Archive Volunteer Diaries Part 1: Volunteering at Southwark Local History Library & Archive

Hello readers! This is Jennifer, and I’m a volunteer at the Southwark Local History Library and Archive.

Back in April, having worked on some projects for a non-profit arts foundation that involved researching old theatre records, I was inspired to seek out some new opportunities to get more involved in archiving. Given that my day job is just a short walk away on the South Bank, I thought that volunteering here would be a nice chance to give back to my “work neighbourhood,” while also giving me a great opportunity to embed in the craft of archiving and lJennifer 1ots of fascinating local history. I reached out to the lovely folks here to get involved, and they have kindly welcomed me into their family as a volunteer.

 It’s an amazing facility, full of resources like historic maps, local records, films, terminals with access to online databases, photographs of all sorts of places around the borough, and folders full of press clippings and pamphlets all related to the goings-on around Southwark, past and present. I’ve been popping in for a few hours on an almost weekly basis since early May, and in this Volunteer Diaries series, I will be sharing some of the stories and discoveries that I uncover.

Delightful Discoveries

Here was one of my early first Delightful Discoveries from the collection. The very first folder that I opened for my volunteer work contained a press cutting with a story featuring our own Archivist Patricia Dark! And what a neat story, all about how a passerby spotted “a big box of old Victorian documents, some from 1885, left out for bin men on Borough High Street” in 2016, a treasure trove and “really fantastic addition” for SLHLA.

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Other discoveries: Did you know that a life-sized stuffed polar bear disappeared from the Horniman Museum in 1948? This 2006 story in the museum’s press cuttings folder describes how the bear may have been loaned to a department store for a “flamboyant Christmas window display” in 1948, or perhaps it was sold to a dealer at that time. “The fate of the polar bear has long been of interest to us,” said the museum’s director, who was working to track it down. The article jokingly offers some hints as to where the polar bear could have ended up, taking the opportunity to roll-up a series of bear and snow-related locations around Southwark, including Bear Lane, Snowsfields in Borough, and Bermondsey’s Winter Lodge.

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

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And finally, fans of street art will appreciate this historic nod to the craft in the Bermondsey Abbey press cuttings folder, describing how medieval graffiti was found during excavations of the abbey site.

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