Southwark’s Twin Towns

By Patricia Dark, Archivist

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

1783

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

1906

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

1922

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

The 1930s

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

The 1940s

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

The 1950s

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

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

The 1960s

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

The 1970s

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

The 1980s

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

Words and Southwark Park – Part 1

by Pat Kingwell

It is a pleasure to make a contribution to the Southwark Festival of Words. I have an interest in Southwark Park, so thought it might be worth looking back in time to see how words have played their part in the long story of the borough’s oldest park.

It is possible that over the past century and a half as many words have been written or spoken about the place as there are blades of grass in its 25 hectares. This article will look at some examples from the early years 1856-1869, and then some more from 1998-2020. In doing so I touch upon the written word, such as memorials, letters, petitions, official reports, newspaper articles and creative works. I also refer to the spoken word used at public meetings, ceremonies and performances.

1856-1869

The park is so familiar to us now that it is hard to imagine it not existing, but that was the case until 1869, when it first opened to the public. The campaign to secure our local “green lung” started in earnest in April 1856, and was begun by the written word.

Southwark Park 1A memorial was presented to the Bermondsey Vestry, signed by over 250 of the principal inhabitants of the parish. The memorial was a very formal and respectful way of addressing an authority – in this case the local vestry, which was back then a limited type of local government. A statement of facts was usually accompanied by a petition or remonstrance. The message was clear enough – we live in an area with public health challenges and a park will help us meet them. Other places have a park, so why not us? Also, we don’t want to see too many houses built on the land, except for those working in the locality.  Read it in the words of 1856.

“To the Vestry of Bermondsey. We, the undersigned, being anxious and desirous for the improvement of the parish of Bermondsey, and the preservation of the public health, beg to call your attention to the necessity that exists for obtaining for this parish the advantages that are enjoyed in other districts.

It is well known that occasional epidemics have from time to time visited Bermondsey with greater severity than any other parish, entailing in addition to the sufferings of the poor an increase in the rates; that we attribute this greater severity in some measure to the unwholesomeness of the water used for domestic purposes – the proximity of the parish to the Thames, the laborious occupation of the workmen, and the absence of any public walks or park. That since the last epidemic, unwholesome water has been supplied, and it is hoped before long the Thames will be purified; that in nearly every other district around the metropolis grounds have been laid out for squares, public walks or parks; that there is in this parish at the present time a considerable open space used for market gardens, which might be obtained and converted into a park, but which otherwise in the course of a few years will be covered in houses and let to persons not engaged in the legitimate trades of this parish.

That this parish, being essentially a manufacturing one, it is not desirable to increase the number of dwelling-houses except for the accommodation of workmen and persons engaged in such trades.

That we request you to take such steps as you may deem advisable for the purpose of providing the public with a park or public walks in this parish.” 

The Bermondsey Vestry and the memorialists initially approached the government to build a park, but were advised by Sir Benjamin Hall, the First Commissioner of Works, that their best chance was to go to the recently established Metropolitan Board of Works for help.

Southwark Park 2

Sir Benjamin Hall (1802-1867)

Hall played his part by using words. He sent an important letter of support, in which he wrote “I am strongly of the opinion that it would be very desirable to have some large open space provided for the inhabitants of the South Eastern portion of the Metropolis …it is scarcely necessary to press on the Metropolitan Board the advantages to this neighbourhood of some easily accessible public place of recreation, most of the Members of the Board are acquainted with the district and know that there is no open space in which the poorer inhabitants can walk, still less enjoy exercise and recreation which has been found so beneficial in other neighbourhoods, the open space, walks, trees and turf of St. James’ Park, Hyde Park and Victoria Park must be still more beneficial in this neighbourhood and as every day the want of such a place of recreation is more felt on account of the increase in the number of houses there.”

Sir Benjamin Hall’s influential letter helped widen the park movement beyond Bermondsey. The case for a wider South-Eastern Park developed involving the representatives and inhabitants not only of Bermondsey, but also Rotherhithe, Southwark and Camberwell. In January 1857 the Board of Works published a vital document, the report of the Works and Improvements Committee, which officially recommended a park should be built. That rather innocuous looking item, just eight pages long, got us to where we are today, but not straightforwardly.

Southwark Park 3Although the report backed the idea of a park, it did not say exactly where in South London it should be. This was because there were two contending plans from the vestries of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe, each with their powerful supporters and parochial interests. The former plan was the larger of the two and more expensive. The Board of Works hoped for a compromise proposal, but that did not come. Instead the second half of 1857 saw the public meeting become the place where a more dynamic expression of the people’s feelings on the subject were voiced. Between July and November 1857 several large public gatherings were held at which numerous enthusiastic speeches were made.

The one held in the grounds of the Dun Cow Tavern, Old Kent Road, on the evening of 6 July 1857, was typically eventful. It was attended by the two Southwark Members of Parliament, Admiral Sir Charles Napier and John Locke. Dr. John Challice, the eminent medical Officer of Health for Bermondsey, and writer of many medical advisory texts, presided. He said that upon the South-Eastern Park a good sermon could be preached. This he did not mean to do; but he would remind them that it was now or never that they should assert their right, their natural right, to the formation of this park, and those that did not now press that right, would regret that they had neglected to do so. As he spoke it rained with such force that the meeting adjourned into the spacious skittle saloon. The crowd was anxious to gain admittance, the doorway became choked up, and those who had already entered the saloon were somewhat surprised to see the gallant admiral make his way in through one of the windows.

Sir Charles said that if they looked around they would find that all had got parks with the exception of Southwark. He felt that Southwark had a great claim for a park. He did not say that to please them, as he was not in the habit of trying to please anybody (laughter). A great deal of money had been spent in the improvements of St. James’ Park …, and it was no doubt very pretty to see a clear stream in front of the palace, but if they could vote money for that, could they not do so for the benefit of the people at large!

John Locke made a forcible speech. He said he never heard anyone say anything against establishing a park, the only thing they could urge being that they did not like to subscribe their money (hear, hear). They therefore started with the fact that parks were good without any qualification…Had not public money been voted for Manchester and other parts, for the establishment of places of resort for the people? (Hear, hear) Did not their great metropolis afford to all who chose to come a chance of bettering or making their fortunes, and when they come, were they not warmly welcomed (cheers) and treated with the greatest friendship? …The metropolis had been spreading on all sides, and if they allowed that to go on without thinking of the health of the people, they would do that which no great city ever did without bringing destruction on the people. If they had a park brought to their own doors, there was no reason why they should not go into it, and enjoy the fresh air every day of the week. To tell them that because a park would cause a trumpery rate of three farthings in the pound to make it, that it should therefore, be refused, was an insult, and any man who urged it was an enemy to the people (hear, hear).

Fired by the words of Napier and Locke, Archibald Kintrea, a Camberwell vestryman, successfully moved a resolution which indicated a certain sense of injustice: “That the aristocracy and the gentry inhabiting other parts of the metropolis, have for years had the benefit of spacious parks made and maintained for them at the public expense, and this meeting feels that our numerous manufacturing and industrial population have a just right to demand a park for this district, to be made and maintained by a rate levied over the whole of the metropolis.”

Benjamin Young, gelatine manufacturer of Spa Road, seconded the resolution, saying he had lived in the district all his life. If they wanted an argument why the park should be established, let them look up the blind alleys in Tooley Street, Parker’s Row, Bermondsey Wall, Dockhead, and other places even more open, and they would find nothing but a mass of bricks and mortar. A man could not take his children into the fields because of the distance, and he therefore went by himself and had to travel a long time before he could catch sight of a bit of green. He then felt very tired, and to rest himself found refuge in a public house. The proposed park was a place for the poor man to take his exercise in, and for his children to see those beautiful flowers which otherwise would be a closed book to them.

Similar strong sentiments were expressed at other public meetings. On 9 September 1857 at the Lecture Hall in Fair Street, Thomas Chaplin, a solicitor and member of the Southwark Radical Club, said the east end of London had Victoria Park, which the community at large and those of this district helped to obtain; and now let the people of the east end, and others who had this privilege, aid those on this side of the water, and in this district, in obtaining a similar advantage. Why should all other districts of the metropolis have their parks, while those in the Southwark district had only the “Old Islands?” (A reference to the Seven Islands of Rotherhithe) Let them keep the old islands, and the green grass upon them, but not let them relax their exertions in obtaining this object, which would be a boon to the whole of the district. On 6 October 1857, at a meeting in Spa Road, Lewis Wilcher, the secretary of the South Eastern Park Association, commented that while large sums were willingly voted for public buildings, royal dowries and pensions, he thought a small outlay should not be grudged to enable the youth to grow up in strength and vigour. Boys, for want of space to indulge in cricket, trap ball, and other manly sports, were driven to smoking, cheap concert-rooms, and other questionable kinds of amusement. No opportunity was afforded them for the contemplation of the beautiful works of Nature, and the result was moral as well physical deterioration.

The campaign for the Bermondsey plan reached a high point on 16 October 1857 when the South Eastern Park Association presented a petition to the Board of Works signed by over 6,000 people. However, the Board opted for the smaller and cheaper Rotherhithe plan, locating the park more or less where it is today. The decision provoked a good deal of outrage.

On 12 November 1857 the Association held a public meeting in the Green Man Tavern, Old Kent Road, which was described by the contemporary press as “one of the most stormy and disorderly ones we ever witnessed, and will not soon be forgotten by those present.” Emotions ran high. Accusations of personal duplicity were traded across the floor. The Board of Works was lambasted for “its great mistake” in choosing Rotherhithe as the site for the park. The Camberwell representatives at the Board were openly accused of deliberately undermining the Bermondsey plan because they wanted to get a park at Goose Green for their own especial benefit, and to do that, they wished to drive the present park as far as possible from their own district. The meeting descended into “indescribable uproar.”

Southwark Park 6

The Green Man c.1865

I have dwelt on public meetings because in the crowded rooms the formal, restrained language of the memorial was often replaced by passionate words. Criticism of the powerful was voiced openly and vividly. Local affinities were not hidden. Insults and accusations flew. All of which was reported in detail in the local and sometimes national press. The Board of Works, uncomfortable with the controversy, and increasingly preoccupied by London’s drainage needs, postponed implementation of the park until further notice.

From 1858 until 1863 Southwark Park was virtually in limbo. Then the local vestries reignited the dormant campaign. Learning the lessons of disunity which was so damaging in 1857, the vestries conferred and agreed to push once more for the Rotherhithe location. Letters and memorials were sent to the Board of Works. There seems to have been no more disputatious public meetings. In November 1863 another form of words, a notice, was issued by the Board stating its intention to apply to Parliament for powers to create the park. On 28 April 1864 the Southwark Park Act was passed. Its 42 clauses and accompanying schedules may not amount to the most beguiling set of words ever written about the park, but they are surely the most significant.

Putting the words of the Act into force was easier said than done. A combination of complicated land and lease purchases; dilatory design and a sleepy works programme, meant five years passed before the park was completed. During that time the local vestries became increasingly frustrated at the slow rate of progress, and a number of letters of complaint, memorials and deputations were sent to the Board of Works. The local press joined in too, as evidenced by this sarcastic comment published in the South London Press in November 1866: “The mythical park for Southwark came up for conversation at the Metropolitan Board of Works yesterday. The money having been paid for the ground, it is devoted to growing Brussels sprouts, etc., for unknown officials, pending their leisure to design gravel walks on paper and draw specifications for the approved lodges. As only a year has been thus wasted, and £3,300 of the public money expended, the inhabitants of Southwark may hope to see a man and a barrow A.D. 1876, prior to another vote being asked for, as the money now in hand will be paid away that time in interest for the present loan.”

In February 1868 the South London Journal published a letter about the need for the Chairman of the Board, a former Southwark representative, to do something about the delay:

Southwark Park 9

Southwark Park 10

Southwark Park was formally opened on 19 June 1869, and again words played their part on the day. The official ceremony began at 3pm on a very wet Saturday when Chairman Sir John Thwaites arrived with the officers and members of the Metropolitan Board of Works. They and the local MPs John Locke and Austen Henry Layard headed a procession of the great and the good on a tour of the park. During the walk four commemorative trees were planted, and on returning to the platform speeches were made. Sir John Thwaites declared the park open some thirteen years after it had first been proposed. He said “Of the value of parks and open spaces they had all but one opinion, and they were of peculiar value in this crowded district, which was inhabited principally by working people. The design of these parks was to minister to the health of the people and their recreation from toil…such places were calculated not only to improve physical well-being, but also, to raise the standard of moral sensibility. At present, the workman, when he retired to his ill ventilated home, had nowhere to go to, excepting either the taproom or the skittle ground. But he would now be enabled to come here with his wife and children, and breathe the fresh air.”

Sir John’s was the first ever public speech delivered in the park. The second ever was by John Locke, but owing to the discharges of cannon part of his speech was inaudible. He referred to the meeting in the Dun Cow as far back as 1857, and congratulated all on “obtaining this long sought for boon”. Was he being ironic when he said he was grateful to have lived to see the project carried out?

Austen Henry Layard made the most telling speech. He said: “The rain is good for the grass and plants but not so good for human beings…Sir John has alluded to the cost which the park has been to the Metropolis. I will tell Sir John that I believe, in a short time, the cost will be indirectly repaid them through the improved moral and social condition of the people. He has also asked you to take care of the flowers. I am not afraid of that. The time is not long gone by when people were thought incapable of being trusted; but when they were trusted, what was the result? Since I have been First Commissioner of Works, I have not had a single complaint of a flower being plucked, or a tree, plant or shrub injured in any of the parks. We now see the park at its worst. But the time will come, when our children are become men and women, that these trees which have been planted today will have grown to maturity and this park will then be a glory to Southwark.” How right he was.

Southwark Park 11

Austen Henry Layard MP (1813-1894)

An amusing aside to the day concerned the funding of the ceremony. The Board of Works offered nothing, so it fell to the notoriously tight-fisted vestries to foot the bill. The South London Chronicle enjoyed recounting their actions: “Half a dozen parishes, beginning with Rotherhithe in the historical and ancient ‘boroughs of Southwark’, were asked to contribute to the expense of a ‘jollification’, as the modern phrase is for what used to be called in polite circles as a dejeuner, and contributions of £200, £150, £75 and £50 have been made with more or less willingness by the governing bodies. The idea was to give a welcome to the great Elite of the Metropolis and his subordinates, and the notion was at once hospitable and inexpensive on the part of those who proposed it, for they were to give the invitation and join in the feast while others were to pay. There is always somebody ready to spoil sport, and in this event it was Mr. Field of St. Saviour’s, who gladly suggested that they should contribute to “Button Park”, a euphemistic phrase which we take to mean the pockets of the Vestrymen… Mr. Millar and Mr. Burgess in St. George’s also declared against buying a dinner for themselves at the expense of the already over-burdened ratepayers, but the feeling that they ought not to ‘get shabby’ strengthened by the dictum of the vestry clerk and Mr. Collinson, that the expense was allowed by the Metropolis Management Act, counterbalanced any such qualms, and carried the day and £100. In St. Olave’s Mr. Shand had to enact the part of Oliver Twist, and ask ‘for more,’ and almost with the same feeling that he wouldn’t get it; for the joint Dejeuner Committee had pooh-poohed the £50 already voted, and had laughed Mr. Shand into an unauthorised promise of £25 more. Well, he asked, and Mr. Eyell and Mr. Tolhurst gently chided him for taking upon himself so much, and the stout men of St. Olave’s passed the little ‘extra’ rather than make Mr. Shand pay for his promise out of his own pocket.”

In Part 2 we’ll fast forward now to more recent times.

VE Day gallery

by Patricia Dark, Archivist

daniels road victory party 1945
Daniels Road, Nunhead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kirby Estate Victory Party PB2341

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

Ve day party Southwark Park Road Bermondsy

Southwark Park Road Bermondsey

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

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

Chadwick Road, Peckham

Chadwick Road, Peckham

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

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

P21732 VE Party Pyrotechnists Arms Nunhead

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

P21543 VE Day Party Buchan Road Nunhead

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

P21524 Victory Party Nutfield Road Dulwich

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

Gurney St VE Day party P20715 cropped

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

P16265 Evacuees returning to Oliver Goldsmith School from Dorset Jun 1945

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

The Home Front

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

P17264 Southwark Central students gardening with Chair of LCC

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

P21581 Walworth Home Guard Braganza St 1942

Walworth Home Guard, Braganza Street, 1942 (P21581)

P21731 Concert Pyrotechnists Arms War Weapons Week 1943

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

P22222 War Wings Week collection Rye Lane c1942

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

PB2095 MBB Evacuees tea party Worthing Jan 1940

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

PB2096 Worthing and MBB mayors at evacuees tea party Jan 1940

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

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

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

 

 

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

Sports_at_Southwark_Park_1989_10_02_0042 Frank Bruno

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

 

The London Youth Games, 8 July 1990

London_Youth_Games_1990_07_08_0083

London_Youth_Games_1990_07_08_0035

Boating at Surrey Docks, 26 May 1990

Surrey_Docks_1990_05_26_0054

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.

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’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.

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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.

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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

 

 

 

Janus: the Roman god of beginnings, doorways and the New Year

By Wes White, Learning and Engagement Officer for Southwark Libraries and Heritage

On Tuesday 17 January we featured the first ‘Museum on the Move’ at Canada Water Library. Each month we’ll present a themed collection drawn from the Southwark Heritage collections. Original documents and artefacts from the Cuming Museum will be on display, freely available for visitors to see and swap thoughts about in the library, while artworks are shown on a big screen above.

Temple of JanusMy theme for January was Janus – the Roman god of beginnings, doorways and the New Year; after whom January is named. He is famous as the god with two faces – one looking into the future, and the other on the back of his head peering into the past. Janus might not be an ‘A-lister’ in the Roman pantheon, being less well known than figures with planets named after them like Jupiter, Mars and Venus; but even so he was a significant figure in Roman mythology, and the Cuming collection actually features a number of objects directly related to him. These come in the form of coins bearing his likeness; and even one showing his temple, from the reign of Nero. The story of Janus’ temple tells that its gates stood open when Rome was at war, but closed in times of peace – and they were rarely closed.

Also featured in the display were some press cuttings sourced from Southwark’s Local History Library and Archives about New Year celebrations in years past; particularly from the year 1900. I picked out that year to look at because of the significance of the turn of the century, only to find myself reminded by the Bishop of Rochester that technically the new century would have begun in 1901.

And considering that New Year’s Eve is famously such a busy time for the emergency services, I was also surprised to find a story called ‘Firemen at Play’ describing the Fire service’s own New Year’s Eve party – it finished up, predictably, with some of them having to get changed out of their party gear to tackle a fire…

Because Janus stood at the threshold of the New Year, he was also the god of all kinds of crossing-over points and doorways. This gave me the opportunity to feature some of the Cuming collection’s keys in the display. Those included a surprisingly small and humble key to Marshalsea Prison (which several visitors thought looked just a bit too easy for the pirates and smugglers the prison held to copy), and a far bigger, heavier, 13th century key to Bermondsey Abbey, which stood until the reign of Henry VIII. The Abbey is widely thought to be the reason that the area is known as ‘The Blue’ – as the colour represented sacredness.

By far the oldest thing on display this month was a fragment of an even older belief system than the Roman myth that Janus was a part of – a fragment of a false doorway from a tomb in Thebes. This and other Egyptian artefacts came to the Cuming collection via the explorer James Burton in the 1830s. So, why would there have been a false doorway in a tomb? It was false only to the living: this was the door that the departed spirit was supposed to step through, into the next world.

Fragment of a false doorway from a tomb in Thebes

The next outing for the ‘Museum on the Move’ will be at Canada Water Library on Tuesday 14 February, 2pm to 4pm, and you might be able to guess the theme from the date! It’s Valentine’s Day – come and check out an exploration of romance down the ages.

Southwark Park Lido

Guest blog from local historian, Pat Kingwell

With summer here how lovely to see so many children and their parents in Southwark Park playground.  I wonder how many of them realise the swings and slides they are enjoying are located on what was once an outdoor swimming pool!  ‘The Lido’, as it was known by local people, was closed to the public in 1992 due to unsustainable costs. In 1999 the Heritage Lottery Fund agreed to fund improvements in Southwark Park, but alas the lido could not be rescued.  A much-needed playground was created instead, though the structure of the original pool remains in place, hidden below the surface.

The idea of a ‘bathing lake’ had first been suggested in 1891, but it was not until September 1923 that a reinforced concrete outdoor pool was achieved by the London County Council. It cost £4,999 (about £150,000 today) and was impressively large – over 55m long, 18m wide and in parts over 2m in depth.  To begin with it was open all-year round, but there were no changing facilities, just benches, and bathers were screened from the rest of the park by an earth bank formed from the excavated material.  However, by 1924 ten individual changing rooms and two communal dressing sheds were provided.

Initially there was no charge to use the lido, but costumes, slips and towels had to be hired.

The pool quickly became popular and the Southwark Recorder of 25th June 1926 reported:

“During the recent heat wave the number of swimmers using the open-air bath at Southwark Park leaped to the substantial total of about 1,200 a day.  In the height of the season, when the weather is most favourable, it is no unusual occurrence for the weekly average of bathers and swimmers to be maintained about 5,000.  During this period of the year the baths are open from 6 a.m. till about 8.45.”

During the 1920s the moral issue of mixed bathing greatly exercised the minds of the authorities, and it was not until the summer of 1930 that it was allowed, but only on two days a week, including Sunday.  To take part in a mixed session cost 6d (about £1 today). From the outset one day a week had been reserved for women only, an arrangement which in 1933 the South London Press felt obliged to comment upon:

“At Southwark Park during the lunch hour a crowd of males stood listening with envious ears to the sounds of happy laughter within.  Inside, Eve, free from male presence and attired in the flimsiest of costume, gamboled and sported like mermaids in a summer sea.  A sylph-like creature in a brilliant green costume poised for a moment silhouetted against the sky and cut the water like a rapier.  The men mopped their brows and tried to get into the indoor baths, whose opening times are not easily ascertained.”

 

By the late 1930s a trip to ‘The Lido’ was a regular part of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe life, which even the Second World War could not totally disrupt.  Although much of Southwark Park became a military base, and the lido itself was bomb damaged, the public continued to have a typically very cold ‘dip’ throughout the hostilities.  For about thirty-five post-war years they continued to do so in an increasingly revitalised park. Better changing rooms were installed and by summer 1949 it was reported more than a thousand people per day were attending.  In 1954 a new café and fountain added to the attraction.  Greater access was encouraged through low charges, or none at all in the case of older and visually-impaired people, and by 1957 the South London Press could report on a heatwave day:

“Park regulations about decency in dress were cheerfully ignored by all, and bikinis were not thought out of place in the streets.”

In 1971 Southwark Park was devolved by the Greater London Council to Southwark Council. A few good years for the lido followed but diminishing use, wear and tear and unsustainable running costs cast a shadow over its future. In 1981 it was closed, only in the face of public outcry to re-open a year later.  In 1984 the café building was closed to become an art gallery under the management of Bermondsey Artists Group.  The lido itself struggled on until 1992, when it was permanently closed. For a decade it lay as a sad eyesore in the centre of the park, much lamented by the local community, until the site was replaced with the current children’s playground.  Occasionally there is talk about building another lido in Southwark Park – now that would be something.

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Appeal for images:

Unfortunately we don’t have any photographs of the Southwark Park Lido in our collections.  If you have any photographs which you would like to donate to the Local History Library and Archive please get in touch: LHLibrary@southwark.gov.uk