‘Silent Raid’: The story of the lost houses of Burgess Park

by Sally Hogarth, Artist

Sally Hogarth Artwork cropped ‘Silent Raid’ is a series of house sculptures commissioned to commemorate the people and places impacted by a WWI Zeppelin bomb that landed on Calmington Road, which once stood where Burgess Park is located today.

Reminiscent of the terrace houses that were destroyed in the raid and of varying shades found in traditional red bricks, each house represents one of the lives lost in the incident, with each house; large, medium or small representing each man, woman and child.

Like the bands of colour used in mapping bomb damage, the shade of each house darkens with increased proximity to the bomb site. Every house is etched with a quote from documents and reports on the incident, both past and present. The art deco font used is inspired by the lettering on the original commemorative plaque. A new plaque can be found in Chumleigh Gardens in the centre of the park.

Calmington Road 1977 p9968

The process involved meeting with The Friends of Burgess Park and investigating their thorough research archive, including recorded photographs, social commentaries and interviews with survivors and families involved in the incident. Meeting with local historians at the Southwark Local History Library and Archives, I learned about the extent of the bomb damage that the area suffered along with news reports and archives of the unfortunate event.

World War I Zeppelin Raid 1917 edit p17257

Damage to houses in Albany Road, 1917

After spending time in the park itself, I came to appreciate that the area where the park stands today had once been covered by buildings and houses which were destroyed by war. The absence of their existence and public awareness of this in the present day created a powerful feeling I wanted to convey in the work.

Another important issue I sought to address is the home face of war. The nature of this project is unusual in that it commemorates a war incident that happened on home soil rather than far away battlefields. In an age of a mounting refugee crisis, highlighting the living memory of the ground beneath our own feet facing bombs and destruction becomes a significant message.

A lot of the anecdotes and memories of the event had domestic contexts, from toys found amongst the debris, to fish and chips and piano playing. The contrast between these everyday, familiar and comforting images and the violence that disrupted them feels like a poignant crux of the incident.

This has been reflected in the project with the houses having an almost dolls-house feel. The scale of the houses, particularly the smallest, means that they have a certain vulnerability about them whilst the impressions on their surface that suggest windows and doors have a more sinister feel. The research included news reports that recall ‘windows hurled headlong’ and striking images of door frames standing empty without their doors.

Researching into Zeppelins and their bombs led me to find strangely colourful diagrams of the rings of their destruction. Also the records of WWI and WWII building damage in the Lambeth Archives used a gradient of colour to plot the severity of damage. This, paired with the difficulty of plotting the exact spot where the bomb landed, led me to the concept of creating a trail and colour code to the houses. The houses are scattered in a debris-like manner across the park darkening in colour with proximity to where Calmington Road once stood.

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Extract from the London County Council’s WWII bomb damage map series showing gradations in colour.

In all, I sought to ignite visitors’ interest to uncover the story of Calmington Road and the streets that once stood beneath their feet. I also aimed to create an experience for regular park visitors to discover a new house or inscription with each visit, creating a story that unfolds and is passed on between locals. The houses become a prop or a prompt for a story, to start a conversation that gets passed between park visitors and as such the story of this incident will be passed on to future generations.

Decolonising the Archive presents WIndrush Time Capsule at the Africa Centre

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

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

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

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

Sculptures by George ‘Fowokan’ Kelly

Q & A with playwright Connie Bella

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating Vote 100: Suffragists in the Southwark Art Collection

By Curator Judy Aitken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Goatherd by Bertha Newcombe (1857 – 1947)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More tales from the Mystery Object Group

by Wes White, Library Development Officer

Canada Water Library’s Mystery Object Group brings together creative individuals for sessions focused on one or more objects from the Cuming Museum, and other artefacts of local historical interest. The aim is to foster creative responses to the featured artefacts, and we share some of the outcomes on this blog.

Rotherhithe Pottery

The most recent group session was our second field trip, this time to the Rotherhithe Picture Research Library at Sands Film Studios. (To see outcomes from our first field trip, to see the press at the Printworks building, see our previous update.)

This field trip was part of November’s ‘Illuminate Rotherhithe’ celebrations. The Picture Library had a display about the 17th century Rotherhithe Pottery, which operated on the site of the old King Edward III mansion house. This and other potteries along the banks of the Thames often involved people who had moved here from the Netherlands, and they produced ‘English delftware’ using techniques made famous in and around the Dutch town of Delft. Cuming Museum curator Judy Aitken brought a selection of such English delftware found in Southwark.

Water Sprinkler

October included half term week and as a result we welcomed some children into the group to study a replica 16th century ‘water sprinkler’. We were all fascinated and somewhat bewildered by this device, which would have been used to wet dusty floors for sweeping. Placing or removing a thumb on the hole at the top would instantly stop or release the flow of water – although, as you will see in the writing, it seemed to the group to be a bit ‘over-engineered’. Seemingly these sprinklers were very popular hundreds of years ago, however, so they clearly made sense to our ancestors…

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Hops Warehouse Lantern

For many years, and well into the 20th century, the hops trade was a big part of the economy in Southwark. In September we had some examples of the trappings of the trade, including a sample packet of hops and a large candle holder. This lantern had spikes which would have enabled workers to secure it in the bags of hops – the group’s first impression of the device was that it looked vicious rather than practical, which again has certainly influenced our writing here.

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The ‘Veedee Vibrator’

The sexual connotations in the name of this bizarre-looking medical device are misleading. This and contraptions like it were sold in the late 19th and early 20th century as a kind of mechanical panacea – purported uses included treatment for rheumatism, gout, insomnia, tumours, constipation, deafness… the list goes on, but you get the idea. The ‘Veedee’ part of the name is thought to be a reference to the famous Latin idiom ‘Veni, Vidi, Vici’ – presumably on the basis it would ‘conquer’ any illness it came across. Tempting while it might be to think that the manufacturers also hoped to hint that the vibrator would also combat venereal disease, the term ‘VD’ in that context only came into usage in 1920, some years after this was on the market.

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The Poet’s Bridge in Rotherhithe

by Wes White, Library Development Officer

On Tuesday 5 December, the footbridge over Salter Road was named ‘The Poet’s Bridge’ in a short ceremony which also involved the unveiling of twin weathering steel plaques at its centre. The specific poet for whom the bridge has been named is David Jones, whose epic war poem ‘In Parenthesis’ was described by TS Eliot as “a work of genius” and by WH Auden as “a masterpiece”. It is a quote from this poem that now decorates the bridge:

“The returning sun climbed over the hill, to lessen the shadows of small and great things”

Jones was a visual artist as well as a wordsmith. These words are rendered in the shape of Jones’ calligraphic script and accompanied by a reproduction of his woodcut ‘Holy Ghost as Dove’. The panels were designed by the artist Parm Rai and finished at the workshop in Deptford. The work was funded by Southwark Council through the Bermondsey and Rotherhithe community council.

Plaque with shadows

The local area is significant in Jones’ life and in his writing. A section in his other great written work, ‘The Anathemata’, is titled ‘REDRIFF’; and this features the voice of Eb Bradshaw. In real life Eb was Jones’ grandfather – he was parish clerk of St Mary the Virgin in Rotherhithe, and a maker of masts and sails in the Surrey Docks. Furthermore, a character in ‘In Parenthesis’ is given no name but simply referred to as ‘the man from Rotherhithe’. Before the naming ceremony, Anne Price of the David Jones Society speculated that this character might stand for the author himself. It is therefore very appropriate that David Jones should be commemorated here.

The new name for the bridge, though, can also stand for all poets, and the bridge already has a lyrical history going back to the start of this millennium. Every spring half term for the last seventeen years, the staff of the nearby Rotherhithe Primary School have taken to the bridge to read poems aloud. Headmaster Mickey Kelly – who conceived of and organised the naming of ‘Poet’s Bridge’ with assistance from the ‘Cleaner, Greener, Safer’ fund – describes “letting the words hang in the Rotherhithe air”.

The lines quoted from ‘In Parenthesis’ refer to the minutes before the ‘zero hour’ of the battle of the Somme – the moment when the whistle would trigger the attack in the battle of the Somme – when “the world falls apart at last to siren screech”, as the poem has it. Whilst harking forever back to this moment, the words find new meaning on the bridge, where light shines through the stencilled iron and casts shadows where we walk.

Sign, looking over bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The new centre in St Mary’s Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Southwark’s Public Health Pioneers part 1: Bermondsey

by Archivist Patricia Dark

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

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

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

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

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

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Sultan Street and Dix’s Court in the 1930s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alfred and Joyce Salter

Dr Alfred Salter and his daughter, Joyce

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

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

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

st-james-churchyard-1922-ada-salter-and-the-joy-slide

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

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

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

 

 

 

Discovering Southwark’s LGBTQ+ History

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kenneth Lowndes

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

The Follies Concert Party

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

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

Turkish room at Bermondsey Public Baths

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

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

The Street Entertainers Move On

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

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

Southwark LGBT Forum

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

Southwark Sappho

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

 

Southwark’s Blue Plaque nominees 2017: Southwark Charities

Voting has opened for this year’s Southwark Heritage Association Blue Plaques scheme. There are seven worthy nominees, of which only one will get a plaque this year. But who are they and why should they get your vote? To help you decide we’re featuring one nominee per week over the 7 weeks of voting.

This week, read on to discover more about Southwark Charities.

Southwark Charities is an organisation with a history spanning four centuries, starting with a man called John Wrench, a tenant farmer who lived in the vicinity of what we now know as Stamford Street. In 1603 he left a bequest for the maintenance of the poor people of his home parish of Christchurch. This was the first of many charitable gifts and legacies that would form the Southwark Charities.

Over the course of the following 382 years 47 different charities were formed within Southwark with similar aims. The most recent was the Joseph Collier Holiday Trust, which started in 1985. From the 19th century onwards the older charities had begun to form unions, and in 2010 all of them were brought together to form the organisation we see today.

Southwark charities 3One of the more significant early charities was founded by Edward Edwards and this year is the 300th anniversary of his death. In 1717 Edwards left the leases of his land and buildings to trustees, the income of which was to be used for charitable purposes. Some of the money raised was used for the construction of almshouses in the area bordered by Church Walk (now Burrell Street) and Charles Street (now Nicholson Street). The almshouses were rebuilt in 1895 with an inscription from one of the original buildings set into one a new wall. They were rebuilt once more in the 1970s and were officially opened in 1973 by Princess Anne. The new building, Edward Edwards House is now the headquarters of Southwark Charities.

Southwark Charities almshouses

In addition to the traditional functions of providing accommodation and maintenance grants for older people, Southwark Charities also delivers social and community events such as day trips, visits to the theatre, garden parties, and week-long holidays at a specially adapted holiday village. The number of participants in these outings and holidays in 2015 was almost 700.

In Summary:

A 400 year legacy of charitable works in Southwark, showing that the people of this borough have always looked out for each other. Will you #VoteSouthwarkCharities?

Voting ends on 15 September 2017. You can vote by emailing Southwark Heritage Association: admin@southwark.org.uk or the Southwark News: owen@southwarknews.co.uk. You can also vote in person at all Southwark libraries and at both the Mayflower, Rotherhithe Street and Half Moon, Herne Hill.

Southwark’s Blue Plaque nominees 2017: The Half Moon

Voting has opened for this year’s Southwark Heritage Association Blue Plaques scheme. There are seven worthy nominees, of which only one will get a plaque this year. But who are they and why should they get your vote? To help you decide we’ll be featuring one nominee per week over the next 7 weeks of voting.

This week, read on to discover more about The Half Moon

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The Half Moon has had more celebrities pass through its doors than any other pub in this borough. In recent years musicians like Kate Tempest, Anna Calvi and La Roux have made important debuts here. The pub has also been a major comedy venue, attracting performers like Eddie Izzard, Omid Djalili and former local resident Jo Brand. To some, it would be performances by the likes of U2, Van Morrison and the Police in the 1980s that make the Half Moon worthy of a blue plaque, while if you are a fan of folk music, the 1960s were the pub’s heyday, when acts like Bert Jansch and Gerry Lockran performed for the proprietors Ed Parslow and Charles Pearce.

Stepping back a little further, the 1950s was the era of one of the pub’s most celebrated regulars, the poet Dylan Thomas, who may well have named his famous drama Under Milk Wood after nearby Milkwood Road. He was one of many Welsh visitors who came for a drink and a sing-along after matches played by the London Welsh Rugby Football Club. The team had their home at nearby Herne Hill Velodrome, where drinking was not permitted by the landlords, the Dulwich Estate.

The land on which the Half Moon stands is also owned by the Dulwich Estate, (formerly Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift). An inn has stood here since the 17th century. One particularly longstanding and enterprising tenant, John Webb was somehow in the possession of the original tombstone of the Elizabethan actor and founder of Dulwich College, Edward Alleyn. The stone had apparently been used by Webb and his father before him as a talking point for visitors to the pub’s tea gardens. It was presented back to the college in 1844.

The imposing grade II* listed Jacobean revival edifice we see today was built between 1894 and 1896 to designs by local architect James William Brooke. It boasts a number of fine interior features, including six newly restored back-painted mirrors depicting aquatic birds. After four years behind builders’ hoardings these features can now be seen again. The Half Moon reopened in March 2017 and in May hosted its own Dylan Day celebrations in honour of the Welsh poet.

In summary:

South London’s premier music venue for half a century, frequented by poets and an official asset of community value. Will you #VoteHalfMoon?

Voting ends on 15 September 2017. You can vote by emailing Southwark Heritage Association: admin@southwark.org.uk or the Southwark News: owen@southwarknews.co.uk. You can also vote in person at all Southwark libraries and at both the Mayflower, Rotherhithe Street and Half Moon, Herne Hill.