Southwark Libraries: the beginning (part two)

By Emma Sweeney, Learning and Engagement Officer for Southwark Libraries and Heritage

In part one we heard about the ‘uproar’ and ‘hubbub’ that greeted proposals to open publicly funded libraries in the parishes of Southwark. Read on to find out what happened next.

The first parish within what is now Southwark to pass the Public Library Acts was Bermondsey in October 1887. Many local authorities did the same that year to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Rotherhithe adopted the Acts soon after but Christchurch were the first to establish a rate-supported library, which opened in rented premises (on Charles Street, Blackfriars Road) in October 1889.

John_Passmore_Edwards_by_George_Frederic_Watts

John Passmore Edwards

Camberwell eventually adopted the provisions of the Public Library Acts in 1889 after Mr. George Livesey made a handsome offer to build a library should they do so. Newington adopted the Acts in 1890, followed by St Saviour’s in 1891, leaving St George the Martyr the only parish in the area that had not done so. The money thus raised by the rates, however, was nowhere near enough to build, furnish and stock new libraries so public donations of both money and books were essential.

One of the most generous philanthropists was John Passmore Edwards, a journalist and newspaper owner from Blackwater, near Redruth in Cornwall. In his short autobiography A Few Footprints, he writes:

As I had accumulated mainly by the labour of others, I thought, and think, it was only reasonable and just that others should share in the garnered result: and to act accordingly was a duty and a privilege – a duty as a citizen and a privilege as a man.

Between 1890 and his death in 1911, aged 88, Mr. Passmore Edwards was instrumental in the establishment of hospitals, orphanages, convalescent homes, schools, museums, art galleries and twenty-five public libraries: eight in Cornwall, one in Devon (Newton Abbot, his mother’s birthplace) and sixteen in London. In A Few Footprints, he states:

Public libraries are, in my opinion, entitled to public support because they are educative, recreative, and useful; because they bring the products of research and imagination, and the stored wisdom of ages and nations, within the easy reach of the poorest citizens […] All may not use them, but all may do so if they like; and as they are means of instructing and improving some, all are directly or indirectly benefited by them.

In July 1895, the Daily Chronicle published a letter that drew attention to St George the Martyr’s need for a public library but inability to pay for it, due to the poverty of the inhabitants, and asked for help. Mr. Passmore Edwards wrote a letter that was also published in the paper, offering to pay for the building if the parishioners would adopt the Acts to maintain it. A poll was taken and the Acts adopted by a majority of 1,814 in 1896. The foundation stone of what would become Borough Road Library was laid by Mr. Passmore Edwards on Thursday 2nd December 1897.Borough Road exterior

Camberwell particularly benefited from his munificence as he had lived there for some time. Dulwich (1897), Nunhead (1896) and Wells Way (1901, now in Burgess Park) were all Passmore Edwards libraries. The foundation stone for Nunhead Library was laid on Saturday April 11th 1896. At the ceremony, Camberwell Vestry extended its thanks to Mr. Passmore Edwards, saying “We are honoured and encouraged by the special favour you have extended to Camberwell, and we are glad to know that, as a young man, you resided in its historic grove.” Mr. Passmore Edwards, in reply, noted that it was “not his fault that he had to leave Camberwell Grove about a quarter of a century before, as the house in which he happened to live at the time had to be removed in obedience to the inexorable demands of a railway company armed with parliamentary power.”

When Dulwich Library was opened on Wednesday, 24th November 1897 by the Lord Chancellor – Mr. Passmore Edwards having contributed £5000 of the total cost of £5800 – the Times opined “Probably no portion of the metropolis is better served by public libraries than the parish of Camberwell”, remarkable progress in under a decade. The foundation stone of Nunhead bore the motto, “Good deeds live on when doers are no more” and this is certainly true in the case of John Passmore Edwards.Dulwich opening ceremony invitation 24 Nov 1897

When the various parishes were amalgamated into the Metropolitan Boroughs in 1900, Bermondsey boasted two permanent libraries, with a third to follow within two years; Camberwell four, with a fifth within two years and Southwark four.

In some ways, these libraries were quite similar to the service we provide today. Belying, even then, the cry that libraries are “just books”, a thriving programme of lectures and exhibitions was soon in full swing. There were books for lending, books for reference and a range of newspapers and periodicals. In other ways, they were quite different. The Southwark library by-laws of 1902 contain clauses that make interesting reading.

7.—A person who is resident in a house where a case of infectious disease exists, or has occurred, shall not within one month from the removal of the patient to hospital and the disinfection of the premises, or if the case be treated at home, within one month from the patient’s complete convalescence, use the Libraries in any way.

19.—Every person above the age of ten years resident, rated, employed , or attending any Educational Institution in the Metropolitan Borough of Southwark shall be permitted to borrow books for home reading […] the person desirous of becoming a borrower [must have] obtained a ratepayer to become a guarantor for him […] in lieu of such guarantee the applicant may deposit with the Librarian the sum of ten shillings…

Ten shillings would have been a huge amount of money to the poorer inhabitants of Southwark – in 1898 an ordinary labourer in England earned on average 16s. 9d. a year, rising to 17s. 5d. a year in 1902 – so, while the library was, in theory, open to all “ratepayers and inhabitants”, in practice, it is doubtful that poorer inhabitants would have been able to make use of the lending library.

Until after the First World War, most libraries operated a “closed-access” system, rather than today’s “open-access”. The bookshelves were not available for browsing. Instead you had to consult the catalogue and note the number assigned to your desired book before examining the indicator board at the counter. The indicator board in the Livesey Library, for example, was crowded with red and blue lights, one of each assigned to each book the library held. If the blue light was on, the book was available and an assistant would fetch it for you. If the red light was on, it was out on loan. At busy times, making your way through the crowd apparently required tact, strength or both!

Too many of the books thus borrowed, some thought, were fiction, which was a waste of time and money and lacked any educational value. This was a recurring criticism of public libraries. Mr. Passmore Edwards spoke in their defense at the opening of Borough Road Library and was quoted in the local press:

It was not true that public libraries were only used by fiction readers. As an instance, he said that from the Camberwell Central Library nearby, there were issued the year before more than 500,000 volumes and nearly 200,000 of them were books of general reading, including historic, scientific, artistic, biographical, religious, educational, and other works.

If any one of these 500,000 books were back late, they would have attracted fines – in Southwark in 1902, these were set at a penny for the first week and tuppence per week beyond that. Other contraventions, however, attracted far severer punishments. Stealing a book or three, as attempted in 1897 from the Livesey Library, resulted in a sentence of three years penal servitude for the thief while cutting a column from a daily paper, as a customer of Camberwell Central Library discovered in 1902, resulted in a fine of ten shillings or, if not paid, seven days in prison.

In many ways, we’ve come a long way. Some things, however, appear to be eternal. In reminiscences, Mr. William Hahn, Chief Librarian of Camberwell Libraries from 1938 to 1955, recounts how the red-headed Mr. Edward Foskett, the first Chief Librarian, would encounter “rude little boys rushing into the Central Library with a shout”, who would “call out ‘Yah! Ginger Foskett!’ if they caught sight of him, and rush out again”.

To find out more on this subject, drop in to Southwark Local History Library and Archive.

Roman Southwark

By Judy Aitken, Curator of the Cuming Museum

For more than 2000 years, Southwark has been a place of settlement, business and trade.  The Romans established a foothold on the south bank of the Thames shortly after establishing their city of Londinium on the north bank from around AD50.

This southern location, around present day Borough High Street, then grew into a major “suburb” feeding the new trade and travel routes to the South coast and thrived under nearly 400 years of Roman rule.  Sites and artefacts have been found all over Roman Southwark helping us to build a picture of this fascinating period.

Roman Cinerary chest lid (C15232)

The Cuming Museum has over 600 items of Romano British archaeology in its collections, some dating from the earliest days of archaeological excavation.  Early digs in Egypt tended to be focussed on excavating treasure for profit, rather than intellectual understanding and most found their way to traders.

Richard Cuming, the founder of the collection, would have purchased or traded for curios from these digs.  Henry Syer Cuming, his son, was much more interested in archaeology as a discipline.  But even so was keen to take items given to him by workmen who were themselves “excavating” London for new roads, embankments, tube tunnels and other developments.  Henry tended towards Roman British finds rather than Ancient Egypt and there are a large number of small, often personal artefacts from all over London.

The rest of the Cuming’s archaeology collections come from digs during the 20th century.  Professional archaeologists such as Kathleen Kenyon, who went on to make her name as one of the world’s foremost archaeologists in places such as Jordan, carried out extensive excavation of sites around Borough High Street.  Look out for a blog about her soon!

The Southwark and Lambeth Archaeological Excavation Committee (SLAEC), which continues to this day, also carried out extensive excavations of sites.  Much of the material came to the Cuming Museum as the nearest place of repository.

However, in the late 20th century the main place of repository for archaeological excavation material was the Museum of London.  The Cuming’s collections still contain large amounts of material from Kenyon’s and SLAEC’s digs however, and we are working with Museum of London to review it all.

Roman Hunter God statue (C15236)

London Borough of Southwark still supervises major digs in the borough, along with professional archaeology companies such as Pre-Construct and Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) as the north of the borough in particular is rich in archaeological evidence.  Companies who want to build or alter premises have to have an archaeological survey carried out and if there are finds then work can be paused in order for archaeologists to record and preserve the sites and any material.

“Pots and Prayers” is a new free exhibition at Morley College, giving a glimpse of Southwark’s Roman story by showcasing from the collections of the Cuming Museum.

It will run from Wednesday 1 March to Wednesday 19 April 2017 and will be in the college’s main foyer.

Events during the exhibition run include talks, walks around Roman Southwark and creative workshops. Families will be able to make Roman mosaics, try a toga or create a Roman city.

While the exhibition only scratches the surface, you will be able to learn a lot more during Morley’s 10 week Roman London course, starting Wednesday 26 April 2017.

Dickens’ Southwark: Mint Street Workhouse

Mint Street Workhouse c.1920 PS03225 web

 

The workhouse in Mint Street dates back to 1729. The initial number of residents was relatively small, and conditions were recorded in ‘An Account of Several Workhouses’ in October 1731.

“There are now in it 68 Men, Women, and Children, of which all that are able, spin Mop-Yarn, and Yarn for Stockings, which are knit by the Women; and beside this Work, 25 Children are taught to read, and say their Catechism.”

Dickens 3 cropThe St. Saviour’s Union Workhouse at Mint Street is thought to have provided Dickens with the model for the scene in Oliver Twist where the starving boy ‘asks for more’. When Dickens was young, lodging in nearby Lant Street, he passed Mint Street on his way to work. He would have seen the pauper children on their way to work in nearby workshops and factories. Dickens revisited the area as an adult, including Marshalsea Prison. His journalistic writings show he frequently went on fact finding missions to schools, hospitals, factories, workhouses and slums. It is very likely he would have visited the workhouse on Mint Street.

Map of St Saviour's Union Workhouse, Mint Street. 1872The Lancet investigated conditions in London workhouses and their infirmaries for a series of articles. Their description paints an abysmal picture of life in Mint Street Workhouse:

 For the last three years and a half this house appears to have suffered from various epidemics, and especially from typhus. Many cases are admitted into the house from the neighbourhood; but many are developed in the house, and apparently in this way: The tramp ward for the women is a miserable room, foul and dirty, with imperfect light and ventilation, the floor being simply bedded with straw. Into this open sty the women are passed in, often with little or no clothing; and there, in considerable numbers, they pass the night. There being no watercloset attached, a large can or tub is placed in the room. This is the sole accommodation which the apartment possesses. The master informed us that there is no matron to look after the women, and that the place was really ‘a den of horrors’… We cannot doubt that, with such a history and so many surroundings, it is our duty to condemn this workhouse, which ought to be removed, and one built better adapted to fulfil its duties to the poor and sick of the neighbourhood.

They recorded the meagre food rations in Mint Street Workhouse as follows:

Full Diet (Male and Female.)
Breakfast:           Bread-and-butter, 4 oz.; tea, 1 pint.
Dinner:                Bread, 4 oz.; broth, 1 pint; potatoes, 8 oz.; meat, 4 oz.
Supper:                Bread-and-butter, 4¼ oz.; tea, 1 pint.

Mint Street Copper C05140 webThe pot, or ‘copper’ from the workhouse was donated to the Cuming Museum by the Workhouse Board of Guardians in 1921. It stood in the corner of the large stone hall at the workhouse and the broth or gruel was ladled out to hungry inmates. A circular brick wall around the base held in the fire, but was damaged when the museum was hit by a bomb during the Second World War.

Though the The Lancet articles caused an outcry which was a significant factor leading to the passing of the Metropolitan Poor Act in 1867, the Mint Street Workhouse itself remained in use until the 1920s.

Today, much of the former site is home to Mint Street Park, with just a small stretch of original workhouse wall remaining.

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This month we will be looking into some of Dickens’ old haunts, and if you want to wrap up warm and step out onto the streets yourself, you can download our app (for iPhone or Android), and let the narrator take you on a journey that unveils Dickens’ Southwark. You can also use the Literary Map to see where Dickens’ books (and those of other authors) relate to the streets of Southwark.

Dickens’ Southwark: Marshalsea Debtors Prison

Charles DickensCharles Dickens first came to Southwark at the age of 12, when his parents and all the Dickens children except for Charles and his sister Fanny, were imprisoned at Marshalsea Debtors Prison for a £40 and 10 shillings debt owed to a local baker. Charles moved to nearby Lant street to be close to his family in the prison. His experiences of poverty as a child strongly influenced his writing and are found in descriptions and characters in many of his novels. He described many places in Southwark which he had known as a child and some are still recognisable today.

What remains of the high prison wall forms one side of a pathway which runs alongside Southwark’s John Harvard and Local History Libraries on Borough High Street.

A cast iron water pump stood in the courtyard of Marshalsea when Dickens’ family was imprisoned there in 1824. Charles must have passed this pump when visiting his family at the prison. It was donated to the Cuming Museum, after the prison building was demolished, in 1924.

Key to Marshalsea PrisonThe museum’s collection also includes a key to Marshalsea prison with a label attached which reads: “The key of Marshalsea Prison. Given to S. W. by her father 1884. Where little Dorrit was born. Written by Charles Dickens.”

Little Dorrit Stained Glass WindowLittle Dorrit, one of Dickens characters from a novel of the same name, was indeed born in Marshalsea Prison, and was christened across the road at St George the Martyr church, built in 1734 and commonly known as ‘Little Dorrit’s Church’ . One night she returned to the prison too late and was locked out for the night so she slept in the vestry of the church with the register for a pillow. It was this same church in which she was married to Arthur Clennam, and in the bottom right-hand corner of the modern stained glass window at the east-end of the church is a representation of Little Dorrit wearing a poke hat.

This month we will be looking into some of Dickens’ old haunts in a series of blogs. If you want to wrap up warm and step out onto the streets yourself, you can download our app (for iPhone or Android), and let the narrator take you on a journey that unveils Dickens’ Southwark. You can also use the Literary Map to see where Dickens’ books (and those of other authors) relate to the streets of Southwark.

Happy Birthday, Mr Dickens

Young Dickens - colourCharles Dickens has a long and deep association with Southwark, both personal and literary, and particularly with the area known as the Borough.

Born on 7 February 1812, to John and Elizabeth Dickens at 1 Mile End Terrace (now 393 Commercial Road), Portsmouth. The young Charles Dickens spent his seemingly idyllic early years on the move, as his family relocated from Portsmouth to London, then Sheerness, before settling in Chatham, Kent until the age of 11. At this time Dickens’ father was recalled to London amid rising debts as the family lived beyond its means. John Dickens was sent to Marshalsea Debtors Prison in the area known as the Borough and was joined by his wife and youngest children, as was customary at the time.

Lant St PS02087 webPoor Charles was left to lodge alone, at the age of just 12 years old, in nearby Lant Street. And this is where his long and deep association with Southwark, both personal and literary, began.

This month we will be looking into some of Dickens’ old haunts in a series of blogs. If you want to wrap up warm and step out onto the streets yourself, you can download our app (for iPhone or Android), and let the narrator take you on a journey that unveils Dickens’ Southwark. You can also use the Literary Map to see where Dickens’ books (and those of other authors) relate to the streets of Southwark.

Getting to know the Local History Library and Archive

Southwark’s rich and diverse history is told through surviving documents. These historical sources, along with information on changes in the borough today, have been gathered at Southwark Local History Library and Archive.

If you are researching your family history, or just curious to know more about how your local area has changed over the years, then you can find a wealth of information waiting to be uncovered in the library and archive on Borough High Street.

LHL Film Footage

Stills from film footage in the archive

Around 20,000 photographs, prints and topographical watercolours provide a vivid visual record of Southwark over the last 200 years. And a range of films reflecting life in the borough, from 1899 to the present day, let you join residents as they celebrate everything from Christmas parties and sports days to Royal visits.

Written archives include press cutting, periodicals, parish registers, Post Office directories and some of the records of the former civil parishes going back to the 16th century, including vestry minutes, taxation records and poor law records. Some local organisations have also deposited their records, including businesses, non conformist churches and early schools.

The archives continue to grow and if you have material that you would like to donate please contact one of the archivists who can determine whether it would be a suitable addition to Southwark’s holdings or be better suited to another institution.

Inspired by historic films from the collection, young people from the Cuming Museum’s Youth Panel created three short films on the theme of Growing Up in Southwark. This included a short introduction to using the resources at the Southwark Local History Library and Archive.