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

by Lisa Soverall, Heritage Officer

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

Some lessons from the Brandon Estate Cine Club collection

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

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

Screenshot from the film Canvey Capers made in 1969

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

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

How I assessed the condition of the film

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some expert help from the Cinema Museum

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

Volunteer film archivist, Sally, made the following observations

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

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

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

Clubland: Walworth’s pioneering youth club

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

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

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

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

Researching provenance

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

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

Digitising the film

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam King and the Windrush

by Patricia Dark, archivist

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

HMT Empire Windrush (c) Imperial War Museums

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

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

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

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

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

Letter from Attlee to MPs re Windrush

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

IWM FL9448 (Photo of HMT Empire Windrush)

Further reading

Pathé News Windrush feature, 1948

Windrush Foundation interview with Sam King

Windrush Stories from The British library

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

One of US? Windrush from the BBC

Words and Southwark Park – Part 3

By Pat Kingwell

In Part 2 of this article we looked at the local campaigns and developments that made the Park what it is today. Now for some recent developments.

In autumn 2017 Debra Gosling’s ‘The Trees of Southwark Park’ was published; as far as we know, the first full-colour work on the natural glories loved by visitors.    

During 2019 several activities were organised by Southwark Park Association 1869 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the opening of Southwark Park. This time there were no cannons, but words were spoken, sung and written. Free public talks were given by Travis Elborough, Graham Taylor and Mary Gibson. The story of the park was also taken to Blue Anchor and Canada Water libraries, and City Hope Church. Nick Lane led a tree walk in the sunshine, and the Rotherhithe and Bermondsey Choral Society sang on the bandstand.   

On 19th July 2019 a civic ceremony was held alongside the new café. The Worshipful Mayor of Southwark, Councillor Sandra Rhule presided over the sinking of a time capsule, to be opened in 2044. Documents and creative work was donated by individuals and local organisations, including Southwark Park Primary School, who entertained a large crowd by singing ‘Bring Me Sunshine’.

The 150th anniversary also inspired the publication of two books. ‘Women and Southwark Park’, a tribute to the part played by over 200 women in the history of the park; and ‘Fun In The Park’, a collection of the writings and art work of children of Riverside, Rotherhithe and Southwark Park Primary Schools.  

Now in 2020, during these most unusual of times, on your next visit to the park, please look upwards to see something special that was provided by the Southwark Park Galleries and artist Alec Finlay two years ago. The permanent nest box sculpture, ‘Questions & Answers (after Paul Celan)’ draws on the words of the poet and offers us surprise at every view.

Many of the images used are from my own collection, but I must acknowledge and thank Debra Gosling, Barry Marsh and David Toogood for those they have provided.

© Pat Kingwell May 2020

Words and Southwark Park – Part 2

By Pat Kingwell

In Part 1 of this article we looked at the importance of the written word in the early history of Southwark Park.

1995-2020

Fast forward now to more recent times. By the 1990s Bermondsey and Rotherhithe were far different places than in 1869. The process of urbanisation that was beginning in mid-Victorian times was complete. Southwark Park, once the site of market gardens, was by now the only large green space left in a densely crowded area. Over the years the park had matured from the simple place where people promenaded, into a typical twentieth century recreational facility, catering for a variety of sports, children’s play, summer entertainments, and even an art gallery. By the mid-1990s the park required significant upgrading. At that point important words were spoken by the local community.

Reminiscent of the 1850s, passionate meetings were held in late 1995 and early 1996. The many who attended at the Southwark Park Primary School and the Rotherhithe Civic Centre called on Southwark Council to act. The Friends of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe Parks was formed and amongst those most intimately involved were Keib Thomas of Bede Centre, and residents Gary Glover, Gary Magold, Marjorie Hill, Grace Beesley and others.

Southwark Council responded by working with The Friends. A bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund was submitted in March 1998. Fundamental to the application was a Restoration Plan produced by Land Use Consultants. The case put together in that document, by Adrian Wikeley, Paul Harrison and colleagues, makes it arguably the most significant set of words written about Southwark Park since the Act of Parliament in 1864. It led directly to a substantial grant award and by 2001 the park was transformed.

Since the turn of the century words have gone on to play their part in the life of the park. An easily overlooked example is the improvement of signage which provides park users with basic information. Certain features have more detailed boards, e.g. the bees in the nature area; the bandstand; the Jabez West Memorial drinking fountain; the Ada Salter Garden; the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Tree and the Rotherhithe Caryatids. The main entrances have historical information boards too. Local-born cricketing legend, Bobby ‘The Guv’nor’ Abel, has a plaque on the wall of the art gallery.

Festivals and performances have traditionally been part of the park’s link to the community. The Bermondsey Carnival is an especially popular event, bringing on stage a variety of musicians and singers. Everybody will have their favourite memories, but for word play surely the appearances by Londoners Chas n’ Dave, Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook will be hard to eclipse.

Norwegian Constitution Day is another annual event. On 17th May (syttende mai) thousands of our friends from Norway gather near the bandstand to celebrate their independence. The Norwegian language is heard in speeches and folk songs. The bi-centennial event in 2014 was a special day, including the singing of the national anthem: 

“Yes, we love this country                                                 
as it rises forth,
rugged, weathered, over the water,
with the thousands of homes,
love, love it and think
of our father and mother
and the saga-night that lays
dreams upon our earth.”

Any account of words and the park must pay tribute to the Bubble Theatre, who have regularly staged plays in the open-air of summer. Too many to mention, but what fun was had when they brought ‘Punchikin Enchanter’ (2003); ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ (2004); ‘The Crock of Gold’ (2005); Ovid’s Metamorphoses (2006); ‘The Dong With A Luminous Nose’ (2007); Homer’s The Odyssey (2009) and more recently ‘Tales From The Arabian Nights’ (2017).

As one of London’s oldest parks it was surprising that there was no book dedicated to it. In 1999 the restoration scheme gave impetus to myself and Len Reilly to write a very brief history in conjunction with Land Use Consultants. In 2010, following another Heritage Lottery Fund award, an oral history was published. ‘Our Park’, combined heritage information and the reminiscences of many members of the community. Written and visual work was given by children of Rotherhithe Primary School and St. Joseph’s, Gomm Road Primary School.

In 2014 the 150th anniversary of the Southwark Park Act was celebrated with many community-based activities. Words were prominent. With the support of the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association the 1st Southwark Park Brownies produced ‘Kid’s Park’, a colourful nature trail booklet.

Historians Ken Worpole and David Kynaston visited the park and gave free public talks: the former on London Parks, the latter on Bobby Abel. Gary Magold did a guided tour about the park during the First and Second World Wars, and Jon Best, Southwark Council’s Ecology Officer, organised a bat walk. Lynne Olding, Head Gardener, gave a tour of the Ada Salter Garden. 

The 2015 and 2016 summer programmes continued to interpret the park through guided walks and talks. Graham Taylor spoke on ‘Famous Women of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe’; apiarist Sharon Bassey ran bee education days in the nature area; Debra Gosling fascinated us with her ‘Bermondsey Smells’ walk and talk. Alison Clayburn ran creative writing sessions, which resulted in the book ‘Voices Of The Park’.    

In Part 3 we’ll look at some more recent publications.

Collection Creatives – Summer 2020

by Wes White, Library Development Officer

In usual times, when the libraries are open, there is a regular group that meets at Canada Water Library to learn about museum objects and get creative: they are the Collection Creatives.

During this time when the libraries are closed, we are inviting everyone in Southwark to become a ‘Collection Creative’ and join in with our call to feel inspired by objects from the past. If you’d like to join in, this is what you need to do:

1. Have a look at the pictures and notes provided by our Curator, Judy Aitken in her article,Found in the back yard’.

2. Take some time to absorb what you’ve seen and read there. What does it make you think of, or remind you about? Where does your imagination go with these items? Have you found something in your own back garden that made you curious? Maybe you’ve kept it?

3. In your own time, come up with a creative response – anything you like. Just like the work made by our regular group, it could be a sketch, a poem, a story, a memory… or you might feel moved to do something different, that wouldn’t be so easy to do in the library usually – a sculpture? A song? It’s up to you!

4. When you’re ready, share your work with us on social media with the hashtag #CollectionCreatives – we are @SouthwarkLibs on Twitter – or send it by email to wes.white@southwark.gov.uk, saying clearly if you would like it to feature in a post on our Southwark Heritage blog, and how you would like it to be credited if so. (We can’t promise to feature every submission, but we will try to put some highlights together)

Stuck for inspiration?

Don’t feel pressured to come up with a masterpiece. Collection Creatives is for everyone and we’re happy simply to see simple sketches of the objects or some notes about the thoughts they evoke for you. But if you’re not sure where to start and want to try something a bit different, here are some possible starting points:

These are inanimate objects. But usually, things are put in the ground in the garden in hope that they might grow. Imagine a magical garden where anything could grow. If one of these objects had grown like a seed, what would have sprouted?Would a glass bottle grow into a glass tree? Can you draw what you imagine, or tell us about it?

Have you ever found something in your own back yard that has a story to it? Try telling us that story! Maybe you could take an artful photograph of the object to go along with it…

What would be the best thing you could imagine finding in a garden? Maybe that thought inspires a poem or a song?

Go in whichever direction you like with these ideas, or any ideas of your own that Judy’s finds inspire. We’re looking forward to seeing what you make!

Now read ‘Found in the back yard

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.

Found in the Back Yard

By Judy Aitken, Curator

When I moved a few years ago the house was in a very bad condition.  Most of the heavy work was clearing a path to the house, because it was sodden, broken up and in a pretty poor state.  Having moved 4 tons of soil by hand (Ok wheelbarrow) we can actually get in now and the place is drier. But there’s a long way to go.  We found layers and layers of broken stuff chucked by the decades of tenants before us.  We saved these bits to clean and use for decoration or because we just liked them.  In the wood behind the house there’s whole heap of broken toys but as we’ve enclosed the back yard this is not as accessible right now.  Still, we also tidied up the wood as well as our patch.

In olden times people threw fewer things away but also these things were more biodegradable.  But bones, glass, pottery and clay, some metal and even fabrics survive for several hundred years depending on the soil, even for thousands of years. Most homes would have had what in Scotland we called the “midden” where broken things were thrown.  I don’t think the word is exclusive to Scotland but the midden survived in both use and language until the 1970s. 

Bottles and what might possibly be a parasol handle in the foreground

The white thing in front may be a handle of a parasol. It is made of a sort of early plastic type material but is solid and quite heavy.  It could be gutta percha, an early form of very solid rubber which was often used for handles. Bone was also used for handles but it doesn’t feel like that.

All the best bits

We also dug up lots of other bits and pieces but this is what we kept.

Pelvic bone from an animal

I am not an expert on bones but this is either a badger or fox pelvic bone.

Torpedo bottle

A torpedo bottle is a glass bottle shaped like a long cylinder.  Carbonated drinks such as Lemonade bottles in the mid 19th century did not have seals to keep the fizz in, only corks which were not always successful at doing this as they dried out and let air in and also CO2 (the thing which gives it fizz) out. This occurred especially if the bottle was upright as there was a small air gap at the top.  If you laid the bottle on its side the cork kept wet and kept the seal intact.  The torpedo shape meant you couldn’t accidentally leave it upright and lose the fizz.  The shape was no longer needed after proper bottle sealing was invented.

Leg

This mysterious disembodied leg is some kind of metal.  It could be zinc. I have a lot of things made from iron at home and in the museum collection and it doesn’t look much like iron underneath.  It has a rough surface which could be deliberate or might have corroded over time. 

Shells

Shells are not unusual in back gardens all over an island like ours.  I am near the sea and the house used to be on the quay side before the land was all filled in and the estuary diverted further out to the Thames.

Old Spice bottle

Old Spice was originally called Early American Old Spice and was developed in America in 1937, originally for women. Old Spice for men was launched in 1938.  The branding idea is about evoking the colonial feel and so sailing ships and the word spice is used to nod to adventure on the seas, exploration and the exotic trade.  Romantic if you were not on the receiving end of this colonialisation. The original company was the Shulton company but Procter and Gamble bought the product from Shulton in the 1990s.  Old Spice was very popular in the 1970s and the fragrance market for men was also growing, with items such as Brut.   Old Spice is regarded as a bit old fashioned now but has seen a retro resurgence.

What is a pickle jar from Peckham doing miles from London?

I found this pickle jar in the stream running near my house (really an open ditch, let’s not get too romantic although it does have eels and little fish and the odd shrew).

Peckham was famous for its pickle manufacturers as was Bermondsey and though I haven’t tracked this manufacturer down yet it should be easy from the trade directories at the archives.

See what you can find outside

  •  Take care though when sifting through anything.
  • Ideally a pair of washing up or gardening gloves are always good to have to hand (pun intended) and a couple of little bags. 
  • Wash everything very carefully, ideally outside, before you handle them.  You never know what has been in those containers and bottles and things need a good scrub and a soak.  Normally we wouldn’t give museum objects a dunk in detergent but in this case we should make some exceptions!
  • Animal bones should not be directly handled and do no suffer cleaning very well.  Best to look and leave them.

The Phil Polglaze Southwark Leisure Archive

For this week’s archives keep fit regime, we thought it was time to feature some more pictures from the fabulous Phil Polglaze collection. Phil worked as a photographer for the borough in the 1980s and 1990s covering local events for the Southwark Sparrow newspaper and the council’s Leisure department. These pictures show Southwark residents in their finest Lycra taking part in fitness and aerobics events at Peckham Leisure Centre, Elephant and Castle and elsewhere. Most of the images have never been published or seen before and Southwark Archives has been working with Phil to digitise his collection. We hope to feature more of his photographs in the coming months, but in the meantime check out the selection below for exercise inspiration!

You can follow our #ArchivesExercise regime on Twitter.

Aerobathon 30 December 1989

Fitness demonstration 8 December 1989

Keep Fit demonstration 20 November 1990 

Tai Chi and Tae Kwon Do demonstrations, Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre 19 June 1993 

Herne Hill velodrome 10 March 1996

Shops and shortages: Some echoes from a former time of national crisis

by Ngaire Bushell, Producer, Imperial War Museums

I live aboard a boat built in the same year as the Imperial War Museum’s largest object; HMS Belfast. I offer this as an excuse as to why my conversations often meander into the subject of how the Second World War affected the lives of ordinary people. And so it was that in speaking with Southwark’s Harbour Master, Patrick Keating about current shortages and the stockpiling of items such as loo roll, that he suggested that I write something for this blog about rationing in the 1940s. I have decided to focus on a few lesser known aspects of how people coped with restrictions and shortages; and therefore loo roll seems a pretty good place to begin…

The story told by one Liverpool woman of a loo roll being offered as a prize during a whist competition, and the fact that the shortage of loo roll was debated in Parliament in 1944 suggests that then, as in the last few weeks, this vital article was an item rarely sighted on shopkeepers’ shelves. Paper in general was in short supply throughout the long years of the war, with orders to shops to reduce paper consumption to 30% of their pre-war usage, and employees in offices regaled by messages of ‘Don’t waste paper’. We often think that recycling is a modern invention but waste paper was pulped and then re-pulped throughout the war, although as it went through these cycles of usage it began to take on a khaki colour. Of course used paper could skip the pulping phase and be re-purposed directly for service in the lavatory; one former evacuee I know remembers being tasked with cutting up newspaper into squares for use as toilet paper. The bare shelves where once toilet paper was in abundance is a reality of our current situation, but even here there are wartime echoes. One lady in the Women’s Voluntary Services for Civil Defence devoted part of a letter home to her mother about her experience of actually finding loo roll in the shops:

May W. asked me to get some toilet paper if I could. I managed to get some thick stuff at a terrible price and commented on the price to the shopkeeper who agreed with me heartily and said it was an awful price, especially as it was only reconditioned.’

Meanwhile a woman in Croydon would let her neighbour know that the lesser-spotted rolls were on sale by calling out to her: ‘Boots have stationery in’.

Rationing IWM

Some rationed supplies and ration book, courtesy of Imperial War Museums

Keeping calm and making tea was, and remains a very good coping strategy, but with tea rationed at just 2oz per person per week, this had to be used sparingly at home and the government advised doing away with the habit of adding a ‘spoon for the pot’. Tea went on ration in July 1940, but sugar had been amongst the first items to be restricted when the national rationing scheme began in January of that year. For many the limit of 12oz per person per week was one way the war impacted on their lives every single day, and one 10 year old girl remembers her grandfather being firmly told off when he stole an extra teaspoon for his tea when he thought her mother’s back was turned.

For many a cup of tea is incomplete without an accompanying biscuit but many found their pre-war favourite for ‘dunk-ability’ was no longer available due to repurposing factories and labour, the pre-war 350 different types of biscuit were reduced to just 20! As today, with manufacturers switching production to make protective equipment and ventilators, in 1940 a series of laws were passed to ensure that raw materials, factory capacity and labour were diverted towards making munitions, and one of the seldom considered effect of this was the shortages of crockery and cutlery in the shops, which links back to our ‘tea-time theme’ because teaspoons became increasingly hard to come by as cutlery production was cut to just a quarter of the level it had been at in 1940.

Perhaps a good place to end would be the necessity, now as then, of good hand-washing, although fortunately we are not having to contend with soap rationing which was introduced to wartime Britain in February 1942 at an allowance of 3 oz per person, every 4 weeks. One housewife remembered how she stretched her family’s ration by placing the scraps into a tin with holes punched in the lid, and that this ‘when swished in a basin of hot water washed greasy plates, stockings or our hair’. If our current soap stocks on the marina ever run low I would prefer to follow her example than the advice offered in one women’s magazine, which in August 1942 printed an article that began: ‘It is very little known that any material, but particularly woollens, can be most successfully washed with glue dissolved in hot water.’ In these challenging times, and the need for children to be home schooled, this is one piece of 1940s advice I would urge you not to follow as a potential science experiment!

Join Ngaire aboard her little houseboat and learn some wartime recipes in Cakes Made From Carrots, one of the Adventures in History series from Imperial War Museums. 

 

VE Day gallery

by Patricia Dark, Archivist

daniels road victory party 1945
Daniels Road, Nunhead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kirby Estate Victory Party PB2341

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

Ve day party Southwark Park Road Bermondsy

Southwark Park Road Bermondsey

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

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

Chadwick Road, Peckham

Chadwick Road, Peckham

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

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

P21732 VE Party Pyrotechnists Arms Nunhead

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

P21543 VE Day Party Buchan Road Nunhead

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

P21524 Victory Party Nutfield Road Dulwich

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

Gurney St VE Day party P20715 cropped

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

P16265 Evacuees returning to Oliver Goldsmith School from Dorset Jun 1945

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

The Home Front

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

P17264 Southwark Central students gardening with Chair of LCC

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

P21581 Walworth Home Guard Braganza St 1942

Walworth Home Guard, Braganza Street, 1942 (P21581)

P21731 Concert Pyrotechnists Arms War Weapons Week 1943

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

P22222 War Wings Week collection Rye Lane c1942

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

PB2095 MBB Evacuees tea party Worthing Jan 1940

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

PB2096 Worthing and MBB mayors at evacuees tea party Jan 1940

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

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

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