was an only child. She chose to study medicine because she felt it would give her independence as a woman. She qualified as a doctor in 1916 at the Royal Free Hospital and later worked at both Bristol Hospital for Children and Women and the Great Northern Hospital. She went on to become the first woman medical registrar at the London Hospital and later, at the Royal Free Hospital where she met George Scott Williamson and assisted him in his work on the thyroid gland.
Around the 1920s Dr Williamson was becoming interested in the notion of what health was. He questioned whether curing a disorder was the same thing as giving an individual health and on this question there was very little research. So too, Dr Pearse’s work with children led to the realisation that despite her extensive knowledge about them, she did not know what a healthy child looked or behaved like!
The First Health Centre
One of the questions that Pearse and Williamson asked as part of their research was, ‘What happens to an individual and communities when they have health and how would that impact on society and future generations?’ If you flip this question and ask what happens when a community has bad health, the answer may be more obvious. These were the kinds of questions that led the doctors to undertake their first study into the nature of health by setting up a family health club in a small house on Queen’s Road, Peckham in 1926 – the first Pioneer Health Centre.
Peckham in south London was chosen because at that time it was a fairly prosperous area inhabited mostly by artisan families and with a good number of shopkeepers, clerics, small business owners and a few labourers. There was very little poverty and employment was high. It was presumed, therefore, that the levels of health would be high.
Families from the local area could use the centre as a family club but in order to do so they had to agree to have a ‘health overhaul’. This allowed the doctors to study the health of the families. The ‘centre’ included a consulting room, a nursery and a small club room where mothers could meet in the afternoons with their children and in the evenings parents could spend time together too. The building was open everyday from 2pm to 10pm and members could make appointments for their overhaul to suit themselves. It came as a surprise to the doctors when their studies revealed that despite being relatively well off and having a number of health resources available to them like a swimming bath and sports clubs in the borough, there was a lack of “vitality” within the families themselves, even amongst those who had no disease or disorder. Peckham was a crowded area and although people had next door neighbours they were often without friends and felt isolated. There was evidence that people were not living to their full capacity and there was a great deal of lethargy.
In part 2 we’ll look at how Pearse and Williamson found solutions to these problems with a new purpose-built centre.
Records show that between the 15th and early 19th centuries the River Thames in London was able to freeze over completely. This only happened on average about one year in ten and London’s inhabitants saw it as a great excuse for a party. But why doesn’t the Thames Freeze any more?
A view of the old London Bridge in 1677 by Abraham Hondius
In addition to changes to the climate, there were several factors that contributed to the freezing of the Thames. Firstly, as ice blocks formed and floated down the river they would become wedged in the arches of the old London Bridge (shown above). The spacing was much narrower than in later versions of the bridge. This blockage would then cause the flow of the river to slow and freeze more easily.
The new bridge, built in 1831 had much wider arches
Another factor to consider is that the stretch of the Thames that flows through London was wider, shallower and therefore slower than today. The Victoria and Chelsea embankments, which were built in the 19th century made the river deeper and narrower, increasing the speed of flow and preventing it from freezing. Also, the increased size of London has led to an urban heat island effect, absorbing heat during the day and releasing it at night. This keeps the temperature high.
Finally, the tributaries that fed the Thames, like the Tyburn, the Fleet and Earl’s Sluice in Rotherhithe were all restricted to underground culverts as London developed. This reduced the influx of ice.
So the Frost Fairs are no more, but fortunately we have lots of images and resources in our collections at Southwark local History Library and Archive to show us how this tradition evolved over the Centuries.
1564 – 65
Artist’s impression of festivities under old London Bridge, 1564-65
‘People went over and alongst the Thames on the ise from London Bridge to Westminster. Some plaied at the foot-ball as boldlie there as if it had beene on the drie land’ [Raphael Holinshed]
Contemporary accounts of this winter are difficult to come by. Walter Thornbury gives the following second hand account in Old and New London (1878):
‘A hard frost set in on the 21st of December, 1564. Diversions on the Thames included football and shooting at marks. The courtiers from the Palace of Whitehall mixed with the citizens, and tradition has it that Queen Elizabeth herself walked upon the ice…
…On the night of the 3rd of January however, it began to thaw, and on the 5th there was no ice to be seen on the river.’
1607 – 08
‘The river showed not now, neither shows it yet, like a river, but like a field; where archers shoot at pricks, while others play football. It is a place of mastery where some wrestle and some run…’ [Cold doings at London attributed to Thomas Dekker]
1607–08 saw the first proper frost fair with a tent city on the Thames. In Thomas Dekker’s dialogue Cold doings at London, a citizen of London describes the spectacle to a visiting countryman:
‘Men, women and children walked over and up and down in such companies; that I verily believe and I dare almost swear it, the one half, if not three parts of the people in the city have been seen going on the Thames.’
Old London Bridge, c.1610. The narrow arches were easily clogged with ice, allowing the river to freeze over
1683 – 84
‘Behold the wonder of the this present age
A famous river now becomes a stage’ [Anon]
The Thames in full party mode. Can you spot Southwark Cathedral?
London diarist, John Evelyn described the range of amusements on the ice this year:
‘…sleds, sliding with skeetes, a bull-baiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays and interludes, cooks, tipling and other lewd places, so that it seemed to be a bacchanalian triumph, or carnival on the water’
Some of the stalls sold souvenirs like this glass and silver mug, possibly made in Southwark
1788 – 89
‘The Silver Thames was frozen o’er,
No difference ‘twixt the stream and shore,
The like no man hath seen before
Except he lived in days of yore’
‘No sooner had the Thames acquired a sufficient consistence that booths, turn-abouts &c. &c. were erected; the puppet shows, wild beast &c., were transported from every adjacent village; whilst the watermen, that they might draw their usual resources from the water broke in the ice close to the shore, and erected bridges, with toll-bars, to make every passenger pay a halfpenny for getting to the ice.’ [The London Chronicle, 1789]
A view of the Thames from Rotherhithe Stairs January 1789 by G. Samuel
1813 – 14: ‘The little ice age’
‘Behold the Thames is frozen o’er, Which lately Ships of mighty Burthen bore; Now different Arts and Pastimes here you see,
But PRINTING claims the Superiority.’ [Anon]
Among the array of businesses that operated on the ice this year was the printing trade. Ten printing presses were in operation, turning out crude woodcut illustrations and ballads. The route from Blackfriars to the South bank was named ‘City Road’and at one of the many stalls ‘Lapland Mutton’ was on offer at a shilling a slice.
Charles Dickens, one of Southwark’s most famous residents, is responsible for the popular belief that it should always snow at Christmas thanks to A Christmas Carol. When the story was published in 1843 London was experiencing fairly mild winters, but as he wrote, Dickens was probably recollecting his early childhood in the 1810s, when Britain was experiencing the last of the ‘Little Ice Age.’ Six of his first nine Christmases were white and one of these fell in the winter of 1813-14, when the last Frost Fair was held on the Thames.
It was soon after this last fair that work began on a new London Bridge to allow for easier water flow. The selected design by John Rennie (who had designed both Southwark and Waterloo bridges) was completed by his sons George and John in 1831. The Thames in London has kept on flowing ever since.
Please note this blog post contains some outdated terminology that may be deemed offensive. Terms describing disability have changed greatly through the last century and continue to evolve. More information about historic and current terminology is available here.
These pictures are from two photo albums in our collections that belonged to Len Wright. Len was born in Peckham in 1938 and lived with his family on the Lindley Estate for most of his life. He developed epilepsy in his twenties and his father Harold also had a physical disability from birth.
Len and Arthur
Both Len and his brother Arthur worked as street cleaners for Camberwell Council, and in later life Len was a regular user of the Aylesbury Day Centre from its opening in 1975, taking an active part especially in the woodwork activities. In 1990 after his father died Len moved into sheltered housing. He died in 2011 and is buried in Camberwell New Cemetery.
A trip to an airfield
A trip to an airfield
A trip to an airfield
A trip to an airfield
At the beach
A trip to an airfield
A trip to Eastbourne
A trip to Eastbourne
A trip to Eastbourne Grand Parade (carpet gardens)
A trip to Eastbourne
A trip to Eastbourne
The photographs in the albums are primarily of Len’s family but they also include pictures of outings with a local disability group in the 1950s-1960s. His father features prominently and was presumably a member of the group, although Len, Arthur and their mother Harmer are also seen taking part. The pictures show the group going on coach trips to the seaside at Eastbourne, visiting Bekonscot Model Village, a trip to an unidentified Airfield (possibly including disabled veterans), and a canal boat outing in London. Another set of images shows the group playing games in a hall with lollipops stuck to the floor (if anyone knows what this game is please let us know!) Various services that supported the group are also seen including staff from St John’s Ambulance, London County Council Ambulance Service, and British Waterways. Some of the pictures also show people from the group wearing a triangle lapel badge – does anybody know what this indicates?
Hall with games including St John Ambulance
A trip to the canal
Day trip including the LCC Ambulance Service
Day trip including the LCC Ambulance Service
A trip to the canal
Hall with games including St John Ambulance
The group itself is unidentified but may be the Peckham Cripple Guild of Friendship, which was a weekly social group for physically disabled adults run by the Shaftesbury Society. This was a Christian charity that supported people with disabilities, originally founded in 1844 by Lord Shaftesbury as the Ragged School Union. In the 1960s the charity maintained residential schools for children with muscular dystrophy, spina bifida and other neuro-muscular disorders, as well as maintaining three residential centres and two holiday centres for the physically disabled. The Peckham group met weekly in the 1950s at Bracey-Wright Hall (formerly Christ Church Mission Hall) on Friary Road, and then in the 1960s at the new Caroline Gardens Day Centre, Asylum Road. They would meet in the evening for activities including table games and entertainments, and transport for members was provided by the charity. In the 1970s the group was renamed as Peckham Guild of Friendship for Disabled People and began meeting at the newly-opened Aylesbury Day Centre, where Len was a regular. The Shaftesbury Society continued operating until 2007 when it became part of the charity Livability.
Len Wright in Aylesbury Day Centre book 1983
Probably Sheltered Housing including the St John Ambulance
Other local organisations that provided services for the physically disabled around this time included the British Red Cross Society (160 Peckham Rye, including the Ex-Service Disabled Club), the Muscular Dystrophy Group (65 Asylum Road), the King George VI Memorial Club (67 Crawford Road, SE5), Camberwell Old People’s Welfare Association (33 Peckham Road) , the Union for Girls Schools Settlement (later known as Peckham Settlement) on Staffordshire Street, and Pitt Street Settlement (East Surrey Grove). Council services for the disabled under the London Borough of Southwark were based at the Caroline Gardens Day Centre (10 Asylum Road), and later at the Aylesbury Day Centre from 1975. The Aylesbury centre was the home of Southwark Disablement Association, which continues today as SDA Independent Living. The centre itself was replaced in 2012 by the new Southwark Resource Centre on Bradenham Close, which also took over the responsibilities of the Outreach Team for disabled adults in Southwark.
Len Wright’s photograph albums are reference 2018/45 in the archive collections, and are available to view in the search room (at 211 Borough High Street) to any member of the public during our opening hours
30 September is National Sporting Heritage Day and to celebrate Southwark Archives is showcasing some newly-digitised photographs from the Phil Polglaze collection. Thanks to the generosity of Sporting Heritage and Art Fund we were able to digitise these pictures of Southwark’s sporting past that would otherwise never be seen.
Phil Polglaze was one of Southwark council’s main photographers in the 1980s and 1990s, and he covered local events for the Sparrow newspaper. His photographs show a wide variety of sports events in the borough including local people as well as the occasional celebrity. The newly-digitised pictures show Frank Bruno and Fatima Whitbread mixing with the people of Southwark at sporting events in Southwark Park, the London Youth Games at Crystal Palace and boating at Surrey Docks.
The photos are being displayed in Southwark libraries for Sporting Heritage Day on 30th September and will also be available more widely in 2020 when the Polglaze collection will be put online.
Athletics at Southwark Park, 2 October 1989.
Fatima Whitbread meets the crowd at Southwark Park, 2 October 1989
Frank Bruno poses with some young athletes at Southwark Park, 2 October 1989
by Walworth Heritage Action Zone Project Manager, Stephanie Ostrich
The Thames winds through the heart of London, fed by its many tributaries, streams and brooks. Though we cannot see many of these rivers today, they still flow beneath our homes, our streets, and our feet. They also leave tantalising traces on the surface that hint at the rushing ‘lost river’ below.
Our intrepid explorers began at the Camberwell Road entrance at Burgess Park: the former terminus of the old Grand Surrey Canal. The canal, built in the early 1800s, was a bustling hub of industry, moving goods from the factories and workshops of Walworth, Camberwell and Peckham to the docks at what is today Surrey Quays; it also ran parallel to the Earls’ Sluice and was our first clue on our search for our lost river. The canal was infilled in the 1970s, and now is highlighted by the straight path running through the centre of Burgess Park.
The Earl’s Sluice once flowed as a river through the fields and marshes of south London; this natural feature made an excellent landmark and acted as a boundary along its length for several parishes and boroughs and was also the county boundary between Surrey and Kent. Another clue to its existence beneath our feet was found as we walked one street up, to Boundary Lane. Road names can be excellent clues to what once was here before.
Figure 2. The Earls’ Sluice once formed the boundary between several parishes and even counties. When the river was covered over, it became a street called Boundary Lane which is still the boundary between Camberwell and Walworth and the postcodes SE17 and SE5.
Up until the 18th century, when Walworth and the Old Kent Road were small villages surrounded by fields and orchards, the river flowed under a bridge at the Walworth Road/Camberwell Road here and turned east to the Thames. It then flowed under another bridge at Old Kent Road. This area was called ‘St Thomas a Watering,’ an important spot on the medieval pilgrimage route from Southwark to Canterbury, made in honour of Thomas a Becket. It is also the first stop of the travellers in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales where they draw lots to decide who will tell the first tale on their journey, while their horses have a refreshing drink in the Earl’s Sluice. At a site near this spot stands a former pub and boxing hall called St Thomas a Becket – now a Vietnamese restaurant. The pub sign for St Thomas a Becket is still there, a memory of what was once here all those years ago.
Figure 3. Rocque’s map of 1761 shows bridges crossing the Earl’s sluice south of Walworth village and over the Old Kent Road at ‘St Thos Watering’s’
We walked east along Albany Road in search of more clues of the Earl’s Sluice. In the past, Londoners did not think about littering in the same way as we do today. An easy way of disposing of rubbish – and of poo – was to dump it into the nearby river which would wash it out to sea. Unfortunately years of this meant our rivers eventually became open sewers! By the 1830s and 40s much of the Earls’ Sluice was culverted – covered over with bricks – which was more sanitary and also meant the land could be used for building houses over it. In 1858, a very hot summer made the Thames, which was full of sewage, smell terrible! This became known as ‘The Big Stink’ and because of this, Victorian engineers like Joseph Bazelgette were hired to build large purpose-built sewers across London; this included our Earl’s Sluice, which because diverted into the Earl Main Sewer.
Figure 4. The Earl’s sluice is still open in 1832, running alongside Albany Road, in the bottom left corner of the map, (1832 Plan of London from the United Kingdom Newspaper)
Figure 5. By 1840, the Earl’s Sluice west of the Old Kent Road, under what is now the Aylesbury Estate, has disappeared underground (1840 Plan of London from the United Kingdom Newspaper 2nd ed)
So our poor Earls’ Sluice became a stinky sewer in the 19th century, but luckily for us the Victorian engineers left us some more clues to follow on our journey to the Thames. Large, green and functional, these stinkpipes jut out high above the street level and vent gas from the sewer below high into the air far away from our noses. As we walked along Albany Road, crossed Old Kent Road to Rolls Road, and turned onto Rotherhithe New Road and ventured to Surrey Quays we kept our eye out for this big green stinkpipes to make sure we were on the right track!
The Earl’s Sluice eventually joins the river Peck (from which Peckham gets its name) in South Bermondsey. We followed it as it flows under Eugenia Road and Concorde Way, which is still a boundary between Southwark and Lewisham. At Oldfield Grove, we got a closer look at the Earl’s Sluice as it crosses over the railway line here in an unassuming pipe.
We carefully ventured onto Plough Way, which was once known as Rogues Lane! Here off a side alley, we inspected two manhole covers. According to Tom Bolton, after rainy weather, you may hear the Earl’s Sluice rushing through the drains these cover.
Figure 10. In 1761, the Surrey Quays area was still open fields, with only one dock. The Earl’s Sluice ran next to Rogue Lane (now Plough Lane) flowing into the Thames near ‘The New Dock’
Our walk concluded at the South Dock, where the Earl’s Sluice meets the Thames. There is still a sewer outlet here on the foreshore of the Thames. Unfortunately we arrived at our destination 15 minutes before high tide so we could not inspect it ourselves. But it’s given us an excuse to return to the Earl’s Sluice in the future!
On 6 June – the 75th anniversary of D-Day, then-Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron inaugurated the site of the British Normandy Memorial at Ver-sur-Mer, overlooking Gold Beach. When it’s finished, it will join the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial at Omaha Beach and the Canadian Juno Beach Centre as places of remembrance and learning about the Normandy Campaign of World War II, codenamed Operation Overlord. The British Normandy Memorial will include the names of the 22,442 men and women of all nationalities who died serving under British command during Overlord. As the memorial’s website suggests, one of those names stands out: Corporal Sidney Bates. He is the only service member on the memorial to receive the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry.
In Southwark, though, we know him better as Basher. This is his story.
Sidney ‘Basher’ Bates
Sidney Bates was born on 14 June 1921, in Crown Street, Camberwell. He was the son of Gladys and Frederick Bates. Frederick worked as a rag-and-bone man, collecting materials like cloth, paper, bones, and metal for reuse and recycling. The family eventually included Sidney and his brothers Frederick, Alfred, and Albert and his sisters Gladys and Patricia; Sidney went to Camberwell Grove School, where he got the nickname “Basher” for his boxing skills. His family remember him as a quiet kid, unassuming but a merry prankster – and because of his quiet side, he usually got away with his pranks!
When he left school at 14, Basher went to work as a carpenter’s labourer. In June 1940, he joined the army, entering the 1st Battalion Royal Norfolk Regiment. Just before he shipped out, the family got together at the Sultan pub. He admitted his fear of what lay ahead to his mum before he left.
The 1st Royal Norfolks landed on Red Queen beach – the right flank of Sword Beach, near the city of Caen – at 7:25 AM on D-Day. They then fought their way through Normandy, the Low Countries, and Germany: a sphere of action known officially as the North West Europe campaign. General Montgomery, who commanded the 21st Army Group in which they served, claimed the unit was second to none. Sidney was no different, being promoted twice in the weeks after D-Day. On 13 July 1944 – the day before Bastille Day – he was promoted to lance-corporal, and two weeks later to acting corporal.
After breaking out of the D-Day beachheads, British units were fighting in the Norman bocage – a landscape of mixed pasture and woodland, where fields and narrow country lanes are sunken into the spaces between narrow ridges topped with high hedgerows which act as windbreaks for the livestock in the fields. It’s picturesque, and easy to defend – but incredibly hard to fight through.
On 6 August 1944, the 1st Norfolks were relieving the 3rd Monmouthshire Regiment near the village of Sourdeval. These units were holding a strategically critical salient on the Perrier Ridge – they were attacked in force by the 10th SS Panzer Division. Sidney was commanding a section (a group of 10 soldiers) at the right side of the left-forward company; he tried to move the section to avoid taking further casualties.
However, the Germans pushed deeper into the section’s position; eventually, Sidney’s section came under attack by 50 to 60 Germans armed with machine guns and mortars and supported by panzers.
A close friend of Sidney’s and the unit’s Bren gunner, “Tojo” Tomlin (nicknamed for his resemblance to the recently-ousted Japanese prime minister) died in his arms, hit in the face by machine-gun fire. That’s when Basher acted. He picked up Tojo’s Bren gun, got up, and advanced into the hail of bullets and mortars, firing from the hip. He was struck by machine gun fire and fell to the ground.
He got up, and continued advancing and firing.
He was hit, again, and got up again.
The third time, Sidney was hit by mortar shrapnel. This time, he couldn’t get up. Instead, he wrapped himself around his gun, firing at the enemy for as long as his strength held out.
But that was long enough. The Germans – perhaps shaken by Sidney’s determination – retreated to the sound of Sidney’s gunfire, leaving the position in the hands of the British. For his comrades, and many historians, his single-handed charge was the turning point of the battle.
Stretcher-bearer Ernie Seaman brought Sidney – badly wounded in the legs, stomach, and throat – from the field where he fell to a farmhouse nearby, which was being used as a forward field hospital. He died there two days later.
On 2 November 1944, Sidney’s Victoria Cross citation was gazetted: his parents collected the award in spring of 1945. They and Patricia (their only child left at home) had been bombed out of their home in Councillor Street, but refused to leave Camberwell. A public appeal for the family raised enough money to buy Frederick a new cart and pony, so he could keep working. He named the pony “Basher”.
Sidney has many memorials: the most obvious is his gravesite, plot XX 14E in Bayeux War Cemetary; his epitaph says that “[h]is parents proudly remember him as a true Camberwell Boy and a loving Son”. There’s also a monument to him in the field where he fell and a memorial bench on Camberwell Green. His nephew Chris is a stonemason, and laid many of these.
The memorial bench on Camberwell Green (courtesy of Bernhard Bauer)
Others are less obvious. His charge also featured on the front page of volume 157 of the comic The Victor, first published in 1967; it was reprinted twice before the comic folded in 1992. But perhaps the most poignant memorial to Sidney is a cottage in Norfolk named for him; it’s one of six built by the regiment’s memorial trust to house their retired – and honour their fallen – comrades.
Today, on the 75th anniversary of his charge to save his mates, we remember Sidney Bates VC proudly, and hope that you do too. The Sultan pub is gone now, but maybe lift a glass to Basher Bates, a true Camberwell boy, a loving son, and a good comrade, wherever you are.
The Collection Creatives meet at Canada Water Library every four weeks to hear the stories of objects from the Cuming Collection, brought by our Curator Judy Aitken, and respond creatively! Here are some of our outcomes from earlier in the year.
At the end of 2018 some of the Collection’s toys and games came to the library. We were especially intrigued by a ‘mutton bone doll’ collected by Edward Lovett. Children whose families couldn’t afford shop-bought dolls sometimes dressed up bones instead. They became very attached to them and Lovett approached a number of children before he found one who was willing to trade theirs with him. The girl who gave this doll to Lovett’s collection was offered a new ‘real’ doll in its place – but which was really more ‘real’?
In January we looked at artefacts related to tobacco, alcohol and other narcotics; including a snuff box, clay pipes and drinking vessels. This was a busy session but we only have a couple of pieces of work captured from it – if you were there and have sketches or note from the day, do send them to us to be included here!
February’s theme was jewellery, and the set included an emerald ring said to have been at one time a gift made by Charles I to his Gentleman of the Bedchamber Thomas Herbert, Victorian mourning jewellery, ‘Druidical’ beads marked as ancient (but we’re not sure…) and a necklace from Southern Africa which features a whistle said to charm away thunder.
One of the jewellery pieces was a bronze ring found on the banks of the Thames, and in March we learned all about mudlarking – the riverside equivalent of beachcombing. In modern times this might be thought of as a recreational pursuit (albeit requiring a licence), but back in the 18th and 19th centuries children could be found scraping a meagre living from whatever they could find to sell in the mud – in what were dangerous and unpleasant conditions.
And in April, to tie in with April Fools, our featured objects were all jokes and puzzles. The ‘Poisson d’Avril’ – April Fish – is a popular take on this in France. We have our own ‘Poisson d’Avril’ in France, which along with squirt rings, puzzle jugs and magic tricks inspired our Creatives in many different directions.
Back once again, it’s me Jennifer, here to talk about my volunteer work at the Southwark Local History Library and Archive (SLHLA).
One of the many reasons that I enjoy working in archives is that it appeals to my sense of order and organisation! In this post, I’m going to home in on one of the goals for my Press Cuttings Cull project, which I introduced in the last edition of this series, and that is reconciliation. Basically, this means that I’m keeping a careful eye on the contents of each folder as I sort through them, to make sure that the right articles are filed away in the right place.
When you open one of our filing cabinet drawers full of press cuttings, you’ll see that there are lots of different headings for each of the folders. It may seem random, but everything is classified using the Dewey Decimal System, same as libraries. So if you’re looking for a particular topic related to Southwark’s local history, you can start your search at one of our handy subject guides, which will tell you the number under which your topic has been filed.
There are SO MANY fascinating topics (that Ghosts folder was a fun read!)
I like to put myself in the shoes of a careful local history researcher who has come to SLHLA to uncover a key piece of information on their favourite topic, say Christ Church on Blackfriars Road. What if the one key piece of information that this researcher is hunting for has instead been filed in the folder for Christ Church, Bermondsey? Maybe another researcher was looking at both folders and the bits and pieces got mixed up, for example. Or what if a researcher wants information on one particular St Mary’s church, when there are lots of different St Mary’s around the borough?
I read through each press clipping to confirm that it is indeed the correct location, and if it needs to be moved, I pull out the other appropriate folder, and refile it there. That way, our researchers can know that when they grab a folder on their topic, that it has been checked to ensure it contains the correct info that they need.
Speaking of that Ghosts folder that I mentioned above, here are some of my favourite discoveries from those press clippings. Did you know that there were two reported poltergeists in Peckham? This spooky story describes how, in the late 1950’s through to the early 1960’s, a ghost appeared at a home in Peckham around Easter each year, “a greyish, fluorescent column of vibrating lights about as tall as a man.” And this ghost would light fires in around the home, or snatch objects from the homeowners’ hands.
In another article, dating from 2002, reporters tell the story of the Peek Freans ghosts: production lines in the biscuit factory stopped running in the 1980’s, but “lights and machinery frequently turn themselves on and off for no reason.”
And lots more good ghost stories in this “Ghost Hunter of Camberwell” article from 2014.
By Jennifer Jamieson, Archives Volunteer
With thanks to Lisa Moss, Archives Officer
“Just a line to let you know I am going on alright. Hope you and all at home are the same.”
In 2014 the letters of Ernest Parker of Rotherhithe were donated by his family in digital form to Southwark Local History Library and Archive. Ernest Parker was born in 1893 to Thomas and Sarah Parker. It is likely that he left school aged 11 in 1904 after the death of his father and worked as a clerk for a produce packer.
Private Ernest Parker joined the British forces during the First World War, and embarked for Salonika in November 1916. He sent numerous letters back to his family on Hawkestone Road in Rotherhithe during his time in Greece, offering descriptions of the conditions that he was encountering, his hopes for a safe return home, and always, caring enquiries as to his many other family members (he was one of 8 children!) His notes were always signed affectionately using his nickname “Ernie.” Unfortunately, just as the hostilities had ceased and his return home was within reach, he was admitted to the military hospital with pneumonia and did not recover from the ailment, dying there on the 4th of February 1919. Right until the end, he was finding ways to send his affectionate best wishes back to his family, even asking one of the hospital nurses to write his final letter home.
Southwark Local History Library and Archive has many of these letters and Ernest’s Territorial Force identification card, showing that he was appointed to the Durham Light Infantry during the war.
At Christmas, Ernie sent his greetings back to his family, including this card that was addressed to his sister Ada, and an embroidered card for his Mum, Sarah Louise Parker.
Reporting back to his sister Beatrice (whom he called “Beat”) in December 1917, Ernie described his own Christmas season in Salonika, telling her “Well how did you spend your Christmas. We had a decent time here, turkey, Christmas pudding and a pint for dinner. The weather has been rotten here lately, raining nearly every day, up to your eyes in mud…”
In a letter to his Mum dated August 8, 1918, Ernie described his outlook, that he was soon “going to get leave, well I am in hopes getting it within the next few months or years. I am not sure which.” Yet a month later, in a letter dated September 14, 1918, he reported back to his Mum that “Well I thought we should stand a chance of getting a leave this year but what I see of it now I don’t think it will come off.”
But then another turnaround a few months later, as he wrote to his Mum on November 8, 1918 (image below), “As you say, we have been having some grand news lately. I don’t think it will be long now before it is finished. I don’t think it will be long now before we get home.”
He wasn’t able to get home for Christmas that year, but in January 2019, reported back to his Mum that his return home was within reach, save for a few bureaucratic details: “they have started demobilising from here and it is only by a bit of rotten luck that I am not away already. I received a letter from the firm saying that my job was still open but it was not stamped by the Local Advisory Committee at home and that is where the delay is coming in. A couple of chaps received the letters stamped and they were away a few days after. Some of the men over forty one are going home tomorrow.”
Around the same time, on January 21, 1919, he sent a letter to his older brother Tom, who was himself fighting in the First World War, showing that he was happily anticipating his return home: “Well old sport I think this about all I have to tell you now so hoping to see you shortly and wishing you the best of luck. I remain your affectionate brother, Ernie.”
Unfortunately, the documents in our collections then show that for all of Ernie’s hope, optimism and readiness to return, he encountered even more rotten luck shortly after these letters to his Mum and brother were written. His Mum received a letter written on February 2, 1919, at the military hospital in Greece, reporting that Ernie had caught pneumonia and that “he is very ill, he is getting all the care and attention possible.”
But worse news was yet to come. On February 6, 2019, the hospital Chaplain sent Ernie’s Mum the unfortunate news that her son had died a few days earlier. In this letter, the Chaplain described how Ernie had shared his fondness for his family up until the end: “He spoke very affectionately of you all, and said he would love to get home. I did not like to tell him I thought he would die, for I did not want to depress him for fear it might go against any chance of recovery. I am greatly grieved about his death. For I had formed a very good opinion of him.”
Ernie had also made an impression on the hospital’s Sister-in-Charge, who also shared her fond words in a letter to his Mum on February 6, 2019: “I asked him the day before he died if he had been writing home, and he said “Yes”, so I said as he was not able to write himself, I would do it for him, And he was pleased, and said to tell you that he was “getting on all right” and to give you and his sisters his love. He was a good patient, always smiling till the last and was conscious right up till an hour or so before he died, which was just before midnight.”
Ernest “Ernie” Parker received British War and Victory Medals and he was buried at the British Military Cemetery at Mikra, Thessaloniki, Greece “with full military honours”.
Hello readers! This is Jennifer, and I’m a volunteer at the Southwark Local History Library and Archive.
Back in April, having worked on some projects for a non-profit arts foundation that involved researching old theatre records, I was inspired to seek out some new opportunities to get more involved in archiving. Given that my day job is just a short walk away on the South Bank, I thought that volunteering here would be a nice chance to give back to my “work neighbourhood,” while also giving me a great opportunity to embed in the craft of archiving and lots of fascinating local history. I reached out to the lovely folks here to get involved, and they have kindly welcomed me into their family as a volunteer.
It’s an amazing facility, full of resources like historic maps, local records, films, terminals with access to online databases, photographs of all sorts of places around the borough, and folders full of press clippings and pamphlets all related to the goings-on around Southwark, past and present. I’ve been popping in for a few hours on an almost weekly basis since early May, and in this Volunteer Diaries series, I will be sharing some of the stories and discoveries that I uncover.
Here was one of my early first Delightful Discoveries from the collection. The very first folder that I opened for my volunteer work contained a press cutting with a story featuring our own Archivist Patricia Dark! And what a neat story, all about how a passerby spotted “a big box of old Victorian documents, some from 1885, left out for bin men on Borough High Street” in 2016, a treasure trove and “really fantastic addition” for SLHLA.
Other discoveries: Did you know that a life-sized stuffed polar bear disappeared from the Horniman Museum in 1948? This 2006 story in the museum’s press cuttings folder describes how the bear may have been loaned to a department store for a “flamboyant Christmas window display” in 1948, or perhaps it was sold to a dealer at that time. “The fate of the polar bear has long been of interest to us,” said the museum’s director, who was working to track it down. The article jokingly offers some hints as to where the polar bear could have ended up, taking the opportunity to roll-up a series of bear and snow-related locations around Southwark, including Bear Lane, Snowsfields in Borough, and Bermondsey’s Winter Lodge.
From the Bermondsey Abbey folder: Did you know that Southwark was spelled as Sowthewerke in the days of Henry VIII?
And finally, fans of street art will appreciate this historic nod to the craft in the Bermondsey Abbey press cuttings folder, describing how medieval graffiti was found during excavations of the abbey site.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved watching films. As a young girl I went to Saturday morning pictures at the Odeon Cinema in Elephant and Castle. The noise of the young excited audience was deafening, but somehow you managed to work out the plot of some cowboy and Indian film or ‘Lardy Hardy’ flick (my childhood translation of Laurel and Hardy) amongst the pea shooters, sticky gum and chanting. Cinema-going up the West End was rare and only if you were flush. So I tended to stay local, and between Peckham and the Elephant my enthusiasm for watching films was satisfied.
Camberwell Odeon, Denmark Hill, 1955
Films have stood the test of time and, if seen in the cinema or as another type of theatrical screening, this medium is perhaps the only one where you cannot really rush it. You have to go at the film’s pace. You can’t swipe, skip, delete, forward, select or delete sections. You have to sit, wait and watch a film that will either have wasted your money and the last 90 minutes of your life, or will have completely immersed you in it, left you in awe, questioning, wondering and may even have rocked you, just a little. Whether you like or dislike a film, it has the power to change your emotions and awaken your senses and for some, bring to life memories and thoughts that were buried.
The first reminiscence session I organised using films from the Film Collection at Southwark Local History Library and Archive was in May 2017 at Camberwell Library, with the help of Storm Patterson, Screen Heritage Archivist from London’s Screen Archives. I was keen to organise a reminiscence session, having attended the LSA’s conference on using film as reminiscence in 2016. I did so, and just three people attended. Initially, I was disappointed. I’d done my preparations, choosing a suitable location, risk assessing, getting the signage just right, ensuring the refreshments were laid out and publicising the event as best I could. Storm provided a compilation of films and I provided a range of photographs on different themes relating to the Southwark area. So, where was everyone?
As well as having Storm from London’s Screen Archives, I was also lucky enough to have Anne Williams, volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Society with me that day. By observing Anne, I learned how to be person-centred when working with people with dementia. Anne patiently sat with a gentleman who watched the films and browsed the photographs and they struck up a beautiful conversation about his life and work. Anne recalled that experience:
“I will never forget an older gentleman at Camberwell library who had cared for his wife with dementia until her death. The screening of local cinema footage evoked strong and happy memories of a Friday night ritual with his mother when they would visit the pictures, enjoy the films and interval music and then share some fish and chips on the way home. He was moved to tears remembering this period of his childhood and I felt privileged to listen to his precious memories.” Anne Williams, volunteer, Alzheimer’s Society, 2018
Between us three helpers we went on life journeys with our three elderly guests who enjoyed looking at the visual memorabilia which sparked their memories. It got me thinking… what a wealth of knowledge and history we have in this room! It was Anne who reminded me that it was quality not quantity that mattered and wondered whether our guests or we, as helpers, would have got the quality of conversation and engagement had more people been there.
I learned a great deal from that experience, not least that ‘outreach’ means what it says – you must reach out, and certainly when working with people with dementia, being respectful of their physical and emotional needs is crucial in organising any event for them. So, one way I could achieve this was by reaching out to my audience and going to places where they are most comfortable.
In 2018 I had the pleasure of collaborating on many outreach events with local and other organisations as well as a local Nunhead artist, using films and photographs from Southwark Local History Library and Archive. I have worked with the Alzheimer’s Society delivering reminiscence sessions at their coffee and drop-in sessions at Time and Talents in Rotherhithe and at the Daffodil Café at The Green, Nunhead’s Community Centre. The people with dementia and their carers enjoyed watching the films (a selection of Bermondsey Borough Council and other local films) judging by the conversations that followed.
Memories were triggered about particular places featured in the films. The groups wanted to talk about their lives and how they remembered those places and share stories. I remember a conversation that started about East Street Market between a lady who was born in Jamaica and another who was born in Cyprus, both of whom had lived in Southwark for much of their lives. Neither was engaged in any conversation before the photographs of the market from the 1970s were passed around. “Do you remember the Sarsaparilla stall?” I asked them. Both studied the photographs in silence and then, their expressions changed. “Ahh, yes!…” they said and from that moment the two were sharing memories. I couldn’t get another word in after that, nor did I want to. It was so interesting listening to them and how they remembered East Street Market, especially the particular stalls.
“Thank you so much for taking the time to attend the Daffodil cafe today. Both the film made by the school children from the Walworth school and the hop picking film were ideal choices for our service users. They were engrossed in the plot of the first film as well as enjoying recognising local landmarks around Burgess Park. For people unable to get to the cinema it was a unique opportunity to watch a relevant and suitably short film programme.” Anne Williams, volunteer, Alzheimer’s Society, 2018
Being person-centred means putting the person at the heart of what you do. The preparation I do for the sessions involves asking the co-ordinator of the group to give me some information about the users – where they lived and when, what they did as jobs and what they would be interested in seeing again. Research into reminiscence sessions has taught me that just because someone lived through the Second World War doesn’t mean they want to be reminded of it! So, there are certain subjects I tend to avoid and I take my cue from those who know. It does help, however, if you know a little history about some of the resources you are handing out, as this too can start conversations and engage people.
That said, even if you know a little about your subject, it doesn’t necessarily mean you always get to say anything on the subject. I have also delivered reminiscence sessions at Blackfriars Settlement. These were very lively events, particularly during the film screenings where the audience would get a running commentary from one or two knowledgeable members of the audience. “That was where Peak Freans was, my mum worked there”, “That was the Town Hall”, “That’s Tower Bridge Road Market!” “You see all those trees, Ada Salter was responsible for those…” and so it went on. The knowledge of the audience was amazing and to be perfectly honest the audience answered many questions that I’d wondered about myself! Wonderful!
“What a great afternoon. Thank you so much. I love when my members get taken back to their yester years. It was magic. And, I thought the Children also learned a lot . On our tables, they couldn’t believe how Walworth Road looked before. They loved listening to stories. And the little singalong was an added bonus….Alice who is 97 in August and Veronica who is 92, were so happy talking about the good old days and looking at photos and the film. We should do this more often.”
Tina Johnston, Co-ordinator for Positive Ageing, Blackfriars Settlement, 2018
By the end of these sessions, groups of people would be reminiscing together, sharing photographs, sharing memories, laughing and singing. The atmosphere in the room was a completely different one by the time the session ended.
At one session, Tina Johnston, co-ordinator for Positive Ageing at Blackfriars Settlement arranged for a group of children from the local secondary school to join the reminiscence session. They were looking at photographs of the areas they lived in from 50 or more years ago. “That’s what the Elephant and Castle looked like over 100 years ago”, I said to one totally disinterested pupil. He glanced at the photograph, raised his eyebrows and said “Is it?” and proceeded to look through all of the photographs in silence and in awe. The banter between the older people and the school children was fantastic and both enjoyed each other’s company. Intergenerational reminiscing is a fantastic way to teach history to children.
For Black History Month this year, we invited Nunhead artist and co-founder of Women in Film SE15, Tracey Francis, to talk about her career as an artist and present two of her films – ‘Peckham Wall’ and ‘Landscapes of Girlhood’.
Watching ‘Landscapes of Girlhood’ was one of those times when my senses were awoken. This short but moving film, which gives a voice to 5 girls with learning difficulties left me and the audience quiet and reflective and the young people in the audience asked questions about how they might do what Tracey did. This is how you inspire, I thought.
Tracey Francis presents her films at John Harvard Library for Black History Month 2018
My most recent collaboration was with LinkAge Southwark where, with the help of Catrin Waugh and her volunteers, we delivered a reminiscence session on the Kingswood Estate, using photographs and film to a very astute group of pensioners whose questions were coming in thick and fast. (I think I managed to answer most questions with the help of one or two local history books I shrewdly brought along – phew!) The group were engaged in conversations around different themes, remembering cinemas, parks and markets and the film compilation finished off the session nostalgically. The group were a real pleasure to be with.
Reminiscence session for the pensioners of LinkAge Southwark, Kingswood Estate November 2018. Photo courtesy of LinkAge Southwark / Catrin Waugh
The Film Collection at Southwark Local History Library and Archive is a fast growing one, now with around 215 titles, originating from different film and video formats on a variety of themes. Included in it are information films that were made by the Bermondsey Borough Council from the 1920s to the 1940s, Southwark Council commissioned films from the 1970s to the 1990s on a variety of themes (e.g. redevelopment of Surrey Docks in the 1970s, Elephant and Castle shopping Centre, elections etc), amateur films by cine enthusiasts like Brian Waterman and Richard Morgan, makers of the Brandon Estate Cine Club films, copies of broadcast television programmes and community films such as Tracey Francis’s.
All 215 titles are available to view on DVD free of charge within the archive during opening hours. All of the original film and video that is owned by Southwark Council (around 60 titles) has been digitised and is available to view online via London’s Screen Archives and its YouTube channel. London Screen Archives is the virtual hub for the film collections of London’s archive repositories.
We are continually collecting films significant to the story of Southwark. So, if you have a film that you would like to deposit with us, get in touch. For details of all the titles available to view, visit our website or contact Southwark Local History Library and Archive on 020 7525 0232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I would like to thank the following people and organisations for helping me to deliver reminiscence and other outreach sessions from the Southwark collections in 2018. I (and my colleagues with whom I share knowledge) have learned much from you and the outstanding work you do: Anne Williams, Sheena Ogilvie and Chloe Pardell from the Alzheimer’s Society, Caroline Clipson from Southwark Dementia Action Alliance, Tina Johnston and staff at the Blackfriars Community Centre, all the staff at The Green, Nunhead Community Centre, staff at Time and Talents, Rotherhithe, Sands Films Studios, Tracey Francis, Catrin Waugh and Gemma Kern from LinkAge Southwark.
Of course a big shout out to my colleagues, Patricia Dark, Chris Scales and Lisa Moss at Southwark Local History Library and Archive for their help and support. I look forward to future collaborations.
The area around Borough High Street was the focus of the Pilgrim church in London. The first Brownist church met near Long Lane to the east of the High Street, and there is evidence that the second church, administered by Henry Jacob (1616-22), was in the parishes of St Olave and St Saviour around London Bridge. The third church, of Henry Jessey, seems to have formed around St George the Martyr and in Bankside, to the west. The Borough was also the site of prisons where pilgrims were incarcerated in response to their demands for freedom of speech and assembly.
The cathedral’s origins are in the Priory Church of St Mary Overie, built in 862 AD. The priory became the parish church of St Saviour, and in 1905 was designated a cathedral. The Pilgrim church of Henry Jacob had members who worshipped at St Saviour (as well as in their gathered church) and in 1604, when Jacob was in prison in the Clink, a Mr Philips bravely manifested sympathy with his views in the sermons he preached here. In the north transept is the Harvard chapel, dedicated to John Harvard the Puritan, pilgrim and benefactor of Harvard University. Delftware pottery dating back to 1612 has been found In the Chapter House, providing a connection to the Dutch puritan community. The new North Entrance doors, by Wendy Ramshaw were designed around the theme of pilgrimage.
Southwark Cathedral in 1813, when it was still St Saviour’s Church
The George Inn
This Borough High Street pub was in existence at the time of the Pilgrims and may have been used by them, (there was no temperance movement in the 17th Century). It is the only galleried pub left in London and is mentioned in the writings of Charles Dickens. Nearby are the sites of The White Hart Inn, (mentioned by both Shakespeare and Dickens), The Tabard Inn, (later the Talbot Inn) where Chaucer’s pilgrims met before setting out, and the Queen’s Head Inn, owned by the family of John Harvard.
The George Inn in 1889
This alleyway, connecting Borough High Street to Tennis Street, was the address of the King’s Bench Prison, from where John Penry sent a letter in 1593, advising his followers to consider emigration. It also contains the remains of the second Marshalsea Prison, referred to in Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit. The original Marshalsea Prison, where members of the Pilgrim Church were held stood 130 yards north of this point from 1373 until 1811. Adjacent to the alley is the John Harvard Library (also containing Southwark’s Local History Library and Archives) which bears a plaque in Harvard’s memory.
St George the Martyr ChurchandSt George’s Garden
On the other side of Angel Place is the former churchyard of St George the Martyr Church, bounded by the Marshalsea Prison Wall. Henry Jessey was rector here, and in 1637 became pastor of the Pilgrims’ ‘gathered church,’ preaching at St George’s on Sunday morning and at the gathered church in the evening. Jessey is most well-known for his work with the Jewish community. An enthusiastic student of Hebrew, he used to correspond with Rabbi Mannaseh ben Israel in Amsterdam. Jessey successfully campaigned for the readmission of Jews to Britain and for the foundation of a college of Jewish studies.
Plan of the area around St George the Martyr Church from Goad insurance map, 1887
The Old Kent Road has been an important thoroughfare since Roman times, connecting London to Canterbury and Dover. This short tour from Burgess Park towards Elephant and Castle takes in some Mayflower connections and a link to some much earlier pilgrims.
St Thomas-A-Watering, Old Kent Road
St Thomas-a-Watering is a very significant site in Southwark’s history, but it is easily overlooked amid the hustle and bustle of the junction of Albany Road with Old Kent Road. It was at this spot that pilgrims travelling from St Mary Overie (a predecessor of Southwark Cathedral) to the shrine of Thomas a Becket in Canterbury made their first stop to water their horses and take refreshment. The pond in Burgess Park was said to be where Chaucer’s Pilgrims took their horses for a drink.
St Thomas-A-Watering represented the southern boundary of the parish of St George the Martyr and as such also represented the limit of the City of London’s jurisdiction in Surrey. Once a year, the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs of the City of London rode in procession, all wearing scarlet gowns, over London Bridge to open Southwark Fair and to inspect the City’s boundaries at St Thomas a Watering. There is a plaque inlaid into the nearby former fire station that marks this spot.
The Mayflower connection comes from protestant martyr John Penry, who was executed here on 29th May 1593. His body was hung on a gibbet on the Old Kent Road. Some regard Penry, a Welshman, as the true founder of the Brownists, not Robert Browne. Penry sent a letter from the King’s Bench Prison, dated 24th April 1593, advising his followers to consider emigration. This is the start of the Pilgrims’ journey, first to Holland and then to America.
Plaque marking the southern limit of the City of London’s jurisdiction
Bricklayers Arms Roundabout, New Kent Road
The Pilgrim Fathers Memorial Church, which originally stood at Deadman’s Place in Bankside was relocated in 1864 to Buckenham Square, close to this site. Its gardens were named the Mayflower Gardens and contained a memorial to the ship; a sundial set on a large stone with a panel depicting the Mayflower on one side. When the Bricklayers Arms flyover was built in the 1970s there was much disruption. The Pilgrim church moved to Great Dover Street but Mayflower Gardens was left behind, complete with its monument. St Saviour’s & St Olave’s School for Girls was built close by, and the memorial is now inside.
St Mary Newington Church, Newington Butts
The original site of this church is now occupied by a park on the west side of Newington Butts. Thomas Gataker was Rector here from 1584 to 1593 before he became Rector of St Mary Rotherhithe. Later, Thomas Wadsworth was Rector, as well as being Pastor of the Pilgrim church. Nearby “Newington woodes” was recorded as the site of the arrests of some of Browne’s followers.
We’ve already explored the history of the Mayflower in Bankside and Bermondsey, and now we’ve come to Rotherhithe, which has more visible monuments to the story than anywhere in London. This is where master mariner Christopher Jones lived and worked and where the ship was finally broken up for timbers.
Christopher Jones, the ‘Captain / Master’ of the Mayflower lived and worked in Deptford, yet his children were baptised at the parish church of St Mary, Rotherhithe. These two apparently contradictory facts help us to pinpoint the location of his home. We can tell from a map of Rotherhithe, drawn in the 1620s that the whole peninsula fell within the parish of St Mary, right down to the Deptford border, and that the eastern shoreline was uninhabited except for the site now occupied by Greenland Dock. A community flourished there, presumably because the natural inlet or creek could be used by ships. Thus the map shows fairly conclusively that this site was the only place that Jones could have been living. It is also very likely that this is where the Mayflower was berthed since the northern shore had no inlets, only a tidal beach.
However, the Mayflower could not have embarked with its cargoes and passengers from Rotherhithe. The Port of London tightly controlled all loading and unloading of cargoes. Furthermore, transporting passengers to the ship with all their possessions and cargo across the Rotherhithe Peninsula would have been very difficult. The only access from London Bridge even by 1696 was along the Redriffe Wall (which was only 10 feet wide) or along West Lane (only 9 feet wide). Historians have always been clear that the Mayflower began its famous transatlantic voyage from either Blackwall or Wapping. As Greenland Dock is nearer to Blackwall, this reinforces the majority opinion.
Christopher Jones Square, Lower Road
On the way from Greenland Dock to St Mary’s Church you might pass this garden, named after the master of the Mayflower. Lower Road contained an abundance of Nonconformist chapels, at least one of which had a connection with the Pilgrim Church.
St Mary’s Rotherhithe
St Mary’s Church, St Marychurch Street
The church that stood here in 1620, when Christopher Jones and his crew worshipped inside was built in the 14th century. The building we see today replaced it in the early 18th century.
Jones is buried in the churchyard here, as are some other crew of the Mayflower. A plaque was installed inside the church in his memory in 1965 and a statue was unveiled in the churchyard in 1995.
In 2004 a blue plaque was installed on an outside wall recording the connections between the church and the Mayflower expedition, which are not limited to Jones and the crew. The Rector from 1611 to 1654 was the Puritan, Thomas Gataker. He had many Dutch contacts, including the Pastor of the Dutch church in London and visited the Netherlands in July 1620.
The Mayflower Pub, Rotherhithe Street
This pub, which stands just a few yards from St Mary’s Church very enthusiastically celebrates the Mayflower story. On the wall of the restaurant upstairs you can find a list of the Mayflower passengers. Unfortunately, it has no real connections with the Mayflower but an inn (originally known as The Shippe) has stood in the vicinity since Jones’s time.
The Mayflower pub, c.1950
Sunbeam Weekly and the Pilgrim’s Pocket
This is a modern statue of a Puritan and a young boy surveying, ironically, the history of the USA since the Mayflower. Created by local artist Peter McLean and erected in 1991, it is a fascinating and amusing take on the Pilgrim story.
Surrey Lock, Rotherhithe Street
Rotherhithe was famous for its shipbuilding, ship-repair and ship-breaking businesses and the Mayflower was probably broken up along this stretch of the river. There was a large dry dock here by 1739-46 at the King and Queen Stairs and near what is now the Salt Quay pub was the John Beatson yard – Rotherhithe’s best known shipbreaker. In 1838 the HMS Temeraire was broken up here, and immortalised in a painting by JMW Turner. Surrey Lock, which now occupies this site, was built by the mathematical genius and engineer George Bidder.
In the 17th century Bermondsey was home to a significant community of Nonconformists – Christians who wanted freedom from the established church in England. This movement is strongly bound to the story of the Mayflower, which we introduced in part 1. Some of Bermondsey’s more unusual street names are clues to this aspect of its past.
Potters Fields and Pickle Herring Street
Potters Fields is so called because of the Dutch potters who came to work here having fled religious persecution in Holland. It was the site of the earliest Delftware kilns in England, established around 1618 and the area became famous for producing a particular variety of Delftware called ‘Pickle Herring pottery’. The theory that the Dutch fondness for pickled herring gave the street and the nearby river stairs their name is unfounded. The precise origin is not known, but is much older.
Just as the Pilgrim church in Bankside was inspired by the Dutch merchant community across the river in Aldgate, so the Baptist, Brownist and Quaker meeting-houses in this area were probably inspired by the Dutch pottery community. As a further symbol of this connection, the Mayflower went on to join the Speedwell, which was hired in Holland, on its voyage to America.
St Saviour & St Olave Grammar School (now Lalit Hotel), Tooley Street
St Saviour’s School was founded in 1562. One of its pupils was Southwark’s most famous Puritan pilgrims to America, John Harvard. St Olave’s School was founded in 1571. This building dates from the late 19th century when the two schools merged, but it incorporates some architectural features that show a Nonconformist interest in science and philosophy, including Isaac Newton. Much of the building remains in its original state, with the headmaster’s study intact and the guest rooms being referred to as ‘classrooms’.
Robert Browne founder of the Pilgrim (Brownist) Church was the headmaster of St Olave’s from 1586 to 1589. Browne has been hailed as the ‘Father of the Pilgrim Fathers’ but the Brownists disowned him after he defected. His other title – the ‘Father of the first independent church in England’ – has held up better. The manuscripts signed by Robert Browne, binding him to good behaviour while he is headmaster can be viewed at Southwark Local History Library and Archive.