Preserving Southwark’s Sporting Heritage

by Chris Scales, Heritage officer

30 September is National Sporting Heritage Day and to celebrate Southwark Archives is showcasing some newly-digitised photographs from the Phil Polglaze collection. Thanks to the generosity of Sporting Heritage and Art Fund we were able to digitise these pictures of Southwark’s sporting past that would otherwise never be seen.

Phil Polglaze was one of Southwark council’s main photographers in the 1980s and 1990s, and he covered local events for the Sparrow newspaper. His photographs show a wide variety of sports events in the borough including local people as well as the occasional celebrity. The newly-digitised pictures show Frank Bruno and Fatima Whitbread mixing with the people of Southwark at sporting events in Southwark Park, the London Youth Games at Crystal Palace and boating at Surrey Docks.

The photos are being displayed in Southwark libraries for Sporting Heritage Day on 30th September and will also be available more widely in 2020 when the Polglaze collection will be put online.

Athletics at Southwark Park, 2 October 1989.

Sports_at_Southwark_Park_1989_10_02_0007 Fatima Whitbread

Fatima Whitbread meets the crowd at Southwark Park, 2 October 1989

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Frank Bruno poses with some young athletes at Southwark Park, 2 October 1989

 

The London Youth Games, 8 July 1990

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Boating at Surrey Docks, 26 May 1990

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The story of Basher Bates

by Archivist Patricia Dark

On 6 June – the 75th anniversary of D-Day, then-Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron inaugurated the site of the British Normandy Memorial at Ver-sur-Mer, overlooking Gold Beach. When it’s finished, it will join the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial at Omaha Beach and the Canadian Juno Beach Centre as places of remembrance and learning about the Normandy Campaign of World War II, codenamed Operation Overlord. The British Normandy Memorial will include the names of the 22,442 men and women of all nationalities who died serving under British command during Overlord. As the memorial’s website suggests, one of those names stands out: Corporal Sidney Bates. He is the only service member on the memorial to receive the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry.

In Southwark, though, we know him better as Basher. This is his story.

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Sidney ‘Basher’ Bates

Sidney Bates was born on 14 June 1921, in Crown Street, Camberwell. He was the son of Gladys and Frederick Bates. Frederick worked as a rag-and-bone man, collecting materials like cloth, paper, bones, and metal for reuse and recycling. The family eventually included Sidney and his brothers Frederick, Alfred, and Albert and his sisters Gladys and Patricia; Sidney went to Camberwell Grove School, where he got the nickname “Basher” for his boxing skills. His family remember him as a quiet kid, unassuming but a merry prankster – and because of his quiet side, he usually got away with his pranks!

When he left school at 14, Basher went to work as a carpenter’s labourer. In June 1940, he joined the army, entering the 1st Battalion Royal Norfolk Regiment. Just before he shipped out, the family got together at the Sultan pub. He admitted his fear of what lay ahead to his mum before he left.

The 1st Royal Norfolks landed on Red Queen beach – the right flank of Sword Beach, near the city of Caen – at 7:25 AM on D-Day. They then fought their way through Normandy, the Low Countries, and Germany: a sphere of action known officially as the North West Europe campaign. General Montgomery, who commanded the 21st Army Group in which they served, claimed the unit was second to none. Sidney was no different, being promoted twice in the weeks after D-Day. On 13 July 1944 – the day before Bastille Day – he was promoted to lance-corporal, and two weeks later to acting corporal.

After breaking out of the D-Day beachheads, British units were fighting in the Norman bocage – a landscape of mixed pasture and woodland, where fields and narrow country lanes are sunken into the spaces between narrow ridges topped with high hedgerows which act as windbreaks for the livestock in the fields. It’s picturesque, and easy to defend – but incredibly hard to fight through.

On 6 August 1944, the 1st Norfolks were relieving the 3rd Monmouthshire Regiment near the village of Sourdeval. These units were holding a strategically critical salient on the Perrier Ridge – they were attacked in force by the 10th SS Panzer Division. Sidney was commanding a section (a group of 10 soldiers) at the right side of the left-forward company; he tried to move the section to avoid taking further casualties.

However, the Germans pushed deeper into the section’s position; eventually, Sidney’s section came under attack by 50 to 60 Germans armed with machine guns and mortars and supported by panzers.

A close friend of Sidney’s and the unit’s Bren gunner, “Tojo” Tomlin (nicknamed for his resemblance to the recently-ousted Japanese prime minister) died in his arms, hit in the face by machine-gun fire. That’s when Basher acted. He picked up Tojo’s Bren gun, got up, and advanced into the hail of bullets and mortars, firing from the hip. He was struck by machine gun fire and fell to the ground.

He got up, and continued advancing and firing.

He was hit, again, and got up again.

The third time, Sidney was hit by mortar shrapnel. This time, he couldn’t get up. Instead, he wrapped himself around his gun, firing at the enemy for as long as his strength held out.

But that was long enough. The Germans – perhaps shaken by Sidney’s determination – retreated to the sound of Sidney’s gunfire, leaving the position in the hands of the British. For his comrades, and many historians, his single-handed charge was the turning point of the battle.

Stretcher-bearer Ernie Seaman brought Sidney – badly wounded in the legs, stomach, and throat – from the field where he fell to a farmhouse nearby, which was being used as a forward field hospital. He died there two days later.

On 2 November 1944, Sidney’s Victoria Cross citation was gazetted: his parents collected the award in spring of 1945. They and Patricia (their only child left at home) had been bombed out of their home in Councillor Street, but refused to leave Camberwell. A public appeal for the family raised enough money to buy Frederick a new cart and pony, so he could keep working. He named the pony “Basher”.

Sidney has many memorials: the most obvious is his gravesite, plot XX 14E in Bayeux War Cemetary; his epitaph says that “[h]is parents proudly remember him as a true Camberwell Boy and a loving Son”. There’s also a monument to him in the field where he fell and a memorial bench on Camberwell Green. His nephew Chris is a stonemason, and laid many of these.

The memorial bench on Camberwell Green. Copyright Bernhard Bauer

The memorial bench on Camberwell Green (courtesy of Bernhard Bauer)

Others are less obvious. His charge also featured on the front page of volume 157 of the comic The Victor, first published in 1967; it was reprinted twice before the comic folded in 1992. But perhaps the most poignant memorial to Sidney is a cottage in Norfolk named for him; it’s one of six built by the regiment’s memorial trust to house their retired – and honour their fallen – comrades.

Today, on the 75th anniversary of his charge to save his mates, we remember Sidney Bates VC proudly, and hope that you do too. The Sultan pub is gone now, but maybe lift a glass to Basher Bates, a true Camberwell boy, a loving son, and a good comrade, wherever you are.

You can learn more about the British Normandy Memorial or make a donation at the Normandy Memorial Trust website.

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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Bermondsey honours the village of Lidice: A story for Holocaust Memorial Day

By Patricia Dark, Archivist

On 27 May 1942, two SOE-trained soldiers, acting on the orders of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, attacked Reinhard Heydrich, the military dictator of Czechoslovakia. He died of his wounds a week later. Heydrich, the “Butcher of Prague”, ruled Czechoslovakia through the cruelty of summary execution and the terror of concentration camps. He was also one of the main architects of the Holocaust: he organised Kristallnacht, formed the Einsatzgruppen, carried out the Nacht und Nebel decree of forced disappearance, and chaired the Wannsee Conference that outlined the plans for genocide.

The reprisal for his assassination was swift, and brutal. The Gestapo suspected that residents of Lidice, a mining village about 15 miles from Prague, were hiding those responsible for the attack, because men from the village were serving with the Czechoslovak armed forces in the UK. Just after midnight on 10 June 1942, Nazi police surrounded Lidice and the villagers were rounded up. 173 men were taken to the Horák family farm and shot; another 19 who weren’t home were arrested and executed later.

Lidice’s 203 women and 105 children were taken to the village school, then the town of Kladno. 184 women were sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp. 88 children were sent to Łódź, where those considered “suitable for Germanisation” were separated, to be sent to orphanages and later placed with German families. The remaining 82 children were sent to Chełmo on 2 July 1942 and gassed on arrival. Even all of Lidice’s animals were killed.

The Nazis then tried to destroy all trace of the place called Lidice. They burned the village buildings and blew up the remains, dug up the local cemetery and destroyed the bodies. Forced labour crews then removed all trace of remains and rerouted the roads and a local stream. At the end of the war, 143 women returned home to Lidice, and after a 2 year search, so did 17 of the village’s children. They were the only survivors of the 503 villagers living there in June 1942.

The Nazis openly boasted about annihilating Lidice on Radio Berlin; the world responded with horror and defiance. A year after the massacre, in June 1943, the Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey hosted a memorial concert for the village on the bombed-out site of Bermondsey Town Hall in Spa Road. A choir of Czechoslovak servicemen sang and Foreign Minister-in-exile Jan Masaryk spoke.

On Holocaust Memorial Day, we remember the people of Lidice, and all the other victims of genocidal persecution. And we remember those who helped create new homes for survivors. By remembering, we hope to create a better and more just world.

You can find out more about the Lidice Memorial organisation and the museum here.

Photographs of the Lidice memorial service from Southwark Local History Library and Archive

Memorial Service for Lidice at Spa Road bomb site on 10 June 1943. Crowd of people stand around a raised stage surrouned by flags and bunting against the backdrop of bomb damaged houses

Memorial Service for Lidice at Spa Road bomb site, Bermondsey on 10 June 1943

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Czechoslovak servicemen sing at Bermondsey’s Lidice memorial service

Czechoslovak servicemen in uniform from sing at Bermondsey Bomb site. Children sit watching from nearby roof.

Czechoslovak servicemen sing at Bermondsey’s Lidice memorial service as local children observe from nearby roof

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Jan Masaryk, Deputy Minister of Czechoslovakia makes a speech at Bermondsey’s Lidice memorial service

For as long as I can remember: Using film in reminiscence and outreach

by Lisa Soverall, Heritage Officer

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved watching films. As a young girl I went to Saturday morning pictures at the Odeon Cinema in Elephant and Castle. The noise of the young excited audience was deafening, but somehow you managed to work out the plot of some cowboy and Indian film or ‘Lardy Hardy’ flick (my childhood translation of Laurel and Hardy) amongst the pea shooters, sticky gum and chanting. Cinema-going up the West End was rare and only if you were flush. So I tended to stay local, and between Peckham and the Elephant my enthusiasm for watching films was satisfied.

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Camberwell Odeon, Denmark Hill, 1955

Films have stood the test of time and, if seen in the cinema or as another type of theatrical screening, this medium is perhaps the only one where you cannot really rush it. You have to go at the film’s pace. You can’t swipe, skip, delete, forward, select or delete sections. You have to sit, wait and watch a film that will either have wasted your money and the last 90 minutes of your life, or will have completely immersed you in it, left you in awe, questioning, wondering and may even have rocked you, just a little. Whether you like or dislike a film, it has the power to change your emotions and awaken your senses and for some, bring to life memories and thoughts that were buried.

The first reminiscence session I organised using films from the Film Collection at Southwark Local History Library and Archive was in May 2017 at Camberwell Library, with the help of Storm Patterson, Screen Heritage Archivist from London’s Screen Archives. I was keen to organise a reminiscence session, having attended the LSA’s conference on using film as reminiscence in 2016. I did so, and just three people attended. Initially, I was disappointed. I’d done my preparations, choosing a suitable location, risk assessing, getting the signage just right, ensuring the refreshments were laid out and publicising the event as best I could. Storm provided a compilation of films and I provided a range of photographs on different themes relating to the Southwark area. So, where was everyone?

As well as having Storm from London’s Screen Archives, I was also lucky enough to have Anne Williams, volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Society with me that day. By observing Anne, I learned how to be person-centred when working with people with dementia. Anne patiently sat with a gentleman who watched the films and browsed the photographs and they struck up a beautiful conversation about his life and work.  Anne recalled that experience:

“I will never forget an older gentleman at Camberwell library who had cared for his wife with dementia until her death. The screening of local cinema footage evoked strong and happy memories of a Friday night ritual with his mother when they would visit the pictures, enjoy the films and interval music and then share some fish and chips on the way home.  He was moved to tears remembering this period of his childhood and I felt privileged to listen to his precious memories.”
Anne Williams, volunteer, Alzheimer’s Society, 2018

Between us three helpers we went on life journeys with our three elderly guests who enjoyed looking at the visual memorabilia which sparked their memories. It got me thinking… what a wealth of knowledge and history we have in this room!  It was Anne who reminded me that it was quality not quantity that mattered and wondered whether our guests or we, as helpers, would have got the quality of conversation and engagement had more people been there.

I learned a great deal from that experience, not least that ‘outreach’ means what it says – you must reach out, and certainly when working with people with dementia, being respectful of their physical and emotional needs is crucial in organising any event for them. So, one way I could achieve this was by reaching out to my audience and going to places where they are most comfortable.

In 2018 I had the pleasure of collaborating on many outreach events with local and other organisations as well as a local Nunhead artist, using films and photographs from Southwark Local History Library and Archive. I have worked with the Alzheimer’s Society delivering reminiscence sessions at their coffee and drop-in sessions at Time and Talents in Rotherhithe and at the Daffodil Café at The Green, Nunhead’s Community Centre. The people with dementia and their carers enjoyed watching the films (a selection of Bermondsey Borough Council and other local films) judging by the conversations that followed.

Memories were triggered about particular places featured in the films. The groups wanted to talk about their lives and how they remembered those places and share stories. I remember a conversation that started about East Street Market between a lady who was born in Jamaica and another who was born in Cyprus, both of whom had lived in Southwark for much of their lives. Neither was engaged in any conversation before the photographs of the market from the 1970s were passed around. “Do you remember the Sarsaparilla stall?” I asked them. Both studied the photographs in silence and then, their expressions changed.  “Ahh, yes!…” they said and from that moment the two were sharing memories. I couldn’t get another word in after that, nor did I want to.  It was so interesting listening to them and how they remembered East Street Market, especially the particular stalls.

“Thank you so much for taking the time to attend the Daffodil cafe today. Both the film made by the school children from the Walworth school and the hop picking film were ideal choices for our service users. They were engrossed in the plot of the first film as well as enjoying recognising local landmarks around Burgess Park.  For people unable to get to the cinema it was a unique opportunity to watch a relevant and suitably short film programme.”
Anne Williams, volunteer, Alzheimer’s Society, 2018

Being person-centred means putting the person at the heart of what you do. The preparation I do for the sessions involves asking the co-ordinator of the group to give me some information about the users – where they lived and when, what they did as jobs and what they would be interested in seeing again. Research into reminiscence sessions has taught me that just because someone lived through the Second World War doesn’t mean they want to be reminded of it! So, there are certain subjects I tend to avoid and I take my cue from those who know. It does help, however, if you know a little history about some of the resources you are handing out, as this too can start conversations and engage people.

That said, even if you know a little about your subject, it doesn’t necessarily mean you always get to say anything on the subject. I have also delivered reminiscence sessions at Blackfriars Settlement. These were very lively events, particularly during the film screenings where the audience would get a running commentary from one or two knowledgeable members of the audience. “That was where Peak Freans was, my mum worked there”, “That was the Town Hall”, “That’s Tower Bridge Road Market!” “You see all those trees, Ada Salter was responsible for those…” and so it went on. The knowledge of the audience was amazing and to be perfectly honest the audience answered many questions that I’d wondered about myself! Wonderful!

“What a great afternoon. Thank you so much. I love when my members get taken back to their yester years. It was magic. And, I thought the Children also learned a lot . On our tables, they couldn’t believe how Walworth Road looked before.  They loved listening to stories. And the little singalong was an added bonus…. Alice who is 97 in August and Veronica who is 92, were so happy talking about the good old days and looking at photos and the film. We should do this more often.”
Tina Johnston, Co-ordinator for Positive Ageing, Blackfriars Settlement, 2018

By the end of these sessions, groups of people would be reminiscing together, sharing photographs, sharing memories, laughing and singing. The atmosphere in the room was a completely different one by the time the session ended.

At one session, Tina Johnston, co-ordinator for Positive Ageing at Blackfriars Settlement arranged for a group of children from the local secondary school to join the reminiscence session. They were looking at photographs of the areas they lived in from 50 or more years ago. “That’s what the Elephant and Castle looked like over 100 years ago”, I said to one totally disinterested pupil. He glanced at the photograph, raised his eyebrows and said “Is it?” and proceeded to look through all of the photographs in silence and in awe. The banter between the older people and the school children was fantastic and both enjoyed each other’s company. Intergenerational reminiscing is a fantastic way to teach history to children.

For Black History Month this year, we invited Nunhead artist and co-founder of Women in Film SE15, Tracey Francis, to talk about her career as an artist and present two of her films – ‘Peckham Wall’ and ‘Landscapes of Girlhood’.

Watching ‘Landscapes of Girlhood’ was one of those times when my senses were awoken. This short but moving film, which gives a voice to 5 girls with learning difficulties left me and the audience quiet and reflective and the young people in the audience asked questions about how they might do what Tracey did. This is how you inspire, I thought.

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Tracey Francis presents her films at John Harvard Library for Black History Month 2018

My most recent collaboration was with LinkAge Southwark where, with the help of Catrin Waugh and her volunteers, we delivered a reminiscence session on the Kingswood Estate, using photographs and film to a very astute group of pensioners whose questions were coming in thick and fast. (I think I managed to answer most questions with the help of one or two local history books I shrewdly brought along – phew!)  The group were engaged in conversations around different themes, remembering cinemas, parks and markets and the film compilation finished off the session nostalgically. The group were a real pleasure to be with.

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Reminiscence session for the pensioners of LinkAge Southwark, Kingswood Estate November 2018. Photo courtesy of LinkAge Southwark / Catrin Waugh

The Film Collection at Southwark Local History Library and Archive is a fast growing one, now with around 215 titles, originating from different film and video formats on a variety of themes.  Included in it are information films that were made by the Bermondsey Borough Council from the 1920s to the 1940s, Southwark Council commissioned films from the 1970s to the 1990s on a variety of themes (e.g. redevelopment of  Surrey Docks in the 1970s, Elephant and Castle shopping Centre, elections etc), amateur films by cine enthusiasts like Brian Waterman and Richard Morgan, makers of the Brandon Estate Cine Club films, copies of broadcast television programmes and community films such as Tracey Francis’s.

All 215 titles are available to view on DVD free of charge within the archive during opening hours. All of the original film and video that is owned by Southwark Council (around 60 titles) has been digitised and is available to view online via London’s Screen Archives and its YouTube channel.  London Screen Archives is the virtual hub for the film collections of London’s archive repositories.

We are continually collecting films significant to the story of Southwark. So, if you have a film that you would like to deposit with us, get in touch. For details of all the titles available to view, visit our website or contact Southwark Local History Library and Archive on 020 7525 0232 or email local.history.library@southwark.gov.uk.

I would like to thank the following people and organisations for helping me to deliver reminiscence and other outreach sessions from the Southwark collections in 2018. I (and my colleagues with whom I share knowledge) have learned much from you and the outstanding work you do: Anne Williams, Sheena Ogilvie and Chloe Pardell from the Alzheimer’s Society, Caroline Clipson from Southwark Dementia Action Alliance, Tina Johnston and staff at the Blackfriars Community Centre, all the staff at The Green, Nunhead Community Centre, staff at Time and Talents, Rotherhithe, Sands Films Studios, Tracey Francis, Catrin Waugh and Gemma Kern from LinkAge Southwark.

Of course a big shout out to my colleagues, Patricia Dark, Chris Scales and Lisa Moss at Southwark Local History Library and Archive for their help and support. I look forward to future collaborations.

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.

Discovering Southwark’s LGBTQ+ History

This weekend Southwark Local History Library & Archive are taking part in the ‘Talking Back’ LGBTQ+ History and Archives conference at London Metropolitan Archives. In preparation for this and in celebration of 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967 we have been delving into our collections to discover what we hold to tell the histories of LGBTQ+ communities in Southwark.

We hold records for one of the earliest community, council and police-consultative groups in the country to begin tackling homophobia openly, the Southwark Anti-Homophobic Forum that launched in 1995 – still running today as the Southwark LGBT Forum. We also have an archive of the fascinating ‘Southwark Sappho’ lesbian newsletter, produced in 1993 by the Southwark Women’s Centre in Peckham and catering to the needs of a diverse local lesbian audience.

Other collections we discovered include photographs from World War One of soldiers in drag entertaining the troops in ‘concert parties’ abroad, including the incredible Kenneth Lowndes as Cinderella. We also have a watercolour painting from 1935 that shows an extremely rare-depiction of street drag performance, showing a drag troupe performing their high-kicks routine accompanied by barrel-organ on the back streets of Peckham.

We hold many council flyers promoting services to Gay & Lesbian people in Southwark including the launch of the ‘First ever day for Lesbians and Gays in Southwark’ which took place in 1988. We also hold photographs of Southwark’s float in Pride parades in London, as well as copies of an incredible photographic exhibition on the history of Pride in London 1972-2005 produced by Pam Isherwood for the Southwark LGBT Network.

New additions to the collection include Oral History interviews with key local figures including: Stephen Bourne, a prominent gay author and founder of the Anti-Homophobic Forum; Sue Sanders, another member of the forum and founder-member of ‘Schools OUT’ and LGBT History Month; and gay ephemera collector James Gardiner who brought the 1930s love story to the world of upper class Architect Monty Glover and his life partner Bermondsey boy Ralph Hall in his book ‘A Class Apart’.

To enable users to more easily discover these and more we have created a new LGBTQ+ Communities Collections Guide and will be launching a new online gallery showing some key items in the collection. Here is a selection:

Kenneth Lowndes

These photographs from 21st London Regiment soldier Harry Milner’s scrapbook show Kenneth Lowndes in drag. He was part of the 60th Divisional Concert Party ‘The Roosters’, one of many such theatre troupes who formed during World War One to entertain their fellow troops when stationed abroad. The Roosters formed in 1917 in Salonika and went on to become one of the longest-lasting and popular concert parties, made famous to home crowds across the nation via performances broadcast on BBC radio, and performing to audiences up to the late 1950s.

The Follies Concert Party

The Follies - 47th Division concert party The Follies 1916-1919 (Southwark A52 collection)

This photograph shows the 47th Divisional Concert Party ‘The Follies’, one of many such theatre troupes who formed during World War One to entertain their fellow troops when stationed abroad. They performed a variety of comedic and variety pieces, and one popular song performed by two ‘ladies’ vying for the love of one gentleman was ‘Wonderful Girl, Wonderful Time’ from the 1916 musical Houp-La. The Follies often wore dinstinctive green and black pierrot costumes although this photograph depicts them in character roles.

Turkish room at Bermondsey Public Baths

Bermondsey Public Baths 1, Grange Road 1927 (PAM 613-47 BER) Turkish Baths

The public baths on Grange Road in Bermondsey opened in 1927 and were a very grand affair designed in ornate fashion to enable the poor of the borough to wash. While the baths performed their public function very well, the Turkish baths and Russian steam room in the basement also took on another role as a notorious and tolerated homosexual rendezvous. Before the days of open homosexuality public baths such as these were well-known cruising and homosocial spaces, especially as many were open late at night with little supervision. Bermondsey became quite famous in queer circles with even carry-on star Kenneth Williams commenting that having been there for ‘traditional interest’ in 1958 he found it ‘quite fabulous’.  [For further information on the London public baths in this context see Matt Houlbrook’s excellent book Queer London]

The Street Entertainers Move On

The Street Entertainers Move On, 1935 by Winnie Collins (SC 942.16422)

This watercolour was painted by 18-year-old Winnie Collins for a school competition in 1935. It is a rare depiction of a troupe of Drag entertainers who performed on the streets of Peckham. Female impersonation in theatre was common at this time, especially in the ‘soldiers in skirts’ that existed in theatrical units of the armed forces in World War One. During the 1920s and 30s some of these continued entertaining on stages across the UK and street entertainment drag was common in the working class areas of South and East London.

Southwark LGBT Forum

The Southwark LGBT Forum is a partnership organisation originally formed in 1995 as the Southwark Anti-Homophobic Forum, a panel including representatives from Southwark Council and local councillors working in collaboration with Southwark Police to address problems of homophobia in the borough. Our collections for the Forum include materials from 1995-2011 covering their community outreach work and also project materials for LGBT History Month and Pride.

Southwark Sappho

These pages are from the Lesbian Newsletter ‘Southwark Sappho’ produced by the Southwark Women’s Centre on Peckham High Street from 1993-1994. The newsletter and related group aimed to provide ‘non-separatist support’ for all lesbians, running drop-in sessions and events considering issues such as racism in the lesbian and gay community as well as promoting local services and events taking place across London.