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.

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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.

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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’

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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.

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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.

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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.