It counts everyone, and everyone counts in it – that’s the point of the census. For Southwark’s current communities, an accurate census means accurate population data, which means funding for vital services like schools, transport, and doctors’ surgeries. But for people in the future, the census is a treasure trove of information on individuals, families, households, and communities – one that lets family historians re-trace family connections through the ages and helps explain how the neighbourhood populations of London’s most historic borough have changed through nearly two centuries’ of time.
Every 10 years since 1801, the census has asked questions about the population of England and Wales and compiled information about the make-up of local neighbourhoods; data on individuals survives from 1841 onward. The personal information shared at every census is kept confidential for 100 years. After that, it’s open for the public to explore, and to learn about the life and times of their ancestors and those who lived in their communities in the past.
The census return is a list: of all the buildings in a given street, including unoccupied ones, and all the households within a given building. Separate returns exist for large institutions, like workhouses, hospitals, schools, and prisons. Each household’s return includes the people present there the night the census was taken; these may include visiting friends, lodgers, and even patients in hospital wards and prisoners in jail cells! The information collected about individuals varies with each census, but usually includes their name, birthplace, age on census night, occupation, and how they relate to others household members.
This information can be incredibly valuable for people interested in family, local, and social history. Tracing a person through the census shows them growing up; tracing an address shows how neighbourhoods change through the years. But it also provides unique insights. Answers to census questions on health, birthplace, and immigration shine a light on the diversity of Southwark’s residents – a diversity that often doesn’t show in other record collections. Questions about employment show how common child labour was in the past, and a host of occupations, from brushmaking to toshing, that no longer exist.
On a street or neighbourhood level, census information shows changes in environment and land usage, but questions about housing also show how values and norms have changed; over time, what counts as “overcrowded” or “sub-standard” residences vary a lot. Sometimes what you find is totally unexpected, like the 5 year old homeworker Roger Little of Dulwich – as the return explains, Roger was an Airedale Terrier, and his work was being the Little family’s watchdog.
But more than that, the census gives the future a snapshot of the past that includes everyone. The voices – and the silences – in the census send a message about who we are, where we live, and what we value. It can provide vital evidence of the problems we thought were important and how we sought to fix them. But it does something even more important: it ties all our individual stories together into the story of a place and a time. That gives people – now and in the future – a hook to hang their own stories on, an opportunity to belong somewhere and somewhen.
Taking part in the 2021 census is your chance to help future generations discover their past. By completing your census questionnaire on 21 March 2021 you leave your mark on history. And maybe that’s something your friends, family, and colleagues hadn’t thought about. So we hope you’ll encourage them to do their bit too.
We recently had a request at Southwark Archives for images showing the inside of Jones and Higgins department store in Peckham. Most available photographs show the exterior of the store with its iconic clock tower on the corner of Rye Lane and Peckham High Street. Diving into our Jones and Higgins archive collection though, we found these pictures from inside the store, and they were too good to not share for History Begins At Home under the theme of Trading Spaces.
The images show a variety of departments from about 1910 as well as in the 1960s-70s. Do you remember shopping at Jones and Higgins or other similar department stores of the past? Share your memories on Twitter.
Sometimes a historic moment plays out like a scene from a movie – think of the opening of Saving Private Ryan, for instance – but other times it’s as everyday as the change in your pocket.
Today is a moment in history that everyone in the country took part in, because 15 February 2021 is the 50th anniversary of D-Day. Not the D-Day shown in Saving Private Ryan, that opened the Battle of Normandy – that’s in June – but the day British currency went decimal.
To understand what that means, 50 years later, we have to dig into the foundations of British money, and those go a lot further back than you’d think. All the way to two of the Roman Empire’s coins, in fact: the silver denarius and the gold solidus.
The denarius was the main circulating coin of the Roman Empire for several hundred years, from the 3rd century BCE to the end of the western Empire in the late 3rd century CE. The solidus began circulation as the denarius stopped being minted, and continued being minted by the Byzantine Empire (as well as copies, known as dinars, minted by various Muslim Caliphates)well into the Middle Ages.
In the late 8th century CE, Charlemagne – whose empire spanned much of modern France, Germany, and northern Italy – revised coinage because of a shortage of gold in western Europe. The new coinage was based entirely on silver: a libra, or pound, of silver weighing a bit less than 500g would be divided into 240 denarii, each weighing about 21 grains. Although the denarius was the only coin in circulation, the solidus remained as a unit of accounting, with 12 denarii to the solidus.
The early English king Offa of Mercia adopted this system with slightly different weights – a “Tower pound” of about 350g, divided into 12 solidii (shillings) and 240 denarii, containing 1.5g of silver each. This system survived for centuries all over western Europe and beyond, and left its marks on languages all over the world.
The libragave us the name for a number of currencies, including “pound” and “lira” as well as the pound’s abbreviation: “£”.
The denarius’s name survives in the currency name “dinar” used by a number of countries in and around the Mediterranean; the Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese words for “money”; and the abbreviation for the smallest unit of British pre-decimal currency, “d”.
The solidus gave us “shilling” and “soldier”, since the Roman military’s pay came in the form of these coins, as well as “sou”, an obsolete French coin whose name still survives in French idioms relating to money.
Southwark is a part of the story of pounds, shillings, and pence; specifically, Suffolk Place, a 15th century mansion house that was rebuilt in 1522 by Henry VIII’s brother-in-law, Charles Brandon, 1st duke of Suffolk. The site is at the corner of the modern Borough High Street and Marshalsea Road. In 1536, Henry exchanged Norfolk Place on the Strand for Suffolk Place; nine years later, the site became a mint – a place where money was literally made. Although the house itself was demolished in 1557, it left its mark on the area – in the names Mint Street and Great Suffolk Street, and in the Liberty of the Mint, an area that was a notorious slum until the end of the 19th century.
The 19th century – some failed attempts
The £sd system, as it was known, was useful in terms of doing mental arithmetic with money, since 240 can be split into a large number of fractional pieces: halves, thirds, sixths, eighths, tenths, and twelfths (so unit-pricing dozens of things like eggs was easy). However, it was not easy to do basic addition on pounds, shillings, and pence, and that difficulty increased with the scale of the transaction. As foreign trade increased, having non-decimal currency became more and more unwieldy.
Efforts to change the system began as early as 1824. Another attempt in 1848 led to the introduction of the “florin”, a coin worth 1/10 of a pound – 24 old pence, or 2 shillings – which remained in circulation until 1993 interchangeably with decimal 10p coins. A final attempt to decimalise in the 19th century was scuppered when two members of the Royal Commission appointed to study the problem – the governor of the Bank of England and an executive of the London and Westminster Bank – stifled the idea.
The 1960s – pressure from international trade
By the last quarter of the 20th century, most countries had moved to decimal currency based on units of 10, making international trade significantly more complicated for those countries which still held to the £sd system (generally, those in the Commonwealth). Starting with South Africa in 1962, these countries converted to a decimal based currency: most followed South Africa’s lead in creating a new currency unit equal in value to 10 shillings, or exactly half of a £sd pound.
In 1961, the UK government set up the Halbury Committee to study and report on decimalisation; its report, presented in 1963 and adopted in 1966, noted that the British pound’s value on the foreign exchange market meant that the new currency approach wasn’t feasible. Instead, the pound and its value was retained, but the number of sub-units to the pound was slashed from 240 to 100 – so the value of the new penny was 2.4 pre-decimal pence. In 1969, the Decimal Currency Act came into force, starting the conversion process.
Decimal coins valued at 5p and 10p – the same size and value as the 1 and 2 shillings coins they replaced – entered circulation in April 1968. A 50p coin followed in October 1969, with its predecessor the 10-shilling note being removed from circulation shortly thereafter. The pre-decimal halfpenny and half-crown (worth 2 shillings 6 pence, or 1/8 of a pound) were withdrawn by the end of 1969.
1971 – D day finally comes
Banks closed at 3:30 PM on Wednesday 10 February 1971, and remained shut until 10 AM on Monday 15 February 1971: Decimal Day. February was chosen because it was the least-busy time of year for banks, transport, and retail; the closure allowed for the distribution of stocks of new coins, processing of outstanding cheques and credits in the clearing system, and the conversion of account balances to decimal – the latter task mostly done manually!
The run-up to decimalisation put the conversion into the spotlight. In 1969 and 1970, increasing numbers of retailers priced goods in both currencies, which probably helped cushion the change and cement new values in shoppers’ heads. Shoppers could get a rough idea of the pre-decimal value of a decimal price by doubling the new price and inserting a slash between the digits. For more exact conversions, shoppers’ guides, conversion tables, and specialist calculators between £sd and decimal values became increasingly familiar – the pen company Parker created a special edition of its Jotter pen with conversion tables in a window. Waddington’s even published a board game about decimal conversion!
The early weeks of 1971 saw a huge publicity campaign as D Day approached. Flyers, leaflets, and posters sprouted, as well as a song by Max Bygraves, a series of short films on the BBC, an ITV drama entitled Granny Gets the Point, and – on D Day itself – a special Merry-Go-Round broadcast for schools featuring Peter Firmin.
On the day, new ½p, 1p, and 2p coins entered circulation, and prices – while still in both currencies – featured decimal first. From D Day, shops still accepted old pre-decimal coins, but returned change in decimal currency — shoppers and travellers using 1d and 3d coins were asked to pay them in units of 6 old pence (equal to 2 ½p) to simplify converting change. Because of this, old 1d and 3d coins were out of circulation by the end of February 1971, and 6d coins were rare; 1d and 3d were officially withdrawn at the end of August 1971, ending the transition period.
But the story doesn’t end there. Popular protests – perhaps because of their central role in wedding lore – meant that 6d coins remained legal tender until 1980. Decimal halfpennies were demonetised at the end of 1984, since inflation had eroded their value. Shillings and florins remained in circulation alongside 5p and 10p coins until 1990 and 1993 respectively, when smaller versions of the decimal coins were released. A smaller 50p appeared in 1997; only 1p and 2p coins remain legal tender from D Day.
“If I can’t see what the customer wants, I’m in a bit of a flutter… until I get hold of the plane and a piece of wood and then all is peace.”
Fred Gandolfi speaking in the BBC documentary, The Industrial Grand Tour: The Camera Maker, 1974.
The National Science and Media Museum in Bradford holds a rare collection of exhibits that are a part of Peckham’s history. The items in question are large plate cameras and tripods made by the exceptional family of craftsmen, the Gandolfis, whose business was started by Louis Gandolfi in 1885, first at premises in Kensington Place and from the late 1890s onwards at addresses in Old Kent Road, Park Hall Road and finally Borland Road, Peckham.
Louis was born in Clerkenwell in 1863 and by the age of 12 was an apprentice to a cabinet maker. Having acquired enough skills at age 17, he began working for a small business of camera-makers – Lejeune and Perken, making large plate cameras in the city. However, after 5 years it is said that he had to leave the business as his skills earned him more money than his colleagues and this caused too many complaints against him. It was then that Louis decided to set up his own camera making business.
Louis and his wife Caroline (who initially undertook the French polishing and brass work within the business) instilled a strong work ethic into their six children. At one time all of the children were involved in the Gandolfi camera business and before Louis died in 1932, he had ensured his legacy by passing on his skills as a camera maker to his sons Thomas, Frederick and Arthur which would see it run for over 100 years.
Photography was a booming business in the late Victorian period thanks to advances in the processing of film, particularly the introduction of dry plate emulsions made from gelatine. Glass plates of different sizes were put into the back of a camera and when the photographer was ready to ‘take’ his photo, he would expose the glass plate to the light, and thereby the image would be captured on the chemical coated plate. The dry plate process meant that the glass plates were coated with the new emulsion, dried and stored until needed. The plates could then be loaded into cameras at convenience and processed any time after they were exposed. This was a huge improvement on wet plate photography. This process involved hand coating the plate with a light sensitive wet emulsion and loading into the camera just before exposing it to light and then developing the plate straight away – a much more laborious chemical operation with larger, more unwieldy equipment. So the new development in processing meant you could separate the plate from the camera as storage was a much simpler affair and cameras could now be smaller and mass produced.
Initially, Louis’s camera designs were fairly simple to make and assemble, and sold cheaply to accommodate the new mass market. The 1880s also saw a boom in bicycle riding. The convenience of being able to attach one of Louis’s cameras to a cycle increased the company’s success and profile and, of course, profits. However, by the time he was at his new premises at 752 Old Kent Road in 1896, it would be the pre-dry plate camera designs that would give the Gandolfi brand the greatest success and return Louis back to his original skills as a furniture maker and craftsman.
These large format, folding wooden framed cameras were more traditionally made and attracted professional photographers. Louis made two designs – the Universal (which was a square bellows style) and the Imperial (a tapered bellows style similar to the one pictured here). The cameras were made to order and comprised three main areas of work – woodwork (including French polishing), brass work (with up to 125 pieces in one camera) and assembly. The cameras were patiently and beautifully crafted from the finest Cuban mahogany. The baseboard of a 15” x 12” Gandolfi camera was made up of 11 separate wood panels alone and a 5” x 4” camera would incorporate some 100 brass fittings, each one lacquered and hand finished. The bellows were meticulously prepared from a variety of fabrics including leather, felt and velvet. It could take around 3 weeks of joint working between the brothers to produce a 10” x 8” Gandolfi camera.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, Louis started to secure overseas government contracts, some of which required the new ‘Imperial’, designed to withstand hotter weather conditions and made to any order from half-plate to 15” x 12”. The design was later updated by his sons as ‘The Precision’ and continued to be produced up to the 1970s. By 1928, the business had moved to an old hatpin factory at number 2 Borland Road, Peckham, where there was plenty of room for their workshop.
Gandolfi cameras were specially commissioned for events like Captain Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition from 1910 to 1913 and Lord Carnarvon’s Tutankhamun expedition, as well as a commission from Queen Mary. The Gandolfis were also the first company commissioned by the Royal Naval Air Service to provide aerial cameras, which helped the business survive the First World War. Their expertise would also be required during the Second World War supplying cameras for the War Department.
The core values of good craftsmanship and use of quality materials meant that the three Gandolfi brothers would not substitute quality for quantity and turned down lucrative contracts as it was impossible to fulfil them with so few staff, preferring bespoke commissions. However, their reputation for excellence continued to see them receive numerous commissions. It’s likely, for example, if you see a prison mug-shot from around the mid-1940s, that it was taken from a Gandolfi portrait camera. The Gandolfi tripod – the ‘Portable Studio Stand’ was also a successful line and over 25,000 were produced over the lifetime of the business.
After Louis’s son Thomas died in 1965, the business continued with brothers Arthur and Frederick at the helm. They would receive commissions from professional photographers, magazines, students and colleges among others. Their skills were in great demand and they were becoming the last of their kind in making hand-made quality cameras. Long waiting lists for their ‘Precision’ camera continued into the 1970s and Thomas’s son, Thomas junior left his career in engineering to join the firm in 1976. Another side of the business was the importance of teaching others the value of hand making cameras and Frederick made several demonstrations for institutions.
In 1980 The Science Museum held a special exhibition commemorating 100 years of camera making by the Gandolfi Family. By 1982, Arthur and Fred decided they were unable to run the business themselves and reached an agreement to sell it to Brian Gould and Sir Kenneth Corfield. Both men were staunch advocates of the Gandolfi brand and ethos.
Fred died in 1990 aged 86 and Arthur died in 1993 aged 87. Like their father Louis, they ensured the legacy of the Gandolfi name with their cameras continuing to be made well into the early 2000s and immortalised at The National Science and Media Museum in Bradford.
To celebrate Disability History Month we have teamed up with Southwark Disablement Association (SDA) and Southwark Resource Centre to launch a new series online of documents from the archives that tell the story of disability services in Southwark.
The new collection is hosted on the Internet Archive and includes records of the SDA from its founding in 1978 onwards including its Newsletter, Annual Reports and Handbooks on local disabled services in Southwark. All of the records can be read and searched through online, and will be of particular interest for learning about the history of disability during the 1970s to 1990s.
Through the SDA records we learn about how the organisation played a key role in piloting the GLC’s new Taxi Card Holders scheme in 1983, as well as taking part in protests in Central London over disabled rights such as the rally in Trafalgar Square in 1990.
The resources launched with Southwark Resource Centre include the book Speaking For Ourselves, which was written and dictated in 1983 by service users of the Aylesbury Day Centre and tells of their experiences at the centre:
While exploring the history of Anti-Racism in Southwark (see our recent post for details), we came across a rich history of marching and protests. Documents and photographs held at Southwark Archives show local people and organisations rising up over the decades to fight for equality and human rights.
Campaigns against racism in the 1960s were established in the borough through the petitioning of Southwark and Bermondsey Trades Councils and Southwark Rotary Club, who led the call to launch what became the Southwark Council for Community Relations. Other early organisations include the West Indian League, set up in 1964 following the suicide of a young West Indian nurse at Lewisham hospital. The League aimed to combat loneliness for West Indians in London, and fight racial discrimination.
In the 1970s the Southwark Campaign Against Racialism and Fascism was set up and took to the streets of Walworth and elsewhere to stand up to the resurgent National Front. Socialist organisations and local branches of the Labour Party also took a prominent part in marching. In 1983 the Southwark Black Consortium was founded to represent the community voice at the new Southwark Race Equality Committee. Later, as Southwark Black Communities Consortium, the organisation ran large protest marches against racism in Peckham and Bermondsey. The Southwark Anti-Apartheid Group took the lead in marching against apartheid in South Africa, something reflected also by the council who declared ‘war on apartheid’ in 1984 and ran yearly Anti-Apartheid programming until the early 1990s.
The following is a selection of images found so far, please get in touch with us if you’d like to contribute further images or information.
This Black History Month at Southwark Archives we have been delving into our collections to try and discover more about the history of anti-racism at the council and in the community. Over the decades countless individuals have fought for equal rights, the removal of the colour bar, and against racism in its many forms, and there are many milestones along the continuing journey.
Pioneering community-led initiatives included: the work of Dr Harold Moody and the League of Coloured Peoples in the 1930s, among whose many achievements was the lifting of the colour bar in the armed forces; the West Indian League started in 1964 by George Croasdaile, who campaigned for racial equality and supported young people for over 30 years; and the Southwark Inter-Racial Council that became Southwark Council For Community Relations in 1966 and oversaw black and minority ethnic communities’ liaison with the borough over the following four decades.
The 1970s saw a rise in activity from the National Front and organisations rose up to protest against them including the Anti-Nazi League, Southwark Campaign Against Racialism and Fascism, and Southwark Black Communities Consortium, supported by Southwark Trades Council and the local Labour parties. In 1978, Southwark residents and organisations marched to the ‘Rock Against Racism’ rally and protests at Brockwell Park, the UK’s largest anti-racism rally. Through the 1980s and 1990s the community organised local marches and rallies to combat racism across the borough, in Peckham, Walworth and Bermondsey.
In 1983 Southwark Council established a Race Equality Committee and Unit, which provided funding and support for a range of community initiatives, as well as embedding anti-racist practices across the council and leading the way in addressing racist hate crimes. In 1994, Southwark Council won the Commission for Racial Equality’s first Local Authority Race Award for its work prosecuting the perpetrators of racial harassment on housing estates.
The shocking killing of George Floyd this year and the Black Lives Matter movement and protests around the world have shown that racism is still widespread and there is still much to do. The ongoing Southwark Stands Together programme gives detail on the council’s current work in this area and how “as a borough we knew that now, more than ever, we had to listen, react and together develop solutions”. The latest progress report for the programme can be read online here.
We hope to turn what we find into an online study resource in the coming months, but in the meantime we present here a selection of some key items from the archives that begin telling this story. If you would like to be involved in the project, please drop us an email at email@example.com
Click through the slideshow below to see a selection of posters and flyers from 1930s to 2000s about anti-racism in Southwark:
Dr. Cecil Belfield Clarke was born in Barbados in 1894 and on winning an island scholarship came to London in 1914 to study medicine. In 1918 he graduated from Cambridge University, became a qualified surgeon and then set up his medical practice at 112 Newington Causeway, Southwark. He worked as a doctor, serving the local community for over 40 years and London for over 50. During that time he served as a doctor and medical professional in Africa, the Caribbean and throughout the UK.
Clarke was one of the founder members of the League of Coloured Peoples (LCP) which began in 1931. The organisation was set up to achieve a number of objectives with a focus on racial equality and civil rights for Black people in Great Britain. Clarke was an active member but was also associated with other Pan-African causes, including as the first chairman of the House Committee of Aggrey House, a hostel for students from Africa and the Caribbean. Clarke was diplomatic and this enabled him to be an effective communicator between the politically left and right of the Pan-African movements of the 1930s and 40s, so much so that he was a mediator during the planning for the Conference on the African Peoples, Democracy, and World Peace held in London in July 1939.
Clarke hosted many LCP events at his home and was a good friend of author and American civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois, with whom he continued correspondence right up to the 1960s, supporting many of his civil rights causes. Many of Dr Clarke’s letters to Du Bois can be read at the Special Collections and University Archives, at the University of Massachusetts Amhurst. The letters reveal the great affection and respect Clarke had for Du Bois and the importance of continuing the civil rights message. In one such letter dated 4th July 1929, Dr Clarke encloses his annual subscription to The Crisis magazine which he felt was his “duty” as “one of the few coloured Drs practising in London”. He kept the magazine in his doctor’s surgery waiting room and it proved to be a popular read. The Crisis is the official magazine for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) co-founded by W.E.B Du Bois and is still operating.
What may be little known about Dr Clarke is that he formulated the early mathematical dosage for paediatric medicine known as ‘Clark’s rule’. He was the first black District Medical Officer for London in 1936 and the Belfield Clark Prize, which first began in 1952 at St Catharine’s College, Oxford is still awarded to students in Biological Natural Sciences Tripos examinations.
Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries
The Keys magazine (Southwark Local History Library and Archive).
Matera, M., Black London: the Imperial Metropolis and Decolonization in the 20th Century, 1st ed., University of California Press, Oakland, California, 2015.
Southwark Archives documents a particularly fascinating set of connections between the borough (or parts of the modern borough) and its twin towns. Town twinning intends to foster inter-cultural understanding, boost business, trade, and tourism, and – in many cases – foster understanding and reconciliation in the aftermath of war. In previous decades, when international travel was expensive and much more difficult to arrange than today, twinning provided an easy and cost-effective way for Southwark locals to experience other countries.
Southwark’s international connections start early with the shipwreck of the East India Company ship Antelope, captained by Rotherhithe local Henry Wilson,in July 1783. Antelope wrecked on Ulong Island in the modern nation of Palau; locals assisted the crew in building a new ship, a process that took three months. When Wilson set sail for home, the High Chief, Ibedul, asked Wilson to take his eldest son, Lee Boo, back to London to acquaint him with European life. The “Black Prince”, living in Rotherhithe with the Wilson family, quickly became well-known for his intelligence, charm, and poise. However, he died of smallpox in in late December 1784, just six months after arriving in London, and was buried in the Wilson family tomb in St Mary’s churchyard. The nation of Palau has never forgotten their prince – athletes competing in the 2012 Olympics made a point of stopping at his gravesite.
Probably the earliest governmental connection came in 1906; as part of the entente cordiale with France, a delegation from the French towns of Dunkirk and Malo-les-Bains visited the metropolitan borough of Bermondsey: a programme and menu from this visit are in the archive’s collections.
After the First World War, the British League of Help tried to support the civilian populations living in the war zone by encouraging British communities to “adopt” Belgian and French counterparts located where local units saw particularly fierce action. For Cambrin, a village in the Pas-de-Calais, 18 miles southwest of Lille, their adoptee was the metropolitan borough of Southwark, whose local TA unit (the 24th battalion of the London Regiment) saw a significant number of casualties saw a significant number of casualties there. Council minutes from 1922 note that Southwark was poor and not able “…to do much financially, but it appears to us that it is not so much the amount or the value of the gift or gifts that matters, but rather the spirit in which they are offered. The real point of an adoption is that sympathy is expressed for France…”; the borough’s sympathy saw £67 (6,000 francs) and seeds worth another £200 donated to help. Southwark’s mayor and town clerk delivered the gift in March 1923. During their stay, they visited a number of battlefields and war cemeteries; the mayor’s report appears in the council minutes in full – which suggests that the trip was made, in part, for all the widows and orphans who couldn’t go themselves.
Just before the Second World War, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia formally cemented links with its namesake: the metropolitan borough of Camberwell. A former resident of south London gave the Australian Camberwell its name in 1857 after noticing that his new pub was at the junction of 6 roads. During and after the Second World War, the Australians sent their cockney cousins 40,000 food parcels, which helped mitigate the effects of ever-tightening rationing (the town of Geelong West did the same for Bermondsey). To say thank you, in 1950 the Londoners gave the Australians the freedom of the British borough – as well as the bell from the blitz-destroyed Scarsdale Road school in Peckham, which was installed in Camberwell Central School in Victoria.
During the Second World War, Bermondsey – whose Labour council was radically progressive – made symbolic links with other embattled communities. In October 1941, local Boy Scouts and Girl Guides sent a message of solidarity to the youth of the Soviet Union – the archive has a copy. In June 1943, on the first anniversary of the total destruction of the Czechoslovak village of Lidice and massacre of its residents by the Nazis, Bermondsey held a memorial service on the site of the blitzed town hall in Spa Road; it featured a speech by Jan Masaryk, Foreign Minister in Exile, and a performance by a choir of Czechoslovak servicemen.
After the Second World War, twinning became a way to facilitate cultural exchange and international travel. Camberwell twinned with Sceaux (pronounced “So”, as contemporary newspapers were keen to point out), a wealthy suburb about 6 miles south of the centre of Paris, in 1954. By the late 1950s, Camberwell Council sponsored an annual “French Week” of cultural events (like film screenings, concerts, exhibitions), civic receptions for French visitors, and special offers in stores. The 1957 French Week, as a brochure in the archive notes, even had a free wine tasting in Dulwich baths and the Scarlet Pimpernel – a man who attended the week’s events and who paid a cash prize to the first person to present him with the brochure using the correct wording. That year, a local newspaper piece also notes that the French ambassador was so engrossed by the paintings in the South London Gallery’s exhibition that he forgot to officially open it! By the 1960s, Camberwell and Sceaux were trading library books, dahlias, and choirs; the choir trip to Camberwell for Whitsun 1963 was marred by the charter plane being unable to land at Heathrow. For modern residents, perhaps the most lasting mark of this twinning is the name of the Sceaux Gardens estate in Camberwell, whose name dates to 1957.
In 1957, the metropolitan borough of Southwark forged an official link with another Parisian suburb, Courbevoie, about 5 miles northwest of the centre of Paris. Like Southwark, Courbevoie started life as a waypoint on a major road into the capital – in its case, the road from Paris to Normandy, whose curve gave the area its name. Unlike Southwark, Courbevoie was a centre for business – La Defense, the Parisian equivalent of Canary Wharf, is in the south of the area. Like Camberwell’s link with Sceaux, the Southwark-Courbevoie link involved cultural exchanges of young people, musicians, and sportspeople. After 1965, the London Borough of Southwark kept up the link.
Camberwell took on another twin in 1960 – Deventer, a Dutch town of about 100,000 people in Overijssel province, near Arnhem – in fact, Deventer’s town centre stood in for Arnhem’s during filming of the classic war movie A Bridge Too Far. The London Borough of Southwark took on this twinning in 1965. As well as exchanging library books, the Deventer link included exchanges of young people from 1960 onward, housewives from 1968 on, and artists, choirs, and sports teams. There was even an older people’s exchange programme – Dutch OAPs spent a week or two at Southwark’s welfare home at Bexhill-on-Sea, while their British counterparts stayed in retirement homes or the homes of local families.
Beginning in the 1970s, the London Borough of Southwark considered forging its own twinning link; it decided on Langenhagen, a town of about 50,000 about 7 miles north of Hannover in the German state of Niedersachsen. Langenhagen is the site of Hannover’s airport, and also saw the arrest of Ulrike Meinhof (in 1972) and the first mass production of CDs (in 1982). It’s also a major centre for horse racing and shooting sports – Brenneke, a major manufacturer of ammunition, is based there. The archives holds two photo albums documenting visits to Langenhangen: many of them show Langenhagen’s Schützenverein, or shooting club, and its annual Schützenfest – a fair that includes shooting contests (nearby Hannover’s Schützenfest is the largest in Germany).
Perhaps the most unusual twinning came in 1984, during the miners’ strike. At the time, Southwark council was controlled by Labour, who decided to twin the borough with three mining villages in Kent: Snowdon, Bettshanger, and Aylesham. This allowed the council to help provide material support to miners’ families by facilitating fundraising and collection of food donations; it also gave residents of the inner city a means to understand rural life better.