Southwark’s Twin Towns

By Patricia Dark, Archivist

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

1783

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

1906

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

1922

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

The 1930s

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

The 1940s

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

The 1950s

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

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

The 1960s

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

The 1970s

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

The 1980s

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

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

by Lisa Soverall, Heritage Officer

London’s Screen Archives has been an indispensable resource for Southwark Local History Library and Archive. It is a fantastic network of organisations including museums, galleries, charities, community groups and public sector bodies who hold heritage film and whose aim is to ‘preserve and share London’s history on film’. They started digitising our film and video holdings in 2011 and now host them on their website and YouTube site for streaming. Over the years they have offered us training and advice on how to catalogue and license our holdings and have welcomed us as a Steering Group partner. This has enabled us to keep on top of developments in this ever changing sector. We are very grateful to them, so it was naturally to LSA that I turned when a can of film was discovered in our archive store by my colleague, Lisa Moss, in 2014.

Some lessons from the Brandon Estate Cine Club collection

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

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

Screenshot from the film Canvey Capers made in 1969

I established via a telephone call with his sister, Dorothy that Richard (‘Dickie’) Morgan was alive but I was unable to get any more information about Brian Waterman. Suffice to say that despite my best efforts, which included holding the first ever screening of the films in one of the estate’s community centres, (which I thought might elicit some memories about the film makers), contacting local tenants’ associations (a member of whom knew Brian but did not know if he was alive), contacting local newspapers, writing letters and making other general enquiries, I had assumed Brian’s demise. So, obviously I was shocked when a few weeks after the film show, I received an email from Brian himself informing me that he was ‘very much alive’! I am well aware of the moral to that story.

So, when my colleague found another can of film in the archive I knew there were two things I needed to do immediately; get the film viewed and assessed and research the provenance thoroughly and that’s exactly what I did.

How I assessed the condition of the film

The can of film was in a flat archival box. There was little information on the outside other than the words ‘film can’ and no accession documentation to be found so we had no idea who deposited the film or under what agreement.

On opening the can, I got a slight whiff of something chemical and I wondered whether the film had vinegar syndrome, (safety film, introduced by Kodak in 1923 is made of cellulose acetate plastic and can degrade if not kept in the right conditions giving off a vinegary smell).

I couldn’t see any warping or buckling of the film however, which is a clear sign of film degradation.

I also wasn’t sure if there was any mould deeper into the reel. Perhaps the smell was just the release of chemicals built up over the years. This is where the possession of AD strips would have been useful. They can detect the severity of acetate deterioration and can therefore also be used on 35mm stills film.

The gauge of the film was 16mm, so I wondered who made it, as this was a format commonly used by municipal organisations, professional businesses and broadcasters between the 1930s and 1970s, though it was still popular with amateur film makers despite the introduction of the smaller Standard 8mm. The Bermondsey Borough Council films for example, were mostly shot on 16mm.

The problem with this film was that there was no leader (a piece of film at the head and tail that helps to thread or ‘lead’ the film into the projector). The head end could sometimes contain written information about the film such as title or filmmaker.

As I carefully unravelled a few inches of film away from its roll I wondered if we had stumbled across a local amateur film. Without a 16mm viewer I couldn’t be certain of the source or content and if the film was not relevant to Southwark, we would have to consider transferring it to another relevant archive. For now, I needed to keep the film as cold (but dry) as possible to prevent further degradation.

Some expert help from the Cinema Museum

As luck would have it the Cinema Museum were having one of their fantastic open days in October 2014 where anyone could bring along their film and have it viewed and assessed by a professional film archivist for free! It was important to view the film before sending it to a professional organisation like LSA or British Film Institute first, since the volume of material they receive (or did at that time) would mean I would be waiting a long time before I received any information about it and I may not have been allowed to view it while they worked on it. So, Home Movie Day was next on my list of things to do.

Volunteer film archivist, Sally, made the following observations

  • The film was approximately 600ft in length (that’s approximately 25 minutes duration).
  • It contained mixed film stock from Ilford dated 1965 and Kodak dated 1966. (The date a film was manufactured can be worked out from the symbols on the edge of the film – here’s a handy guide that you can download).
  • Part of the film was shot at 24 frames per second and part at 18 frames per second. (It was cheaper to shoot at 18fps as fewer frames per second means you could save on film stock.)
  • The film was spliced in several places. (An edit of two separate films, so they can be shown continuously.)
  • It was perforated on both sides of the film. (Otherwise known as ‘double perf’ and therefore the film was silent with no separate sound track.)
  • There is evidence of ‘slight mould’ on the edge of the film in places although it is inactive with ‘slight shrinkage in places.’ (This was perhaps the most important point, and meant that regardless of its overall good condition, film conservation was going to be an important step in this film’s journey.)

Sally’s recommendations were to get the film professionally assessed and digitised.

Once the assessment was completed, I was invited to look at the film via a film projector in another part of the main hall. As the viewing started I immediately realised that I was looking at footage from Clubland.

Clubland: Walworth’s pioneering youth club

Clubland was founded by Reverend Jimmy Butterworth in 1922 and was based in the Walworth Methodist Church on the corner of Camberwell Road and Grosvenor Terrace for over 50 years. It was a Christian youth club which pioneered a new approach to youth work and became one of the most successful in the UK, with royalty and celebrities among its fan base.

The film began in quite grainy black and white, showing the exterior of the Clubland building and went on to show young people from Clubland cleaning a property, presumably for the purposes of club activities. Rev. Butterworth is clearly seen managing the youth with his trademark pipe in mouth. As the film went on, I was aware of more and more people in the hall joining the viewing and would occasionally hear the utterings from film enthusiasts about details of the filming.

The film went from black and white to colour, indicating a different film and showing footage of the club’s outings including one to Wissant in France and sports day in Burgess Park, Camberwell. All of it was in remarkable condition and the local history details were fantastic! Shops no longer on Camberwell Road were revealed, the old factories that lined the perimeter of Burgess Park, and of course the Rev. Butterworth who featured regularly.

I was keen to know who the film maker was but there was no doubting the significance of the film to the borough. But did the film exist in another format elsewhere?

Researching provenance

Since the subject matter of the films meant there was significance to the borough of Southwark, I decided that the next steps would be to research the film’s origins.

A few days after the Cinema Museum’s Open Day, I called Mary, daughter of the late Rev. Butterworth. I had spoken to Mary on numerous occasions, the family have close ties to the archive as it holds the majority of Clubland’s records. I told her about the film. Did she know anything about it? Mary said it was filmed by her mother, who she said did most of the filming of the club’s activities and was probably part of a larger donation of items by the family over 20 years previously. Mary and her brother, John were happy to transfer the rights in the film to Southwark Local History Library and Archive, particularly as it had stored it for so long. Documentation would later be drawn up between the archive and the Butterworth family but for now, we had the permission to pursue the film’s preservation and digitisation with London’s Screen Archives.

Digitising the film

Timing is everything and as luck would have it (again) in the late Autumn of 2014 London’s Screen Archives were checking archives with moving image across London to see whether they had any film material they would like to put forward for their Unlocking Film Heritage programme in association with the British Film Institute. I recommended the Clubland film and it would be a couple of months of back and forth emails before I would receive confirmation that it would be accepted into the UFH programme. Hurrah!

It was not until the following year in March 2015 that I finally handed the film over to the LSA in person at their then offices in the Tea Building in Shoreditch. I met with film archivist, Louise Pankhurst, who began the official assessment process. Of course the film had no name and so one was assigned to it – ‘Clubland Activities of the 1950s and 60s‘ since that’s what the film showed (or so I thought).  

That was the last time I saw that can of film which is now safely stored courtesy of the LSA.

It would be another 9 months from the handing over the film before I would get a DVD copy of Clubland Activities of the 1950s and 60s. Such was the success of Unlocking Film Heritage that thousands of films were being assessed, preserved and made available to the public. However, it was worth waiting for and our archive is grateful for the opportunity to have our films digitised for free and made available for the public to enjoy. The film is available on both LSA’s website and the BFI Player for free forever. The BFI assigned their own title: Rev. Jimmy Butterworth and the activities of Clubland (1966).

If you have old film, significant to the borough of Southwark, and would like help to get it digitised or would like to deposit a film of any format with the archive, do get in contact with us by email at local.history.library@southwark.gov.uk.

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

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

Sam King and the Windrush

by Patricia Dark, archivist

In May 1945, British forces in the northern German port of Kiel captured a German ship, the MV Monte Rosa, as war reparations. She was built in Hamburg, in 1936: after a short pre-war career as a cruise ship with the Kraft durch Freude (“Strength through Joy”) programme, she became a transport, then a hospital ship. Monte Rosa had been converted to a troop transport and assigned to the Ministry of Transport by the beginning of 1947. She also received a new name, one that marked her as a prize of war and highlighted a tributary of the Thames — a name that made history: HMT Empire Windrush.

HMT Empire Windrush (c) Imperial War Museums

The government commissioned the New Zealand Shipping Company to operate Windrush; she ferried British service personnel and their families between the UK, the Far East, and points in between for the next year. Windrush arrived at the port of Tilbury from Bombay on 8 April 1948. Her next voyage broke the mould, – rather than returning to the Far East, Windrush made her first – and only – trip to the Caribbean. One source claims that the trip was part of a repositioning cruise to Australia via the Atlantic; most others claim that she was sent to Kingston, Jamaica to pick up British service personnel who were on leave there. The latter seems more likely, since ads appeared in Jamaica’s premier newspaper, the Daily Gleaner, in late April, offering cheap passage to London. Travellers paid £28 for a berth on the open troop deck, or £48 for a cabin: for someone in Jamaica in 1948, that was more than a month’s pay, and would be like paying nearly £1,000 and more than £1,700 respectively today!

Windrush arrived in Trinidad on 20 May 1948, embarking local passengers as well as others who had travelled from other Caribbean islands and British Guiana (now Guyana); she then made scheduled port calls at Kingston, Jamaica, and Bermuda; however, in between she detoured to Tampico, in Mexico – where 66 Polish refugees embarked, all but one to join husbands and fathers who’d fought in the Polish forces-in-exile under the terms of the Polish Resettlement Act 1947.

At Kingston, as passenger Alford Gardner told the Guardian in 2018, there were more would-be travellers than tickets available. The Great Depression wrecked the agricultural export market Jamaica’s economy relied on; the resulting unemployment, poor living conditions, and inequality still lingered. A hurricane in 1944 meant the farm economy was still depressed, and many people took the opportunity to try their luck in the mother country. In fact, about one-third of Windrush’s passengers were either serving members of the RAF or veterans looking to re-enlist.

As Windrush steamed toward the UK, immigration was a hot topic. The mother country faced major labour shortage in many sectors, and needed to repair huge amounts of war damage. Eearlier in 1948, a government working group had ultimately advised against large-scale colonial immigration to fill this gap. Additionally, Parliament was debating the British Nationality Act 1948, which passed just over a month after Windrush arrived; this act created a single citizenship for the United Kingdom and its colonies. Even Creech Jones, the Colonial Secretary, commented on a BBC broadcast that, while Windrush’s Caribbean passengers were British passport holders with the right to settle, there was no reason to worry, because they wouldn’t last one English winter. 

HMT Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury on 21 June 1948, with 1,027 listed passengers (and two stowaways) on board. Men outnumbered women by about 3 to 1; more than 800 came from the Caribbean, and nearly half were Jamaican. Pathé News sent a reporter to interview the new arrivals – the first immigration en masse from Britain’s colonies. The transport industry and the fledgling National Health Service were both especially badly hit by labour shortages and welcomed the newcomers. However, their welcome wasn’t universal: the day after Windrush docked, a group of 10 MPs wrote to Prime Minister Clement Atlee in protest; in his response, (held at the National Archives), the PM attempted to placate them, ending the letter by noting that “I doubt whether there is likely to be a similar large influx.” 

Letter from Attlee to MPs re Windrush

While many of her passengers had plans, or had already organised housing or a job, just over 200 had neither on arrival. They were temporarily housed in the deep air-raid shelter at Clapham South tube, some 15 storeys underground. More than half had found work within a week or two; the nearest labour exchange (what we now call a Job Centre) to Clapham South was in Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, – planting the seed of one of the largest Afro-Caribbean communities in the country.

Southwark is especially proud of one of the Jamaican veterans on board the Empire Windrush: Samuel Beaver King, MBE. He was born in Priestman’s River, Portland, Jamaica, on 20 February 1926 – one of George and Caroline King’s ten children. Mr King worked with his father on the family’s banana plantation, and intended to take it over, but the Second World War changed those plans. In 1944 he saw a Daily Gleaner advert recruiting for the RAF, and asked his mother for advice; decades later, he remembered her response: “My son, the mother country is at war. Go – and if you survive, you will not regret it.” 

Mr King passed the entry exams, completed RAF basic training in Kingston, and set sail for the UK in 1944. His first posting was in Greenock, just outside Glasgow – both the cold and the devastation created by German bombers shocked him. He served at aerodromes around Scotland and England, first as ground crew and then as a skilled aircraft fitter, before being demobbed in 1947.

He returned to Jamaica, but the 1944 hurricane – which destroyed an estimated 90% of Jamaica’s banana trees – had devastated the family plantation, and there was little other work available. Once more, Mr King answered a Daily Gleaner ad, and booked passage on the Empire Windrush to re-enlist: his family sold three cows to raise the funds for a troop deck berth. On board, there was a bit of a holiday atmosphere, and special camaraderie among the RAF veterans. However, he noted in his memoir Forty Years On that there was also enough apprehension about the government turning the ship back that he organised two ex-RAF wireless operators to play dominoes outside the radio room – and monitor incoming messages.  

He re-enlisted in the RAF in 1948, serving until 1953. While Black service personnel found they were respected and supported when they were in uniform, civvy street was far too often a different story. Racism restricted job opportunities: Mr King applied unsuccessfully to the Metropolitan Police in 1953 – it took them another 14 years to appoint its first Black officer. Racial discrimination also made it extremely difficult for many Black people to find housing — and thereby start putting down roots. In 1950, Mr King, then an RAF corporal, and his brother Wilton attempted to buy a house in Sears Street, Camberwell, but bank officials responded to a mortgage request with a letter suggesting he return to Jamaica. Mr King took the letter to the owner of the house, who was so disgusted that he gave him mortgage himself; this made the Kings the second Black family in Southwark to own a home. For other Black residents, the only way to own a home was to join a savings club, known as a “partner”: Mr King took an active role in setting up many partners. 

His status as a veteran ensured his application to the Post Office was successful; his career there lasted 34 years, beginning as a postal carrier and ending as Postal Executive for the South Eastern postal district. On 26 June 1954, Sam King married Mavis (Mae) Kirlew, a student nurse at Emmanuel Church in Camberwell. They had two children, Michael and Althea, together; Mr King also had a daughter, Daslin, from a previous relationship. 

Faith and community were at the centre of Mr King’s life. He was a lay preacher who trained in ministry at Goldsmiths College; in the 1980s he actively championed gospel music, supporting a number of broadcast licence applications for community radio stations and helping organise the 1985 Songs of Praise broadcast from Southwark Cathedral that pioneered gospel music on a BBC national flagship show.

Mr King was also active in the postal union, the local Labour party, and as a community organiser. He helped Claudia Jones launch Britain’s first major Black newspaper, the West Indian Gazette, in March 1958, and served as its circulation manager. In 1959, he helped her organise the first Caribbean-style carnival in St Pancras Town Hall — the precursor to the Notting Hill Carnival. Sam’s ability to communicate with and connect the Camberwell and Peckham local communities and the police also helped avoid violence in the aftermath of the 1958 Notting Hill riots and during National Front agitation in the 1970s and 1980s. 

In the 1982 local elections, Mr King was elected councillor for Bellenden ward, and six months later, in 1983, he became Southwark’s first Black mayor (leading to death and arson threats against him from the National Front). Mae died in 1983; he married Myrtle Kirlew in late 1984.

Mr King was also active in the postal union, the local Labour party, and as a community organiser. He helped Claudia Jones launch Britain’s first major Black newspaper, the West Indian Gazette, in March 1958, and served as its circulation manager. In 1959, he helped her organise the first Caribbean-style carnival in St Pancras Town Hall — the precursor to the Notting Hill Carnival. Sam’s ability to communicate with and connect the Camberwell and Peckham local communities and the police also helped avoid violence in the aftermath of the 1958 Notting Hill riots and during National Front agitation in the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1982 local elections, Mr King was elected councillor for Bellenden ward, and six months later, in 1983, he became Southwark’s first Black mayor (leading to death and arson threats against him from the National Front). Mae died in 1983; he married Myrtle Kirlew in late 1984.

After retiring from local politics in the mid 1980s, Mr King focussed on preserving the experiences of his generation. He founded the Windrush Foundation with Arthur Torrington in 1996 to highlight the contributions of Britain’s African and Caribbean communities, safeguard the memories of Britain’s first post-war settlers, and promote good community relations. He was perhaps best known for his campaigning to make the anniversary of the Empire Windrush’s arrival a holiday, and in the process becoming known as “Mr Windrush”. In 1998, Sam King received the MBE as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations for Windrush. He published his autobiography, Climbing Up the Rough Side of the Mountain, the same year. In 2009, a public vote awarded him a Southwark blue plaque which was installed during a ceremony at his long-time home at Warmington Road, Herne Hill, on 31 January 2010, and in May 2016, he received the freedom of the borough of Southwark.

Sam King MBE died on 17 June 2016, less than a week before the 68th anniversary of his arrival on the Empire Windrush: more than 500 people attended his funeral at Southwark Cathedral. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, paid tribute to Mr King, saying “[h]e educated Londoners with Caribbean food, Caribbean culture, Caribbean music. London is a better place, Britain is a better place, thanks to him and his family.”

On the 72nd anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush at Tilbury Dock, the people of Southwark are grateful for Sam King MBE: his love of his community, hard work and spirit of service and the sacrifices made by him and the whole of the Windrush generation.

Sources

The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists.; Class: BT26; Piece: 1237

Telegram concerning passengers on the Empire Windrush, 6 July 1948 (Catalogue ref: CO 876/88)

IWM FL9448 (Photo of HMT Empire Windrush)

Further reading

Pathé News Windrush feature, 1948

Windrush Foundation interview with Sam King

Windrush Stories from The British library

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

One of US? Windrush from the BBC

A special announcement for International Archives Day: The Crutchley Archive

By Patricia Dark, Archivist

Today one of Southwark’s collections, the Crutchley Archive, joins the UK Memory of the World Register. Here we’ll share the story behind it and explain a bit about how we help to preserve the history of the borough.

One of our early blog posts talks about what the archive holds, but it doesn’t necessarily tell you what an archive is. An “archive” can be one of two things: a building that holds historic records, or the historic records themselves.

So what are records? They’re documents someone – a person or organisation – creates over the course of time that put their opinions, decisions, and actions in writing. They’re different than books, magazines and other documents because their main purpose isn’t to communicate something into the future.

One way to think about it is that records are the memory of their creator: telling us not just when and where something happened, but how and why. They give us the information that lets us call people and organisations to account for their actions. This evidence value means we need to keep some records as long as we can – those are the records that archives collect.  

Obviously, archival records can get destroyed or damaged – if you think about how easy it is to chuck papers in the bin, or how creased and torn an old, much-read love letter can get, you’ll understand what we mean. If an archive’s importance isn’t obvious, it’s more likely to get damaged or destroyed. And that’s a tragedy, because archives are unique and irreplaceable: once they’re destroyed or unusable, the information in them is gone forever.

You may be familiar with “listed building” status or the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s World Heritage Site programme. These programmes aim to protect buildings by highlighting their architectural or historical value. There’s a similar UNESCO programme for archives – the Memory of the World Register. The international programme started in 1992, and a UK national programme in 2010.

Both registers highlight records, or collections of records, that are outstandingly important – they tell stories that help us understand and make sense of, the history of a region, the whole UK, or even the entire world. That recognition, like listed building status, helps protect the records. The international Memory of the World Register includes the personal papers of Sir Winston Churchill, George Orwell, and archaeologist Gertrude Bell, the Magna Carta, and the film The Battle of the Somme, which was shot during the early days of the battle. Some of the collections with national inscription are the Domesday Book, Michael Faraday’s notebooks, the London County Council’s Second World War bomb damage maps, Alfred Hitchcock’s silent films, and Royal Mail’s archive.

Today one of Southwark’s collections, the Crutchley Archive, joins the UK Memory of the World Register. The collection – a group of 15 volumes or parts of volumes – came to us in 2011 as a gift from Annie Crutchley. What we learned from her was that these records were from a dyeing business her husband’s ancestors ran in Clink Street in the 18th century. We could see that there were samples of cloth in many of the volumes, and also that the nearly 300 years between then and now weren’t very kind to these records: they’ve been damaged by pests, water, and mould.

To be honest, that’s about all we knew, until Dr Anita Quye visited us in June 2014, and made it very clear that these records were special. Anita, and her colleagues Drs Dominque Cardon and Jenny Balfour-Paul, have been researching the Crutchley family, their business, and their records since then.

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

Some of their research gives us more background. John Crutchley, the firm’s founder, was born in 1676 – his family were dyers, and he began as an apprentice to John Trimmer, a prominent dyer, in 1691. By 1710, he was a liveryman – a full member – of the Worshipful Company of Dyers, and he’d started his own company by 1718. Four of John’s sons – Thomas, William, Coleman, and Jeremiah – trained as dyers. John died in 1727 – you can see a memorial to him in Lee Old Churchyard in Lewisham – and Jeremiah took over the business. The 15 items in our collection document the period between 1716 and 1744, a time of explosive economic growth and radical intellectual development in the fledging United Kingdom that set the stage for the Industrial Revolution; the family firm, however, continued its work until the 19th century, eventually becoming major suppliers to the British East India Company.

Dyeing was a hugely important industry in this period – as well as being a cornerstone of fashion, dyed textiles were an important export. Modern synthetic dyes hadn’t been invented in the 18th century. Instead, dyers coloured cloth using natural dyes, often extracted from plants: essentially boiling cloth in a giant vat of herbal tea. A lot of dyeplants had to be imported, and finished cloth needed to be stretched and dried – so places within easy reach of water, wharves, and wide open spaces were ideal sites for dyehouses.

It may be hard for us to imagine today, but Bankside fit that bill perfectly. Southwark’s riverfront, especially between Blackfriars and St Mary Overy Dock, was a centre of the dye trade for decades – wills and contracts the Crutchley family still hold tell us the firm had premises in Deadman’s Place (the modern Park Street), and Clink Street near Borough Market, as well as in Maze Pond, where the modern buildings of Guy’s Hospital are today. All of these places are only a short walk from our searchroom – you can walk in the Crutchley family’s footsteps – but there are only a few traces of their Bankside left: names of streets and lead seals used to mark quality of cloth bales, which are a fairly frequent find on the Thames foreshore. These records push our window into this vanished industrial Bankside open wider.

In fact, they throw it wide open — the collection isn’t just special, it’s spectacular. The collection includes two cash books, three hardcover pattern books, five dye books, and four calculation books. Taken together, they give us a complete and well-rounded view of a contemporary textile business that few other collections – in the UK or abroad – can match.

The cash books tell us that the firm took orders from more than 140 named individuals (including one woman, which is rare) between 1721 and 1725, as well as the British East Indian, Dutch East Indian, and South Seas companies. A single order could cost the equivalent of £250,000 today.

The three hardbound pattern books are large, impressive volumes that cover a period from the spring of 1736 to the winter of 1744. Each entry in the books gives brief instructions on how to create a specific colour for a specific named person; each order is dated, and most have a small sample of finished dyed fabric attached. These may well have been used in a showroom or sales office, to entice buyers with the skill of Crutchley’s employees. The colours are still vivid after nearly 300 years; they range from the delicate pastel yellows, lilacs, and pinks we associate with period dramas, to bright oranges and yellows that wouldn’t look out of place in the 1980s.

All but one of the dye books are softcover, and their instructions are much more detailed – they cover a period between 1722 and 1732, although pasted-in inserts provide details of techniques going back to 1716. Many of these recipes have fabric samples attached: they tell us that the Crutchley firm specialised in red colours. These books also record some instructions in Flemish or Old Dutch, and again translated into English – this unique survival shows the firm’s specialists learning and adopting techniques from European colleagues.

It’s the four calculation books that give us perhaps the best view into the firm’s work, though. They don’t have samples – instead, they’re working technical manuals, giving details of agents and quantities to produce specific effects. One of the books has monogram marks that resemble the notations on lead cloth seals found in the Thames: they may well specify specific cloth as well. These books even have red stains on them, proving they were used in the dyehouse itself. As Anita notes, they’re as close as we can get to watching over the shoulder of a working Crutchley company dyer.

As you may be able to tell, we’re very excited about this collection. But you may be wondering why it’s so important – there are other collections of dyeing records all over the country, including ones with samples. These records, however, are single items or small groups of records that we can’t put into context well. The Crutchley collection, on the other hand, is firmly grounded to a specific time, place, and community; that means it’s an amazing source of information on the history of an important industry.

The Crutchley collection also records techniques that were, for the most part, lost with the discovery of synthetic dyes. The hundreds of samples in the collection provide an unmatched pool of research data for chemical analysis – not only to prove that the recipes produce what they say they do, but to compare to recipes, techniques, and samples from different time periods and parts of the world. Synthetic dyes can have huge negative impact on the environment and water access; the Crutchley collection can help find ways to improve historic natural dye techniques with modern science.

Most importantly, maybe, it ties Southwark’s present back into its past in an engaging, compelling way. The pattern books pull visitors to the searchroom in with their clear Georgian handwriting and vivid colours – they’re just that enthralling. Combined with the right maps, you can use them to follow the traces of Bankside’s colourful past beyond the hundreds of years of change and development to the dyers and their vats. The collection has something to offer almost anyone – it touches chemistry, history, economics, trade, international relations, textiles, fashion, even botany. Modern Southwark is justly proud of its creative industries, not least its small fashion enterprises. We look forward to introducing designers, artists, and craftspeople looking for inspiration and collaboration to their colleagues of nearly 300 years ago.

Any effort this big is a team one, and we need to thank many people. First and foremost is the Crutchley family, whose care kept the collection safe, and Annie Crutchley, who generously donated it. Lisa Moss, our former Archive Officer, liaised with our academic colleagues and successfully applied to the National Manuscript Conservation Trust for assistance with conserving the collection: without her hard work, we wouldn’t be celebrating. Anita Quye, Dominque Cardon, and Jenny Balfour-Paul have been researching the collection since 2016 – without their efforts, it would still be a colourful curiosity in a box in our collection store. Ian Mackintosh, the archivist at the Worshipful Company of Dyers, generously assisted with research. Nell Hoare has provided support and advice on conservation. The National Manuscripts Cataloguing Trust provided financial support for conservation work; Textile Conservation Foundation and the Worshipful Company of Dyers provided research funding.

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. 

 

VE Day gallery

by Patricia Dark, Archivist

daniels road victory party 1945
Daniels Road, Nunhead

By May 8, 1945, the UK had been at war for more than five and a half years. In that time, life had been turned upside down, in big and small ways.

London lost almost 30,000 of its residents and a third of its buildings to bombing during the Second World War; more than 50,000 other Londoners had been injured. Here in Southwark, nearly 2,000 people were killed, and thousands of homes destroyed. Almost every family in London would have members missing – perhaps killed, away on active service, or evacuated to a safer area, maybe years before.

Years of rationing made food time-consuming to get, sometimes scarce, and often monotonous. Everything from clothes to toys to furniture had to be mended rather than thrown away, made to make do as long as it possibly could.

But with the surrender of German forces, the threat of enemy attack lifted, and while, in the words of American president Harry S. Truman, it was “a victory only half won”, it meant that the end of the entire war was in sight.

London reacted by throwing a party. In central London, the crowd gathered at Trafalgar Square reached all the way up the Mall to Buckingham Palace – where King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill appeared on the balcony — singing, dancing, and rejoicing until late into the night; Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret slipped into the throng to join the celebration.

In the residential streets of Southwark, the festivities were more low-key: flags and bunting – either carefully saved from before the war or creatively produced from anything to hand – decorated homes and streets; families or whole streets pooled rations to provide sweet treats for their youngest members, who’d lost so much of their childhoods to war.

As you might expect, such a party was an occasion to bring out the camera! We hold pictures from a number of street parties at Southwark Local History Library and Archive: some of them are below. If you recognise anyone in these pictures, would like to use any of these images, or have a photo you think we would be interested in, please get in touch with us at lhlibrary@southwark.gov.uk.

Kirby Estate Victory Party PB2341

This image, our reference PB2341, shows residents of the Kirby Estate in Bermondsey during the children’s street party they threw to celebrate the peace.

Ve day party Southwark Park Road Bermondsy

Southwark Park Road Bermondsey

Victory Party 1945 (C Block Plough Way estate) - Aunt and Uncle in window, Ted one of kids below

This is the victory party C Block of the Plough Way Estate in Rotherhithe threw.

Chadwick Road, Peckham

Chadwick Road, Peckham

WW2 victory party - Chesterfield Grove, East Dulwich (P21566)

Chesterfield Grove in East Dulwich also threw a street party for the children: this picture is our reference P21566.

P21732 VE Party Pyrotechnists Arms Nunhead

The Pyrotechnist’s Arms pub on Nunhead Green staged fundraising concerts throughout the war, so maybe it’s no surprise that they threw a party for VE Day!

P21543 VE Day Party Buchan Road Nunhead

This is our image reference P21543, showing a VE Day party thrown by residents of Buchan Road, Nunhead. This photo and others in our collection suggest that local photographers helped capture memories of these celebrations.

P21524 Victory Party Nutfield Road Dulwich

Many victory parties took the form of street parties: residents set up trestle tables and made treats to share. This party was in Nuffield Road, Dulwich: the photo is our reference P21524.

Gurney St VE Day party P20715 cropped

This VE Day street party was in Gurney Street, Walworth. Mrs. Baker is at the end of the table in the foreground;  Mrs. Willis is in the background at right. Gurney Street was later demolished as part of the development of the Heygate Estate.

P16265 Evacuees returning to Oliver Goldsmith School from Dorset Jun 1945

Evacuees returning to Oliver Goldsmith School from Dorset Jun 1945 (P16265)

The Home Front

The following images from Southwark Local History Library and Archive show aspects of life during the Second World War. Digging for victory, fundraising events and parties for evacuees all helped to boost Southwark’s morale.

P17264 Southwark Central students gardening with Chair of LCC

Southwark Central students gardening with Chair of London County Council (P17264)

P21581 Walworth Home Guard Braganza St 1942

Walworth Home Guard, Braganza Street, 1942 (P21581)

P21731 Concert Pyrotechnists Arms War Weapons Week 1943

Concert at the Pyrotechnists’ Arms, Nunhead in aid of  War Weapons Week, 1943 (P21731)

P22222 War Wings Week collection Rye Lane c1942

War Wings Week collection, Rye Lane, Peckham c.1942 (P22222)

PB2095 MBB Evacuees tea party Worthing Jan 1940

Tea party for evacuees from the Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey, Worthing, January 1940 (PB2095)

PB2096 Worthing and MBB mayors at evacuees tea party Jan 1940

Tea party for evacuees from the Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey, Worthing, January 1940 (PB2096)

WW2 - Concert at Pyrotechnists Arms, Nunhead Green in aid of RAF Benevolent Fund c1942 (P21730)

Concert at Pyrotechnists’ Arms, Nunhead in aid of the RAF Benevolent Fund, c. 1942 (P21730)

 

 

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

613PEC 20 P-W-KF-1613PEC 20 P-W-KF-1A613PEC 20 P-W-KF-1B

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

613PEC 20 P-W-KF-4G613PEC 20 P-W-KF-4F613PEC 20 P-W-KF-4E613PEC 20 P-W-KF-4D613PEC 20 P-W-KF-4C613PEC 20 P-W-KF-4B613PEC 20 P-W-KF-4a613PEC 20 P-W-KF-4

Post-war keeping fit to music

613PEC 20 P-W-KF-2613PEC 20 P-W-KF-2A613PEC 20 P-W-KF-3613PEC 20 P-W-KF-3A

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

613PEC 20 P-W-KF-5A613PEC 20 P-W-KF-5

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