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Centre for Metropolitan History


British and Irish Furniture Makers Online (BIFMO) now available!

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Conversation piece, a cabinet maker’s office. Oil Painting, England, c. 1770 (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Image No. 2006BF4151-01).

The Institute of Historical Research and the Furniture History Society are delighted to announce that the BIFMO database is now freely available to view online at https://bifmo.data.history.ac.uk.

The initial phase of the project has seen the construction of the BIFMO database comprising information on English furniture makers drawn from the 1986 guide to the trade, the Dictionary of English Furniture Makers, 1660 – 1840, as well as from the London Joiners’ Company apprenticeship and freedom records, 1640-1720.

The database will contain detailed biographies of British and Irish furniture makers from the sixteenth century to the present day, providing a rich resource for historians of social, economic, political, art, furniture and material culture, as well as to collectors, connoisseurs and the art market. In addition to extending the chronological dates of the database’s biographical data, our aim is to broaden the contents of BIFMO to visual materials, as well as the reproduction of a wide range of primary sources.

The second phase of the project is undertaking new research to explore key historical questions surrounding the furniture making industry, including a case study on the role of British and Irish women in the nineteenth century: where they lived, their occupational roles, how they sold their wares, and their clientele. In addition, ongoing development to the BIFMO website will introduce new ways of engaging with the data as we enhance the information in the Dictionary with new scholarship published since 1986.

BIFMO is an ongoing project, with separate but integrated research, resource-creation, public engagement and training strands. If you would like more information about the project, or the database, or getting involved, please do get in touch: http://bifmo.data.history.ac.uk/contact

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Heritage Lottery Fund awards Stage 2 funding for ‘Layers of London’ project

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The IHR is delighted to announce that the Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded Stage 2 funding of £929,800 for the ‘Layers of London’ project. An additional £600,000 will come from matched funding and other contributions. Thanks to support made possible by National Lottery players, Layers of London, which began in 2016, will build an innovative digital platform to enable the public to create and upload heritage content, linked to digitised historic maps of London from the Romans to the present day. The team will be coordinating a large number of volunteer projects across London, including in schools.

The IHR’s project partners are Birkbeck, University of London, London Metropolitan Archives, the British Library, The National Archives, Historic England and Museum of London Archaeology. The project team, based at the IHR, is led by Professor Matthew Davies of Birkbeck, University of London and the Project Manager is Seif El Rashidi at the IHR. For more information, and to get involved in the project see https://layersoflondon.blogs.sas.ac.uk/

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Furniture history: the digital future

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This editorial originally appeared in the Burlington Magazine.

NEXT YEAR IS the three hundredth anniversary of the birth of Thomas Chippendale, an event that will be marked in his native county by an exhibition at Leeds City Museum.1 The story of the study of Chippendale, perhaps the only furniture designer and maker whose name is instantly recognisable to a majority of the public, would be an interesting topic to research as it would shed light on the development of furniture history as a scholarly discipline in Britain. A turning-point was the foundation in 1964 of the Furniture History Society (FHS), and the publication from 1965 of its journal, Furniture History. Its 1968 volume was devoted to Chippendale (as its 2018 volume will be also). This included an article by Nicholas Goodison on archival material at Nostell Priory, Yorkshire, relating to the designer, which was linked to a catalogue of the Chippendale furniture in the house, published as two articles in this Magazine by the same author, with Lindsay Boynton.2 The collaboration between the FHS and this Magazine was reinforced by the November 1969 issue, devoted entirely to articles by members of the Society. This was intended to demonstrate that furniture studies should be part of professional art history, and that the work of a leading furniture designer and craftsman deserved all the academic rigour that was taken for granted in the study of painters and sculptors. With the publication in 1978 of Christopher Gilbert’s two-volume monograph on Chippendale, that ambition was amply fulfilled.3

The study of British furniture could have proceeded entirely on such traditional monographic lines, but in fact that approach became subsidiary to a broader study of the furniture trade in all its aspects. This new direction owed a great deal to the publication by the FHS in 1986 of The Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660–1840, edited by Geoffrey Beard and Christopher Gilbert. Its fifty thousand entries, assembled largely on the basis of information from the Society’s members, supply a brief history of each maker, with notes on documentary and other sources. This is an invaluable resource, but it has always been acknowledged that it represents only a fraction of the information that could be drawn out of the documentary record. To take just one example, the Dictionary contains the names of about five hundred London furniture makers at work between 1660 and 1725, but in a recent Ph.D. thesis Laurie Lindey was able to list twelve thousand names for the period 1640–1720.4

For some years it has been clear that the way forward was the establishment of a digital database to replace the Dictionary. This is now being undertaken by the British and Irish Furniture Makers Online Project (BIFMO). Announced last October, this is a collaboration between the FHS and the Centre for Metropolitan History (CMH) at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London. The first phase, due to go online on 30th September, is an open-access searchable database of all the entries from the Dictionary, together with the names from Lindey’s thesis. The project, which is being overseen at the IHR by Lindey as a post-doctoral research fellow, working with Mark Merry, acting director of the CMS, is highly ambitious. As well as extending the coverage to Ireland, Scotland and Wales, it aims to include other parts of the world from which British craftsmen originated or where local makers were influenced by British practices or immigrants. It also plans to extend the chronological range, initially to 1900 and eventually to the present day. The cost of the project’s first five years of operation is estimated to be £365,000, which will fund the post-doctoral research fellowship, additional junior research scholars, technical costs and related events, such as study days and conferences. Of this, £55,000 has already been pledged and the first year of operation has been temporarily underwritten by the FHS. It is to be hoped that funds can readily be found for a project that promises to reshape the future of British furniture studies.5

At present, none of the twelve thousand names in Lindey’s thesis can be associated with a known work. One of the many exciting possibilities raised by BIFMO, which will be illustrated, is that it will allow the names of makers to be linked to surviving furniture. For this to be achieved, catalogues of furniture must themselves be digitised. In England, a lead has been set by the National Trust, which in 2015 undertook a three-year Furniture Research Project. Funded by the Royal Oak Foundation and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, this is paying for additional staff to research and catalogue the Trust’s collection of furniture – which, with some 55,000 items, is the largest in the world in single ownership. Here again, funding will be sought, as it would be deeply regrettable if the project were allowed to lapse in 2018. Some eleven thousand furniture entries in the Trust’s online catalogue have already been fully revised.6 Among them will be the entries on Chippendale, in time for his three hundredth anniversary – an event that will, thanks to digital technology, coincide with advances in furniture history that may one day seem as significant as the launch of the FHS.

1 Thomas Chippendale: A Celebration of Craftsmanship and Design 1718–2018, Leeds City Museum, 9th February–10th June 2018. For details of the exhibition, and of other anniversary events, go to www.chippendale300.co.uk.

2 L. Boynton and N. Goodison: ‘The furniture of Thomas Chippendale at Nostell Priory – I and II’, THE BURLINGTON MAGAZINE 111 (1969), pp.281–85 and pp.351–60.

3 Reviewed by Geoffrey de Bellaigue in this Magazine, 122 (1980), pp.440–42. Another significant event was the foundation in 1965 of the Chippendale Society.

4 L. Lindey: ‘The London Furniture Trade 1640–1720’, unpublished Ph.D. diss. (Institute of Historical Research, University of London, 2015).

5 Potential donors are asked to contact Keith Nicholls at the FHS: finance@furniturehistorysociety.

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6 www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk.

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A review of Charles Booth’s London

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This post has kindly been written for us by Seif El Rashidi, Project Development Officer for the HLF ‘Layers of London’ Project.

Charles Booth’s London (http://booth.lse.ac.uk/) is a new digital resource created by the London School of Economics and Political Science as a means of sharing Charles Booth’s great work, his Inquiry into the Life and Labour of the people of London, undertaken between 1886 and 1903.

The Inquiry was a survey of working class London, best known for one of its outcomes: The Booth Poverty Maps, which show poverty levels on a street-by-street basis. What is remarkable about the survey is its thoroughness – it looked at the both working and living conditions, as well as at the religious life of the city, going into an extraordinary level of detail in order to produce simple, clear colour-coding denoting the economic and social status of the residents.  Even more significant is that 450 of Booth’s field books survive, providing rare insights into the lives of Londoners of all walks of life at the end of the Victorian period, as experienced from this ambitious and rigorous first-hand survey. Most of these field books have been digitised and are available as an integral part of this website.

Sample entries include: “Oak Place – flagged passage, gas workers, clean faces, well fed….. (Booth/B/367)

…. “on the side is a common lodging house for women of a disorderly character. Two specimens were parading the street and objurgating the deputy with a very choice selection from their vocabulary.”  (Booth/B/354)

and  “All good working class, Kinnerton is a great street for letting; the public house at the corner of Motcombe Street is used as is the small barber’s shop on the west side. (Booth/B/362)

These illustrate just how valuable this survey is in capturing the life of London at the end of the 19th century, bringing the city alive through brief but telling descriptions, many of which fuel the imagination.  Many of these accounts were obtained by following the police on the beats around different neighbourhoods of the city. Incidentally, the City (capital C) was not included in the survey, which otherwise spans the area from Chiswick to Greenwich, and from south Brixton in the south to Upper Holloway in the north.

The new website is truly a visually-appealing, user-friendly creation, with the contextual blurbs broken down into short paragraphs, providing clear information, and ensuring that all the practicalities, like referencing, are easy to find.  The two main components of the website are the map and the notebooks, the latter with specific sections on Jewish London, Stepney and Bromley Workhouses, and Police notebooks.

Notebook pages are summarised to indicate which streets are mentioned on each page, as well as any other key information, for example:

“Irish inhabitants Paradise Walk. Sloane Court, Burton Court, Queen’s Road….”

Users can search the map by place name. The results appear with three distinct classifications: place names in contemporary usage, 1898 landmarks corresponding to that name, and 1898 parishes. This is just one example showing the thought that has gone into making this website easy to use.  It pre-empts problems that commonly arise in searches for place names on a historic map.

Relevant content from the notebooks appears across the map and is very easy to access. Even better, notebook content has been digitised at an excellent resolution, and can be downloaded and printed. Furthermore, material is in the public domain.

The Highlights section present a thematic selection of excerpts, focusing on drinking and drugs, prostitution, and immigration –evidently a pertinent topic, even then.

Charles Booth’s London is, in many respects, an exemplary project, especially in its aims, and ease of use, omitting the need for lengthy instructions. Many a project could learn volumes from its slickness, and its commitment to sharing valuable information. It is positively helpful – like an enthusiastic and supportive librarian, except digital.  As such, the only shortcomings seem to be trivialities  (that the ‘About’ section is at the bottom of the page, and maybe a brief introductory blurb at the top would have been useful; and that subheadings are not clickable, necessitating lots of ‘Discover’ buttons instead). In spending a good deal of time discovering the work of Charles Booth and his team, my one grievance is that their handwriting was often spidery and hard to read –  with a generous sprinkling of abbreviations like 3 ½ st. (presumably storeys?) To LSE library’s credit is the fact that these are the few anomalies on an otherwise highly-legible website.

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Mapping Memory: The Gascoigne Open Estate Project

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This post, written by Seif El Rashidi (Project Development Officer for the HLF ‘Layers of London’ Project), originally appeared on the ‘Layers of London’ project blog

Gascoigne-Estate-Event-1-e1475243128842-1024x785

A series of photographs by Saira Awan capture the family lives of residents of the Gascoigne Estate. These were on display in the public space around some of the buildings as part of the Open Estate Festival.

The Open Estate Project is a London mapping project of a different sort- documenting the memories and reflections of residents of a large housing estate in London that is currently being redeveloped to make way for new housing. It is one of the many projects of Studio 3 Arts, a charity set up to develop and deliver socially-engaged, co-created artistic practice in North East London and West Essex.

A fascinating collection of visual material resulted from the project – this includes portraits of families relaxing at home, as well as photos of the Estate during moments of pivotal change – showing residents doing everyday chores with the bulldozers at work in the background, or capturing the effect of the seasons on an urban landscape that will never be there again – like the modernist checkerboard created by the snow-covered paths and buildings.

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Open Estate asked local residents to think of what was valuable to them and why. Here are some of the answers.

An exhibition of wide ranging artistic output captured personal reflections on what objects and items people cherished, made out of clay – an old bathtub, a laptop, plates and saucers. To complement that, a cabinet of travelling treasures displayed people’s real mementos: an action man doll, a mantle clock, a pearl necklace.

As one of the panels in the evocative display told a crowd of fascinated visitors:

“As Gascoigne moves through the regeneration process, some objects may be the last remaining elements of a former flat – the valve from a hot water cylinder – a lock and key that used to secure a home. But other objects demonstrate moving forward, a Disney keyring from a family holiday that will hold the key to a new home, and mugs that will be the first out of the removal box for a restorative hot drink.”

A ceramicist, Simeon Featherstone, worked with local residents of all ages to produce a collection of glazed ceramic globlets, made of clay dug up from the estate itself, some of these include imprints of Gascoigne’s textures: the coarse fibres of a carpet, and the swirls of wall paper. Among the most fascinating were pieces with maps of the different phases in the life of the estate – like the ones shown here, placing the plan of Victorian terraces below that of the 1950s blocks that replaced them, the very structures that are now being erased.  The goblets were a nod to the history of the Gascoigne family, wealthy aristocrats who once owned the land.

gascoigne-11-180x300

One of a collection of goblets created to represent the urban evolution of the Gascoigne Estate, from the property of the aristocratic Gascoigne Family, to Victorian terraces, to the current, rapidly disappearing, blocks of flats.

The project’s final celebration culminated with a symposium at which heritage specialists, planners, community members and local officials put their heads together and reflected on what had been taking place.  One comment from a local resident summed it all up. “I watched a programme on the Tudors which featured a painting showing Henry VIII holding a skull – the skull was a reminder that nothing is permanent; that everything must change. So it must!”

Apart from its obvious benefits in bringing a community together to share and support each other during a period of significant change, a project like Open Estate is of great value to urbanists, and to those historians of the future who can look back at its photos, its drawings and its recordings, and understand first-hand what sort of community this was, in many different ways.

It is exactly the sort of information Layers of London can help preserve.

As Steve Lawes, Trainee Project Manager for the Open Estate Project says “The Layers of London project is a fantastic opportunity for ordinary people to access their history via visual and written records. It will allow multidisciplinary and multimedia archival and personal histories to be easily accessible, easily edited and easily understood.

For Open Estate, which is unearthing the personal and social histories of the Gascoigne Estate in Barking, Layers of London will allow us to unearth stories from people we might not have otherwise met or conversed with, and users will be add their memoirs and photos to certain places, potentially giving us a more detailed, and most of all personal, historical record. The format of adding memories and histories to a map will make people think about space, time and history in a different way to what they might learn from an information sign at a museum, or from a book. “

To find out more about this fascinating project click here.

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First phase of the English Furniture Makers Online project launched

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Phillip Hunt trade card, British Museum trade card collection online: Museum number Heal, 28.104

Trade card of Phillip Hunt, cabinet maker at ‘ye Looking Glas & Cabinet’ at the east end of St Pauls Church yd, c. 1690 (British Museum, Department of Prints and Drawings, Heal Collection Ref. 28.104). <http://www.britishmuseum.org/collection>, British Museum, online [accessed 17 October 2016].

We are delighted to announce the launch of the first phase of the English Furniture Makers Online project (EFMO), a collaboration between the Furniture History Society and the Centre for Metropolitan History. The first phase of the project, generously funded by the Furniture History Society (as part of their 50th anniversary appeal) marks the beginning of a larger research project to investigate the nature and historical contexts of the artisans and craftsmen involved in the English furniture trade in the period 1600–1900. The wider project will combine scholarly research with advanced digital resource creation to enhance our understanding of the industry – the patronage, commissions, designs, production and methods of retailing in the period – and then to make the sources and analysis available to a broad audience. This audience will be made up of groups with varied interests, but will include furniture historians, architectural historians, social, economic and cultural historians, museum curators, as well as collectors and the commercial market.

At the heart of the wider project is the 1987 publication of the Dictionary of English Furniture Makers (DEFM). Digitising this resource, and making it available with a sophisticated interrogative user interface to allow rich interaction and detailed analysis, will mark a significant advancement in the study of English furniture makers and the trade in its own right. However it is proposed that a second phase of the project will build upon the work of the DEFM with new scholarship that has emerged in the thirty years since its publication, and with new archival and material research that has been identified in recent years.

The study of English furniture was originally conceived as an adjunct to art history at the beginning of the twentieth century. The subject has conventionally been approached through object-based examinations with the primary aim of establishing provenance. This methodology depends on the survival of labelled artefacts or documentary evidence which links objects to particular makers and consequently limits the examination to rare survivals, most of which are attributed to tradesmen at the top of the furniture-making hierarchy. This project will include furniture makers across the spectrum, from cabinetmakers who supplied royal households to humble artisans at the opposite end of the supply chain.

The Restoration is an era considered to have witnessed the birth of modern English furniture and London furniture makers were at the heart of this innovation. Furniture historians often argue that the single most important cause for this advancement was the jubilant restoration of the monarchy in 1660. The story goes that an influx of continental craftsmen came to London following Charles II’s return from exile and brought inspiration to the capital’s artisanal communities after the turbulent years of the civil wars and the dour, joyless decade of the Commonwealth. There is clearly some truth to this interpretation as the return of the king and his court certainly benefited the decorative arts financially: the Lord Chamberlain’s accounts document substantial payments to various types of craftsmen to rebuild and refurnish royal palaces. This had an effect on the wider community. Middling sorts were keen to emulate the social habits and lifestyles of their betters, thus spurring a consumer revolution of sorts which some economists have termed ‘the Veblen effect of emulative spending’. The seventeenth-century economist and financial speculator Nicholas Barbon wrote in 1690 that ‘it is not Necessity that causeth the Consumption. Nature may be Satisfied with little; but it is the wants of the Mind, Fashion and the desire of Novelties and Things Scarce that causeth the Trade’.

However, in over-emphasising the idea that the return of the monarchy was responsible for the birth of modern English furniture, historians neglect the influence of Asian and continental European designs and styles in England before the Restoration, and underestimate the prowess of London furniture-makers. Living conditions were unarguably difficult: standards of living in London during the late 1640s represented the worst slump since the 1590s. First-hand accounts describe the reality for tradesmen: the London turner, Nehemiah Wallington lamented that ‘workmen are gone and trading is dead’, and the Venetian ambassador recounted that ‘all shops are kept shut by order of Parliament with loss to merchants and inconvenience to the inhabitants’. Nevertheless, these circumstances should not obscure the fact that prior to 1660 many English artisans were already highly skilled and well versed in contemporary decorative styles and designs.

The late 1660s proved a pivotal period in transforming London into a modern European capital and the furniture trade made a substantial contribution to this manufacturing boom with the introduction of fashionable new objects that captivated retailers and consumers alike. Daniel Defoe remarked that in London, ‘the poorest citizens live like the rich, the rich like the gentry, the gentry like the nobility, and the nobility strive to outshine one another’.

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Heritage Lottery funding for IHR’s ‘Layers of London’ project

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17th century map of London

Late 17th century view of London by William Hollar

The Institute of Historical Research has been awarded a first-stage pass and development funding of £103,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for a new interactive online resource tracing London’s history from the Roman period to the present day. The Centre for Metropolitan History, working with the Victoria County History, is leading the development of this resource that will create a multi-layered map of London drawing upon a wide variety of maps and archival materials, currently held in different collections.

A major element of the project will be to engage the public at borough level and city-wide, through crowd-sourcing, volunteer, schools and internship programmes, inviting them to upload photographs and personal histories. It will present the most comprehensive snapshot of London’s diverse history in one resource, and is unique in enabling the creation of new content by online users and volunteers, who will learn new skills and be encouraged to start new local heritage projects of their own.

Waterlow and Sons 1937 Map of London

Waterlow and Sons 1937 Map of London

A number of prestigious partners are involved, including: London Metropolitan Archives, Historic England, Museum of London Archaeology, The British Library, Senate House Library, The National Archives and the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. The heritage assets contributed by the partners are incomparable sources of evidence and knowledge of all aspects of the history of London; they provide aesthetic, architectural, historic and scientific information on the city; and they have unique social and community value as records of everyday life, work and culture in the capital.

See the full Press Release about this project.

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Historical research in London archives

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This post was written by Charlie Berry, a doctoral student at the Institute of Historical Research and cross-posted from the History Collections website

As a research student, a lot of my time is spent beavering away in libraries and archives. My thesis topic, neighbourhoods in fifteenth-century London, means that I am fortunate in having most of the material I need all in one city.

The collections available in London libraries and archives are extensive and usually remarkably well-catalogued. Since I mainly work with documentary sources, the majority of my research time is spent either at the London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell or The National Archives at Kew. The collections at both are vast, covering a broad range of periods and topics, and it’s easy to follow trails through the documents all in the one reading room. I’m also fortunate in that both the LMA and National Archives have printed and manuscript indexes available for a lot of the material I look at, which is invaluable for pinpointing the records I need.

Beyond the large archives, there is an amazing array of diversity in the collections available to researchers in London. My thesis research has also taken me to the Guildhall Library, which mainly houses the records of London’s livery companies. Local Borough archives too offer a wealth of material which is perhaps underused by historians. My local archive in Hackney is a wonderful resource I used during my MA as well as whilst recently taking part in a local history project. That project is itself creating an archive of material at the Bishopsgate Institute Library, which has archival collections specialising in radical history.

There’s such a large amount of material out there in London’s archives, large and small, that there must be a million untouched research topics hiding in the files and folders just waiting to be explored, with friendly archivists there to help you find them! History Day at Senate House is a great opportunity to find out more about the kinds of collections available in London (and beyond).

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PASSAGE: A symposium on writing about walking in London, 1500-1900

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H1170010The Dr Seng Tee Lee Centre, Senate House Library
October 27th 2015

The University of London’s Senate House Library will be hosting a symposium in connection with a new project to begin later this year being jointly run by the Centre for Metropolitan History at the Institute of Historical Research, Senate House Library and the School of Advanced Study. The Passage project hopes to address a number of research questions arising from historical texts that describe or are structured around walking around London. It’s intended to be very broad in its disciplinary approaches, as well as its period of coverage (from Stow to the early 20th century), and its research themes will be wide ranging, including:

  • The topographical development of London at various periods
  • The associations of place with specific types of activity
  • The associations of place with types of morality
  • The development of consumer services
  • Reasons for and different types of walking around London (‘strolling, striding, marching’)
  • Changes in the literary genre of ‘travel writing’, broadly defined

The body of texts to be examined by the project include tour guides, travel journals of visitors, literary/polemical discourses ‘attached’ to walks, topographical surveys, administrative records (e.g. perambulation accounts), criminal records (e.g. trespass depositions) and governmental (control of walking routes/rights of way, enclosure, management of protest etc.).

The project is still very much in its infancy at the moment – even the project website is yet to be launched! – but the symposium will provide an excellent opportunity for scholars and students from various backgrounds and disciplines to define the landscape. The symposium will fall into two halves: the first half of the day will focus on papers from invited speaks who will be discussing very different approaches to historical writing about walking in London. Speakers include Nick Barratt (SHL) will be talking about walking as recorded in official records, focusing on Medieval London; Sarah Dustagheer (Kent) will be talking about Shakespeare, walking and London; Richard Dennis (UCL) who will be talking about George Gissing, Charles Booth and 19th century walking in London; and Matthew Beaumont (UCL) who will be discussing nightwalking in London.

The second half of the day will include a round-table discussion of the themes that arise from the papers, and will also provide an opportunity to view interesting and rare examples of London walking literature. In the afternoon, Senate House Library’s Rare Books Library, Dr Karen Attar, will be displaying and talking about the Bromhead Library (http://senatehouselibrary.ac.uk/our-collections/special-collections/printed-special-collections/bromhead-library/), a collection from which many of works on walking come, as well as items from other collections that will be providing evidence throughout the Passage project.

The symposium is free but places are strictly limited. If you would like to attend please register in advance via Eventbrite at: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/passage-a-symposium-on-writing-about-walking-in-london-1500-1900-tickets-17828962908.

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Exhibition at Senate House Library for London and the First World War conference

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This post has kindly been written for us by, Dr Karen Attar, Rare Books Librarian, Senate House Library.

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Fashion catalogues from SHL

The Centre for Metropolitan History at the Institute of Historical Research and the Imperial War Museum are holding a major conference on 20-21 March that will explore the ways in which London and its inhabitants were affected by, and involved with, the 1914-18 conflict. Senate House Library provided a display to support the conference of a few items that pertain specifically to London.

One item displayed is as parochial for the University as it is possible to be: the Roll of War Service, 1914-1919, which lists members of the University of London Officer Training Corps who lost their lives in the conflict. It is a chilling list of seven officers and some 670 cadets. Perhaps equally chilling is Alfred Rawlinson’s The Defence of London 1915-1918, which describes the defence of London during the First World War against zeppelins and against aeroplanes, about which Percy Scott states in the preface: “Colonel Rawlinson has written this book on our defence of London against attacks from the air by Germany. He has to admit that we had no defence.”

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Fashion catalogues from SHL

Life was not entirely miserable. The most visual items displayed are a couple of catalogues from London fashion emporia, Dickins & Jones on Regent Street and Peter Robinson’s on Oxford Street. The war affected them: a catalogue held but not shown, from Bradley’s in Chepstow’s Place for its 1916 autumn and winter fashions, warns: “The increasing shortage of labour, coupled with the rapid advance in prices of all materials, is likely to seriously affect the possible output of all firms, even of a firm such as ours with its exceptional resources and capacity …”. Stock ranges from the severely practical (the well-cut farm suit of khaki gabardine advertised by Dickins & Jones) to the luxurious, with Peter Robinson’s advertising, for ten guineas: “Evening gown in Silk net over Charmeuse; corsage of handsome silver lace. The tunic effect is edges with opalescent beads and large hanging crystal bead tassels.”

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Observations of an Orderly

Stories could be amusing. Ward Muir’s Observations of an Orderly (1918) describes the author’s experiences working during the war at the 3rd London General Hospital. Much of the work (waiting on the patients, washing up, checking linen) would have been the same anywhere in the country. But Muir describes how a colleague accompanied seven blind soldiers to a matinée at Queen’s Hall. They went there by bus, but insisted on taking the tube back. The corporal who was accompanying them consented. He had forgotten that the lifts at Oxford Circus tube station had been abolished in favour of escalators, judged unsafe for blind people. Having heard a comic song about escalators, they wished to sample “this metropolitan invention”. At the bottom they fell down, one on top of each other, with other hurrying passengers falling too. The soldiers regarded the affair as extremely comical, while an old lady who had tripped over the first soldier reproved the hapless corporal for his “callousness and cruelty to these unhappy blind heroes”.

The books shown come from two of the named special collections at Senate House Library: the Bromhead Library of about 4,000 items on the history of London, and the Playne Collection about 530 books and pamphlets pertaining to the First World War collected by pacifist and historian Caroline Elizabeth Playne.

 

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