Poets in the Archives – the story so far

by Helen Savage, Heritage Office

Across the last year, attendees to Poets in the Archives have delved into Southwark’s Archives collections to inspire new poetry. We have looked at Southwark Poets Una Mason and Pat Brown, delved into Southwark’s Roman past, borrowed pamphlets from the Feminist Library in Peckham and taken inspiration for LGBT history month from the Southwark Sappho Newsletter. Here is a selection of the work from the group. We hope you enjoy.


What does the phrase ‘towards the stars’ mean to you?

Una Marson writing at a desk and looking at the camera
Una Marson

Una Marson was a Jamaican writer and broadcaster and the first Black woman to work at the BBC. Her first home in the UK was in Peckham. In 1945 she published a poetry collection called Towards the Stars

Towards the stars by Eugenia Sesti

Around the time that we were about to go on our first holiday in two years there was a lot of coverage for NASA’s Perseverance rover. Around this time, we also found out we had been in contact with someone with COVID and might have to postpone our trip. It dawned on me that sometimes things that seem impossible are feasible and sometimes a much simpler thing in comparison can bump into many obstacles. Life is not always straightforward, but we can keep on looking towards the stars.

The countdown
Has begun
From ten to one
Perseverance is in Mars
Its home beyond the stars
While a sneeze is all there is
Between me and Heathrow Terminal 5


Rotherhithe

Canada Water by Eugenia Sesti

I’m a duck
Full on bread
Slightly stale
Slightly hard
I still want to taste each crumb
I’ll take all that I can get
The leftovers from your life
Fill me up
And I don’t need to search no more
I spend my time just hanging out
Waiting for the breakfast you forgot to eat on Tuesday

Spring in Russia Dock Woods by Nirma de Silva

Walkers stride jauntily
rejuvenated like patches of daisies on grass,
 scattered dandelions, hawthorn in white bloom.

Pram pushers in abundance. A toddler is allowed out
by a pond, unsteady legs, stretched arms
towards mallards. They squawk, move into water.

Parents point at prayerful cormorants
drying wings on logs, children observe a photographer
framing a woodpecker as a blackbird sings sweetly.

Small patterned wings flutter in a hurry
for nectar, whites drink their fill
from green alkanet, some rest on leaves.

Air is crisp, fresh shoots, energy flows –
willow in yellow catkins, horse chestnut in flowering
spikes. Pulling on leads, dogs excited by new scents

bark at squirrels that scamper undaunted.
Umbellifers spread white tablecloths
for picnickers, cherry adds cheer in pink.


Roman Southwark

Roman artefacts have been found all over Southwark, helping us to build a picture of this fascinating period, and provided plenty of inspiration for this session.

Roman Southwark by Nirma de Silva

It’s in the fragments
of a terracotta tile,
red corridors.
In broken plaster remnants
of wall paintings
of scenery, gods they worshipped,
the painted walls of a wealthy house.

In unearthed pieces
of mosaic,
geometric motifs in red and black
stylised flowers, strands,
tessellated panels,
the floor of a large room.
It’s all there.

Imagine
     a central courtyard
          surrounding corridors
                multiple rooms

It’s there
strewn fragments of clay pots, vessels, brooches,
narthecia of perfumes, salves anointed in
public baths
built with hypocaust,
the fragrance, the indulgence
their way of living.

Each piece a part of an image
that expands
stretches
to a glimpse of an era
to form
a mosaic of Roman Southwark.

Painted wall plaster from Winchester Palace excavations from Below Southwark: the archaeological story by Carrie Cowan

Cupid in Southwark by Nirma de Silva

I am alone but never lonely
in my mansion of orange and beige walls
where columns touch blue skies.
I watch all from my vantage point
Londinium extends on the north bank
Southwark becomes a bustling suburb
of terracotta pavements, public baths,
roads stretch far to the south.

My winged feet carry me past
 traders of salves, cloth, pungent salted fish
potters with samian bowls, drinking vessels for wine
public baths where perfumes drift

When people gather on feast days
in honour of gods, I celebrate in dance
on mosaic floors. Years later, I watch as my
beloved pavilion collapses in 300 A.D.

It lays beneath the gardens of Winchester Palace
Undisturbed, barren.
I wait 1600 years to see it again
Recognisable but faded, broken.

No longer my glorious mansion,
it will not draw me back.
Southwark too, I barely recognise.
You will not see me again.


The Pat Brown archive

Peckham resident Pat Brown photographed and wrote about her everyday life and the world around her. These poems were inspired by her personal archive collection.

The Nightwatchman

Tall and slim
With pictures of petals
In mourning.
Shiny and proud
You stand erect and free
Just content to be you.
But now I flick the switch
Your light floods the room.
I can read
No more groping
For the words.
And when I am done
You take care of me while I sleep
A sentinel
You stand guard
Till another light filters
Through the window blinds.
When eventide returns
I reach again for book and bed.
Later you will comfort me
Watch over me
Before I start anew.

Herewith, elsewhere by Rowenna Mortimer

Herewith, inside
They point out what I wish kept hidden
Give voice to what knows only silence
Parade the flaw in what I believe precious
Read the holy words I forgot to cover
Speak of the sacred I failed to lock away
Lean forth in their space as if to tumble through
Into mine.
Elsewhere, outside
All is secret.

‘I was only copying the others’ by Rowenna Mortimer

I need to let you know
that what you gave me is
what you said it was, is
what you hoped
                               This is the medium 

show off to you that what
I saw is what I saw,
to prove I spoke the truth
I’ll capture that
                               This is the medium

turn the green shoulder, make
it face me, how close I
trash my reputation
against the sun
                               This is the medium            

force the confrontation,
own the violation,
I’ll trap a thing in life
then show the lie
                               So this, the medium.


Southwark Sappho newsletter

Southwark Sappho was produced by the Southwark Women’s Centre on Peckham High Street from 1993 to 1994. The newsletter promoted local services and events taking place across London. We looked at archive copies at our session during LGBT History month 2022

Hand drawn zine cover on pink paper: Southwark Sappho August '93 By local women for local women. 
Southwark women's centre lesbian newsletter

Cut-up poetry by members of the Outside Project and Poets in the Archives


Home

This session was inspired by from Alo-Wa, a black women’s Oral History group and focused on the theme of Home.

No Shoes by Eugenia Sestini

My grandparents moved from Italy to Argentina after WWII, and my dad was born in Argentina. When he was in school, the teachers told my grandparents not to speak Italian because it was confusing him, so they never spoke Italian at home, and they never returned to Italy. I think they were worried that things would still look like they did when they had left. They both wanted to remember and wanted to forget.

No shoes
Or washing machines
A ship
Across the ocean
The hope
And longing
New beginnings
With footwear
And appliances
A language to be learned
And one to be forgotten
Do we choose what we want to remember?

New collections from the Latin American Women’s Rights Service

by Helen Savage, Heritage Officer

Southwark Archives are excited to show you some new digital collections from Latin American Women’s Rights Service. LAWRS are human rights, feminist organisation run by and for Latin American Migrant Women living in the UK. They were founded in 1983 and turn 40 next year. With a centre in Walworth, they carry out activities in and around the local area.  

We look forward to welcoming some women from the group to the archives search room in autumn 2022, when they will deposit some material archives.

From LAWRS website:

We actively advocate for women’s rights, migrant’s rights and the rights of ethnic minorities at local, national and EU levels. We aim to achieve social change through key projects that bring together members of the community of different age groups for transformative and empowering work.

Find out more about LAWRS

The images below are part of the new collection, dating from c.2016 – 2018. We look forward to adding more to it soon.

Poets in the Archives: Poetry in Response to Alo-Wa ‘Our Story’

Back in 2021, Poets in the Archives met for a session to engage with material from Alo-Wa, a black women’s Oral History group in Southwark which formed in January 1990 and ran until 1991. Members of the group were seven women in total, all from African and Caribbean descent, and all living or working in Southwark.

During the poetry session, we looked through Alo-Wa material and then participants came up with questions to ask one another to inspire what would eventually be the writing of new poetry. These were:

  1. What does the phrase ‘back home’ mean to me?
  2. What does my family history look like?
  3. What are my childhood memories / how do I re-connect to a country I saw years ago?
  4. Why did my father / mother never teach me…
  5. What do I wish I knew more about my family?

Below are the poems the group produced in response.

Stories by Nirma de Silva

Embraced in the Alo-Wa spirit
they were brought together.
A sense of purpose,
togetherness

warmed by community air.
Reminiscing about sun filled days and swaying palms
the sweet smell of the earth
the taste of tamarind, fried plantain, sweet potato
vibrant patterned kaftan fabric and
shimmering blue waters
they connected to others, to the community
in a celebration of culture
by sharing food, experiences,
their own stories.

It began as storytelling
voices from the past of
grandparents, an aunt, family ‘back home’
why they came to Southwark
challenges they faced
stories of courage and resilience
that amaze, inspire and stay with you.
Writing their own histories
like threads woven into a rich tapestry
of a community’s heritage
in a new home.

Back D’Home (dom) by Joanna Cielecka

Finding my
Forked tongue

One goes to the country
Misty evenings amongst the fields
Of corn, kukurydza, coucou rice
The sun is friendly
Even though I ignore it, typing
Ferociously these words.

The other slithers through Southwark
From jaunty Elephant’s Cheap Street
Crosses at George’s Circus
And swings back to watery Bankside
To sit on the slimy steps
And laugh with the rabbles.

“Coming home”

How loudly was it sang
By guys climbing onto buses
In July twenty eighteen,
While twelve of us women
Sat quietly with herbs
In Prostitutes’ Graveyard?

Coming home.

How muted now it feels
Being alone with a Weegee
In a dreicht Polish village.
Estranged by Brexitannia
Speaking in the dialect of
Dogs, children and angels:
The prayer of hope.

Hope for home
Where we all belong.

Gentle like a sway of breath
Like mother’s heart
Like moth’s wings.

Gentle yet powerful
Like St Paul’s bell

Let Hope ring

Embrace us

Let the forked tongues
Dissolve tonight

While I thank you, dziekuje
For joining me here
As if nothing else existed

I feel our union.

Not on paper
But above it.

Joanna Cielecka

Homecoming

Not a blur,
Nor a flicker.
No memory of this place.
Yet now it enthralls me
Now it entices me

The paanwallah’s potion
Invites me to submit
To breathe its scent
To taste its touch
To smell its air.

The sun clogs my skin
The dust clouds my lungs.
I’ve entered its body
I live its life
Surrender my mind.
Soon it will have my soul.  

No Shoes by Eugenia Sestini

No shoes
Or washing machines
A ship
Across the ocean
The hope
And longing
New beginnings
With footwear
And appliances
A language to be learned
And one to be forgotten
Do we choose what we want to remember?

My grandparents moved from Italy to Argentina after WWII, and my dad was born in Argentina. When he was in school, the teachers told my grandparents not to speak Italian because it was confusing him, so they never spoke Italian at home, and they never returned to Italy. I think they were worried that things would still look like they did when they had left. They both wanted to remember and wanted to forget.

Eugenia Sestini

Prediction by Colleen Cameron

Poverty, plucked from peaty ash,
Petals my rosey-cheekbones,
Inherited from women scrubbing
A cleanliness privilege grants me now.
They, unknown, behind my looks
Look out –
History, marked by rows of wind-battered tombstones
Etch a line of youth dead before their Time,
Birthing generations of men more fruitful than they
Who look out –
Hills, rolling like our shape, shadowed by
Scottish Pine, high, like our legs made for walking
Miles, and the stamina of a population
Striving to survive –
But that –
Still, they look out –
Sighs of déjà-vu echo now, green
Guttural – the harshness
Palpable – the silence
Comfort keeps History an unanswerable prediction
Yet, they look out –
They see the world now through my eyes
And the world holds them still –
Through me.

A Long Story by Barbara Robson

Oh do not ask me about my family history
unless you are ready for a tale of woe
told from the very pit of existence.
Would it were different, but my heart
tells me that now, coming up ninety-two,
honesty matters most to me.
Gone is the time I needed to impress
or please others. What have I left to lose?
You see, I come from a long line of poor
suckers from foreign parts. To survive their
daily grind, they resorted to secret fantasies
to keep hope alive. But like a sand castle,
this could not withstand the in-coming tide.
This unfortunate habit was passed on to me
willy-nilly. Although this may seem extremely

silly to you, it has all but cost me my life. For
assuming fantasy is safe when kept secret,
combined with a smile plus stiff upper lip,
is the stuff of a horror story. So it has proved.
For suddenly I seem to have a choice: to let
go the illusion that my forbears bequeathed.
Many were the stories both my parents told.
Not least being the one about my birth.
How the midwives prophesized over me
‘This one will become the lady of the family.’
They also named me ‘Rosebud’ due to my
my dainty, pursed mouth. But try as I might,
all this has proved rubbish down to this very day.
Now I can only attempt to count my blessings,
few though they seem. But maybe I am mistaken.
The gist of my story is that, though I come from a
long line of dupes, undoubtedly well intended but
truly f—ed, I am, in fact, no more or less so than others.

Mi yard in peace by Andrew Akpenyi

I was having a stroll in Southwark Park away from my yard

To take time to think to be solely away from everyone
To take time to think to be in a location that’s not common
To take time to think to be under a tree that’s providing me shelter when it hammers down with rain
To take time to think to be in a place as though I’m Chris Tucker laughing on stage

After that I skedaddled to Walworth Road library on the bus because I wanted to find a book on nature

To take time to think if I live in a real abode
To take time to think if I need to move to a different type of housing
To take time to think if my roots are factual

My next destination was a walk along Southwark Bridge to view the River Thames

To take time to think about the boats that pass under and when they’re gonna return
To take time to think about residing in a place around that area

In the end I got the bus back to my real home to just kick back and unwind

To take time to think and…

kip…

                                                             kip…

A Right Royal Party! Southwark’s royal occasions

Southwark Archives have digitised a collection of photographs and ephemera from royal celebrations in Southwark’s past. We’ve made the following selection available for you to enjoy in time for the Platinum Jubilee.

Queen Victoria

King Edward VII

King George V

King George VI

Queen Elizabeth II

Dancing in the streets – royal events in Southwark through the ages

By Patricia Dark, Archivist

This year is the Platinum Jubilee, marking the 70th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II taking the throne. Some people will be planning a street party, a picnic or viewing the platinum pageant – if so, you’re following in the footsteps of Southwark residents of a century and more ago.

Having the monarch live in a set place is a relatively young idea. In the Middle Ages, when many payments were made in kind rather than money, the royal court moved around the country, visiting royal estates. The royal court would have been familiar with Southwark, since London Bridge was the only Thames crossing near the royal palace at Westminster – visiting cities to the south of London, like Winchester, or royal holdings in France, would require travelling down Borough High Street to the Elephant.

Moving forward in time to Queen Victoria’s reign, we would definitely recognise the pomp
and circumstance surrounding her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Tuesday 22 June 1897 (two days after the actual anniversary) was a special Bank Holiday; there was a procession featuring 50,000 troops and officials from all over the Empire – the entire route, starting and ending at Buckingham Palace, was highly decorated and packed with people. The route crossed the Thames at London Bridge, continuing down Borough High Street and Borough Road to St George’s Circus before re-crossing the Thames at Westminster Bridge. To mark the occasion, the obelisk at St George’s Circus was replaced with a clock tower – later demolished in the interwar period before the obelisk was replaced there in 1998.

1897 Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee procession royal coach passing Boswell and Sons Borough Road (P_2641)

Edward VII and George V had similar coronation processions – in 1902, the procession stopped outside the St George the Martyr vestry hall in Borough Road to allow the mayors of the metropolitan boroughs of south London to give good wishes and pledge their loyalty to the new monarch.

Edward VII’s coronation festivities also included the King’s Dinner. Schools, settlements, and
mission halls all over modern Southwark hosted festive meals and entertainment for poor local residents (likely to be older people) – rather charmingly, many of the invitations ask attendees to bring their own cutlery.

1902 King’s Dinner for his poorer subjects ticket, 61 Southwark Street, 5 Jul (PC_394_43)

By the time of King George’s Silver Jubilee in 1935, celebrations were locally organised; by the individual metropolitan boroughs or individual streets or estates. However, Bermondsey Metropolitan Borough – a poor area hard-hit by the Great Depression – didn’t allocate any money to marking the jubilee, citing lack of funds. This led Mayor SR Weightman to turn down an invitation to meet the new king because, as he pointed out, his mayoral funds were earmarked for sending local disabled children on a holiday and he couldn’t personally afford the £80 to £100 outlay (up to £7,500 in today’s money). This principled stance wasn’t universally popular. In fact, newspapers reported that he was burnt in effigy outside Bermondsey Town Hall on 6 May by a crowd protesting his supposed lack of patriotism. Bermondsey locals organised over 200 neighbourhood street parties, funded by donations from residents – providing a treat for some 5,000 children. Most of them, luckily, had a budget surplus: the Cadbury Road committee used theirs for
a children’s cinema outing, while organisers in Leonard Street saved theirs for a summer outing.

1935 Silver Jubilee King George V, Tea Party, Alscot Road, 6 May (PB_1761)

Two years later, celebrations for George VI’s coronations were much the same: organised and paid for locally. On 12 May, neighbourhoods all over modern Southwark threw street parties for local children, paid for by local residents clubbing together. Children attending usually got gifts, for instance a souvenir mug and box of sweeties, to take home. The Dog Kennel Hill estate’s party turned into a riot, as adult gate-crashers tried to make off with the children’s treats. Moreover, it rained on the day: local newspaper coverage suggests that some parties were spoiled entirely.

The festivities continued through the month. The metropolitan borough of Camberwell organised a party on 20 May for more than 20,000 schoolchildren at Crystal Palace, featuring concerts, sports, dancing, a Punch and Judy show, and a display of Maxim flying boats.

For Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953, Bermondsey didn’t have to worry about balancing its books, since a wealthy American, Margaret Biddle, footed the bill. Although she was living in Monte Carlo, she’d spent time in Bermondsey during the Second World War, including a stint as a volunteer PR officer for the borough’ council. Bermondsey took the voyage of the Mayflower as the theme of its coronation festivities (quite probably to say thank you): MGM even loaned the borough a model of the ship!

The metropolitan borough of Camberwell kicked off its festivities by lighting a beacon on One Tree Hill. Camberwell also cleverly avoided the dilemma facing Bermondsey some 20 years earlier, by making the annual children’s holiday to Bexhill an official part of its celebrations. As in earlier years, there were lots of street parties. One in Vicarage Grove was recorded by the BBC and broadcast in Australia: as local newspapers reported, one listener was so moved by the loyal speech given at Vicarage Grove that he sent the speaker a care package!

1977 Silver Jubilee Elizabeth II and crowds outside Millpond Estate, Rotherhithe, 9 June, (c) Derek Rowe (Photos) Ltd. (P_11639)

The Silver Jubilee of 1977 saw a recreation of the historic Southwark Fair on the South Bank near the Globe theatre, with a parade of “living history“ – locals dressed in costumes ranging from the Elizabethan to the futuristic. As well as street parties, Bermondsey and Rotherhithe hosted the Queen during her Royal Progress down the Thames on 9 June – this river trip echoes the journeys made by Elizabeth I, and featured in the Diamond Jubilee celebrations as well. While in Southwark, the Queen unveiled a commemorative engraved stone and received a book containing old prints of Southwark, created by students at the London College of Printing (now the London College of Communication).

The women’s settlement movement in Southwark, the beginnings and legacies

Southwark Archives

The Industrial Revolution created an increase in the middle classes who were both well off and politically powerful, but it also created a huge influx of job seekers to cities. London’s population grew six-fold in the century between 1800 and 1900; sanitation and housing could not keep up with the revolution’s progress. Many people worked in poorly paid, unstable labouring or factory jobs. As Charles Booth’s Survey of London showed, poor communities lived in the shadow of rich ones, untouched by the optimistic progress of the Victorian era. In the late 19th Century, reformers tried to improve conditions by breaking the segregation between rich and poor neighbourhoods – and more importantly, by giving a neighbourly hand up, not a condescending handout. This neighbourly help came from settlement houses – community centres – that relied on live-in volunteers to organise, provide services, and lead courses. These volunteers were usually privileged young people, who gained the opportunity to live and work in urban communities and broaden their horizons. Settlement volunteers and users alike shared their skills and knowledge to help improve the communities they shared.

A number of Southwark’s settlements were founded specifically to meet women’s needs. While poor women faced dire living conditions, many better-off Victorian women (expected to be decorative, obedient, and largely confined to their homes) found their skills and education going to waste. In 1887, a group of women, led by Mina Gollack of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), founded an organisation to help these young women of education and leisure use their ‘time and talents’ to help others – this ideal was so important that it gave the organisation its name.

Time and Talents London settlement moved to Bermondsey Street in 1899. It offered classes in arts, crafts, cooking, reading, and writing, a library and canteen, clubs for young people, and from 1913, a hostel even provided girls with a safe, supportive place to live. It remains a vital community centre for Rotherhithe today.

Other settlements sought to harness the time and talents of other groups of women. The Women’s University Settlement began in 1887 in Nelson Square: Octavia Hill was one of its founders, and Helen Gladstone (daughter of the Prime Minister) was the first warden.

The Settlement gave female university students the opportunity to live independently as they provided educational and youth services to one of the poorest areas of London. It offered mother-and-baby clinics, youth clubs, and workshops providing employment opportunities for disabled people. After the Second World War, its work expanded to other areas of the community, which prompted its renaming to the Blackfriars Settlement in 1961. Blackfriars Settlement is still an important hub for the community and beyond, located in the heart of Blackfriars.

The Union of Girls’ Schools Settlement (better known later as the Peckham Settlement) was founded in 1896 and first operated from Calmington Road, Camberwell. By the early 20th century, the Union of Girls’ Schools for Social Service as it then became, had expanded to include hundreds of schools all over the country: this made the Peckham Settlement one of the biggest in London. Its wide base of support allowed it to provide funds to other organisations, and pioneer social welfare: the Settlement’s savings club was a model for the National Insurance Act of 1911. In 1935, it opened London’s first nursery school, and a government sponsored job club – the first in a charity – in 1987. The settlement had royal approval, being supported by Princess Margaret until her death in 2002 and then the Countess of Wessex until 2012. Although the community centre closed in 2012, the Peckham Settlement continues to fund local charities and communities.

We have mentioned a few of Southwark’s historic settlements in this blog but we have a range of reading material on the history of many others. If you would like to visit Southwark Archives to view this material, please book an appointment by emailing archives@southwark.gov.uk.

Alo-Wa Oral History Group

by Helen Savage, Heritage Officer

Alo-Wa was a black women’s Oral History group in Southwark, they formed in January 1990 and ran until 1991. Members of the group were seven women in total, all from African and Caribbean descent, and all living and working in Southwark at the time. They were based at the Southwark Women’s Centre, 2-8 Peckham High Street.

1991-10-27 Black Women’s Writers Workshop, Peckham. Organised by Southwark Women’s Equality Unit Jackie Holder. .The session was a chance to explore creativity whilst being given some guidance. Some members of the Alo-Wa group attended the event. Photograph from Phil Polgaze Collection, Southwark Archives.

At Southwark Archives, we first came across the group through a selection of photographs from the Phil Polgaze collection. These photographs document a writer’s workshop specifically for black women, taking place during Black History Month in 1991, where some of the Alo-Wa group attended.

We have been able to speak to two members who were part of the group, Marion Desouza and Gillian Walters, to find out more about the group’s history and activity. The story of Alo-Wa begins with the Southwark Women’s Centre, 2-8 Peckham High Street. Women who formed the group were attending the centre, and were already acquainted with one another.

Alo-Wa formed through an invitation from Wendy Francis. Francis was employed by the Willowbrook Urban Studies Centre in Peckham specifically to carry out oral histories. She had heard about the women’s centre, and went down to invite black women to form a new oral history group. The Willowbrook Urban Studies Centre was a community education project based in Southwark who worked with schools and adult groups to reflect on changes and issues in the borough. The centre was located 48, Willowbrook Road, Peckham.

The group started by meeting once a week on a Sunday, coming together at the Women’s Centre where they would share food, and look at the inspirational stories of  women such as Mary Seacole, Claudia Jones and Nanny Maroon. When they began to turn to their own stories, they started to use a tape recorder to document their conversations. Marion said, “Wendy was good; she got us to tape everything. It was a good time in our lives.”

ALO-WA’s name comes from the Yoruba term for Our Story. The name of the group sets an expectation for a collective form of storytelling. The group’s main aim was for “self-appreciation and appreciation of others, self-understanding and understanding of others”[i]

During the sessions, they asked questions about one another’s families, and Gillian said it was much about understanding parent’s stories, in order to understand their own. Gillian remembered that a point of inspiration for her was how Lillian had taped her father before he died:

“Her father was of African heritage and came here when he was 19; that was also quite an interesting aspect. The majority of us had Caribbean parents. That was a tie in regards to looking at things to help us understand each other differently. Some of us were from different islands. Therefore, that also incorporated our understanding of people’s experiences and expectations.”

Some of the questions they asked were documented in a book they went on to publish called Our Story (1991).

The Alo-Wa group existed in a wider context of woman’s activity. The international women’s liberation movement of the 60s, which went on well into the 70s and 80s, brought direct attention to women’s histories, and women’s lives.

Marion Desouza was the Afro-Caribbean worker at Southwark Women’s Centre from 1990- 1992, where the Alo-Wa group met. At the Women’s Centre, Marion carried out various sessions to encourage women to get together and discuss women’s issues regarding sexuality, race, and offence. Marion told me it was a very inclusive space. There was also assistance to help women gain access to housing, benefits and pregnancy testing.

The Southwark Women’s Centre was the result of active work during the women’s movement. It was set up through the Southwark Women’s Actions Group linking up with the Southwark Women’s Equality Unit to find premises. A local housing association had four empty commercial units on Peckham High Street, and they said it could be used for the Women’s Centre. This created a very accessible space for women to drop in, whether that be on the way home for work, or, as it was a child friendly location, during the daytime. Alo-Wa’ s Gillian said that she would head there in-between work shifts and that Southwark Women’s Centre allowed her a place to rest, relax and be amongst other women to talk.

Southwark Women’s Centre was located between 2-8 Peckham High Street

Alo-Wa produced Our Story in 1991. They had a book launch, attended by Harriet Harman and the South London Press and, it took place during Black History Month 1991. To produce the book, Wendy Francis ran writing skills workshops for the women, and worked with them as an editor during the project.

During the project, the group applied for external funding which they received and put towards the cost of producing a book to document the group’s activity, and tell stories through writing. In both conversations with Marion and Gillian, they stressed to me that the oral aspect of the project, the live moment of the storytelling and the interactions and relationships that grew within the group, was though the real work and activity:

“We came from a place of being able to verbally say these things, and now you are asking us to write them down and put them in a book. When we spoke to Wendy afterwards, this is about us maturing as people and we stepped into an area that we had some understanding of, Lilian had a small understanding. The rest of us possibly had none. It was about putting it down on paper, in a way that can be visualised by other people. When you tell a story, when you tell a good story the person is having a visual experience of when they read the words. We had never done that, we always used our voices.”

The women went to Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden, where they were shown how to use computer software to work out the layout and graphics for a book. After this, they discovered that Southwark had its own printers, and this is where they did the printing for the book. They were shown around behind the scenes and learnt about the paper, grades and ink, and able to see the printing process in action.

‘Our Story’; book launch with Harriet Harman, 1991. Photographer unknown.
Article in the Southwark Sparrow newspaper, 10 May 1991

During the conversations with Marion and Gillian, they both stressed that the relationships have been long lasting, and that a few of them have managed to stay in touch across the years. This seems like a testament to the group’s activities. Gillian said:

“It would be interesting for all of us to be coming together again. However, would it be that people would wish to be in the format together again, and what would we be discussing? The thing about it is, life goes on. The truth of it is, it was a fantastic experience.”

During the few years in which the group was active, they also worked with the well-known social historian Anna Davin, were interviewed for a BBC radio show by, Nerys Hughes, a copy of which we are still trying to track down. They worked closely with Jackie Holder, from the Willowbrook Urban Studies Centre and alongside others Brenda Ellis, the LGBT worker at the Women’s Centre, Nashmin Sukasad, and Madhu Patel – both at Southwark Women’s Centre. They also worked with Peckham Black Women’s Centre located at 69 Bellenden Road.

Alo-Wa at the 1991-10-27 Black Women’s Writers Workshop, Peckham. Photograph from Phil Polgaze collection, Southwark Archives.

At Southwark Archives, we are in the process of digitising a booklet containing texts the group used to inform their autobiographical writing, which may have influenced the writing in Our Story.

Southwark Archives are facilitating a creative writing session on Tuesday 5 October 2021 as part of the Poets in the Archives series, taking inspiration from Our Story.


[i] Our Story, Introduction

The Faraday Legacy in Southwark: Celebrating his 230th Birthday

By Jessie Goodison Burgess, Heritage Officer

When you come home after work or school, what do you do?  Turn on the lights, put the kettle on, start making dinner…? Maybe you play some music, or, if you really want to relax, turn on a dehumidifier. All these processes require the flick of a switch or press of a button to turn on electricity. It is these everyday, routine actions that remind us of the continual significance of Michael Faraday, who’s discoveries on electromagnetic induction enabled the development of electricity and its wide spread use across the world. Today we celebrate his 230th birthday, marking the date 22 September, 1791 when he was born.

Michael Faraday, Southwark-born scientist, b.1791 – d. 1867

In the 1830s, Faraday was building on the research of the scientific community into electricity. He discovered that a magnetic field could produce an electric current, paving the way for generators to produce electricity and transforming how electricity could be applied to technology. Faraday’s discovery of electromagnetic induction has reverberated through the years to the point that, now, his principles are continuously put to use, from using our phones to driving a car.

Faraday is considered a giant of the scientific community due to this discovery and his contributions to the understanding of electromagnetism and electrolysis: no one can doubt the relevance of his legacy in our everyday lives.

But nowhere is his legacy felt more on a physical scale than in the borough of Southwark. Take a walk around the borough, and you will find his name in several places. He was born in Newington Butts (around Elephant and Castle, now part of modern Southwark) but his family moved to north London soon after and so, there is not much said about his time in Southwark.  Despite this, Faraday may be the most prominent of Southwark’s former residents: From his ambiguous blue plaque on Larcom Street (which gives no hint as to why it is located there), to Michael Faraday Primary School, Faraday Gardens and even an entire Electoral Ward named Faraday, Southwark remembers the scientist.

Faraday’s plaque on Larcom Road, as voted for by the people of Southwark

His legacy is loudest and shiniest in the middle of Elephant Square thanks to the Michael Faraday Memorial. This is not a public toilet, an ill-timed realisation that many (myself included) have come to, but is, more appropriately, an electricity substation for the Northern and Bakerloo tube lines that go to Elephant and Castle. The modernist architect Rodney Gordon designed a stainless steal box structure emulating the endless possibilities of science hailed in by Faraday and his contemporaries, and in 1961 it was constructed in proximity to Faraday’s birthplace. There is not a lot of visible interpretation that explains the Faraday connection and many pass the monolith everyday without acknowledging the reason behind its existence. Despite this, the memorial is still considered an iconic part of Elephant and Castle. In the 2012, Southwark Council implemented a new disco-themed lighting scheme that reflected pinks and purples off its stainless steel sides, following a nation-wide competition to improve public space. This Blue Peter competition was won by a local schoolgirl who wanted to see the memorial lit up in colour.

Michael Faraday Memorial forms the heart of Elephant Square

This year, another dedication has been made to Faraday further down Walworth Road where the Southwark Heritage Centre and Walworth Library has recently opened – here you can experience one of Faraday’s electromagnetic experiments.

Walk through the doors of the library, go up the stairs, and you will discover at the very back a room you probably weren’t expecting. The walls are lined with copper, and it is dimly lit with two low hanging lights, creating the atmosphere of a secretive World War 2 bunker. This is a real Faraday Cage, invented by Faraday in 1836 to block electromagnetic fields. The effect of this is used in microwaves and to protect planes from lightening. In the library, it stops you from accessing the internet while in the meeting room. Visitors to the library will be able to book the room (Covid allowing) and immerse themselves in an authentic experience free from the distraction of phones and the Internet. This experience is supported by a display of objects from the Cuming Collection that were owned by Faraday: his watch, a family bible with notes marking births and deaths, and a disk dynamo (which was shown at the 1851 Great Exhibition) as well as a bust of his likeness – all creating a personal insight into the man behind the science. These are set next to another display of early 19th century scientific instruments, illustrating the transformative scientific world that Faraday and his contemporaries both were shaped by and contributed to.

The Faraday Room with displays on Michael Faraday and Science and Technology

Readers can use the Faraday Room to get their scientific fix and be inspired by the wonders of physics and electricity. The placement of this room in a library, surrounded by books, has more meaningful depth than meets the eye. Faraday did not have a formal education, but left school early to work in bookbinding. While surrounded by books, he discovered his passion and drive for science and looked to improve his knowledge through reading and attending lectures. We are left with another of Faraday’s legacies: the legacy of the joy of learning, discovery and experimentation, which was key to Faraday’s success and enduring memory; and can now be discovered in the Southwark Heritage Centre and Walworth Library.

The census – a snapshot of the UK that includes everyone

by Patricia Dark, Archivist

East Street Market, c.1980

It counts everyone, and everyone counts in it – that’s the point of the census. For Southwark’s current communities, an accurate census means accurate population data, which means funding for vital services like schools, transport, and doctors’ surgeries. But for people in the future, the census is a treasure trove of information on individuals, families, households, and communities – one that lets family historians re-trace family connections through the ages and helps explain how the neighbourhood populations of London’s most historic borough have changed through nearly two centuries’ of time.

Every 10 years since 1801, the census has asked questions about the population of England and Wales and compiled information about the make-up of local neighbourhoods; data on individuals survives from 1841 onward. The personal information shared at every census is kept confidential for 100 years. After that, it’s open for the public to explore, and to learn about the life and times of their ancestors and those who lived in their communities in the past.

The census return is a list: of all the buildings in a given street, including unoccupied ones, and all the households within a given building. Separate returns exist for large institutions, like workhouses, hospitals, schools, and prisons. Each household’s return includes the people present there the night the census was taken; these may include visiting friends, lodgers, and even patients in hospital wards and prisoners in jail cells! The information collected about individuals varies with each census, but usually includes their name, birthplace, age on census night, occupation, and how they relate to others household members.

This information can be incredibly valuable for people interested in family, local, and social history. Tracing a person through the census shows them growing up; tracing an address shows how neighbourhoods change through the years. But it also provides unique insights. Answers to census questions on health, birthplace, and immigration shine a light on the diversity of Southwark’s residents – a diversity that often doesn’t show in other record collections. Questions about employment show how common child labour was in the past, and a host of occupations, from brushmaking to toshing, that no longer exist.

On a street or neighbourhood level, census information shows changes in environment and land usage, but questions about housing also show how values and norms have changed; over time, what counts as “overcrowded” or “sub-standard” residences vary a lot. Sometimes what you find is totally unexpected, like the 5 year old homeworker Roger Little of Dulwich – as the return explains, Roger was an Airedale Terrier, and his work was being the Little family’s watchdog.

“Incidentally, we have an Airedale terrier – do not know if particulars required, but in case you want them, here they are…” (1911 census return for 118 Turney Road, Dulwich)

But more than that, the census gives the future a snapshot of the past that includes everyone. The voices – and the silences – in the census send a message about who we are, where we live, and what we value. It can provide vital evidence of the problems we thought were important and how we sought to fix them. But it does something even more important: it ties all our individual stories together into the story of a place and a time. That gives people – now and in the future – a hook to hang their own stories on, an opportunity to belong somewhere and somewhen.

Taking part in the 2021 census is your chance to help future generations discover their past. By completing your census questionnaire on 21 March 2021 you leave your mark on history. And maybe that’s something your friends, family, and colleagues hadn’t thought about. So we hope you’ll encourage them to do their bit too.

For more information on the 2021 census, visit www.census.gov.uk. If you have a Southwark Presents card, you can access the census free online through Southwark Libraries’ subscription to Ancestry Library Edition and Find My Past.

A peek inside Jones and Higgins

by Chris Scales, Archive Officer

We recently had a request at Southwark Archives for images showing the inside of Jones and Higgins department store in Peckham. Most available photographs show the exterior of the store with its iconic clock tower on the corner of Rye Lane and Peckham High Street. Diving into our Jones and Higgins archive collection though, we found these pictures from inside the store, and they were too good to not share for History Begins At Home under the theme of Trading Spaces.

The images show a variety of departments from about 1910 as well as in the 1960s-70s. Do you remember shopping at Jones and Higgins or other similar department stores of the past? Share your memories on Twitter.

Decimal Day 50 years on

by Patricia Dark, Archivist

Shoppers at J. Sainsbury in Rye Lane, Peckham in the 1970s

Sometimes a historic moment plays out like a scene from a movie – think of the opening of Saving Private Ryan, for instance – but other times it’s as everyday as the change in your pocket.

Today is a moment in history that everyone in the country took part in, because 15 February 2021 is the 50th anniversary of D-Day. Not the D-Day shown in Saving Private Ryan, that opened the Battle of Normandy – that’s in June – but the day British currency went decimal.

To understand what that means, 50 years later, we have to dig into the foundations of British money, and those go a lot further back than you’d think. All the way to two of the Roman Empire’s coins, in fact: the silver denarius and the gold solidus.

The denarius was the main circulating coin of the Roman Empire for several hundred years, from the 3rd century BCE to the end of the western Empire in the late 3rd century CE. The solidus began circulation as the denarius stopped being minted, and continued being minted by the Byzantine Empire (as well as copies, known as dinars, minted by various Muslim Caliphates)well into the Middle Ages.

In the late 8th century CE, Charlemagne – whose empire spanned much of modern France, Germany, and northern Italy – revised coinage because of a shortage of gold in western Europe. The new coinage was based entirely on silver: a libra, or pound, of silver weighing a bit less than 500g would be divided into 240 denarii, each weighing about 21 grains. Although the denarius was the only coin in circulation, the solidus remained as a unit of accounting, with 12 denarii to the solidus.

The early English king Offa of Mercia adopted this system with slightly different weights – a “Tower pound” of about 350g, divided into 12 solidii (shillings) and 240 denarii, containing 1.5g of silver each. This system survived for centuries all over western Europe and beyond, and left its marks on languages all over the world.

The libra gave us the name for a number of currencies, including “pound” and “lira” as well as the pound’s abbreviation: “£”.

The denarius’s name survives in the currency name “dinar” used by a number of countries in and around the Mediterranean; the Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese words for “money”; and the abbreviation for the smallest unit of British pre-decimal currency, “d”.

The solidus gave us “shilling” and “soldier”, since the Roman military’s pay came in the form of these coins, as well as “sou”, an obsolete French coin whose name still survives in French idioms relating to money.

Southwark’s Mint

Southwark is a part of the story of pounds, shillings, and pence; specifically, Suffolk Place, a 15th century mansion house that was rebuilt in 1522 by Henry VIII’s brother-in-law, Charles Brandon, 1st duke of Suffolk. The site is at the corner of the modern Borough High Street and Marshalsea Road. In 1536, Henry exchanged Norfolk Place on the Strand for Suffolk Place; nine years later, the site became a mint – a place where money was literally made. Although the house itself was demolished in 1557, it left its mark on the area – in the names Mint Street and Great Suffolk Street, and in the Liberty of the Mint, an area that was a notorious slum until the end of the 19th century.

The 19th century – some failed attempts

The £sd system, as it was known, was useful in terms of doing mental arithmetic with money, since 240 can be split into a large number of fractional pieces: halves, thirds, sixths, eighths, tenths, and twelfths (so unit-pricing dozens of things like eggs was easy). However, it was not easy to do basic addition on pounds, shillings, and pence, and that difficulty increased with the scale of the transaction. As foreign trade increased, having non-decimal currency became more and more unwieldy.

Efforts to change the system began as early as 1824. Another attempt in 1848 led to the introduction of the “florin”, a coin worth 1/10 of a pound – 24 old pence, or 2 shillings – which remained in circulation until 1993 interchangeably with decimal 10p coins. A final attempt to decimalise in the 19th century was scuppered when two members of the Royal Commission appointed to study the problem – the governor of the Bank of England and an executive of the London and Westminster Bank – stifled the idea.

The 1960s – pressure from international trade

By the last quarter of the 20th century, most countries had moved to decimal currency based on units of 10, making international trade significantly more complicated for those countries which still held to the £sd system (generally, those in the Commonwealth). Starting with South Africa in 1962, these countries converted to a decimal based currency: most followed South Africa’s lead in creating a new currency unit equal in value to 10 shillings, or exactly half of a £sd pound.

In 1961, the UK government set up the Halbury Committee to study and report on decimalisation; its report, presented in 1963 and adopted in 1966, noted that the British pound’s value on the foreign exchange market meant that the new currency approach wasn’t feasible. Instead, the pound and its value was retained, but the number of sub-units to the pound was slashed from 240 to 100 – so the value of the new penny was 2.4 pre-decimal pence. In 1969, the Decimal Currency Act came into force, starting the conversion process.

Decimal coins valued at 5p and 10p – the same size and value as the 1 and 2 shillings coins they replaced – entered circulation in April 1968. A 50p coin followed in October 1969, with its predecessor the 10-shilling note being removed from circulation shortly thereafter. The pre-decimal halfpenny and half-crown (worth 2 shillings 6 pence, or 1/8 of a pound) were withdrawn by the end of 1969.

Coins from the 1950s and 60s from the Cuming Collection.

1971 – D day finally comes

Banks closed at 3:30 PM on Wednesday 10 February 1971, and remained shut until 10 AM on Monday 15 February 1971: Decimal Day. February was chosen because it was the least-busy time of year for banks, transport, and retail; the closure allowed for the distribution of stocks of new coins, processing of outstanding cheques and credits in the clearing system, and the conversion of account balances to decimal – the latter task mostly done manually!

The run-up to decimalisation put the conversion into the spotlight. In 1969 and 1970, increasing numbers of retailers priced goods in both currencies, which probably helped cushion the change and cement new values in shoppers’ heads. Shoppers could get a rough idea of the pre-decimal value of a decimal price by doubling the new price and inserting a slash between the digits. For more exact conversions, shoppers’ guides, conversion tables, and specialist calculators between £sd and decimal values became increasingly familiar – the pen company Parker created a special edition of its Jotter pen with conversion tables in a window. Waddington’s even published a board game about decimal conversion!

The early weeks of 1971 saw a huge publicity campaign as D Day approached. Flyers, leaflets, and posters sprouted, as well as a song by Max Bygraves, a series of short films on the BBC, an ITV drama entitled Granny Gets the Point, and – on D Day itself – a special Merry-Go-Round broadcast for schools featuring Peter Firmin.

On the day, new ½p, 1p, and 2p coins entered circulation, and prices – while still in both currencies – featured decimal first. From D Day, shops still accepted old pre-decimal coins, but returned change in decimal currency — shoppers and travellers using 1d and 3d coins were asked to pay them in units of 6 old pence (equal to 2 ½p) to simplify converting change. Because of this, old 1d and 3d coins were out of circulation by the end of February 1971, and 6d coins were rare; 1d and 3d were officially withdrawn at the end of August 1971, ending the transition period.

But the story doesn’t end there. Popular protests – perhaps because of their central role in wedding lore – meant that 6d coins remained legal tender until 1980. Decimal halfpennies were demonetised at the end of 1984, since inflation had eroded their value. Shillings and florins remained in circulation alongside 5p and 10p coins until 1990 and 1993 respectively, when smaller versions of the decimal coins were released. A smaller 50p appeared in 1997; only 1p and 2p coins remain legal tender from D Day.

The Cuming Collection has hundreds of coins, including examples of Roman and British pre-decimal money: you can explore the collection here. You can learn more about pre-decimal currency and the decimalisation process at The Royal Mint Museum’s website. YouTube has examples of public information films, reporting on D Day from the AP, and an extract of Granny Gets the Point from the BFI’s collection.

The Great Gandolfis: Peckham’s world class camera makers

by Lisa Soverall, Heritage Officer

“If I can’t see what the customer wants, I’m in a bit of a flutter… until I get hold of the plane and a piece of wood and then all is peace.”

Fred Gandolfi speaking in the BBC documentary, The Industrial Grand Tour: The Camera Maker, 1974.

The National Science and Media Museum in Bradford holds a rare collection of exhibits that are a part of Peckham’s history. The items in question are large plate cameras and tripods made by the exceptional family of craftsmen, the Gandolfis, whose business was started by Louis Gandolfi in 1885, first at premises in Kensington Place and from the late 1890s onwards at addresses in Old Kent Road, Park Hall Road and finally Borland Road, Peckham.

Portrait of camera maker Louis Gandolfi, taken c.1900
Louis Gandolfi, c.1900

Louis was born in Clerkenwell in 1863 and by the age of 12 was an apprentice to a cabinet maker. Having acquired enough skills at age 17, he began working for a small business of camera-makers – Lejeune and Perken, making large plate cameras in the city. However, after 5 years it is said that he had to leave the business as his skills earned him more money than his colleagues and this caused too many complaints against him. It was then that Louis decided to set up his own camera making business.

Louis and his wife Caroline (who initially undertook the French polishing and brass work within the business) instilled a strong work ethic into their six children. At one time all of the children were involved in the Gandolfi camera business and before Louis died in 1932, he had ensured his legacy by passing on his skills as a camera maker to his sons Thomas, Frederick and Arthur which would see it run for over 100 years.

Photography was a booming business in the late Victorian period thanks to advances in the processing of film, particularly the introduction of dry plate emulsions made from gelatine. Glass plates of different sizes were put into the back of a camera and when the photographer was ready to ‘take’ his photo, he would expose the glass plate to the light, and thereby the image would be captured on the chemical coated plate. The dry plate process meant that the glass plates were coated with the new emulsion, dried and stored until needed. The plates could then be loaded into cameras at convenience and processed any time after they were exposed. This was a huge improvement on wet plate photography. This process involved hand coating the plate with a light sensitive wet emulsion and loading into the camera just before exposing it to light and then developing the plate straight away – a much more laborious chemical operation with larger, more unwieldy equipment.  So the new development in processing meant you could separate the plate from the camera as storage was a much simpler affair and cameras could now be smaller and mass produced.

Initially, Louis’s camera designs were fairly simple to make and assemble, and sold cheaply to accommodate the new mass market. The 1880s also saw a boom in bicycle riding. The convenience of being able to attach one of Louis’s cameras to a cycle increased the company’s success and profile and, of course, profits. However, by the time he was at his new premises at 752 Old Kent Road in 1896, it would be the pre-dry plate camera designs that would give the Gandolfi brand the greatest success and return Louis back to his original skills as a furniture maker and craftsman. 

Screenshot from The Industrial Grand Tour: The Camera Maker, BBC, 1974, showing Fred Gandolfi with one of his finished cameras

These large format, folding wooden framed cameras were more traditionally made and attracted professional photographers.  Louis made two designs – the Universal (which was a square bellows style) and the Imperial (a tapered bellows style similar to the one pictured here).   The cameras were made to order and comprised three main areas of work – woodwork (including French polishing), brass work (with up to 125 pieces in one camera) and assembly. The cameras were patiently and beautifully crafted from the finest Cuban mahogany.  The baseboard of a 15” x 12” Gandolfi camera was made up of 11 separate wood panels alone and a 5” x 4” camera would incorporate some 100 brass fittings, each one lacquered and hand finished. The bellows were meticulously prepared from a variety of fabrics including leather, felt and velvet. It could take around 3 weeks of joint working between the brothers to produce a 10” x 8” Gandolfi camera.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, Louis started to secure overseas government contracts, some of which required the new ‘Imperial’, designed to withstand hotter weather conditions and made to any order from half-plate to 15” x 12”. The design was later updated by his sons as ‘The Precision’ and continued to be produced up to the 1970s. By 1928, the business had moved to an old hatpin factory at number 2 Borland Road, Peckham, where there was plenty of room for their workshop.  

Gandolfi cameras were specially commissioned for events like Captain Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition from 1910 to 1913 and Lord Carnarvon’s Tutankhamun expedition, as well as a commission from Queen Mary. The Gandolfis were also the first company commissioned by the Royal Naval Air Service to provide aerial cameras, which helped the business survive the First World War. Their expertise would also be required during the Second World War supplying cameras for the War Department.

The core values of good craftsmanship and use of quality materials meant that the three Gandolfi brothers would not substitute quality for quantity and turned down lucrative contracts as it was impossible to fulfil them with so few staff, preferring bespoke commissions. However, their reputation for excellence continued to see them receive numerous commissions.  It’s likely, for example, if you see a prison mug-shot from around the mid-1940s, that it was taken from a Gandolfi portrait camera. The Gandolfi tripod – the ‘Portable Studio Stand’ was also a successful line and over 25,000 were produced over the lifetime of the business.

After Louis’s son Thomas died in 1965, the business continued with brothers Arthur and Frederick at the helm.  They would receive commissions from professional photographers, magazines, students and colleges among others. Their skills were in great demand and they were becoming the last of their kind in making hand-made quality cameras. Long waiting lists for their ‘Precision’ camera continued into the 1970s and Thomas’s son, Thomas junior left his career in engineering to join the firm in 1976. Another side of the business was the importance of teaching others the value of hand making cameras and Frederick made several demonstrations for institutions.

In 1980 The Science Museum held a special exhibition commemorating 100 years of camera making by the Gandolfi Family.  By 1982, Arthur and Fred decided they were unable to run the business themselves and reached an agreement to sell it to Brian Gould and Sir Kenneth Corfield. Both men were staunch advocates of the Gandolfi brand and ethos.

Fred died in 1990 aged 86 and Arthur died in 1993 aged 87. Like their father Louis, they ensured the legacy of the Gandolfi name with their cameras continuing to be made well into the early 2000s and immortalised at The National Science and Media Museum in Bradford.

Find out more

Online
Books
  • Crafts Today as Yesterday in Colour by David Gibbon, Colour Library International, 1976
  • The Birth of Photography: the story of the formative years 1800-1900 by Brian Coe, Ash and Grant, 1976
Press Cuttings at Southwark Local History Library and Archive
  • Gandolfi ‘Centenary’ exhibition, Science Museum, South Kensington, Science Museum Magazine, Dec – Feb 1980
  • Craftsmen Extraordinary by Mick Wells and Adrian Murrell, The Lady, 7 July 1977 
  • Gandolfi – a Family of Camera makers, article by Science Museum
  • Two Grumpy Old Men, The Independent on Sunday, 25 January 2004
  • Wood Camera Construction, transcript of lecture by F L Gandolfi, 1975
  • Family in focus, South London Press, 25 November 1980

Southwark Disablement Association

by Chris Scales, Archive Officer

With the launch of our new Disability history collection online, we thought it would also be nice to feature some more items from our archives about Southwark Disablement Association (SDA):

SDA Independent Living conference, 1991
Aims of the SDA, circa 1980
SDA at the Disability Benefits Rally, Trafalgar Square, 20th October 1990 (Frank Roper)

SDA’s new ‘traffic light’ flyer, 1982, and Call-Out for volunteers

Staff and service users from the SDA Review 1981-1986

Disability history collection launched online

by Chris Scales, Archive Officer

To celebrate Disability History Month we have teamed up with Southwark Disablement Association (SDA) and Southwark Resource Centre to launch a new series online of documents from the archives that tell the story of disability services in Southwark.

The new collection is hosted on the Internet Archive and includes records of the SDA from its founding in 1978 onwards including its Newsletter, Annual Reports and Handbooks on local disabled services in Southwark. All of the records can be read and searched through online, and will be of particular interest for learning about the history of disability during the 1970s to 1990s.

Taxicab Dial-A-Ride Scheme, 1986

Through the SDA records we learn about how the organisation played a key role in piloting the GLC’s new Taxi Card Holders scheme in 1983, as well as taking part in protests in Central London over disabled rights such as the rally in Trafalgar Square in 1990.

Southwark Disablement Association at the Disability Benefits Rally, Trafalgar Square, 20th October 1990. The rally was held concurrently with two others across the UK in Manchester and Glasgow (Frank Roper/SDA)

The resources launched with Southwark Resource Centre include the book Speaking For Ourselves, which was written and dictated in 1983 by service users of the Aylesbury Day Centre and tells of their experiences at the centre:

The new collection can be browsed online.

We hope to add more resources over the coming months. If you have any records you wish to add to the collection please email us.

Anti-Racist Marches and Protests

by Chris Scales, Archive Officer

While exploring the history of Anti-Racism in Southwark (see our recent post for details), we came across a rich history of marching and protests. Documents and photographs held at Southwark Archives show local people and organisations rising up over the decades to fight for equality and human rights.

Campaigns against racism in the 1960s were established in the borough through the petitioning of Southwark and Bermondsey Trades Councils and Southwark Rotary Club, who led the call to launch what became the Southwark Council for Community Relations. Other early organisations include the West Indian League, set up in 1964 following the suicide of a young West Indian nurse at Lewisham hospital. The League aimed to combat loneliness for West Indians in London, and fight racial discrimination.

In the 1970s the Southwark Campaign Against Racialism and Fascism was set up and took to the streets of Walworth and elsewhere to stand up to the resurgent National Front. Socialist organisations and local branches of the Labour Party also took a prominent part in marching. In 1983 the Southwark Black Consortium was founded to represent the community voice at the new Southwark Race Equality Committee. Later, as Southwark Black Communities Consortium, the organisation ran large protest marches against racism in Peckham and Bermondsey. The Southwark Anti-Apartheid Group took the lead in marching against apartheid in South Africa, something reflected also by the council who declared ‘war on apartheid’ in 1984 and ran yearly Anti-Apartheid programming until the early 1990s.

The following is a selection of images found so far, please get in touch with us if you’d like to contribute further images or information.

A History of Anti-Racism in Southwark

by Chris Scales, Archive Officer

This Black History Month at Southwark Archives we have been delving into our collections to try and discover more about the history of anti-racism at the council and in the community. Over the decades countless individuals have fought for equal rights, the removal of the colour bar, and against racism in its many forms, and there are many milestones along the continuing journey.

Pioneering community-led initiatives included: the work of Dr Harold Moody and the League of Coloured Peoples in the 1930s, among whose many achievements was the lifting of the colour bar in the armed forces; the West Indian League started in 1964 by George Croasdaile, who campaigned for racial equality and supported young people for over 30 years; and the Southwark Inter-Racial Council that became Southwark Council For Community Relations in 1966 and oversaw black and minority ethnic communities’ liaison with the borough over the following four decades.

The 1970s saw a rise in activity from the National Front and organisations rose up to protest against them including the Anti-Nazi League, Southwark Campaign Against Racialism and Fascism, and Southwark Black Communities Consortium, supported by Southwark Trades Council and the local Labour parties. In 1978, Southwark residents and organisations marched to the ‘Rock Against Racism’ rally and protests at Brockwell Park, the UK’s largest anti-racism rally. Through the 1980s and 1990s the community organised local marches and rallies to combat racism across the borough, in Peckham, Walworth and Bermondsey.

In 1983 Southwark Council established a Race Equality Committee and Unit, which provided funding and support for a range of community initiatives, as well as embedding anti-racist practices across the council and leading the way in addressing racist hate crimes. In 1994, Southwark Council won the Commission for Racial Equality’s first Local Authority Race Award for its work prosecuting the perpetrators of racial harassment on housing estates.

The shocking killing of George Floyd this year and the Black Lives Matter movement and protests around the world have shown that racism is still widespread and there is still much to do. The ongoing Southwark Stands Together programme gives detail on the council’s current work in this area and how “as a borough we knew that now, more than ever, we had to listen, react and together develop solutions”. The latest progress report for the programme can be read online here.

We hope to turn what we find into an online study resource in the coming months, but in the meantime we present here a selection of some key items from the archives that begin telling this story. If you would like to be involved in the project, please drop us an email at lhlibrary@southwark.gov.uk

Click through the slideshow below to see a selection of posters and flyers from 1930s to 2000s about anti-racism in Southwark:

The next post in this series will look at the history of marching and protesting in the archives.

Dr. Cecil Belfield Clarke (1894-1970)

by Lisa Soverall, Heritage Officer

Dr. Cecil Belfield Clarke was born in Barbados in 1894 and on winning an island scholarship came to London in 1914 to study medicine. In 1918 he graduated from Cambridge University, became a qualified surgeon and then set up his medical practice at 112 Newington Causeway, Southwark. He worked as a doctor, serving the local community for over 40 years and London for over 50.  During that time he served as a doctor and medical professional in Africa, the Caribbean and throughout the UK.

Entry in the London Post Office Directory, 1924  

Clarke was one of the founder members of the League of Coloured Peoples (LCP) which began in 1931. The organisation was set up to achieve a number of objectives with a focus on racial equality and civil rights for Black people in Great Britain. Clarke was an active member but was also associated with other Pan-African causes, including as the first chairman of the House Committee of Aggrey House, a hostel for students from Africa and the Caribbean. Clarke was diplomatic and this enabled him to be an effective communicator between the politically left and right of the Pan-African movements of the 1930s and 40s, so much so that he was a mediator during the planning for the Conference on the African Peoples, Democracy, and World Peace held in London in July 1939.

Clarke hosted many LCP events at his home and was a good friend of author and American civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois, with whom he continued correspondence right up to the 1960s, supporting many of his civil rights causes. Many of Dr Clarke’s letters to Du Bois can be read at the Special Collections and University Archives, at the University of Massachusetts Amhurst. The letters reveal the great affection and respect Clarke had for Du Bois and the importance of continuing the civil rights message.  In one such letter dated 4th July 1929, Dr Clarke encloses his annual subscription to The Crisis magazine which he felt was his “duty” as “one of the few coloured Drs practising in London”. He kept the magazine in his doctor’s surgery waiting room and it proved to be a popular read. The Crisis is the official magazine for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) co-founded by W.E.B Du Bois and is still operating.

League of Coloured People’s conference attendees, from The Keys, vol.4, 1936. Dr Cecil Belfield-Clarke is in the middle of the back row.  

What may be little known about Dr Clarke is that he formulated the early mathematical dosage for paediatric medicine known as ‘Clark’s rule’. He was the first black District Medical Officer for London in 1936 and the Belfield Clark Prize, which first began in 1952 at St Catharine’s College, Oxford is still awarded to students in Biological Natural Sciences Tripos examinations.

Sources

  • Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries
  • The Keys magazine (Southwark Local History Library and Archive).
  • Matera, M., Black London: the Imperial Metropolis and Decolonization in the 20th Century, 1st ed., University of California Press, Oakland, California, 2015.
  • St Catharine’s College, Cambridge University.

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 channel. Over the years they have offered us training and advice on how to catalogue and license our holdings and have welcomed us as a steering group partner. This has enabled us to keep on top of developments in this ever changing sector. We are very grateful to them, so it was naturally to LSA that I turned when a can of film was discovered in our archive store by my colleague, Lisa Moss, in 2014.

Some lessons from the Brandon Estate Cine Club collection

Previous to this discovery, the last time I had had the opportunity to look at film held in the archive was in 2009. I bought an 8mm viewer on eBay and tentatively began looking through what was to become the Brandon Estate Cine Club film collection. With no accession paperwork, tracing the provenance of that collection of around 22 films was the first step in a journey that turned out to be one with a few twists and turns.

I knew that there were two film makers as they credited themselves in intertitles made of what looked like magnetic alphabet.

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 the London’s Screen Archives website and the BFI Player for free forever. The BFI assigned their own title: Rev. Jimmy Butterworth and the activities of Clubland (1966).

If you have old film, significant to the borough of Southwark, and would like help to get it digitised or would like to deposit a film of any format with the archive, do get in contact with us by email at 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 week