Archive Volunteer Diaries: Everything in its Right Place

Back once again, it’s me Jennifer, here to talk about my volunteer work at the Southwark Local History Library and Archive (SLHLA).

One of the many reasons that I enjoy working in archives is that it appeals to my sense of order and organisation! In this post, I’m going to home in on one of the goals for my Press Cuttings Cull project, which I introduced in the last edition of this series, and that is reconciliation. Basically, this means that I’m keeping a careful eye on the contents of each folder as I sort through them, to make sure that the right articles are filed away in the right place.

When you open one of our filing cabinet drawers full of press cuttings, you’ll see that there are lots of different headings for each of the folders. It may seem random, but everything is classified using the Dewey Decimal System, same as libraries. So if you’re looking for a particular topic related to Southwark’s local history, you can start your search at one of our handy subject guides, which will tell you the number under which your topic has been filed.

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There are SO MANY fascinating topics (that Ghosts folder was a fun read!)

I like to put myself in the shoes of a careful local history researcher who has come to SLHLA to uncover a key piece of information on their favourite topic, say Christ Church on Blackfriars Road. What if the one key piece of information that this researcher is hunting for has instead been filed in the folder for Christ Church, Bermondsey? Maybe another researcher was looking at both folders and the bits and pieces got mixed up, for example. Or what if a researcher wants information on one particular St Mary’s church, when there are lots of different St Mary’s around the borough?

I read through each press clipping to confirm that it is indeed the correct location, and if it needs to be moved, I pull out the other appropriate folder, and refile it there. That way, our researchers can know that when they grab a folder on their topic, that it has been checked to ensure it contains the correct info that they need.

Delightful Discoveries

Speaking of that Ghosts folder that I mentioned above, here are some of my favourite discoveries from those press clippings. Did you know that there were two reported poltergeists in Peckham? This spooky story describes how, in the late 1950’s through to the early 1960’s, a ghost appeared at a home in Peckham around Easter each year, “a greyish, fluorescent column of vibrating lights about as tall as a man.” And this ghost would light fires in around the home, or snatch objects from the homeowners’ hands.

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In another article, dating from 2002, reporters tell the story of the Peek Freans ghosts: production lines in the biscuit factory stopped running in the 1980’s, but “lights and machinery frequently turn themselves on and off for no reason.”

And lots more good ghost stories in this “Ghost Hunter of Camberwell” article from 2014.

Letters from Ernie: Private Ernest Parker of Rotherhithe in the First World War

By Jennifer Jamieson, Archives Volunteer
With thanks to Lisa Moss, Archives Officer

“Just a line to let you know I am going on alright. Hope you and all at home are the same.”

In 2014 the letters of Ernest Parker of Rotherhithe were donated by his family in digital form to Southwark Local History Library and Archive. Ernest Parker was born in 1893 to Thomas and Sarah Parker. It is likely that he left school aged 11 in 1904 after the death of his father and worked as a clerk for a produce packer.

Private Ernest Parker joined the British forces during the First World War, and embarked for Salonika in November 1916. He sent numerous letters back to his family on Hawkestone Road in Rotherhithe during his time in Greece, offering descriptions of the conditions that he was encountering, his hopes for a safe return home, and always, caring enquiries as to his many other family members (he was one of 8 children!) His notes were always signed affectionately using his nickname “Ernie.” Unfortunately, just as the hostilities had ceased and his return home was within reach, he was admitted to the military hospital with pneumonia and did not recover from the ailment, dying there on the 4th of February 1919. Right until the end, he was finding ways to send his affectionate best wishes back to his family, even asking one of the hospital nurses to write his final letter home.

Southwark Local History Library and Archive has many of these letters and Ernest’s Territorial Force identification card, showing that he was appointed to the Durham Light Infantry during the war.Ernest Parker’s Territorial Force identification card

At Christmas, Ernie sent his greetings back to his family, including this card that was addressed to his sister Ada, and an embroidered card for his Mum, Sarah Louise Parker.

Christmas Card from Salonika

Embroidered Chrismas Card "To my der mother"

Reporting back to his sister Beatrice (whom he called “Beat”) in December 1917, Ernie described his own Christmas season in Salonika, telling her “Well how did you spend your Christmas. We had a decent time here, turkey, Christmas pudding and a pint for dinner. The weather has been rotten here lately, raining nearly every day, up to your eyes in mud…”Letter to Beatrice 27 December 1917

In a letter to his Mum dated August 8, 1918, Ernie described his outlook, that he was soon “going to get leave, well I am in hopes getting it within the next few months or years. I am not sure which.” Yet a month later, in a letter dated September 14, 1918, he reported back to his Mum that “Well I thought we should stand a chance of getting a leave this year but what I see of it now I don’t think it will come off.”

But then another turnaround a few months later, as he wrote to his Mum on November 8, 1918 (image below), “As you say, we have been having some grand news lately. I don’t think it will be long now before it is finished. I don’t think it will be long now before we get home.”Letter from Ernerst to his mother 8 November 1918

He wasn’t able to get home for Christmas that year, but in January 2019, reported back to his Mum that his return home was within reach, save for a few bureaucratic details: “they have started demobilising from here and it is only by a bit of rotten luck that I am not away already. I received a letter from the firm saying that my job was still open but it was not stamped by the Local Advisory Committee at home and that is where the delay is coming in. A couple of chaps received the letters stamped and they were away a few days after. Some of the men over forty one are going home tomorrow.”

Around the same time, on January 21, 1919, he sent a letter to his older brother Tom, who was himself fighting in the First World War, showing that he was happily anticipating his return home: “Well old sport I think this about all I have to tell you now so hoping to see you shortly and wishing you the best of luck. I remain your affectionate brother, Ernie.”Letter to Tom, 21 January 1919

Unfortunately, the documents in our collections then show that for all of Ernie’s hope, optimism and readiness to return, he encountered  even more rotten luck shortly after these letters to his Mum and brother were written. His Mum received a letter written on February 2, 1919, at the military hospital in Greece, reporting that Ernie had caught pneumonia and that “he is very ill, he is getting all the care and attention possible.”Letter 2 February 1919 from Milieary Hospital in Salonika

But worse news was yet to come. On February 6, 2019, the hospital Chaplain sent Ernie’s Mum the unfortunate news that her son had died a few days earlier. In this letter, the Chaplain described how Ernie had shared his fondness for his family up until the end: “He spoke very affectionately of you all, and said he would love to get home. I did not like to tell him I thought he would die, for I did not want to depress him for fear it might go against any chance of recovery. I am greatly grieved about his death. For I had formed a very good opinion of him.”

Ernie had also made an impression on the hospital’s Sister-in-Charge, who also shared her fond words in a letter to his Mum on February 6, 2019: “I asked him the day before he died if he had been writing home, and he said “Yes”, so I said as he was not able to write himself, I would do it for him, And he was pleased, and said to tell you that he was “getting on all right” and to give you and his sisters his love. He was a good patient, always smiling till the last and was conscious right up till an hour or so before he died, which was just before midnight.”Letter from the hospital’s Sister-in-Charge 2 February 1919Blog 9

Ernest “Ernie” Parker received British War and Victory Medals and he was buried at the British Military Cemetery at Mikra, Thessaloniki, Greece “with full military honours”.

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Photo courtesy of Janis Birchall.

 

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

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

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

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

Delightful Discoveries

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

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

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

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

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Southwark and the Mayflower Part 5: Borough

The area around Borough High Street was the focus of the Pilgrim church in London. The first Brownist church met near Long Lane to the east of the High Street, and there is evidence that the second church, administered by Henry Jacob (1616-22), was in the parishes of St Olave and St Saviour around London Bridge. The third church, of Henry Jessey, seems to have formed around St George the Martyr and in Bankside, to the west. The Borough was also the site of prisons where pilgrims were incarcerated in response to their demands for freedom of speech and assembly.

Southwark Cathedral

The cathedral’s origins are in the Priory Church of St Mary Overie, built in 862 AD. The priory became the parish church of St Saviour, and in 1905 was designated a cathedral. The Pilgrim church of Henry Jacob had members who worshipped at St Saviour (as well as in their gathered church) and in 1604, when Jacob was in prison in the Clink, a Mr Philips bravely manifested sympathy with his views in the sermons he preached here. In the north transept is the Harvard chapel, dedicated to John Harvard the Puritan, pilgrim and benefactor of Harvard University. Delftware pottery dating back to 1612 has been found In the Chapter House, providing a connection to the Dutch puritan community. The new North Entrance doors, by Wendy Ramshaw were designed around the theme of pilgrimage.

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Southwark Cathedral in 1813, when it was still St Saviour’s Church

The George Inn

This Borough High Street pub was in existence at the time of the Pilgrims and may have been used by them, (there was no temperance movement in the 17th Century). It is the only galleried pub left in London and is mentioned in the writings of Charles Dickens. Nearby are the sites of The White Hart Inn, (mentioned by both Shakespeare and Dickens), The Tabard Inn, (later the Talbot Inn) where Chaucer’s pilgrims met before setting out, and the Queen’s Head Inn, owned by the family of John Harvard.

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The George Inn in 1889

Angel Place

This alleyway, connecting Borough High Street to Tennis Street, was the address of the King’s Bench Prison, from where John Penry sent a letter in 1593, advising his followers to consider emigration. It also contains the remains of the second Marshalsea Prison, referred to in Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit. The original Marshalsea Prison, where members of the Pilgrim Church were held stood 130 yards north of this point from 1373 until 1811. Adjacent to the alley is the John Harvard Library (also containing Southwark’s Local History Library and Archives) which bears a plaque in Harvard’s memory.

St George the Martyr Church and St George’s Garden

On the other side of Angel Place is the former churchyard of St George the Martyr Church, bounded by the Marshalsea Prison Wall. Henry Jessey was rector here, and in 1637 became pastor of the Pilgrims’ ‘gathered church,’ preaching at St George’s on Sunday morning and at the gathered church in the evening. Jessey is most well-known for his work with the Jewish community. An enthusiastic student of Hebrew, he used to correspond with Rabbi Mannaseh ben Israel in Amsterdam. Jessey successfully campaigned for the readmission of Jews to Britain and for the foundation of a college of Jewish studies.

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Plan of the area around St George the Martyr Church from Goad insurance map, 1887

 

Southwark and the Mayflower Part 2: Bermondsey

In the 17th century Bermondsey was home to a significant community of Nonconformists – Christians who wanted freedom from the established church in England. This movement is strongly bound to the story of the Mayflower, which we introduced in part 1. Some of Bermondsey’s more unusual street names are clues to this aspect of its past.

Potters Fields and Pickle Herring Street

Potters Fields is so called because of the Dutch potters who came to work here having fled religious persecution in Holland. It was the site of the earliest Delftware kilns in England, established around 1618 and the area became famous for producing a particular variety of Delftware called ‘Pickle Herring pottery’. The theory that the Dutch fondness for pickled herring gave the street and the nearby river stairs their name is unfounded. The precise origin is not known, but is much older.

Just as the Pilgrim church in Bankside was inspired by the Dutch merchant community across the river in Aldgate, so the Baptist, Brownist and Quaker meeting-houses in this area were probably inspired by the Dutch pottery community. As a further symbol of this connection, the Mayflower went on to join the Speedwell, which was hired in Holland, on its voyage to America.

St Saviour & St Olave Grammar School (now Lalit Hotel), Tooley Street

St Saviour’s School was founded in 1562. One of its pupils was Southwark’s most famous Puritan pilgrims to America, John Harvard. St Olave’s School was founded in 1571. This building dates from the late 19th century when the two schools merged, but it incorporates some architectural features that show a Nonconformist interest in science and philosophy, including Isaac Newton. Much of the building remains in its original state, with the headmaster’s study intact and the guest rooms being referred to as ‘classrooms’.

Robert Browne founder of the Pilgrim (Brownist) Church was the headmaster of St Olave’s from 1586 to 1589. Browne has been hailed as the ‘Father of the Pilgrim Fathers’ but the Brownists disowned him after he defected. His other title – the ‘Father of the first independent church in England’ – has held up better. The manuscripts signed by Robert Browne, binding him to good behaviour while he is headmaster can be viewed at Southwark Local History Library and Archive.

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The original St Olave’s School, where Robert Browne, ‘Father of the Pilgrim Fathers’ was headmaster

Janeway Street 

James Janeway was a charismatic Puritan minister and renowned author. A congregation of up to two thousand came to attend his services at the Jamaica Barn in Cherry Garden Street, mainly form the neighbouring parish of Rotherhithe. He was succeeded by another celebrated minister, Thomas Rosewell, who was found guilty of treason, allegedly for delivering a sermon that was highly critical of the King and his religion. In the 19th century the church had for its Pastor the Reverend John Farren, father of Eveline Lowe, who was one of Britain’s leading educationalists and the first woman to be in charge of London as Leader of the London County Council.

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James Janeway, Puritan minister of Bermondsey

Fountain Green Square

This is one of two locations where the Mayflower is likely to have been broken up at the end of its life. The other being Surrey Lock in Rotherhithe.

Next Week: Rotherhithe

Southwark and the Mayflower Part 1: Bankside

From November 2019 the London Borough of Southwark will be involved in a year-long commemoration marking the 400th anniversary of the voyage of the Mayflower. This ship sailed from England to America in 1620 carrying a range of passengers, some of whom were English puritans fleeing religious persecution. As well as being a touchstone of American history, this story resonates with contemporary themes of migration, tolerance and religious freedom.

If you walk around the northern part of this borough you will encounter numerous buildings, names and locations that are connected to the Mayflower story. Historian Graham Taylor has thoroughly researched and mapped all of these links and we will be sharing his findings with you in the coming weeks as we start the countdown to Mayflower 400.

Clink Street

Clink Street used to be part of the Bishop of Winchester’s Palace and the preserved remains of the palace’s Great Hall are still to be seen. The Clink Prison, dating back to 1144, was also part of the Palace. Several prominent members of the Brownist movement (followers of Puritan church leader Robert Browne) were imprisoned here for their beliefs. These included John Greenwood, Henry Borrowe, Francis Johnson and Henry Jacob. It was Jacob whose reformed church in Southwark was so crucial in facilitating the voyage of the Mayflower.

In 1961 the US Consul General, Donald Smith, unveiled a Plaque of Remembrance at Clink Street. The inscription read:

Fifty yards eastwards of this spot there stood the Clink Prison where in the years 1576 to 1593 JOHN GREENWOOD and HENRY BORROWE founded a church (today the Pilgrim Fathers Memorial Church) from those imprisoned for refusal to obey the Act of Uniformity of Worship. They, with John Penry, a member of the Church, were Martyred for Religious Liberty. Francis Johnson was the first Minister. This Church helped to secure the sailing of the Mayflower in 1620 and a number of its members were among the ship’s company. ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty’.

This memorial was the gift of Americans in London, some of whom were descendants of the Mayflower Pilgrims.

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The remains of Winchester Palace, Clink Street, c.1800. Today visitors can still see the  remaining walls of the Great Hall, including a magnificent rose window.

Deadman’s Place, Thrale Street

This was the site of Southwark’s Pilgrim Church from around 1640 to 1788. It consisted of a meeting-house and burial-ground just south of Park Street and adjacent to the original Globe Theatre. Here was buried Alexander Cruden, author of the Bible Concordance, useful ever since to Christians of all denominations. This Pilgrim church, stood in the premises later occupied by Barclay’s Brewery. It was included in Southwark Council’s 1970 Pilgrim Trail, and at present the remains lie under the Southwark Bridge car park in Thrale Street.

The Anchor Tavern

This pub is a surviving remnant of the huge Barclay Perkins Brewery, which covered the area from the Thames down to Southwark Street. In 1781 Robert Barclay bought the Anchor brewery for £135,000 from the Thrale family. The Barclays were themselves Nonconformists and the surviving Pilgrim Church therefore flourished in the cooperage of the Barclay Brewery.

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The Barclay Perkins Brewery, 1841

The Globe Theatre

In Park Street there is a plaque marking the site of the original Globe Theatre, built in 1599 by William Shakespeare’s playing company. This plaque was formerly on the wall of the Barclay brewery and close to the Pilgrim Church.  Shakespeare was clearly aware of the Brownist Pilgrims and undertakings across the Atlantic. In Twelfth Night one of his characters. Andrew Aguecheek says, “I had as lief be a Brownist as a politician.”

The Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare’s patron, was active in the Virginia Company  (a joint-stock company that established settlements on the coast of North America). An account was sent to the company when one of their ships bound for Bermuda was dramatically wrecked. This text clearly influenced Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, and probably King Lear.

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Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, near Park Street, c.1600

 

Next week: Bermondsey

 

Decolonising the Archive presents WIndrush Time Capsule at the Africa Centre

Decolonising The Archive (DTA) is an arts and heritage organisation dedicated to preserving and sharing the stories of the African diaspora in innovative ways. They research and present multidisciplinary programmes with the aim of stimulating public engagement with the past in order to affect the future.

Throughout 2018, DTA has been enjoying a residency at The Africa Centre in Southwark. Developing projects in a space which is proud of its past, yet passionate about the future has been a fantastic fit for their work, supporting DTA to push boundaries with programmes that have touched on everything from Dogon cosmology and Dancehall to Afrofuturism.

For Black History Month DTA will be presenting a play developed as a unique response to this year’s Windrush scandal. Focusing on the present and future legacies of the Windrush Generation. Playwright Connie Bella’s ‘Windrush Time Capsule’ draws on original archival sources to create a timely piece addressing the strong private and public reactions to this moment in history. In keeping with the themes of past and future, the play also provides a platform for promising young African and diaspora talent. The play is staged in collaboration with the promising young Director David Gilbert (S&K Project) and the fantastically creative Stage Designer Kaajel Patel. Part of the project will see a time-line installation exhibited in Canada Water Theatre and Library which will be freely accessible to the public. The installation will be accompanied by a learning resource aimed at learners from key stage 2 upwards.

The Windrush Time Capsule will be performed at the Africa Centre on Friday 26th October and Saturday 27th October. The associated installation will open for preview on Thursday 8th November and will be accessible until Thursday 29th November.

Sculptures by George ‘Fowokan’ Kelly

Q & A with playwright Connie Bella

How did George ‘Fowokan’ Kelly’s sculpture ‘Mitochondrial Eve’ inspire the play?

CB: In the field of Genetics, the Mitochondrial Eve is the most recent woman from whom all living humans descend in an unbroken line purely through their mothers, and through the mothers of those mothers, back until all lines converge on one woman. The artist George ‘Fowokan’ Kelly was inspired to sculpt a piece representing this and for me, his sculpture embraces the concepts of Mother, of memory and the forming of history through the feminine. Aspects of the play explore characteristics like nurturing, organizing and protecting which I believe this original female would need to have in order to secure a future for her lineage.

Fowokan is an avid collector of material relating to the UK black art scene among other things. Is this why you see him as a living archive?

CB: Although his collection of material is vast, I would say that Fowokan is an archive due to the experience he has amassed during the course of his life. He has travelled extensively and has had the opportunity to meet and learn from some extremely interesting and influential people. He is a self-taught artist, and for me, the process of teaching yourself anything preserves valuable information inside you which it is important to document and share.

You mentioned that Windrush Time Capsule is S+K’s launch production for Southwark. Will they be doing more in the area?

CB: Yes, this is their first production south of the Thames as most of their work is usually shared in North London. I know they are currently in talks for some exciting projects in Southwark next year so watch this space!

How can history, memory and community contribute to regeneration in Southwark?

CB: Southwark has a very rich history and over the years has become a very diverse community. I think times are very tough for many people in the UK as a whole, and especially in London as prices continue to rise and milestones like owning a property which used to be attainable are now out of reach for many. For me, it is an important time to be working with memory and history, reflecting on the past in the borough and beyond and remembering our tribulations and our triumphs. I think history has the power to enable us to consider situations in different ways and help develop solutions to the issues we face. Regeneration is not just the preserve of planning departments, it can apply to our mental outlook too.

Celebrating Vote 100: Suffragists in the Southwark Art Collection

By Curator Judy Aitken

On 6 February 1918 the British Parliament passed the Representation of the People Act by an overwhelming majority of the House of Commons (385 for and 55 against). This Act was one of the major milestones of a long and sometimes violent struggle for representation.

Wealth and class have had an impact for centuries on the right to voice opinion and, in formal democracies, to vote and, indeed, to be elected to represent people. Until the 20th century your right to vote depended on your social class and your gender.  In 1884 the right to vote was extended from 30% to 60% of all adult men, based on property and other rights.  It brought many more men from poorer backgrounds into the democratic voting pool. But women’s voting rights continued to be severely restricted.

The Municipal Franchise Act of 1869 gave some single women the right to vote in local elections only – and for this they had to qualify by living in a rated property and having paid rates for a year. Married women were specifically barred from voting, as they were considered femmes couvertes. The Local Government Act 1894 confirmed single women ratepayers the right to vote in local elections, and extended it to married women ratepayers, except a husband and wife could not both qualify to vote through residence at a single property. Where both were qualified, the man got the vote.

That is not to say women were not part of the political scene or campaigning social life.  Women actively took part in or drove many social reforms and improvements during the 19th century and early 20th century. But the one perhaps most contentious was the women’s right to vote, known as Women’s Suffrage.  The history of this campaign is long and full of both peaceful and forceful action on both sides, from campaigning women, from men supporters of the campaign and from those who resisted the demands. The women, above all, suffered a great deal as a result of harassment, attack, imprisonment and state-sponsored repression, with their treatment in prison little different from outright torture.

The violence lessened during the First World War, as everyone focussed on the war effort and women became more and more involved in occupations and responsibilities on the home front which had previously been only for men.  The war in effect gave women the chance to demonstrate to detractors that women could play a vital role in society beyond domestic life.

The passing of the Representation of the People Act is often seen as a “reward” to women for their contributions during the war.  It was certainly a little surprising given the massive resistance up to 1914.  However many people now think this takes away from the role of the suffragists and the result owed more to their effort and sacrifices than simply to a benevolent gift.

In truth the Act was only one of many needed to bring women into full political involvement.  The 1918 Act gave the vote only to women of property over 30 years old. About 22% of adult women over 30 did not have any property and could not vote.  In contract the Act increased the male vote to all men over the age of 21 (or 19 if the man had been on active service in the armed forces). However compromised the victory was hard won and was a huge step forward.

Southwark had its own organisations and campaigning heroes.  The United Suffrage Women’s Club opened at 92 Borough Road in November 1914 and continued to campaign during the war.  You can read more on this blog written by contributor Johnl.

Southwark’s archive and museum collections have only a small amount of suffrage related material. However, the borough’s art collection, formerly at the South London Gallery and managed by Southwark Council, also has several artworks by significant campaigners for women’s suffrage including Bertha Newcombe and Charlotte Elisabeth Babb.

Bertha Newcombe (1857-1947) attended the Slade School of Art in 1876. It is believed that she was one of the first women artist to train at the school. Following her successful arts training, Newcombe was a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Academy, Fine Art Society, Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, and Society of Women Artists, among other esteemed exhibiting societies. In 1888 she became a member of the New English Art Club.

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The Goatherd by Bertha Newcombe (1857 – 1947)

Newcombe was highly influenced by the artist Stanhope Forbes (1857-1947) and also by other artists associated with the Newlyn School. She was romantically involved with the playwright George Bernard Shaw and painted a series of portrait studies of him in her studio at 1 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, in the spring of 1882.

Newcombe was a strong advocate for women’s rights, in particular their right to suffrage. She became a member of The Society of Women Artists, The Society of Lady Artists and The Artists Suffrage League; a collective of female artists who produced artworks and posters for the ‘Votes for Women’ campaign.

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Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow by Charlotte Elizabeth Babb (1830 – 1907)

Charlotte Elizabeth Babb (born Peckham 1830, d. 1906) was a female artist and sister to John Staines Babb, a mid nineteenth century decorative painter who is also represented by the Southwark Art Collection. Babb spent much of her career campaigning for equal rights for women, in particular their right to suffrage. In 1859 Babb started campaigning for the admission of female students to the Royal Academy schools and resulted in her own admission in 1861. Babb was among the first female students at the Royal Academy Schools. Throughout her career Babb exhibited widely with arts societies including the Royal Society of British Artists, the British Institution and the Society of Women Artists, among many others. She was a frequent exhibitor at the Dudley Galleries from 1862.

Babb produced oil paintings and watercolours in a typical Pre-Raphaelite mode and with a strong emphasis on female figures and associated subjects (such as the Annunciation and story of Saint Cecilia). Babb was also associated with the decorative Arts and Crafts movement through established figures such as ceramic pioneer William de Morgan. Babb’s fairly accomplished yet loosely Pre-Raphaelite style enabled her to migrate over the more stylised Aesthetic Movement will relative ease. It was within this more decorative art territory where Babb produced large commercial paintings directly onto ceramic tiles (which were made by Minton).

Babb exhibited works at the Walker Art Gallery (Liverpool) Manchester City Art Gallery (1881) and also the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, USA (1893). Her paintings and drawings remain mostly in private collections. The Southwark Art Collection holds the only known publicly owned oil painting by her.

To find out more about the Vote100 commemorations taking place during 2018 visit the Vote100 project pages.

In addition as part of their regular talks series, Southwark Cathedral is having a day of talks devoted to women’s history on Saturday 24 March 2018.

Southwark’s Public Health Pioneers part 2: The Peckham Experiment

In part 1 of this post Southwark’s Archivist, Patricia Dark discussed the state of the borough’s health in the interwar period and introduced the work of Bermondsey’s public health pioneers. In part 2 we’ll discover what was going on at that time in the south of the borough.

Peckham had its own Pioneer – the Pioneer Health Centre, better known as the Peckham Experiment. It was the brainchild of two doctors, George Scott Williamson and Innes Pearce. Both were essentially academic physicians, and the Experiment grew out of their work on thyroid disease in the early part of the 20th century. For Williamson, “health” was something that existed separate from and in opposition to illness – understanding what it was and how to maximise it was simply impossible only studying pathology. Pearce’s work in an infant welfare centre in Stepney convinced her that any study of health – and any grassroots effort to improve health – had to be informed by, and grounded in, the family.

The initial phase of the Experiment began in 1926, in a house in Queen’s Road, Peckham: Pearce and Williamson worked with a group of birth control campaigners to measure whether access to health information would usefully empower people to improve their and their families’ health. It was a private members’ club, where – uniquely – the basic unit of membership was the family, not the individual. Members had access to medical workups, pre and postnatal care, and other specialist clinics, as well as a children’s nursery, space to socialize, and advice and help with other problems.

This initial phase ended in 1930, as it became clear that health information wasn’t enough to make people healthy – they had to have access to healthy, health-promoting environments. While the experiment could not reach into individual homes, it could influence members’ free time. Fundraising and design for a place where members could meet their physical, social, and mental health needs began, and the new centre opened in 1936.

The new centre operated on the same lines as the old – a private members’ club, whose basic unit of membership was the family; “family” including the partners of adult children, as Pearce and Williamson viewed premarital counselling as a crucial part of the process of creating a new family. The fee was a shilling a week per family and an annual health overhaul for each family member.

The health overhaul was crucial, both to collect data for the experiment and to inform and empower users. Centre staff took a detailed medical history, physical examination, and a full set of laboratory tests, before a one-on-one consultation; a member of medical staff explained the results and provided information on any appropriate diagnoses and potential treatments. However, although the Pioneer offered referrals, it didn’t treat members; autonomy of the individual over their own life was both a paramount value of the staff and a cornerstone of the experimental design. Someone who did not want to seek treatment for a problem – or who had a problem for which there was no current treatment – would receive information and support to help live with it.

The health centre’s building was built between 1933 and 1935 by Sir Evan Owan Williams, the engineer famed for Manchester’s Daily Express building. It was built using modern structural techniques which allowed a maximal amount of open space; for the most part, the centre was open-plan. This allowed families to separate and engage in different activities, while (for instance) parents could still monitor their children without hovering – it also allowed staff to unobtrusively observe members. As the experiment progressed, however, the open-plan design helped create a community – one where adults supervised, guided, and admonished any child, and children could interact and learn from a much wider and more varied group of adults than their own nuclear families.

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The new centre in St Mary’s Road

The heart of the building was a swimming pool with a glazed roof. The centre’s café was to the side of the pool, separated from it by a wall with lots of windows. This gave mothers a place to chat – and provide informal support to each other – while keeping an eye on their children. There was also a gymnasium with a variety of apparatus: these were the two most appealing places for children in the building, but on opening they were allowed to use neither unsupervised – and their resulting frustration caused havoc in the newly-opened building. One member of staff, Lucy Crocker, discovered the solution – to allow children unsupervised use of these treasured places, provided they obtained signed permission from a staff member who was familiar with their abilities. This gave the researchers a chance to view them in their natural environment, as it were – they found that, not only did older children tend to watch out for younger ones, but more surprisingly, most children quickly found their own level of skill, and instinctively acted so they wouldn’t hurt themselves.

While sports and physical activities were a key part of the centre’s offering, it also offered space for reading and study, including a library, and space for a variety of classes and cultural opportunities. Crucially, staff did not plan and organise classes – that was the sole responsibility of members. However, staff would find space, tools, and materials for any group of members who wanted to learn, teach, or practice a skill, run an event, or hold a class. The one iron-clad rule was that nobody could claim space in the building for their private or group use without getting consent from other members.

To us, the Pioneer Health Centre seems like a bigger brother to a leisure centre: members could join exercise classes, or competitive leagues in sports and games like badminton, darts, and snooker. But the reality was that for many member families, the centre became an extension of their own homes: a place to hold parties, entertain friends, and even find a spouse! Knowledge and skills were passed between families and generations: fathers often used woodworking classes and clubs to make Christmas presents or hone DIY skills, and there were a variety of sewing circles to help new mothers clothe their babies as cost-effectively as possible – sharing child-rearing advice in the process.

The Centre’s heyday was the decade before the Second World War. Concerned at member families’ lack of access to high-quality nourishing food, the centre bought a farm in Bromley. Its small dairy herd, poultry farm, and arable fields provided organic milk, eggs, and produce at affordable prices: Williamson and Pearce were founder-members of the Soil Association. The farm also provided a place for members to work in the open, and space for camping. The centre also ran a school that attempted to apply the egalitarian, autonomous philosophy of the centre into practice in the realm of education.

However, the outbreak of war – and especially the beginning of the Blitz toward the end of 1940 – brought the centre’s life to a screeching halt. The farm was requisitioned by the RAF, and the centre was closed, as the very glass-heavy construction was both dangerous during an air-raid and difficult to black out. Although it reopened at the end of the war in 1945, it closed again, permanently, in 1950. Partly, this was due to financial problems – Peckham had been heavily bombed, and the building was in dire need of repair and equipment, leaving little money to run activities or recruit staff. Changes in the local population also didn’t help: Peckham had been heavily bombed, and the resulting displacement meant that many long-standing, active member families no longer lived in the area, while the population that now did was less able to spare the money for dues.

After the creation of the NHS in 1948, the centre petitioned unsuccessfully for central government funding. From Whitehall’s point of view, the centre was not free at point of service, and did not have an “open door” policy. On the centre’s side, the NHS was concerned only with the treatment of disease, not the cultivation of health, and the autonomous nature of the centre did not mesh well with the top-down bureaucracy of the NHS. Some members felt that the government felt threatened by a group of people who could organize and run such a large undertaking – especially one geared to personal autonomy and self-help – without the need for leadership.

However, the centre did have an impact. In part, that impact was shown by one shocking statistic: the annual health overhauls showed that only 10% of the membership were genuinely healthy. 30% of members had at least one illness, while the health of another 60% was impaired to some degree by symptoms of illness – often symptoms they didn’t realise they had.

This suggests that it is possible to function – even function well – in daily life when not completely healthy (or even unhealthy). However, the atmosphere of the centre – one where each individual’s right to make decisions about their own life was paramount, and where those choices were respected and validated – may well have helped people remain active and involved in their communities. Moreover, the sheer depth and breadth of activities available, and the support members had from staff and other members to access them, ensured that as many members as possible could stay active and involved – and therefore healthy. These are lessons that modern public health officials may do well to remember.

Southwark’s Public Health Pioneers part 1: Bermondsey

by Archivist Patricia Dark

Since the passage of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, public health has been a core function of local councils like Southwark. As Professor Kevin Fenton, Southwark’s Director of Health and Wellbeing, told the Spring 2017 edition of Southwark Life, this means that “…local councils have had responsibility for helping to improve the health and wellbeing of local people… not only through commissioning health services but also taking every opportunity to promote health through work with schools, housing, transport and many other areas.”

The basic idea behind this approach is to make sure that public health efforts reflect a local area’s specific concerns and priorities. A “one size fits all” solution doesn’t work for health – different communities have different levels of education, different cultural backgrounds, and even different patterns of disease. Public health awareness needs to be tailored to local cultural expectations, focus on the issues that are most likely to be harmful, and provided in language that everyone can understand. Very often, local authorities are best placed to adapt to local conditions, tailor messages to local cultures, and to serve local needs.

Two realisations underpin this shift toward joined-up, locally-based public health: first, that it’s simply cheaper and easier to keep people healthy than it is to make them healthy once they are sick, and second, health is more than not being sick. The preamble to the constitution of the World Health Organisation, which was ratified in 1946, defines health as “…a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Someone who has a chronic illness or disability who can continue doing the things they enjoy – who is able to have a full, fulfilling life – is likely to be happier, and mentally and emotionally healthier, than someone who cannot; conversely, someone who is not sick or infirm, but is unable to do the things they enjoy – for instance, because they lack transportation, high-quality housing, or easily accessible leisure facilities – is unlikely to be able to have a full, fulfilling life, and is therefore more likely to be in poor health.

So what does that have to do with heritage? As strange as it may sound, quite a lot! This new local focus also looks back: to the interwar period and some really pioneering work done in Southwark to improve the health of local communities. To understand how radical interwar public health in Southwark was, we need to look at what living conditions were like, and how they affected public health.

Historically, many areas of the modern borough of Southwark – including Bermondsey, Rotherhithe, Walworth, Camberwell, and Peckham – had grossly overcrowded housing that was in poor condition. During the industrialisation of the Victorian era, swathes of existing housing stock was demolished to make way for factories or transport infrastructure, notably railways; if it was replaced (often it wasn’t), it was by cramming new houses into front or back gardens, or spaces that had previously been stables. Beyond that, a housing crash in the early 20th century ensured that new housing was in short supply. To raise money, both landlords and tenants divided and sub-divided what began as single-family homes, splitting them into flats, then single rooms.

Dixs Court and Sultan Street

Sultan Street and Dix’s Court in the 1930s

This meant that most of what’s now Southwark was vastly more crowded than even today. In 1901, for instance, the population density of the metropolitan borough of Bermondsey was 97.62 people per acre – in 2012, the population density of London as a whole was 4 and a half times less than that, at 21.39 people per acre. In 1939, on the eve of the Second World War, 15 million Britons – fully 39% of the country’s population – lived as families in less than 1 room. In the worst cases multiple families – had one room to eat, sleep, and live in. Entire streets were filled with rows of badly-ventilated, poorly-lit “back-to-back” houses off dead-end courts, with little space for children to play, adults to get air, or even to dry laundry. There was no privacy, and little peace.

Damp and dilapidation added to the problem. The most populated areas of Southwark are close to the river, in the Thames floodplain: until the creation of the Thames Barrier in the early 1980s, storms and tides caused regular Thames floods. Houses lacked damp-proofing, and in Bermondsey – most of which was below mean high tide level – foundations were constantly wet. This meant that many houses, most of which had lathe-and-plaster interiors, had enormous damp problems.

Damp problems were made worse by the general disrepair of housing stock. At the outbreak of the First World War, three-quarters of the country lived in privately rented housing, so, just like today, rogue and negligent landlords were a problem: in some cases, a landlord might not even know they owned a property. Lack of building supplies, skilled tradesmen, and capital on landlords’ parts – an unintended side-effect of rent controls – meant that even good landlords found it hard to keep properties in good nick.

Poor quality, overcrowded housing meant poor sanitation. Most working-class housing pre-dated running metropolitan water, and so lacked specified bathrooms or indoor toilets. Subdivision of single-family houses meant the kitchen became another all-purpose living space for a family, while other living spaces lacked plumbing of any kind. Alternatively, the kitchen could be shared by the entire house. In either case, finding the time, space, heat, water, and privacy to have a bath could be all but impossible. In some flats in Bermondsey, 5 families – up to 30 people – shared a single outdoor toilet, accessible only through the kitchen on the ground floor. In all these cases, keeping house, clothes, and people clean was a vicious uphill battle – which meant the families dwelling there were constantly exposed to a variety of germs and vermin.

Southwark’s working-class families faced other hurdles to staying healthy. The first was that a high proportion of jobs involved casual manual labour – for instance on the docks. Although dockers were highly skilled, they were usually hired for short periods – a single ship, a week, or even by the day. Wages weren’t high – and more importantly, they were unreliable, making it very difficult to budget or plan spending. Because of this, families often had to eat as cheaply as possible. Eating cheaply was usually monotonous, but also lacking in balanced nutrition; then as now, fresh fruit and vegetables were often prohibitively expensive. In the interwar period, cheap food could even be dangerous: cheap milk usually came from cows who hadn’t been tested for TB. Bovines often don’t show signs that they’re ill, and can silently carry TB, shedding the bacteria in their milk. A child drinking that milk could acquire the infection, often in the bone – which could cripple or even kill.

All of the problems with housing, sanitation, and nutrition we’ve discussed created a population whose general health and immune function wasn’t very good at the best of times: to put it simply, social conditions created a population who got sicker, quicker, for longer. Even more importantly, these conditions meant that the health of individuals and communities was on a knife-edge: any sort of hard times – a father out of work for a single family, a strike for a community – could and did create serious illness and suffering.

Different areas of the modern borough were healthier than others. Specifically, Camberwell as a whole was healthier than either area to the north – probably because of its relatively well-off, relatively spacious southern end – and possibly even healthier than London as a whole. However, it’s important to recognise that even relatively healthy Camberwell had death rates that are far higher than modern British ones andthat we would now associate with the developing world. Interwar Southwark was a deeply unhealthy place, that much is clear – and people at the time knew it.

Alfred and Joyce Salter

Dr Alfred Salter and his daughter, Joyce

And some pioneers decided to fight back. In Bermondsey, Alfred and Ada Brown Salter, respectively a prominent local physician and an equally prominent social worker and labour activist, lived in Storks Road – near where Bermondsey Tube station is now – with their daughter Joyce, born in 1902. Joyce was a ray of sunshine for all of Bermondsey – everyone knew her and was fond of her. But in 1910, when she was 8, Joyce caught scarlet fever for the third time. Nowadays, we call it a “Group A strep infection”, and it’s easily treated with antibiotics. But then there weren’t any – even sulfa drugs were nearly two and a half decades away. Joyce had all the love and good wishes her family and community could give: Ada and Alfred had to hang signs on their gate to update the borough, or else well-wishers would knock or ring at all hours. But that wasn’t enough, and she died in June 1910: people in Bermondsey said that their ray of sunshine was gone.

Joyce was Ada and Alfred Salter’s only child. When she died, they turned their grief into anger and their anger into action. They met with Evangeline Lowe, Ada’s best friend, and made a simple vow: the three of them would run for office at all levels of government – borough, county, and Westminster – and win. Then, together, they would do their best to, in the words of Bermondsey Labour’s 1922 manifesto, “…make Bermondsey a fit place to live in. We shall do everything we can to promote health, to lower the death rate, to save infant life, and to increase the well-being and comfort of the 120,000 people who have to live here, Bermondsey is our home and your home. We will strive to make it a worthy home for all of us”.

That meant new housing, demolishing the old, crumbling back-to-backs. New parks, like the one in St James’s churchyard, in Thurland Street, which opened in 1921: Arthur Carr, the chairman of Peek Frean’s, gave it a beautiful covered slide, the Joy Slide, that delighted local kids into the 1970s. New plants – trees planted along every verge, flowers in the parks grown in the council’s nursery in Fairby Grange, Kent, and flowers for everyone in Bermondsey with a window box to grow them in.

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Ada Salter and other dignitaries pictured with the Joy Slide, 1922

Health care was another major plank in Bermondsey’s revolution. Fairby Grange was also a mother-and-baby and convalescent home: originally the Salters bought it for Alfred’s patients and conscientious objectors, but quickly donated it to the council. There was an aggressive anti-TB campaign, featuring mass X-ray screening in clinics or via a mobile service, and paid-for beds at a sanatorium in Switzerland. Bermondsey also launched an aggressive public health information campaign. Potential learning experiences were everywhere: a backlit slide-table while waiting at a clinic, leaflets into homes, even bookmarks with health slogan slipped into every book the library service issued! The public health service put floats into parades and made its own public information films. The 1925 Medical Officer of Health reports that the borough had started school exams in hygiene and home nursing – starting as early as possible to improve health.

In our next post we will look at the work of the Pioneer Health Centre in Peckham