From shelf to screen: the journey of a can of film found in the archives in 2014

by Lisa Soverall, Heritage Officer

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 site for streaming. 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.

Screenshot from the film Canvey Capers made in 1969

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?

Researching provenance

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 LSA’s 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 local.history.library@southwark.gov.uk.

With thanks to David Whorlow, Volunteer and Archives Co-ordinator and Jack Reichhold, Information and Media Officer at London’s Screen Archives.

Check out the recently published book The Temple of Youth: Jimmy Butterworth and Clubland by John Butterworth and Jenny Waine (J B Club Press, 2019).

Sam King and the Windrush

by Patricia Dark, archivist

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.

HMT Empire Windrush (c) Imperial War Museums

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.” 

Letter from Attlee to MPs re Windrush

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.

Sources

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)

IWM FL9448 (Photo of HMT Empire Windrush)

Further reading

Pathé News Windrush feature, 1948

Windrush Foundation interview with Sam King

Windrush Stories from The British library

How did the Empire Windrush change Change London? From Museum of London Docklands

One of US? Windrush from the BBC

A special announcement for International Archives Day: The Crutchley Archive

By Patricia Dark, Archivist

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.

Anita Quye (left), Jenny Balfour-Paul (middle) and Dominique Cardon (right) with the Crutchley Archive

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.

Found in the Back Yard

By Judy Aitken, Curator

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

The white thing in front may be a handle of a parasol. It is made of a sort of early plastic type material but is solid and quite heavy.  It could be gutta percha, an early form of very solid rubber which was often used for handles. Bone was also used for handles but it doesn’t feel like that.

All the best bits

We also dug up lots of other bits and pieces but this is what we kept.

Pelvic bone from an animal

I am not an expert on bones but this is either a badger or fox pelvic bone.

Torpedo bottle

A torpedo bottle is a glass bottle shaped like a long cylinder.  Carbonated drinks such as Lemonade bottles in the mid 19th century did not have seals to keep the fizz in, only corks which were not always successful at doing this as they dried out and let air in and also CO2 (the thing which gives it fizz) out. This occurred especially if the bottle was upright as there was a small air gap at the top.  If you laid the bottle on its side the cork kept wet and kept the seal intact.  The torpedo shape meant you couldn’t accidentally leave it upright and lose the fizz.  The shape was no longer needed after proper bottle sealing was invented.

Leg

This mysterious disembodied leg is some kind of metal.  It could be zinc. I have a lot of things made from iron at home and in the museum collection and it doesn’t look much like iron underneath.  It has a rough surface which could be deliberate or might have corroded over time. 

Shells

Shells are not unusual in back gardens all over an island like ours.  I am near the sea and the house used to be on the quay side before the land was all filled in and the estuary diverted further out to the Thames.

Old Spice bottle

Old Spice was originally called Early American Old Spice and was developed in America in 1937, originally for women. Old Spice for men was launched in 1938.  The branding idea is about evoking the colonial feel and so sailing ships and the word spice is used to nod to adventure on the seas, exploration and the exotic trade.  Romantic if you were not on the receiving end of this colonialisation. The original company was the Shulton company but Procter and Gamble bought the product from Shulton in the 1990s.  Old Spice was very popular in the 1970s and the fragrance market for men was also growing, with items such as Brut.   Old Spice is regarded as a bit old fashioned now but has seen a retro resurgence.

What is a pickle jar from Peckham doing miles from London?

I found this pickle jar in the stream running near my house (really an open ditch, let’s not get too romantic although it does have eels and little fish and the odd shrew).

Peckham was famous for its pickle manufacturers as was Bermondsey and though I haven’t tracked this manufacturer down yet it should be easy from the trade directories at the archives.

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.

The Phil Polglaze Southwark Leisure Archive

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!

You can follow our #ArchivesExercise regime on Twitter.

Aerobathon 30 December 1989

Fitness demonstration 8 December 1989

Keep Fit demonstration 20 November 1990 

Tai Chi and Tae Kwon Do demonstrations, Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre 19 June 1993 

Herne Hill velodrome 10 March 1996

Shops and shortages: Some echoes from a former time of national crisis

by Ngaire Bushell, Producer, Imperial War Museums

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…

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’.

Rationing IWM

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!

Join Ngaire aboard her little houseboat and learn some wartime recipes in Cakes Made From Carrots, one of the Adventures in History series from Imperial War Museums. 

 

Collection Creatives

by Wes White, Library Development Officer

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.

Coral Necklace by Wes Viola

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.

Egyptian Goddess of the Sky by Cecilia Sobogun

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.

WesViola

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.

The ABC Book by Roland Hallfors

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.

Photographs by Wes White

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.

AlisonClayburn

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.

Everything Has Changed About My Child by Jenny Mitchell

From the Son by Jenny Mitchell

St Anne sketch by Wes Viola

You can join in with Collection Creatives from home in our upcoming Stay-At-Home edition – look out for details on our Twitter feed and in the Stay-At-Home Library.

Keep fit with the Peckham Experiment

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.

You can follow our #ArchivesExercise regime on Twitter.

Pre-war keep fit class on the roof. Every part of the building was used. Do you recognise any Peckham landmarks on the horizon?

613PEC 19 PR-W-KF-2613PEC 19 PR-W-KF-3Pre-war keep fit classes in the Long Room

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Post-war keep fit on the roof. ‘The housewives’ own idea and organised by themselves’

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Post-war keeping fit to music

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Post-war mothers’ group enjoying a keep fit class while the children play in the nursery

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A post-war women’s exercise group.

 

The Pioneer Health Centre – Part 3

by Lisa Soverall, Heritage Officer

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.

The research

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.

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 25

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.

The centre 26

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.

The Pioneer Health Centre – Part 2

by Lisa Soverall, Heritage Officer

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”[1]. 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.

The centre 14

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.

[1] Peckham: The First Health Centre by G Scott Williamson, reprinted from The Lancet 16/3/46

The Pioneer Health Centre – Part 1

by Lisa Soverall, Heritage Officer

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?

The Doctors

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.

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.The centre 4

Why Peckham?

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.

Southwark in Winter

by Emma Sweeney and Lisa Soverall

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 London Bridge in 1677 by Abraham Hondius

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.

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 

London Bridge 1565

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.’

London Bridge 1607

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]

London Bridge 1683

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:

 Some of the stalls sold souvenirs like this glass and silver mug, possibly made in Southwark.‘…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

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.  

London Bridge 1813

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.

Len Wright: A disabled person’s story told through photography

by Heritage Officer, Chris Scales

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 (15)

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.

 

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?

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.

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.

If you recognise anybody in the photographs or know more about the activities and group(s) pictured please let us know by emailing local.history.library@southwark.gov.uk

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

Preserving Southwark’s Sporting Heritage

by Chris Scales, Heritage officer

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.

Sports_at_Southwark_Park_1989_10_02_0007 Fatima Whitbread

Fatima Whitbread meets the crowd at Southwark Park, 2 October 1989

Sports_at_Southwark_Park_1989_10_02_0042 Frank Bruno

Frank Bruno poses with some young athletes at Southwark Park, 2 October 1989

 

The London Youth Games, 8 July 1990

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London_Youth_Games_1990_07_08_0035

Boating at Surrey Docks, 26 May 1990

Surrey_Docks_1990_05_26_0054

In search of a ‘lost river’: walking the Earl’s Sluice from Walworth to Rotherhithe with the Walworth HAZ

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.

One such river is the Earl’s Sluice which runs from the heights of Ruskin Park to Rotherhithe and into the Thames. In July, the Walworth Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) and Southwark Council organised a guided walk of part of the Earl’s Sluice from Walworth Road/Camberwell Road to the Thames, based on the walk in Tom Bolton’s book London’s Lost Rivers: A Walkers Guide.

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.

1. Burgess Park map

Figure 1. Burgess Park used to be a densely packed neighbourhood with housing and industrial buildings lining either side of the former Grand Surrey Canal. This modern map showing Burgess Park (in green) is overlain by a 1940s OS map. The Bridge to Nowhere in Burgess Park once crossed this canal. The Earl’s Sluice forms the parish boundary here. You can see hints of it in the oddly curved rear gardens of properties north of Albany Road. (© Layers of London)

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.

2. Boundary Lane

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.

3. Rocque 1761

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.

4. 1832

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)

5. 1840 map

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!

6. Stinkpipe

Figure 6. One of several tall green stinkpipes venting gases from the Earl’s Sluice and Earls Main Sewer which flows beneath them. This stinkpipe is on a busy junction at Rotherhithe New Road and there are many more along the Earls Main Sewer under Albany Road. These can be seen all over South London (photo © Walworth Society, Jeremy Leach)

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.

7. Pipe above ground

Figure 7. A glimpse of the Earl’s Sluice crossing the railway line in a pipe (photo © Walworth Society, Jeremy Leach)

At the end of Chilton Grove, we found the Earl Pumping Station, still helping to keep the Sluice and Earl Main Sewer flowing

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.

9.-cover-e1567437508390.jpg

Figure 9. Another Earl’s sluice clue: two manhole covers showing where it still flows below out feet (photo © Walworth Society, Jeremy Leach)

10. 1761 map

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!

11. Thames

Figure 11. Where the Earl’s Sluice meets the Thames (photo © Walworth Society, Jeremy Leach)

Further reading:

London’s Lost Rivers: A Walker’s Guide by Tom Bolton

londonslostrivers.com/earls-sluice

stinkpipes.blogspot.com

oldmapsonline.org

layersoflondon.org/map

The story of Basher Bates

by Archivist Patricia Dark

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_Bates_VC_IWM_HU_2054

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. Copyright Bernhard Bauer

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.

You can learn more about the British Normandy Memorial or make a donation at the Normandy Memorial Trust website.

Collection Creatives

by Wes White, Library Development Officer

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’?

2018 12 Toys and Games1

2018 12 Toys and Games2

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!

2019 01 Narcotics

2019 01 Narcotics_2

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.

2019 02 Jewellery

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.

2019 03 Mudlarkers

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.

April Fools.png

 

April Fools_2

April Fools_3

April Fools_4

 

Archive Volunteer Diaries: Everything in its Right Place

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.

Press cuttings1

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.

Delightful Discoveries

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.

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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.

Letters from Ernie: Private Ernest Parker of Rotherhithe in the First World War

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.Ernest Parker’s Territorial Force identification card

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.

Christmas Card from Salonika

Embroidered Chrismas Card "To my der mother"

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…”Letter to Beatrice 27 December 1917

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.”Letter from Ernerst to his mother 8 November 1918

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.”Letter to Tom, 21 January 1919

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.”Letter 2 February 1919 from Milieary Hospital in Salonika

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.”Letter from the hospital’s Sister-in-Charge 2 February 1919Blog 9

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”.

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Photo courtesy of Janis Birchall.

 

Archive Volunteer Diaries: Volunteering at Southwark Local History Library & Archive

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 lJennifer 1ots 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.

Delightful Discoveries

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.

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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.

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From the Bermondsey Abbey folder: Did you know that Southwark was spelled as Sowthewerke in the days of Henry VIII?

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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.

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For as long as I can remember: Using film in reminiscence and outreach

by Lisa Soverall, Heritage Officer

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 local.history.library@southwark.gov.uk.

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.

Southwark and the Mayflower Part 5: Borough

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.

Southwark Cathedral

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.

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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.

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The George Inn in 1889

Angel Place

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 Church and St 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.

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Plan of the area around St George the Martyr Church from Goad insurance map, 1887

 

Southwark and the Mayflower Part 4: Old Kent Road

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.

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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.

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Next week: The Borough

Southwark and the Mayflower Part 3: Rotherhithe

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.  

Greenland Dock

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.

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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.

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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.

Next week: Old Kent Road

 

Southwark and the Mayflower Part 2: Bermondsey

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.

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The original St Olave’s School, where Robert Browne, ‘Father of the Pilgrim Fathers’ was headmaster

Janeway Street 

James Janeway was a charismatic Puritan minister and renowned author. A congregation of up to two thousand came to attend his services at the Jamaica Barn in Cherry Garden Street, mainly form the neighbouring parish of Rotherhithe. He was succeeded by another celebrated minister, Thomas Rosewell, who was found guilty of treason, allegedly for delivering a sermon that was highly critical of the King and his religion. In the 19th century the church had for its Pastor the Reverend John Farren, father of Eveline Lowe, who was one of Britain’s leading educationalists and the first woman to be in charge of London as Leader of the London County Council.

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James Janeway, Puritan minister of Bermondsey

Fountain Green Square

This is one of two locations where the Mayflower is likely to have been broken up at the end of its life. The other being Surrey Lock in Rotherhithe.

Next Week: Rotherhithe

Southwark and the Mayflower Part 1: Bankside

From November 2019 the London Borough of Southwark will be involved in a year-long commemoration marking the 400th anniversary of the voyage of the Mayflower. This ship sailed from England to America in 1620 carrying a range of passengers, some of whom were English puritans fleeing religious persecution. As well as being a touchstone of American history, this story resonates with contemporary themes of migration, tolerance and religious freedom.

If you walk around the northern part of this borough you will encounter numerous buildings, names and locations that are connected to the Mayflower story. Historian Graham Taylor has thoroughly researched and mapped all of these links and we will be sharing his findings with you in the coming weeks as we start the countdown to Mayflower 400.

Clink Street

Clink Street used to be part of the Bishop of Winchester’s Palace and the preserved remains of the palace’s Great Hall are still to be seen. The Clink Prison, dating back to 1144, was also part of the Palace. Several prominent members of the Brownist movement (followers of Puritan church leader Robert Browne) were imprisoned here for their beliefs. These included John Greenwood, Henry Borrowe, Francis Johnson and Henry Jacob. It was Jacob whose reformed church in Southwark was so crucial in facilitating the voyage of the Mayflower.

In 1961 the US Consul General, Donald Smith, unveiled a Plaque of Remembrance at Clink Street. The inscription read:

Fifty yards eastwards of this spot there stood the Clink Prison where in the years 1576 to 1593 JOHN GREENWOOD and HENRY BORROWE founded a church (today the Pilgrim Fathers Memorial Church) from those imprisoned for refusal to obey the Act of Uniformity of Worship. They, with John Penry, a member of the Church, were Martyred for Religious Liberty. Francis Johnson was the first Minister. This Church helped to secure the sailing of the Mayflower in 1620 and a number of its members were among the ship’s company. ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty’.

This memorial was the gift of Americans in London, some of whom were descendants of the Mayflower Pilgrims.

Winchester palace

The remains of Winchester Palace, Clink Street, c.1800. Today visitors can still see the  remaining walls of the Great Hall, including a magnificent rose window.

Deadman’s Place, Thrale Street

This was the site of Southwark’s Pilgrim Church from around 1640 to 1788. It consisted of a meeting-house and burial-ground just south of Park Street and adjacent to the original Globe Theatre. Here was buried Alexander Cruden, author of the Bible Concordance, useful ever since to Christians of all denominations. This Pilgrim church, stood in the premises later occupied by Barclay’s Brewery. It was included in Southwark Council’s 1970 Pilgrim Trail, and at present the remains lie under the Southwark Bridge car park in Thrale Street.

The Anchor Tavern

This pub is a surviving remnant of the huge Barclay Perkins Brewery, which covered the area from the Thames down to Southwark Street. In 1781 Robert Barclay bought the Anchor brewery for £135,000 from the Thrale family. The Barclays were themselves Nonconformists and the surviving Pilgrim Church therefore flourished in the cooperage of the Barclay Brewery.

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The Barclay Perkins Brewery, 1841

The Globe Theatre

In Park Street there is a plaque marking the site of the original Globe Theatre, built in 1599 by William Shakespeare’s playing company. This plaque was formerly on the wall of the Barclay brewery and close to the Pilgrim Church.  Shakespeare was clearly aware of the Brownist Pilgrims and undertakings across the Atlantic. In Twelfth Night one of his characters. Andrew Aguecheek says, “I had as lief be a Brownist as a politician.”

The Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare’s patron, was active in the Virginia Company  (a joint-stock company that established settlements on the coast of North America). An account was sent to the company when one of their ships bound for Bermuda was dramatically wrecked. This text clearly influenced Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, and probably King Lear.

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Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, near Park Street, c.1600

 

Next week: Bermondsey

 

‘Silent Raid’: The story of the lost houses of Burgess Park

by Sally Hogarth, Artist

Sally Hogarth Artwork cropped ‘Silent Raid’ is a series of house sculptures commissioned to commemorate the people and places impacted by a WWI Zeppelin bomb that landed on Calmington Road, which once stood where Burgess Park is located today.

Reminiscent of the terrace houses that were destroyed in the raid and of varying shades found in traditional red bricks, each house represents one of the lives lost in the incident, with each house; large, medium or small representing each man, woman and child.

Like the bands of colour used in mapping bomb damage, the shade of each house darkens with increased proximity to the bomb site. Every house is etched with a quote from documents and reports on the incident, both past and present. The art deco font used is inspired by the lettering on the original commemorative plaque. A new plaque can be found in Chumleigh Gardens in the centre of the park.

Calmington Road 1977 p9968

The process involved meeting with The Friends of Burgess Park and investigating their thorough research archive, including recorded photographs, social commentaries and interviews with survivors and families involved in the incident. Meeting with local historians at the Southwark Local History Library and Archives, I learned about the extent of the bomb damage that the area suffered along with news reports and archives of the unfortunate event.

World War I Zeppelin Raid 1917 edit p17257

Damage to houses in Albany Road, 1917

After spending time in the park itself, I came to appreciate that the area where the park stands today had once been covered by buildings and houses which were destroyed by war. The absence of their existence and public awareness of this in the present day created a powerful feeling I wanted to convey in the work.

Another important issue I sought to address is the home face of war. The nature of this project is unusual in that it commemorates a war incident that happened on home soil rather than far away battlefields. In an age of a mounting refugee crisis, highlighting the living memory of the ground beneath our own feet facing bombs and destruction becomes a significant message.

A lot of the anecdotes and memories of the event had domestic contexts, from toys found amongst the debris, to fish and chips and piano playing. The contrast between these everyday, familiar and comforting images and the violence that disrupted them feels like a poignant crux of the incident.

This has been reflected in the project with the houses having an almost dolls-house feel. The scale of the houses, particularly the smallest, means that they have a certain vulnerability about them whilst the impressions on their surface that suggest windows and doors have a more sinister feel. The research included news reports that recall ‘windows hurled headlong’ and striking images of door frames standing empty without their doors.

Researching into Zeppelins and their bombs led me to find strangely colourful diagrams of the rings of their destruction. Also the records of WWI and WWII building damage in the Lambeth Archives used a gradient of colour to plot the severity of damage. This, paired with the difficulty of plotting the exact spot where the bomb landed, led me to the concept of creating a trail and colour code to the houses. The houses are scattered in a debris-like manner across the park darkening in colour with proximity to where Calmington Road once stood.

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Extract from the London County Council’s WWII bomb damage map series showing gradations in colour.

In all, I sought to ignite visitors’ interest to uncover the story of Calmington Road and the streets that once stood beneath their feet. I also aimed to create an experience for regular park visitors to discover a new house or inscription with each visit, creating a story that unfolds and is passed on between locals. The houses become a prop or a prompt for a story, to start a conversation that gets passed between park visitors and as such the story of this incident will be passed on to future generations.

Decolonising the Archive presents WIndrush Time Capsule at the Africa Centre

Decolonising The Archive (DTA) is an arts and heritage organisation dedicated to preserving and sharing the stories of the African diaspora in innovative ways. They research and present multidisciplinary programmes with the aim of stimulating public engagement with the past in order to affect the future.

Throughout 2018, DTA has been enjoying a residency at The Africa Centre in Southwark. Developing projects in a space which is proud of its past, yet passionate about the future has been a fantastic fit for their work, supporting DTA to push boundaries with programmes that have touched on everything from Dogon cosmology and Dancehall to Afrofuturism.

For Black History Month DTA will be presenting a play developed as a unique response to this year’s Windrush scandal. Focusing on the present and future legacies of the Windrush Generation. Playwright Connie Bella’s ‘Windrush Time Capsule’ draws on original archival sources to create a timely piece addressing the strong private and public reactions to this moment in history. In keeping with the themes of past and future, the play also provides a platform for promising young African and diaspora talent. The play is staged in collaboration with the promising young Director David Gilbert (S&K Project) and the fantastically creative Stage Designer Kaajel Patel. Part of the project will see a time-line installation exhibited in Canada Water Theatre and Library which will be freely accessible to the public. The installation will be accompanied by a learning resource aimed at learners from key stage 2 upwards.

The Windrush Time Capsule will be performed at the Africa Centre on Friday 26th October and Saturday 27th October. The associated installation will open for preview on Thursday 8th November and will be accessible until Thursday 29th November.

Sculptures by George ‘Fowokan’ Kelly

Q & A with playwright Connie Bella

How did George ‘Fowokan’ Kelly’s sculpture ‘Mitochondrial Eve’ inspire the play?

CB: In the field of Genetics, the Mitochondrial Eve is the most recent woman from whom all living humans descend in an unbroken line purely through their mothers, and through the mothers of those mothers, back until all lines converge on one woman. The artist George ‘Fowokan’ Kelly was inspired to sculpt a piece representing this and for me, his sculpture embraces the concepts of Mother, of memory and the forming of history through the feminine. Aspects of the play explore characteristics like nurturing, organizing and protecting which I believe this original female would need to have in order to secure a future for her lineage.

Fowokan is an avid collector of material relating to the UK black art scene among other things. Is this why you see him as a living archive?

CB: Although his collection of material is vast, I would say that Fowokan is an archive due to the experience he has amassed during the course of his life. He has travelled extensively and has had the opportunity to meet and learn from some extremely interesting and influential people. He is a self-taught artist, and for me, the process of teaching yourself anything preserves valuable information inside you which it is important to document and share.

You mentioned that Windrush Time Capsule is S+K’s launch production for Southwark. Will they be doing more in the area?

CB: Yes, this is their first production south of the Thames as most of their work is usually shared in North London. I know they are currently in talks for some exciting projects in Southwark next year so watch this space!

How can history, memory and community contribute to regeneration in Southwark?

CB: Southwark has a very rich history and over the years has become a very diverse community. I think times are very tough for many people in the UK as a whole, and especially in London as prices continue to rise and milestones like owning a property which used to be attainable are now out of reach for many. For me, it is an important time to be working with memory and history, reflecting on the past in the borough and beyond and remembering our tribulations and our triumphs. I think history has the power to enable us to consider situations in different ways and help develop solutions to the issues we face. Regeneration is not just the preserve of planning departments, it can apply to our mental outlook too.

Celebrating Vote 100: Suffragists in the Southwark Art Collection

By Curator Judy Aitken

On 6 February 1918 the British Parliament passed the Representation of the People Act by an overwhelming majority of the House of Commons (385 for and 55 against). This Act was one of the major milestones of a long and sometimes violent struggle for representation.

Wealth and class have had an impact for centuries on the right to voice opinion and, in formal democracies, to vote and, indeed, to be elected to represent people. Until the 20th century your right to vote depended on your social class and your gender.  In 1884 the right to vote was extended from 30% to 60% of all adult men, based on property and other rights.  It brought many more men from poorer backgrounds into the democratic voting pool. But women’s voting rights continued to be severely restricted.

The Municipal Franchise Act of 1869 gave some single women the right to vote in local elections only – and for this they had to qualify by living in a rated property and having paid rates for a year. Married women were specifically barred from voting, as they were considered femmes couvertes. The Local Government Act 1894 confirmed single women ratepayers the right to vote in local elections, and extended it to married women ratepayers, except a husband and wife could not both qualify to vote through residence at a single property. Where both were qualified, the man got the vote.

That is not to say women were not part of the political scene or campaigning social life.  Women actively took part in or drove many social reforms and improvements during the 19th century and early 20th century. But the one perhaps most contentious was the women’s right to vote, known as Women’s Suffrage.  The history of this campaign is long and full of both peaceful and forceful action on both sides, from campaigning women, from men supporters of the campaign and from those who resisted the demands. The women, above all, suffered a great deal as a result of harassment, attack, imprisonment and state-sponsored repression, with their treatment in prison little different from outright torture.

The violence lessened during the First World War, as everyone focussed on the war effort and women became more and more involved in occupations and responsibilities on the home front which had previously been only for men.  The war in effect gave women the chance to demonstrate to detractors that women could play a vital role in society beyond domestic life.

The passing of the Representation of the People Act is often seen as a “reward” to women for their contributions during the war.  It was certainly a little surprising given the massive resistance up to 1914.  However many people now think this takes away from the role of the suffragists and the result owed more to their effort and sacrifices than simply to a benevolent gift.

In truth the Act was only one of many needed to bring women into full political involvement.  The 1918 Act gave the vote only to women of property over 30 years old. About 22% of adult women over 30 did not have any property and could not vote.  In contract the Act increased the male vote to all men over the age of 21 (or 19 if the man had been on active service in the armed forces). However compromised the victory was hard won and was a huge step forward.

Southwark had its own organisations and campaigning heroes.  The United Suffrage Women’s Club opened at 92 Borough Road in November 1914 and continued to campaign during the war.  You can read more on this blog written by contributor Johnl.

Southwark’s archive and museum collections have only a small amount of suffrage related material. However, the borough’s art collection, formerly at the South London Gallery and managed by Southwark Council, also has several artworks by significant campaigners for women’s suffrage including Bertha Newcombe and Charlotte Elisabeth Babb.

Bertha Newcombe (1857-1947) attended the Slade School of Art in 1876. It is believed that she was one of the first women artist to train at the school. Following her successful arts training, Newcombe was a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Academy, Fine Art Society, Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, and Society of Women Artists, among other esteemed exhibiting societies. In 1888 she became a member of the New English Art Club.

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The Goatherd by Bertha Newcombe (1857 – 1947)

Newcombe was highly influenced by the artist Stanhope Forbes (1857-1947) and also by other artists associated with the Newlyn School. She was romantically involved with the playwright George Bernard Shaw and painted a series of portrait studies of him in her studio at 1 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, in the spring of 1882.

Newcombe was a strong advocate for women’s rights, in particular their right to suffrage. She became a member of The Society of Women Artists, The Society of Lady Artists and The Artists Suffrage League; a collective of female artists who produced artworks and posters for the ‘Votes for Women’ campaign.

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Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow by Charlotte Elizabeth Babb (1830 – 1907)

Charlotte Elizabeth Babb (born Peckham 1830, d. 1906) was a female artist and sister to John Staines Babb, a mid nineteenth century decorative painter who is also represented by the Southwark Art Collection. Babb spent much of her career campaigning for equal rights for women, in particular their right to suffrage. In 1859 Babb started campaigning for the admission of female students to the Royal Academy schools and resulted in her own admission in 1861. Babb was among the first female students at the Royal Academy Schools. Throughout her career Babb exhibited widely with arts societies including the Royal Society of British Artists, the British Institution and the Society of Women Artists, among many others. She was a frequent exhibitor at the Dudley Galleries from 1862.

Babb produced oil paintings and watercolours in a typical Pre-Raphaelite mode and with a strong emphasis on female figures and associated subjects (such as the Annunciation and story of Saint Cecilia). Babb was also associated with the decorative Arts and Crafts movement through established figures such as ceramic pioneer William de Morgan. Babb’s fairly accomplished yet loosely Pre-Raphaelite style enabled her to migrate over the more stylised Aesthetic Movement will relative ease. It was within this more decorative art territory where Babb produced large commercial paintings directly onto ceramic tiles (which were made by Minton).

Babb exhibited works at the Walker Art Gallery (Liverpool) Manchester City Art Gallery (1881) and also the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, USA (1893). Her paintings and drawings remain mostly in private collections. The Southwark Art Collection holds the only known publicly owned oil painting by her.

To find out more about the Vote100 commemorations taking place during 2018 visit the Vote100 project pages.

In addition as part of their regular talks series, Southwark Cathedral is having a day of talks devoted to women’s history on Saturday 24 March 2018.

More tales from the Mystery Object Group

by Wes White, Library Development Officer

Canada Water Library’s Mystery Object Group brings together creative individuals for sessions focused on one or more objects from the Cuming Museum, and other artefacts of local historical interest. The aim is to foster creative responses to the featured artefacts, and we share some of the outcomes on this blog.

Rotherhithe Pottery

The most recent group session was our second field trip, this time to the Rotherhithe Picture Research Library at Sands Film Studios. (To see outcomes from our first field trip, to see the press at the Printworks building, see our previous update.)

This field trip was part of November’s ‘Illuminate Rotherhithe’ celebrations. The Picture Library had a display about the 17th century Rotherhithe Pottery, which operated on the site of the old King Edward III mansion house. This and other potteries along the banks of the Thames often involved people who had moved here from the Netherlands, and they produced ‘English delftware’ using techniques made famous in and around the Dutch town of Delft. Cuming Museum curator Judy Aitken brought a selection of such English delftware found in Southwark.

Water Sprinkler

October included half term week and as a result we welcomed some children into the group to study a replica 16th century ‘water sprinkler’. We were all fascinated and somewhat bewildered by this device, which would have been used to wet dusty floors for sweeping. Placing or removing a thumb on the hole at the top would instantly stop or release the flow of water – although, as you will see in the writing, it seemed to the group to be a bit ‘over-engineered’. Seemingly these sprinklers were very popular hundreds of years ago, however, so they clearly made sense to our ancestors…

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Hops Warehouse Lantern

For many years, and well into the 20th century, the hops trade was a big part of the economy in Southwark. In September we had some examples of the trappings of the trade, including a sample packet of hops and a large candle holder. This lantern had spikes which would have enabled workers to secure it in the bags of hops – the group’s first impression of the device was that it looked vicious rather than practical, which again has certainly influenced our writing here.

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The ‘Veedee Vibrator’

The sexual connotations in the name of this bizarre-looking medical device are misleading. This and contraptions like it were sold in the late 19th and early 20th century as a kind of mechanical panacea – purported uses included treatment for rheumatism, gout, insomnia, tumours, constipation, deafness… the list goes on, but you get the idea. The ‘Veedee’ part of the name is thought to be a reference to the famous Latin idiom ‘Veni, Vidi, Vici’ – presumably on the basis it would ‘conquer’ any illness it came across. Tempting while it might be to think that the manufacturers also hoped to hint that the vibrator would also combat venereal disease, the term ‘VD’ in that context only came into usage in 1920, some years after this was on the market.

MOG 02

The Poet’s Bridge in Rotherhithe

by Wes White, Library Development Officer

On Tuesday 5 December, the footbridge over Salter Road was named ‘The Poet’s Bridge’ in a short ceremony which also involved the unveiling of twin weathering steel plaques at its centre. The specific poet for whom the bridge has been named is David Jones, whose epic war poem ‘In Parenthesis’ was described by TS Eliot as “a work of genius” and by WH Auden as “a masterpiece”. It is a quote from this poem that now decorates the bridge:

“The returning sun climbed over the hill, to lessen the shadows of small and great things”

Jones was a visual artist as well as a wordsmith. These words are rendered in the shape of Jones’ calligraphic script and accompanied by a reproduction of his woodcut ‘Holy Ghost as Dove’. The panels were designed by the artist Parm Rai and finished at the workshop in Deptford. The work was funded by Southwark Council through the Bermondsey and Rotherhithe community council.

Plaque with shadows

The local area is significant in Jones’ life and in his writing. A section in his other great written work, ‘The Anathemata’, is titled ‘REDRIFF’; and this features the voice of Eb Bradshaw. In real life Eb was Jones’ grandfather – he was parish clerk of St Mary the Virgin in Rotherhithe, and a maker of masts and sails in the Surrey Docks. Furthermore, a character in ‘In Parenthesis’ is given no name but simply referred to as ‘the man from Rotherhithe’. Before the naming ceremony, Anne Price of the David Jones Society speculated that this character might stand for the author himself. It is therefore very appropriate that David Jones should be commemorated here.

The new name for the bridge, though, can also stand for all poets, and the bridge already has a lyrical history going back to the start of this millennium. Every spring half term for the last seventeen years, the staff of the nearby Rotherhithe Primary School have taken to the bridge to read poems aloud. Headmaster Mickey Kelly – who conceived of and organised the naming of ‘Poet’s Bridge’ with assistance from the ‘Cleaner, Greener, Safer’ fund – describes “letting the words hang in the Rotherhithe air”.

The lines quoted from ‘In Parenthesis’ refer to the minutes before the ‘zero hour’ of the battle of the Somme – the moment when the whistle would trigger the attack in the battle of the Somme – when “the world falls apart at last to siren screech”, as the poem has it. Whilst harking forever back to this moment, the words find new meaning on the bridge, where light shines through the stencilled iron and casts shadows where we walk.

Sign, looking over bridge

Southwark’s Public Health Pioneers part 2: The Peckham Experiment

In part 1 of this post Southwark’s Archivist, Patricia Dark discussed the state of the borough’s health in the interwar period and introduced the work of Bermondsey’s public health pioneers. In part 2 we’ll discover what was going on at that time in the south of the borough.

Peckham had its own Pioneer – the Pioneer Health Centre, better known as the Peckham Experiment. It was the brainchild of two doctors, George Scott Williamson and Innes Pearce. Both were essentially academic physicians, and the Experiment grew out of their work on thyroid disease in the early part of the 20th century. For Williamson, “health” was something that existed separate from and in opposition to illness – understanding what it was and how to maximise it was simply impossible only studying pathology. Pearce’s work in an infant welfare centre in Stepney convinced her that any study of health – and any grassroots effort to improve health – had to be informed by, and grounded in, the family.

The initial phase of the Experiment began in 1926, in a house in Queen’s Road, Peckham: Pearce and Williamson worked with a group of birth control campaigners to measure whether access to health information would usefully empower people to improve their and their families’ health. It was a private members’ club, where – uniquely – the basic unit of membership was the family, not the individual. Members had access to medical workups, pre and postnatal care, and other specialist clinics, as well as a children’s nursery, space to socialize, and advice and help with other problems.

This initial phase ended in 1930, as it became clear that health information wasn’t enough to make people healthy – they had to have access to healthy, health-promoting environments. While the experiment could not reach into individual homes, it could influence members’ free time. Fundraising and design for a place where members could meet their physical, social, and mental health needs began, and the new centre opened in 1936.

The new centre operated on the same lines as the old – a private members’ club, whose basic unit of membership was the family; “family” including the partners of adult children, as Pearce and Williamson viewed premarital counselling as a crucial part of the process of creating a new family. The fee was a shilling a week per family and an annual health overhaul for each family member.

The health overhaul was crucial, both to collect data for the experiment and to inform and empower users. Centre staff took a detailed medical history, physical examination, and a full set of laboratory tests, before a one-on-one consultation; a member of medical staff explained the results and provided information on any appropriate diagnoses and potential treatments. However, although the Pioneer offered referrals, it didn’t treat members; autonomy of the individual over their own life was both a paramount value of the staff and a cornerstone of the experimental design. Someone who did not want to seek treatment for a problem – or who had a problem for which there was no current treatment – would receive information and support to help live with it.

The health centre’s building was built between 1933 and 1935 by Sir Evan Owan Williams, the engineer famed for Manchester’s Daily Express building. It was built using modern structural techniques which allowed a maximal amount of open space; for the most part, the centre was open-plan. This allowed families to separate and engage in different activities, while (for instance) parents could still monitor their children without hovering – it also allowed staff to unobtrusively observe members. As the experiment progressed, however, the open-plan design helped create a community – one where adults supervised, guided, and admonished any child, and children could interact and learn from a much wider and more varied group of adults than their own nuclear families.

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The new centre in St Mary’s Road

The heart of the building was a swimming pool with a glazed roof. The centre’s café was to the side of the pool, separated from it by a wall with lots of windows. This gave mothers a place to chat – and provide informal support to each other – while keeping an eye on their children. There was also a gymnasium with a variety of apparatus: these were the two most appealing places for children in the building, but on opening they were allowed to use neither unsupervised – and their resulting frustration caused havoc in the newly-opened building. One member of staff, Lucy Crocker, discovered the solution – to allow children unsupervised use of these treasured places, provided they obtained signed permission from a staff member who was familiar with their abilities. This gave the researchers a chance to view them in their natural environment, as it were – they found that, not only did older children tend to watch out for younger ones, but more surprisingly, most children quickly found their own level of skill, and instinctively acted so they wouldn’t hurt themselves.

While sports and physical activities were a key part of the centre’s offering, it also offered space for reading and study, including a library, and space for a variety of classes and cultural opportunities. Crucially, staff did not plan and organise classes – that was the sole responsibility of members. However, staff would find space, tools, and materials for any group of members who wanted to learn, teach, or practice a skill, run an event, or hold a class. The one iron-clad rule was that nobody could claim space in the building for their private or group use without getting consent from other members.

To us, the Pioneer Health Centre seems like a bigger brother to a leisure centre: members could join exercise classes, or competitive leagues in sports and games like badminton, darts, and snooker. But the reality was that for many member families, the centre became an extension of their own homes: a place to hold parties, entertain friends, and even find a spouse! Knowledge and skills were passed between families and generations: fathers often used woodworking classes and clubs to make Christmas presents or hone DIY skills, and there were a variety of sewing circles to help new mothers clothe their babies as cost-effectively as possible – sharing child-rearing advice in the process.

The Centre’s heyday was the decade before the Second World War. Concerned at member families’ lack of access to high-quality nourishing food, the centre bought a farm in Bromley. Its small dairy herd, poultry farm, and arable fields provided organic milk, eggs, and produce at affordable prices: Williamson and Pearce were founder-members of the Soil Association. The farm also provided a place for members to work in the open, and space for camping. The centre also ran a school that attempted to apply the egalitarian, autonomous philosophy of the centre into practice in the realm of education.

However, the outbreak of war – and especially the beginning of the Blitz toward the end of 1940 – brought the centre’s life to a screeching halt. The farm was requisitioned by the RAF, and the centre was closed, as the very glass-heavy construction was both dangerous during an air-raid and difficult to black out. Although it reopened at the end of the war in 1945, it closed again, permanently, in 1950. Partly, this was due to financial problems – Peckham had been heavily bombed, and the building was in dire need of repair and equipment, leaving little money to run activities or recruit staff. Changes in the local population also didn’t help: Peckham had been heavily bombed, and the resulting displacement meant that many long-standing, active member families no longer lived in the area, while the population that now did was less able to spare the money for dues.

After the creation of the NHS in 1948, the centre petitioned unsuccessfully for central government funding. From Whitehall’s point of view, the centre was not free at point of service, and did not have an “open door” policy. On the centre’s side, the NHS was concerned only with the treatment of disease, not the cultivation of health, and the autonomous nature of the centre did not mesh well with the top-down bureaucracy of the NHS. Some members felt that the government felt threatened by a group of people who could organize and run such a large undertaking – especially one geared to personal autonomy and self-help – without the need for leadership.

However, the centre did have an impact. In part, that impact was shown by one shocking statistic: the annual health overhauls showed that only 10% of the membership were genuinely healthy. 30% of members had at least one illness, while the health of another 60% was impaired to some degree by symptoms of illness – often symptoms they didn’t realise they had.

This suggests that it is possible to function – even function well – in daily life when not completely healthy (or even unhealthy). However, the atmosphere of the centre – one where each individual’s right to make decisions about their own life was paramount, and where those choices were respected and validated – may well have helped people remain active and involved in their communities. Moreover, the sheer depth and breadth of activities available, and the support members had from staff and other members to access them, ensured that as many members as possible could stay active and involved – and therefore healthy. These are lessons that modern public health officials may do well to remember.

Southwark’s Public Health Pioneers part 1: Bermondsey

by Archivist Patricia Dark

Since the passage of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, public health has been a core function of local councils like Southwark. As Professor Kevin Fenton, Southwark’s Director of Health and Wellbeing, told the Spring 2017 edition of Southwark Life, this means that “…local councils have had responsibility for helping to improve the health and wellbeing of local people… not only through commissioning health services but also taking every opportunity to promote health through work with schools, housing, transport and many other areas.”

The basic idea behind this approach is to make sure that public health efforts reflect a local area’s specific concerns and priorities. A “one size fits all” solution doesn’t work for health – different communities have different levels of education, different cultural backgrounds, and even different patterns of disease. Public health awareness needs to be tailored to local cultural expectations, focus on the issues that are most likely to be harmful, and provided in language that everyone can understand. Very often, local authorities are best placed to adapt to local conditions, tailor messages to local cultures, and to serve local needs.

Two realisations underpin this shift toward joined-up, locally-based public health: first, that it’s simply cheaper and easier to keep people healthy than it is to make them healthy once they are sick, and second, health is more than not being sick. The preamble to the constitution of the World Health Organisation, which was ratified in 1946, defines health as “…a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Someone who has a chronic illness or disability who can continue doing the things they enjoy – who is able to have a full, fulfilling life – is likely to be happier, and mentally and emotionally healthier, than someone who cannot; conversely, someone who is not sick or infirm, but is unable to do the things they enjoy – for instance, because they lack transportation, high-quality housing, or easily accessible leisure facilities – is unlikely to be able to have a full, fulfilling life, and is therefore more likely to be in poor health.

So what does that have to do with heritage? As strange as it may sound, quite a lot! This new local focus also looks back: to the interwar period and some really pioneering work done in Southwark to improve the health of local communities. To understand how radical interwar public health in Southwark was, we need to look at what living conditions were like, and how they affected public health.

Historically, many areas of the modern borough of Southwark – including Bermondsey, Rotherhithe, Walworth, Camberwell, and Peckham – had grossly overcrowded housing that was in poor condition. During the industrialisation of the Victorian era, swathes of existing housing stock was demolished to make way for factories or transport infrastructure, notably railways; if it was replaced (often it wasn’t), it was by cramming new houses into front or back gardens, or spaces that had previously been stables. Beyond that, a housing crash in the early 20th century ensured that new housing was in short supply. To raise money, both landlords and tenants divided and sub-divided what began as single-family homes, splitting them into flats, then single rooms.

Dixs Court and Sultan Street

Sultan Street and Dix’s Court in the 1930s

This meant that most of what’s now Southwark was vastly more crowded than even today. In 1901, for instance, the population density of the metropolitan borough of Bermondsey was 97.62 people per acre – in 2012, the population density of London as a whole was 4 and a half times less than that, at 21.39 people per acre. In 1939, on the eve of the Second World War, 15 million Britons – fully 39% of the country’s population – lived as families in less than 1 room. In the worst cases multiple families – had one room to eat, sleep, and live in. Entire streets were filled with rows of badly-ventilated, poorly-lit “back-to-back” houses off dead-end courts, with little space for children to play, adults to get air, or even to dry laundry. There was no privacy, and little peace.

Damp and dilapidation added to the problem. The most populated areas of Southwark are close to the river, in the Thames floodplain: until the creation of the Thames Barrier in the early 1980s, storms and tides caused regular Thames floods. Houses lacked damp-proofing, and in Bermondsey – most of which was below mean high tide level – foundations were constantly wet. This meant that many houses, most of which had lathe-and-plaster interiors, had enormous damp problems.

Damp problems were made worse by the general disrepair of housing stock. At the outbreak of the First World War, three-quarters of the country lived in privately rented housing, so, just like today, rogue and negligent landlords were a problem: in some cases, a landlord might not even know they owned a property. Lack of building supplies, skilled tradesmen, and capital on landlords’ parts – an unintended side-effect of rent controls – meant that even good landlords found it hard to keep properties in good nick.

Poor quality, overcrowded housing meant poor sanitation. Most working-class housing pre-dated running metropolitan water, and so lacked specified bathrooms or indoor toilets. Subdivision of single-family houses meant the kitchen became another all-purpose living space for a family, while other living spaces lacked plumbing of any kind. Alternatively, the kitchen could be shared by the entire house. In either case, finding the time, space, heat, water, and privacy to have a bath could be all but impossible. In some flats in Bermondsey, 5 families – up to 30 people – shared a single outdoor toilet, accessible only through the kitchen on the ground floor. In all these cases, keeping house, clothes, and people clean was a vicious uphill battle – which meant the families dwelling there were constantly exposed to a variety of germs and vermin.

Southwark’s working-class families faced other hurdles to staying healthy. The first was that a high proportion of jobs involved casual manual labour – for instance on the docks. Although dockers were highly skilled, they were usually hired for short periods – a single ship, a week, or even by the day. Wages weren’t high – and more importantly, they were unreliable, making it very difficult to budget or plan spending. Because of this, families often had to eat as cheaply as possible. Eating cheaply was usually monotonous, but also lacking in balanced nutrition; then as now, fresh fruit and vegetables were often prohibitively expensive. In the interwar period, cheap food could even be dangerous: cheap milk usually came from cows who hadn’t been tested for TB. Bovines often don’t show signs that they’re ill, and can silently carry TB, shedding the bacteria in their milk. A child drinking that milk could acquire the infection, often in the bone – which could cripple or even kill.

All of the problems with housing, sanitation, and nutrition we’ve discussed created a population whose general health and immune function wasn’t very good at the best of times: to put it simply, social conditions created a population who got sicker, quicker, for longer. Even more importantly, these conditions meant that the health of individuals and communities was on a knife-edge: any sort of hard times – a father out of work for a single family, a strike for a community – could and did create serious illness and suffering.

Different areas of the modern borough were healthier than others. Specifically, Camberwell as a whole was healthier than either area to the north – probably because of its relatively well-off, relatively spacious southern end – and possibly even healthier than London as a whole. However, it’s important to recognise that even relatively healthy Camberwell had death rates that are far higher than modern British ones andthat we would now associate with the developing world. Interwar Southwark was a deeply unhealthy place, that much is clear – and people at the time knew it.

Alfred and Joyce Salter

Dr Alfred Salter and his daughter, Joyce

And some pioneers decided to fight back. In Bermondsey, Alfred and Ada Brown Salter, respectively a prominent local physician and an equally prominent social worker and labour activist, lived in Storks Road – near where Bermondsey Tube station is now – with their daughter Joyce, born in 1902. Joyce was a ray of sunshine for all of Bermondsey – everyone knew her and was fond of her. But in 1910, when she was 8, Joyce caught scarlet fever for the third time. Nowadays, we call it a “Group A strep infection”, and it’s easily treated with antibiotics. But then there weren’t any – even sulfa drugs were nearly two and a half decades away. Joyce had all the love and good wishes her family and community could give: Ada and Alfred had to hang signs on their gate to update the borough, or else well-wishers would knock or ring at all hours. But that wasn’t enough, and she died in June 1910: people in Bermondsey said that their ray of sunshine was gone.

Joyce was Ada and Alfred Salter’s only child. When she died, they turned their grief into anger and their anger into action. They met with Evangeline Lowe, Ada’s best friend, and made a simple vow: the three of them would run for office at all levels of government – borough, county, and Westminster – and win. Then, together, they would do their best to, in the words of Bermondsey Labour’s 1922 manifesto, “…make Bermondsey a fit place to live in. We shall do everything we can to promote health, to lower the death rate, to save infant life, and to increase the well-being and comfort of the 120,000 people who have to live here, Bermondsey is our home and your home. We will strive to make it a worthy home for all of us”.

That meant new housing, demolishing the old, crumbling back-to-backs. New parks, like the one in St James’s churchyard, in Thurland Street, which opened in 1921: Arthur Carr, the chairman of Peek Frean’s, gave it a beautiful covered slide, the Joy Slide, that delighted local kids into the 1970s. New plants – trees planted along every verge, flowers in the parks grown in the council’s nursery in Fairby Grange, Kent, and flowers for everyone in Bermondsey with a window box to grow them in.

st-james-churchyard-1922-ada-salter-and-the-joy-slide

Ada Salter and other dignitaries pictured with the Joy Slide, 1922

Health care was another major plank in Bermondsey’s revolution. Fairby Grange was also a mother-and-baby and convalescent home: originally the Salters bought it for Alfred’s patients and conscientious objectors, but quickly donated it to the council. There was an aggressive anti-TB campaign, featuring mass X-ray screening in clinics or via a mobile service, and paid-for beds at a sanatorium in Switzerland. Bermondsey also launched an aggressive public health information campaign. Potential learning experiences were everywhere: a backlit slide-table while waiting at a clinic, leaflets into homes, even bookmarks with health slogan slipped into every book the library service issued! The public health service put floats into parades and made its own public information films. The 1925 Medical Officer of Health reports that the borough had started school exams in hygiene and home nursing – starting as early as possible to improve health.

In our next post we will look at the work of the Pioneer Health Centre in Peckham

 

 

 

Discovering Southwark’s LGBTQ+ History

This weekend Southwark Local History Library & Archive are taking part in the ‘Talking Back’ LGBTQ+ History and Archives conference at London Metropolitan Archives. In preparation for this and in celebration of 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967 we have been delving into our collections to discover what we hold to tell the histories of LGBTQ+ communities in Southwark.

We hold records for one of the earliest community, council and police-consultative groups in the country to begin tackling homophobia openly, the Southwark Anti-Homophobic Forum that launched in 1995 – still running today as the Southwark LGBT Forum. We also have an archive of the fascinating ‘Southwark Sappho’ lesbian newsletter, produced in 1993 by the Southwark Women’s Centre in Peckham and catering to the needs of a diverse local lesbian audience.

Other collections we discovered include photographs from World War One of soldiers in drag entertaining the troops in ‘concert parties’ abroad, including the incredible Kenneth Lowndes as Cinderella. We also have a watercolour painting from 1935 that shows an extremely rare-depiction of street drag performance, showing a drag troupe performing their high-kicks routine accompanied by barrel-organ on the back streets of Peckham.

We hold many council flyers promoting services to Gay & Lesbian people in Southwark including the launch of the ‘First ever day for Lesbians and Gays in Southwark’ which took place in 1988. We also hold photographs of Southwark’s float in Pride parades in London, as well as copies of an incredible photographic exhibition on the history of Pride in London 1972-2005 produced by Pam Isherwood for the Southwark LGBT Network.

New additions to the collection include Oral History interviews with key local figures including: Stephen Bourne, a prominent gay author and founder of the Anti-Homophobic Forum; Sue Sanders, another member of the forum and founder-member of ‘Schools OUT’ and LGBT History Month; and gay ephemera collector James Gardiner who brought the 1930s love story to the world of upper class Architect Monty Glover and his life partner Bermondsey boy Ralph Hall in his book ‘A Class Apart’.

To enable users to more easily discover these and more we have created a new LGBTQ+ Communities Collections Guide and will be launching a new online gallery showing some key items in the collection. Here is a selection:

Kenneth Lowndes

These photographs from 21st London Regiment soldier Harry Milner’s scrapbook show Kenneth Lowndes in drag. He was part of the 60th Divisional Concert Party ‘The Roosters’, one of many such theatre troupes who formed during World War One to entertain their fellow troops when stationed abroad. The Roosters formed in 1917 in Salonika and went on to become one of the longest-lasting and popular concert parties, made famous to home crowds across the nation via performances broadcast on BBC radio, and performing to audiences up to the late 1950s.

The Follies Concert Party

The Follies - 47th Division concert party The Follies 1916-1919 (Southwark A52 collection)

This photograph shows the 47th Divisional Concert Party ‘The Follies’, one of many such theatre troupes who formed during World War One to entertain their fellow troops when stationed abroad. They performed a variety of comedic and variety pieces, and one popular song performed by two ‘ladies’ vying for the love of one gentleman was ‘Wonderful Girl, Wonderful Time’ from the 1916 musical Houp-La. The Follies often wore dinstinctive green and black pierrot costumes although this photograph depicts them in character roles.

Turkish room at Bermondsey Public Baths

Bermondsey Public Baths 1, Grange Road 1927 (PAM 613-47 BER) Turkish Baths

The public baths on Grange Road in Bermondsey opened in 1927 and were a very grand affair designed in ornate fashion to enable the poor of the borough to wash. While the baths performed their public function very well, the Turkish baths and Russian steam room in the basement also took on another role as a notorious and tolerated homosexual rendezvous. Before the days of open homosexuality public baths such as these were well-known cruising and homosocial spaces, especially as many were open late at night with little supervision. Bermondsey became quite famous in queer circles with even carry-on star Kenneth Williams commenting that having been there for ‘traditional interest’ in 1958 he found it ‘quite fabulous’.  [For further information on the London public baths in this context see Matt Houlbrook’s excellent book Queer London]

The Street Entertainers Move On

The Street Entertainers Move On, 1935 by Winnie Collins (SC 942.16422)

This watercolour was painted by 18-year-old Winnie Collins for a school competition in 1935. It is a rare depiction of a troupe of Drag entertainers who performed on the streets of Peckham. Female impersonation in theatre was common at this time, especially in the ‘soldiers in skirts’ that existed in theatrical units of the armed forces in World War One. During the 1920s and 30s some of these continued entertaining on stages across the UK and street entertainment drag was common in the working class areas of South and East London.

Southwark LGBT Forum

The Southwark LGBT Forum is a partnership organisation originally formed in 1995 as the Southwark Anti-Homophobic Forum, a panel including representatives from Southwark Council and local councillors working in collaboration with Southwark Police to address problems of homophobia in the borough. Our collections for the Forum include materials from 1995-2011 covering their community outreach work and also project materials for LGBT History Month and Pride.

Southwark Sappho

These pages are from the Lesbian Newsletter ‘Southwark Sappho’ produced by the Southwark Women’s Centre on Peckham High Street from 1993-1994. The newsletter and related group aimed to provide ‘non-separatist support’ for all lesbians, running drop-in sessions and events considering issues such as racism in the lesbian and gay community as well as promoting local services and events taking place across London.

 

Southwark’s Blue Plaque nominees 2017: Southwark Charities

Voting has opened for this year’s Southwark Heritage Association Blue Plaques scheme. There are seven worthy nominees, of which only one will get a plaque this year. But who are they and why should they get your vote? To help you decide we’re featuring one nominee per week over the 7 weeks of voting.

This week, read on to discover more about Southwark Charities.

Southwark Charities is an organisation with a history spanning four centuries, starting with a man called John Wrench, a tenant farmer who lived in the vicinity of what we now know as Stamford Street. In 1603 he left a bequest for the maintenance of the poor people of his home parish of Christchurch. This was the first of many charitable gifts and legacies that would form the Southwark Charities.

Over the course of the following 382 years 47 different charities were formed within Southwark with similar aims. The most recent was the Joseph Collier Holiday Trust, which started in 1985. From the 19th century onwards the older charities had begun to form unions, and in 2010 all of them were brought together to form the organisation we see today.

Southwark charities 3One of the more significant early charities was founded by Edward Edwards and this year is the 300th anniversary of his death. In 1717 Edwards left the leases of his land and buildings to trustees, the income of which was to be used for charitable purposes. Some of the money raised was used for the construction of almshouses in the area bordered by Church Walk (now Burrell Street) and Charles Street (now Nicholson Street). The almshouses were rebuilt in 1895 with an inscription from one of the original buildings set into one a new wall. They were rebuilt once more in the 1970s and were officially opened in 1973 by Princess Anne. The new building, Edward Edwards House is now the headquarters of Southwark Charities.

Southwark Charities almshouses

In addition to the traditional functions of providing accommodation and maintenance grants for older people, Southwark Charities also delivers social and community events such as day trips, visits to the theatre, garden parties, and week-long holidays at a specially adapted holiday village. The number of participants in these outings and holidays in 2015 was almost 700.

In Summary:

A 400 year legacy of charitable works in Southwark, showing that the people of this borough have always looked out for each other. Will you #VoteSouthwarkCharities?

Voting ends on 15 September 2017. You can vote by emailing Southwark Heritage Association: admin@southwark.org.uk or the Southwark News: owen@southwarknews.co.uk. You can also vote in person at all Southwark libraries and at both the Mayflower, Rotherhithe Street and Half Moon, Herne Hill.

Southwark’s Blue Plaque nominees 2017: The Half Moon

Voting has opened for this year’s Southwark Heritage Association Blue Plaques scheme. There are seven worthy nominees, of which only one will get a plaque this year. But who are they and why should they get your vote? To help you decide we’ll be featuring one nominee per week over the next 7 weeks of voting.

This week, read on to discover more about The Half Moon

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The Half Moon has had more celebrities pass through its doors than any other pub in this borough. In recent years musicians like Kate Tempest, Anna Calvi and La Roux have made important debuts here. The pub has also been a major comedy venue, attracting performers like Eddie Izzard, Omid Djalili and former local resident Jo Brand. To some, it would be performances by the likes of U2, Van Morrison and the Police in the 1980s that make the Half Moon worthy of a blue plaque, while if you are a fan of folk music, the 1960s were the pub’s heyday, when acts like Bert Jansch and Gerry Lockran performed for the proprietors Ed Parslow and Charles Pearce.

Stepping back a little further, the 1950s was the era of one of the pub’s most celebrated regulars, the poet Dylan Thomas, who may well have named his famous drama Under Milk Wood after nearby Milkwood Road. He was one of many Welsh visitors who came for a drink and a sing-along after matches played by the London Welsh Rugby Football Club. The team had their home at nearby Herne Hill Velodrome, where drinking was not permitted by the landlords, the Dulwich Estate.

The land on which the Half Moon stands is also owned by the Dulwich Estate, (formerly Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift). An inn has stood here since the 17th century. One particularly longstanding and enterprising tenant, John Webb was somehow in the possession of the original tombstone of the Elizabethan actor and founder of Dulwich College, Edward Alleyn. The stone had apparently been used by Webb and his father before him as a talking point for visitors to the pub’s tea gardens. It was presented back to the college in 1844.

The imposing grade II* listed Jacobean revival edifice we see today was built between 1894 and 1896 to designs by local architect James William Brooke. It boasts a number of fine interior features, including six newly restored back-painted mirrors depicting aquatic birds. After four years behind builders’ hoardings these features can now be seen again. The Half Moon reopened in March 2017 and in May hosted its own Dylan Day celebrations in honour of the Welsh poet.

In summary:

South London’s premier music venue for half a century, frequented by poets and an official asset of community value. Will you #VoteHalfMoon?

Voting ends on 15 September 2017. You can vote by emailing Southwark Heritage Association: admin@southwark.org.uk or the Southwark News: owen@southwarknews.co.uk. You can also vote in person at all Southwark libraries and at both the Mayflower, Rotherhithe Street and Half Moon, Herne Hill.

Southwark’s Twin Towns

By Patricia Dark, Archivist

Southwark Archives documents a particularly fascinating set of connections between the borough (or parts of the modern borough) and its twin towns. Town twinning intends to foster inter-cultural understanding, boost business, trade, and tourism, and – in many cases – foster understanding and reconciliation in the aftermath of war. In previous decades, when international travel was expensive and much more difficult to arrange than today, twinning provided an easy and cost-effective way for Southwark locals to experience other countries.

1783

Southwark’s international connections start early with the shipwreck of the East India Company ship Antelope, captained by Rotherhithe local Henry Wilson,in July 1783. Antelope wrecked on Ulong Island in the modern nation of Palau; locals assisted the crew in building a new ship, a process that took three months.  When Wilson set sail for home, the High Chief, Ibedul, asked Wilson to take his eldest son, Lee Boo, back to London to acquaint him with European life. The “Black Prince”, living in Rotherhithe with the Wilson family, quickly became well-known for his intelligence, charm, and poise. However, he died of smallpox in in late December 1784, just six months after arriving in London, and was buried in the Wilson family tomb in St Mary’s churchyard. The nation of Palau has never forgotten their prince – athletes competing in the 2012 Olympics made a point of stopping at his gravesite.

1906

Probably the earliest governmental connection came in 1906; as part of the entente cordiale with France, a delegation from the French towns of Dunkirk and Malo-les-Bains visited the metropolitan borough of Bermondsey: a programme and menu from this visit are in the archive’s collections.

1922

After the First World War, the British League of Help tried to support the civilian populations living in the war zone by encouraging British communities to “adopt” Belgian and French counterparts located where local units saw particularly fierce action. For Cambrin, a village in the Pas-de-Calais, 18 miles southwest of Lille, their adoptee was the metropolitan borough of Southwark, whose local TA unit (the 24th battalion of the London Regiment) saw a significant number of casualties saw a significant number of casualties there. Council minutes from 1922 note that Southwark was poor and not able “…to do much financially, but it appears to us that it is not so much the amount or the value of the gift or gifts that matters, but rather the spirit in which they are offered. The real point of an adoption is that sympathy is expressed for France…”; the borough’s sympathy saw £67 (6,000 francs) and seeds worth another £200 donated to help. Southwark’s mayor and town clerk delivered the gift in March 1923. During their stay, they visited a number of battlefields and war cemeteries; the mayor’s report appears in the council minutes in full – which suggests that the trip was made, in part, for all the widows and orphans who couldn’t go themselves.

The 1930s

Just before the Second World War, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia formally cemented links with its namesake: the metropolitan borough of Camberwell. A former resident of south London gave the Australian Camberwell its name in 1857 after noticing that his new pub was at the junction of 6 roads. During and after the Second World War, the Australians sent their cockney cousins 40,000 food parcels, which helped mitigate the effects of ever-tightening rationing (the town of Geelong West did the same for Bermondsey). To say thank you, in 1950 the Londoners gave the Australians the freedom of the British borough – as well as the bell from the blitz-destroyed Scarsdale Road school in Peckham, which was installed in Camberwell Central School in Victoria.

The 1940s

During the Second World War, Bermondsey – whose Labour council was radically progressive – made symbolic links with other embattled communities. In October 1941, local Boy Scouts and Girl Guides sent a message of solidarity to the youth of the Soviet Union – the archive has a copy. In June 1943, on the first anniversary of the total destruction of the Czechoslovak village of Lidice and massacre of its residents by the Nazis, Bermondsey held a memorial service on the site of the blitzed town hall in Spa Road; it featured a speech by Jan Masaryk, Foreign Minister in Exile, and a performance by a choir of Czechoslovak servicemen.

The 1950s

After the Second World War, twinning became a way to facilitate cultural exchange and international travel. Camberwell twinned with Sceaux (pronounced “So”, as contemporary newspapers were keen to point out), a wealthy suburb about 6 miles south of the centre of Paris, in 1954. By the late 1950s, Camberwell Council sponsored an annual “French Week” of cultural events (like film screenings, concerts, exhibitions), civic receptions for French visitors, and special offers in stores. The 1957 French Week, as a brochure in the archive notes, even had a free wine tasting in Dulwich baths and the Scarlet Pimpernel – a man who attended the week’s events and who paid a cash prize to the first person to present him with the brochure using the correct wording. That year, a local newspaper piece also notes that the French ambassador was so engrossed by the paintings in the South London Gallery’s exhibition that he forgot to officially open it! By the 1960s, Camberwell and Sceaux were trading library books, dahlias, and choirs; the choir trip to Camberwell for Whitsun 1963 was marred by the charter plane being unable to land at Heathrow. For modern residents, perhaps the most lasting mark of this twinning is the name of the Sceaux Gardens estate in Camberwell, whose name dates to 1957.

In 1957, the metropolitan borough of Southwark forged an official link with another Parisian suburb, Courbevoie, about 5 miles northwest of the centre of Paris. Like Southwark, Courbevoie started life as a waypoint on a major road into the capital – in its case, the road from Paris to Normandy, whose curve gave the area its name. Unlike Southwark, Courbevoie was a centre for business – La Defense, the Parisian equivalent of Canary Wharf, is in the south of the area. Like Camberwell’s link with Sceaux, the Southwark-Courbevoie link involved cultural exchanges of young people, musicians, and sportspeople. After 1965, the London Borough of Southwark kept up the link.

The 1960s

Camberwell took on another twin in 1960 – Deventer, a Dutch town of about 100,000 people in Overijssel province, near Arnhem – in fact, Deventer’s town centre stood in for Arnhem’s during filming of the classic war movie A Bridge Too Far. The London Borough of Southwark took on this twinning in 1965. As well as exchanging library books, the Deventer link included exchanges of young people from 1960 onward, housewives from 1968 on, and artists, choirs, and sports teams. There was even an older people’s exchange programme – Dutch OAPs spent a week or two at Southwark’s welfare home at Bexhill-on-Sea, while their British counterparts stayed in retirement homes or the homes of local families.

The 1970s

Beginning in the 1970s, the London Borough of Southwark considered forging its own twinning link; it decided on Langenhagen, a town of about 50,000 about 7 miles north of Hannover in the German state of Niedersachsen. Langenhagen is the site of Hannover’s airport, and also saw the arrest of Ulrike Meinhof (in 1972) and the first mass production of CDs (in 1982). It’s also a major centre for horse racing and shooting sports – Brenneke, a major manufacturer of ammunition, is based there. The archives holds two photo albums documenting visits to Langenhangen: many of them show Langenhagen’s Schützenverein, or shooting club, and its annual Schützenfest – a fair that includes shooting contests (nearby Hannover’s Schützenfest is the largest in Germany).

The 1980s

Perhaps the most unusual twinning came in 1984, during the miners’ strike. At the time, Southwark council was controlled by Labour, who decided to twin the borough with three mining villages in Kent: Snowdon, Bettshanger, and Aylesham. This allowed the council to help provide material support to miners’ families by facilitating fundraising and collection of food donations; it also gave residents of the inner city a means to understand rural life better.

Words and Southwark Park – Part 3

By Pat Kingwell

In Part 2 of this article we looked at the local campaigns and developments that made the Park what it is today. Now for some recent developments.

In autumn 2017 Debra Gosling’s ‘The Trees of Southwark Park’ was published; as far as we know, the first full-colour work on the natural glories loved by visitors.    

During 2019 several activities were organised by Southwark Park Association 1869 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the opening of Southwark Park. This time there were no cannons, but words were spoken, sung and written. Free public talks were given by Travis Elborough, Graham Taylor and Mary Gibson. The story of the park was also taken to Blue Anchor and Canada Water libraries, and City Hope Church. Nick Lane led a tree walk in the sunshine, and the Rotherhithe and Bermondsey Choral Society sang on the bandstand.   

On 19th July 2019 a civic ceremony was held alongside the new café. The Worshipful Mayor of Southwark, Councillor Sandra Rhule presided over the sinking of a time capsule, to be opened in 2044. Documents and creative work was donated by individuals and local organisations, including Southwark Park Primary School, who entertained a large crowd by singing ‘Bring Me Sunshine’.

The 150th anniversary also inspired the publication of two books. ‘Women and Southwark Park’, a tribute to the part played by over 200 women in the history of the park; and ‘Fun In The Park’, a collection of the writings and art work of children of Riverside, Rotherhithe and Southwark Park Primary Schools.  

Now in 2020, during these most unusual of times, on your next visit to the park, please look upwards to see something special that was provided by the Southwark Park Galleries and artist Alec Finlay two years ago. The permanent nest box sculpture, ‘Questions & Answers (after Paul Celan)’ draws on the words of the poet and offers us surprise at every view.

Many of the images used are from my own collection, but I must acknowledge and thank Debra Gosling, Barry Marsh and David Toogood for those they have provided.

© Pat Kingwell May 2020

Words and Southwark Park – Part 2

By Pat Kingwell

In Part 1 of this article we looked at the importance of the written word in the early history of Southwark Park.

1995-2020

Fast forward now to more recent times. By the 1990s Bermondsey and Rotherhithe were far different places than in 1869. The process of urbanisation that was beginning in mid-Victorian times was complete. Southwark Park, once the site of market gardens, was by now the only large green space left in a densely crowded area. Over the years the park had matured from the simple place where people promenaded, into a typical twentieth century recreational facility, catering for a variety of sports, children’s play, summer entertainments, and even an art gallery. By the mid-1990s the park required significant upgrading. At that point important words were spoken by the local community.

Reminiscent of the 1850s, passionate meetings were held in late 1995 and early 1996. The many who attended at the Southwark Park Primary School and the Rotherhithe Civic Centre called on Southwark Council to act. The Friends of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe Parks was formed and amongst those most intimately involved were Keib Thomas of Bede Centre, and residents Gary Glover, Gary Magold, Marjorie Hill, Grace Beesley and others.

Southwark Council responded by working with The Friends. A bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund was submitted in March 1998. Fundamental to the application was a Restoration Plan produced by Land Use Consultants. The case put together in that document, by Adrian Wikeley, Paul Harrison and colleagues, makes it arguably the most significant set of words written about Southwark Park since the Act of Parliament in 1864. It led directly to a substantial grant award and by 2001 the park was transformed.

Since the turn of the century words have gone on to play their part in the life of the park. An easily overlooked example is the improvement of signage which provides park users with basic information. Certain features have more detailed boards, e.g. the bees in the nature area; the bandstand; the Jabez West Memorial drinking fountain; the Ada Salter Garden; the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Tree and the Rotherhithe Caryatids. The main entrances have historical information boards too. Local-born cricketing legend, Bobby ‘The Guv’nor’ Abel, has a plaque on the wall of the art gallery.

Festivals and performances have traditionally been part of the park’s link to the community. The Bermondsey Carnival is an especially popular event, bringing on stage a variety of musicians and singers. Everybody will have their favourite memories, but for word play surely the appearances by Londoners Chas n’ Dave, Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook will be hard to eclipse.

Norwegian Constitution Day is another annual event. On 17th May (syttende mai) thousands of our friends from Norway gather near the bandstand to celebrate their independence. The Norwegian language is heard in speeches and folk songs. The bi-centennial event in 2014 was a special day, including the singing of the national anthem: 

“Yes, we love this country                                                 
as it rises forth,
rugged, weathered, over the water,
with the thousands of homes,
love, love it and think
of our father and mother
and the saga-night that lays
dreams upon our earth.”

Any account of words and the park must pay tribute to the Bubble Theatre, who have regularly staged plays in the open-air of summer. Too many to mention, but what fun was had when they brought ‘Punchikin Enchanter’ (2003); ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ (2004); ‘The Crock of Gold’ (2005); Ovid’s Metamorphoses (2006); ‘The Dong With A Luminous Nose’ (2007); Homer’s The Odyssey (2009) and more recently ‘Tales From The Arabian Nights’ (2017).

As one of London’s oldest parks it was surprising that there was no book dedicated to it. In 1999 the restoration scheme gave impetus to myself and Len Reilly to write a very brief history in conjunction with Land Use Consultants. In 2010, following another Heritage Lottery Fund award, an oral history was published. ‘Our Park’, combined heritage information and the reminiscences of many members of the community. Written and visual work was given by children of Rotherhithe Primary School and St. Joseph’s, Gomm Road Primary School.

In 2014 the 150th anniversary of the Southwark Park Act was celebrated with many community-based activities. Words were prominent. With the support of the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association the 1st Southwark Park Brownies produced ‘Kid’s Park’, a colourful nature trail booklet.

Historians Ken Worpole and David Kynaston visited the park and gave free public talks: the former on London Parks, the latter on Bobby Abel. Gary Magold did a guided tour about the park during the First and Second World Wars, and Jon Best, Southwark Council’s Ecology Officer, organised a bat walk. Lynne Olding, Head Gardener, gave a tour of the Ada Salter Garden. 

The 2015 and 2016 summer programmes continued to interpret the park through guided walks and talks. Graham Taylor spoke on ‘Famous Women of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe’; apiarist Sharon Bassey ran bee education days in the nature area; Debra Gosling fascinated us with her ‘Bermondsey Smells’ walk and talk. Alison Clayburn ran creative writing sessions, which resulted in the book ‘Voices Of The Park’.    

In Part 3 we’ll look at some more recent publications.

Collection Creatives – Summer 2020

by Wes White, Library Development Officer

In usual times, when the libraries are open, there is a regular group that meets at Canada Water Library to learn about museum objects and get creative: they are the Collection Creatives.

During this time when the libraries are closed, we are inviting everyone in Southwark to become a ‘Collection Creative’ and join in with our call to feel inspired by objects from the past. If you’d like to join in, this is what you need to do:

1. Have a look at the pictures and notes provided by our Curator, Judy Aitken in her article,Found in the back yard’.

2. Take some time to absorb what you’ve seen and read there. What does it make you think of, or remind you about? Where does your imagination go with these items? Have you found something in your own back garden that made you curious? Maybe you’ve kept it?

3. In your own time, come up with a creative response – anything you like. Just like the work made by our regular group, it could be a sketch, a poem, a story, a memory… or you might feel moved to do something different, that wouldn’t be so easy to do in the library usually – a sculpture? A song? It’s up to you!

4. When you’re ready, share your work with us on social media with the hashtag #CollectionCreatives – we are @SouthwarkLibs on Twitter – or send it by email to wes.white@southwark.gov.uk, saying clearly if you would like it to feature in a post on our Southwark Heritage blog, and how you would like it to be credited if so. (We can’t promise to feature every submission, but we will try to put some highlights together)

Stuck for inspiration?

Don’t feel pressured to come up with a masterpiece. Collection Creatives is for everyone and we’re happy simply to see simple sketches of the objects or some notes about the thoughts they evoke for you. But if you’re not sure where to start and want to try something a bit different, here are some possible starting points:

These are inanimate objects. But usually, things are put in the ground in the garden in hope that they might grow. Imagine a magical garden where anything could grow. If one of these objects had grown like a seed, what would have sprouted?Would a glass bottle grow into a glass tree? Can you draw what you imagine, or tell us about it?

Have you ever found something in your own back yard that has a story to it? Try telling us that story! Maybe you could take an artful photograph of the object to go along with it…

What would be the best thing you could imagine finding in a garden? Maybe that thought inspires a poem or a song?

Go in whichever direction you like with these ideas, or any ideas of your own that Judy’s finds inspire. We’re looking forward to seeing what you make!

Now read ‘Found in the back yard

Words and Southwark Park – Part 1

by Pat Kingwell

It is a pleasure to make a contribution to the Southwark Festival of Words. I have an interest in Southwark Park, so thought it might be worth looking back in time to see how words have played their part in the long story of the borough’s oldest park.

It is possible that over the past century and a half as many words have been written or spoken about the place as there are blades of grass in its 25 hectares. This article will look at some examples from the early years 1856-1869, and then some more from 1998-2020. In doing so I touch upon the written word, such as memorials, letters, petitions, official reports, newspaper articles and creative works. I also refer to the spoken word used at public meetings, ceremonies and performances.

1856-1869

The park is so familiar to us now that it is hard to imagine it not existing, but that was the case until 1869, when it first opened to the public. The campaign to secure our local “green lung” started in earnest in April 1856, and was begun by the written word.

Southwark Park 1A memorial was presented to the Bermondsey Vestry, signed by over 250 of the principal inhabitants of the parish. The memorial was a very formal and respectful way of addressing an authority – in this case the local vestry, which was back then a limited type of local government. A statement of facts was usually accompanied by a petition or remonstrance. The message was clear enough – we live in an area with public health challenges and a park will help us meet them. Other places have a park, so why not us? Also, we don’t want to see too many houses built on the land, except for those working in the locality.  Read it in the words of 1856.

“To the Vestry of Bermondsey. We, the undersigned, being anxious and desirous for the improvement of the parish of Bermondsey, and the preservation of the public health, beg to call your attention to the necessity that exists for obtaining for this parish the advantages that are enjoyed in other districts.

It is well known that occasional epidemics have from time to time visited Bermondsey with greater severity than any other parish, entailing in addition to the sufferings of the poor an increase in the rates; that we attribute this greater severity in some measure to the unwholesomeness of the water used for domestic purposes – the proximity of the parish to the Thames, the laborious occupation of the workmen, and the absence of any public walks or park. That since the last epidemic, unwholesome water has been supplied, and it is hoped before long the Thames will be purified; that in nearly every other district around the metropolis grounds have been laid out for squares, public walks or parks; that there is in this parish at the present time a considerable open space used for market gardens, which might be obtained and converted into a park, but which otherwise in the course of a few years will be covered in houses and let to persons not engaged in the legitimate trades of this parish.

That this parish, being essentially a manufacturing one, it is not desirable to increase the number of dwelling-houses except for the accommodation of workmen and persons engaged in such trades.

That we request you to take such steps as you may deem advisable for the purpose of providing the public with a park or public walks in this parish.” 

The Bermondsey Vestry and the memorialists initially approached the government to build a park, but were advised by Sir Benjamin Hall, the First Commissioner of Works, that their best chance was to go to the recently established Metropolitan Board of Works for help.

Southwark Park 2

Sir Benjamin Hall (1802-1867)

Hall played his part by using words. He sent an important letter of support, in which he wrote “I am strongly of the opinion that it would be very desirable to have some large open space provided for the inhabitants of the South Eastern portion of the Metropolis …it is scarcely necessary to press on the Metropolitan Board the advantages to this neighbourhood of some easily accessible public place of recreation, most of the Members of the Board are acquainted with the district and know that there is no open space in which the poorer inhabitants can walk, still less enjoy exercise and recreation which has been found so beneficial in other neighbourhoods, the open space, walks, trees and turf of St. James’ Park, Hyde Park and Victoria Park must be still more beneficial in this neighbourhood and as every day the want of such a place of recreation is more felt on account of the increase in the number of houses there.”

Sir Benjamin Hall’s influential letter helped widen the park movement beyond Bermondsey. The case for a wider South-Eastern Park developed involving the representatives and inhabitants not only of Bermondsey, but also Rotherhithe, Southwark and Camberwell. In January 1857 the Board of Works published a vital document, the report of the Works and Improvements Committee, which officially recommended a park should be built. That rather innocuous looking item, just eight pages long, got us to where we are today, but not straightforwardly.

Southwark Park 3Although the report backed the idea of a park, it did not say exactly where in South London it should be. This was because there were two contending plans from the vestries of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe, each with their powerful supporters and parochial interests. The former plan was the larger of the two and more expensive. The Board of Works hoped for a compromise proposal, but that did not come. Instead the second half of 1857 saw the public meeting become the place where a more dynamic expression of the people’s feelings on the subject were voiced. Between July and November 1857 several large public gatherings were held at which numerous enthusiastic speeches were made.

The one held in the grounds of the Dun Cow Tavern, Old Kent Road, on the evening of 6 July 1857, was typically eventful. It was attended by the two Southwark Members of Parliament, Admiral Sir Charles Napier and John Locke. Dr. John Challice, the eminent medical Officer of Health for Bermondsey, and writer of many medical advisory texts, presided. He said that upon the South-Eastern Park a good sermon could be preached. This he did not mean to do; but he would remind them that it was now or never that they should assert their right, their natural right, to the formation of this park, and those that did not now press that right, would regret that they had neglected to do so. As he spoke it rained with such force that the meeting adjourned into the spacious skittle saloon. The crowd was anxious to gain admittance, the doorway became choked up, and those who had already entered the saloon were somewhat surprised to see the gallant admiral make his way in through one of the windows.

Sir Charles said that if they looked around they would find that all had got parks with the exception of Southwark. He felt that Southwark had a great claim for a park. He did not say that to please them, as he was not in the habit of trying to please anybody (laughter). A great deal of money had been spent in the improvements of St. James’ Park …, and it was no doubt very pretty to see a clear stream in front of the palace, but if they could vote money for that, could they not do so for the benefit of the people at large!

John Locke made a forcible speech. He said he never heard anyone say anything against establishing a park, the only thing they could urge being that they did not like to subscribe their money (hear, hear). They therefore started with the fact that parks were good without any qualification…Had not public money been voted for Manchester and other parts, for the establishment of places of resort for the people? (Hear, hear) Did not their great metropolis afford to all who chose to come a chance of bettering or making their fortunes, and when they come, were they not warmly welcomed (cheers) and treated with the greatest friendship? …The metropolis had been spreading on all sides, and if they allowed that to go on without thinking of the health of the people, they would do that which no great city ever did without bringing destruction on the people. If they had a park brought to their own doors, there was no reason why they should not go into it, and enjoy the fresh air every day of the week. To tell them that because a park would cause a trumpery rate of three farthings in the pound to make it, that it should therefore, be refused, was an insult, and any man who urged it was an enemy to the people (hear, hear).

Fired by the words of Napier and Locke, Archibald Kintrea, a Camberwell vestryman, successfully moved a resolution which indicated a certain sense of injustice: “That the aristocracy and the gentry inhabiting other parts of the metropolis, have for years had the benefit of spacious parks made and maintained for them at the public expense, and this meeting feels that our numerous manufacturing and industrial population have a just right to demand a park for this district, to be made and maintained by a rate levied over the whole of the metropolis.”

Benjamin Young, gelatine manufacturer of Spa Road, seconded the resolution, saying he had lived in the district all his life. If they wanted an argument why the park should be established, let them look up the blind alleys in Tooley Street, Parker’s Row, Bermondsey Wall, Dockhead, and other places even more open, and they would find nothing but a mass of bricks and mortar. A man could not take his children into the fields because of the distance, and he therefore went by himself and had to travel a long time before he could catch sight of a bit of green. He then felt very tired, and to rest himself found refuge in a public house. The proposed park was a place for the poor man to take his exercise in, and for his children to see those beautiful flowers which otherwise would be a closed book to them.

Similar strong sentiments were expressed at other public meetings. On 9 September 1857 at the Lecture Hall in Fair Street, Thomas Chaplin, a solicitor and member of the Southwark Radical Club, said the east end of London had Victoria Park, which the community at large and those of this district helped to obtain; and now let the people of the east end, and others who had this privilege, aid those on this side of the water, and in this district, in obtaining a similar advantage. Why should all other districts of the metropolis have their parks, while those in the Southwark district had only the “Old Islands?” (A reference to the Seven Islands of Rotherhithe) Let them keep the old islands, and the green grass upon them, but not let them relax their exertions in obtaining this object, which would be a boon to the whole of the district. On 6 October 1857, at a meeting in Spa Road, Lewis Wilcher, the secretary of the South Eastern Park Association, commented that while large sums were willingly voted for public buildings, royal dowries and pensions, he thought a small outlay should not be grudged to enable the youth to grow up in strength and vigour. Boys, for want of space to indulge in cricket, trap ball, and other manly sports, were driven to smoking, cheap concert-rooms, and other questionable kinds of amusement. No opportunity was afforded them for the contemplation of the beautiful works of Nature, and the result was moral as well physical deterioration.

The campaign for the Bermondsey plan reached a high point on 16 October 1857 when the South Eastern Park Association presented a petition to the Board of Works signed by over 6,000 people. However, the Board opted for the smaller and cheaper Rotherhithe plan, locating the park more or less where it is today. The decision provoked a good deal of outrage.

On 12 November 1857 the Association held a public meeting in the Green Man Tavern, Old Kent Road, which was described by the contemporary press as “one of the most stormy and disorderly ones we ever witnessed, and will not soon be forgotten by those present.” Emotions ran high. Accusations of personal duplicity were traded across the floor. The Board of Works was lambasted for “its great mistake” in choosing Rotherhithe as the site for the park. The Camberwell representatives at the Board were openly accused of deliberately undermining the Bermondsey plan because they wanted to get a park at Goose Green for their own especial benefit, and to do that, they wished to drive the present park as far as possible from their own district. The meeting descended into “indescribable uproar.”

Southwark Park 6

The Green Man c.1865

I have dwelt on public meetings because in the crowded rooms the formal, restrained language of the memorial was often replaced by passionate words. Criticism of the powerful was voiced openly and vividly. Local affinities were not hidden. Insults and accusations flew. All of which was reported in detail in the local and sometimes national press. The Board of Works, uncomfortable with the controversy, and increasingly preoccupied by London’s drainage needs, postponed implementation of the park until further notice.

From 1858 until 1863 Southwark Park was virtually in limbo. Then the local vestries reignited the dormant campaign. Learning the lessons of disunity which was so damaging in 1857, the vestries conferred and agreed to push once more for the Rotherhithe location. Letters and memorials were sent to the Board of Works. There seems to have been no more disputatious public meetings. In November 1863 another form of words, a notice, was issued by the Board stating its intention to apply to Parliament for powers to create the park. On 28 April 1864 the Southwark Park Act was passed. Its 42 clauses and accompanying schedules may not amount to the most beguiling set of words ever written about the park, but they are surely the most significant.

Putting the words of the Act into force was easier said than done. A combination of complicated land and lease purchases; dilatory design and a sleepy works programme, meant five years passed before the park was completed. During that time the local vestries became increasingly frustrated at the slow rate of progress, and a number of letters of complaint, memorials and deputations were sent to the Board of Works. The local press joined in too, as evidenced by this sarcastic comment published in the South London Press in November 1866: “The mythical park for Southwark came up for conversation at the Metropolitan Board of Works yesterday. The money having been paid for the ground, it is devoted to growing Brussels sprouts, etc., for unknown officials, pending their leisure to design gravel walks on paper and draw specifications for the approved lodges. As only a year has been thus wasted, and £3,300 of the public money expended, the inhabitants of Southwark may hope to see a man and a barrow A.D. 1876, prior to another vote being asked for, as the money now in hand will be paid away that time in interest for the present loan.”

In February 1868 the South London Journal published a letter about the need for the Chairman of the Board, a former Southwark representative, to do something about the delay:

Southwark Park 9

Southwark Park 10

Southwark Park was formally opened on 19 June 1869, and again words played their part on the day. The official ceremony began at 3pm on a very wet Saturday when Chairman Sir John Thwaites arrived with the officers and members of the Metropolitan Board of Works. They and the local MPs John Locke and Austen Henry Layard headed a procession of the great and the good on a tour of the park. During the walk four commemorative trees were planted, and on returning to the platform speeches were made. Sir John Thwaites declared the park open some thirteen years after it had first been proposed. He said “Of the value of parks and open spaces they had all but one opinion, and they were of peculiar value in this crowded district, which was inhabited principally by working people. The design of these parks was to minister to the health of the people and their recreation from toil…such places were calculated not only to improve physical well-being, but also, to raise the standard of moral sensibility. At present, the workman, when he retired to his ill ventilated home, had nowhere to go to, excepting either the taproom or the skittle ground. But he would now be enabled to come here with his wife and children, and breathe the fresh air.”

Sir John’s was the first ever public speech delivered in the park. The second ever was by John Locke, but owing to the discharges of cannon part of his speech was inaudible. He referred to the meeting in the Dun Cow as far back as 1857, and congratulated all on “obtaining this long sought for boon”. Was he being ironic when he said he was grateful to have lived to see the project carried out?

Austen Henry Layard made the most telling speech. He said: “The rain is good for the grass and plants but not so good for human beings…Sir John has alluded to the cost which the park has been to the Metropolis. I will tell Sir John that I believe, in a short time, the cost will be indirectly repaid them through the improved moral and social condition of the people. He has also asked you to take care of the flowers. I am not afraid of that. The time is not long gone by when people were thought incapable of being trusted; but when they were trusted, what was the result? Since I have been First Commissioner of Works, I have not had a single complaint of a flower being plucked, or a tree, plant or shrub injured in any of the parks. We now see the park at its worst. But the time will come, when our children are become men and women, that these trees which have been planted today will have grown to maturity and this park will then be a glory to Southwark.” How right he was.

Southwark Park 11

Austen Henry Layard MP (1813-1894)

An amusing aside to the day concerned the funding of the ceremony. The Board of Works offered nothing, so it fell to the notoriously tight-fisted vestries to foot the bill. The South London Chronicle enjoyed recounting their actions: “Half a dozen parishes, beginning with Rotherhithe in the historical and ancient ‘boroughs of Southwark’, were asked to contribute to the expense of a ‘jollification’, as the modern phrase is for what used to be called in polite circles as a dejeuner, and contributions of £200, £150, £75 and £50 have been made with more or less willingness by the governing bodies. The idea was to give a welcome to the great Elite of the Metropolis and his subordinates, and the notion was at once hospitable and inexpensive on the part of those who proposed it, for they were to give the invitation and join in the feast while others were to pay. There is always somebody ready to spoil sport, and in this event it was Mr. Field of St. Saviour’s, who gladly suggested that they should contribute to “Button Park”, a euphemistic phrase which we take to mean the pockets of the Vestrymen… Mr. Millar and Mr. Burgess in St. George’s also declared against buying a dinner for themselves at the expense of the already over-burdened ratepayers, but the feeling that they ought not to ‘get shabby’ strengthened by the dictum of the vestry clerk and Mr. Collinson, that the expense was allowed by the Metropolis Management Act, counterbalanced any such qualms, and carried the day and £100. In St. Olave’s Mr. Shand had to enact the part of Oliver Twist, and ask ‘for more,’ and almost with the same feeling that he wouldn’t get it; for the joint Dejeuner Committee had pooh-poohed the £50 already voted, and had laughed Mr. Shand into an unauthorised promise of £25 more. Well, he asked, and Mr. Eyell and Mr. Tolhurst gently chided him for taking upon himself so much, and the stout men of St. Olave’s passed the little ‘extra’ rather than make Mr. Shand pay for his promise out of his own pocket.”

In Part 2 we’ll fast forward now to more recent times.