Beddington Royal Female Orphanage

Carew Manor, Wikipedia

Through my recent volunteer work for Honeywood Museum I’ve had the chance to do some research into the history of the Sutton area during the nineteenth century. This has thrown up many interesting stories related to the industry of the area (being based of the river Wandle, there were many mills), and also the many institutions created to assist the unfortunate. One of these institutions was the Royal Female Orphanage in Beddington.

The Royal Female Orphanage was established in 1762 in the historic Carew Manor, in the beautiful setting of Beddington Park. Carew Manor was built in the 1500’s for the Carew family, a well-connected family who reportedly often had visits from Tudor royalty; however by the second half of the 18th century the family had moved out of the manor and the house was put to a different purpose. This purpose was to house, school and train girls with no parents or, more frequently, without a father or with parents who were unable to look them. They were schooled and trained to work in domestic service and once at a suitable age (normally about between 14 and 16 years old) they were sent out to work.

The Sutton Archives has many of the records related to the orphanage, and I’ve had the joy of looking through the log of girls who had reached that suitable age. This holds a wealth of information in terms of social history and demonstrates the relationship these children must have developed with the orphanage. To encourage the girls to stay in domestic service and as a reward for their efforts, they were given a prize of £2 2s after two years of successful service. This was a continuation of many prize giving events that took place turning their time at Carew Manor, where prizes were given for good behaviour as well as merit in their schooling.

The Great Hall at the Royal Female Orphanage, The Carew Manor Project

The location and size of house the girls were sent to work in could vary greatly; some stayed locally to Carlshalton and Sutton however I found one girl, Florence Louisa Crago, who was sent to work for Lady Walpole at Hampton Court Palace. Domestic service wasn’t the only option for the girls, it is evident that some girls were ‘not strong enough for service’. Annie Elliot Bowe was sent into an apprenticeship as a dressmaker, and though this meant she was not eligible for the reward money, from orphanage’s records, she went on to have a successful career as a dressmaker.

I was amazed at the length of time the orphanage kept in contact with the girls after they had left, sending out regular letters, they attempted to maintain this almost paternal relationship with the girls. This is demonstrated in Annie Elliot Bowe’s records; it notes that having taken up the position of Assistant Dressmaker in Devonshire in April 1893, in June 1896 she was ‘still at same place and doing well’. The writer of this note almost comes over as proud of Annie’s achievement. For many the contact ended once they got married or after a move, but it is clear that for others a strong relationship had been developed with the institution that brought them up. Alice Maria Robinson was born in 1874 and at the age of 16 went into service with Lady Margaret Lashington in Lyndhurst. Two years later she received her £2 2s reward and went into service for Lady Rothschild. In July 1898 Alice came back to the Beddington Orphanage to attend the Prize Distribution event for the girls at the orphanage, and had married Mr Charles Pratt. The fact that this is recorded shows the perceived importance of this by the orphanage, obviously Alice would have given the resident girls something to aspire to, but also embodied the orphanage’s pride and achievement. The final entry for Alice is for sometime later and of a sadder note, it reads ‘July 1920, Died of heart failure’, ending her long relationship with the Beddington Royal Female Orphanage.

Links:

For more information on Carew Manor see the Carew Manor Project: http://www.carewmanorproject.co.uk

For more information on Sutton’s local history and archives, see the council’s website: http://www.sutton.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=930

For Honeywood Museum also look on the council’s website: http://www.sutton.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=1253 and the Honeywoode Friends website: http://www.friendsofhoneywood.co.uk/

The Importance of the History of Portobello Road Market Today

Jesse Smith's Greengrocers and Florists, now where Admiral Vernon Antiques Arcade on Portobello Road. HistoryTalk

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve attended two of the free history events held by North Kensington’s community history group, HistoryTalk. Both of these events have looked at Portobello Market, the first consisted of a community discussion on the history of the market. Discussion was prompted by a slide show of photographs of Portobello through the years and led by two local historians, Eddie Adams and Tom Vague. The lack of a structured talk didn’t diminish the obvious knowledge and expertise of Adams and Vague, but allowed the group to discuss memories, ask questions and generally express their love of the area. I learnt a lot, including that the Antiques arcade ‘Admiral Vernon’, used to be a large greengrocers and florists called Jesse Smith’s, and also where Tesco’s is now used to be a dairy, run by recent Welsh arrivals to the area. Immigrant communities have been central to Portobello’s history, to its development and character, and though I knew about the Spanish community escaping Franco’s regime and Civil War, and of course the West Indian community, but I didn’t know there has also been a Welsh community of settlers who ran the local dairies.

The second event was a screening of the film ‘Stall Stories: A History of Portobello Road Market‘. This was billed as a documentary made by the children at the local Colville Primary School, so I didn’t really know what to expect. Needless to say I was very impressed. We learnt afterwards that the film was a result of a HLF funded project led by an arts and educational charity, Digital:Works, which worked with four primary schools to make a film about their local market. The children did the research in the archives, spoke to local historians and then made the film, which meant they conducted the interviews and filmed them, their involvment didn’t reach into the cutting room, though they were shown a rough edit to give them a chance to make any changes. Some of the children who were involved came to the screening and also answered questions on the making of the film afterwards, and it was really inspirational to see the joy and pride they got out of the process, not only were they proud of their finished product but they also clearly enjoyed the historical research and practice of oral history. I was overjoyed when one of the girls said if she had to make another similar film her topic would be local black history, mentioning Claudia Jones and Kelso Cochrane.

What was also notable about the film, was that it wasn’t just a straight narrative history, it demonstrated the significance of history to the present day and the strong sense of heritage today’s stall holders felt. Stall holders past and present where the celebrated feature of the film and were presented as being responsible for creating and sustaining the character of the area. It made a strong case for why Portobello should continue to be a place for local independent traders, with a regret for the continued increase in rents and establishment of corporate chains along the road.

The film tells an emotive story and records a snapshot of life on the market today. It was good to hear that after it was made it was not only shown to the filmakers’ fellow students at Colville, but also to the market holders working on the market day by setting up a screening on it’s own stall one weekend. Some of the audience felt it needed to be shown to local Councillors, and I’m sure it does have some political strength, though I think it can also act as an inspiration to other children. History on TV, in a variety of forms, is at an all time high, from ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ to ‘Downton Abbey’, and work like this can encourage students to engage with history in an alternative way, as well as giving them training and ideas of how historical research and knowledge could be useful in a future career.

As you can see I liked the film, so it would be wrong of me not to share it, so please find it below. It would also be wrong of me not to mention that there is a campaign to ‘Save Portobello’ from the torrent of commercial chains and retain its historic character, more information can be found on the campaign’s facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-the-Portobello-Road-Market/300902793992

The project has also looked at Brixton, Leather Lane and Petticoat Lane, you can find more information at their website: http://www.stallstories.org.uk/

Also for more information on HistoryTalk and their events go here: http://www.historytalk.org/

Finally some articles on the Save Portobello campaign:
http://kensington.londoninformer.co.uk/2011/10/antiques-traders-fear-for-futu.html (18 Oct 2011)
http://www.frockery.co.uk/talk/environment/portobello-road-market-help-save-a-national-treasure (12 Nov 2010)
http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23824413-campaigners-claim-victory-in-battle-to-save-portobello-market.do (14 April 2010)
http://www.antiquestradegazette.com/news/7482.aspx  (22 March 2010)

 

Peopling the Past – NMM Conference

National Maritime Museum, image from http://www.NMM.ac.uk

A few weeks ago I went to a conference at the National Maritime Museum called ‘Peopling the Past‘. The conference hosted papers from a variety of speakers including academics, postgraduate students and museum professionals and the aim of the two days was to look at the variety of techniques in which museums use people in generating, displaying and communicating the stories held by their collections. The conference saw over twenty speakers discussing their different areas of interest, and I won’t try to convey all the topics that were covered. I will just provide a short overview of some the main themes and papers that I particularly enjoyed.

Transcribe Bentham Project at UCL

Putting people into museum exhibitions and displays can happen in a variety of ways, in the first session on the first day issues of crowd sourcing and co-curation, as well as oral history were discussed as ways people can contribute to content in museums. This could all come under the banner of Public History an increasingly popular theme in academic and museum circles, and The Participatory Museum was mentioned as a good place to start when looking at the possible roles the public could take in museums, roles that include creators, collectors, critics, and spectators. Museums seem  to be increasing their work in these areas, demonstrated by the Imperial War Museum, which will be launching a project, in time for the centenary of the First World War, that looks at combining their information on War Memorials along with their wider collection and encouraging the public to access and contribute to this information. This comes off the back of some very successful crowd sourcing initiatives including the Transcribe Bentham Project, (of which I went to a talk earlier this year) and Zooniverse. Know of any others out there? (Update: The Porthcurno Telegraph Museum has launched a Virtual Volunteers programme, looking at ways remote volunteers can contribute and help the museum, see here for more info:http://www.porthcurno.org.uk/page.php?id=286)

Ellie Miles brought up some very interesting points looking at the Museum of London’s modern galleries, which has pockets of public participation, though they may not be immediately obvious. I discovered that the under-floor display which includes the much publicised desiccated cat, was co-curated with members of the public, and I began to wonder how integral this was to the display – was it enough to do the outreach programme and involve members of the public but then not provide any on gallery interpretation of this? Miles also highlighted the Brixton Riots Community Project, a project that was created due to the lack of museum objects related to the riots and consequently worked with young Brixton locals to collect the oral histories from those that were there. This sounds like a great idea and highlights one of the possible ways oral histories can assist museums in issues and topics that physical objects may be hard to come by. However, due to the project running out of money, the recordings are not on display – a great opportunity missed it seems. (Though it is worth noting that the oral histories and more information on the project are online, so arguably find a great audience than simply being on gallery. See http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/Get-involved/Collaborative-projects/Brixton-Riots/ for more info.)

Half-Timer by Patti Mayor, 1906. Portrait of Annie Hill, from the Industrial Revolutionaries exhibition at Harris Museum and Art Gallery

Another theme was the untold stories of people in history, which I thought was covered extremely well by the conference by predominantly looking at children’s histories. Laura Briggs talked about the recent exhibition at the Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston that looked the Industrial Revolution through the biographies of individuals, including one of the child workers which potrayed as an interesting contrast to the intimating figure of the famous entrepreneur, Richard Arkwright. Dr Simon Sleight’s paper followed on well from this as it specifically looked at the subject of child labour as represented in museums and asked why so many of these exhibitions took the moral high ground without addressing contemporary issues of child labour from child actors to sweatshops. Finally Kim Tao from the Australian National Maritime Museum demonstrated the political and emotional power of displaying and discussing untold stories through their exhibitions relating to child refugees and migration. Their exhibition ‘On Their Own: Britain’s Child Migrants’ has worked with and helped some of those child migrants who came to Australia from Britain, and preceded the national apologies from British and Australian governments for their role in the scheme. The exhibition demonstrated the capability museums have in being able to have a very personal impact along with presenting the larger international implications of an issue. I very much recommend the ‘On Their Own’ website to learn more on the topic: http://www.britainschildmigrants.com/

On a lighter note there were other very interesting points raised focusing a lot more on the role of objects and material culture. I was enthralled by  Prof. Adriana Craciu’s paper that looked at the ‘Franklin Relics’ and the changing ways they were interpreted and displayed from the first expeditions to find Captain Sir John Franklin’s ship and crew, lost in the Arctic. I felt this paper had links to my own study of the Atlantic Submarine Telegraph’s material culture, and was particularly interested in how Victorian society portrayed these as relics, at a time when traditional Catholic relics would not be shown in Protestant Britain. Also the idea that the mystery of the expedition grew with the absence of textual explanation of events was interesting, suggesting the objects gain more significance without written context.

Traditionally Motor Museums have very static displays. From Somerset Tourist Guide website

Along the theme of presenting objects, Jenifer Clark presented on the very interesting difficulties faced by transport or motor museums. Traditionally motor museums have tended to act as a temples of worship to the aesthetics of the motor vehicle, often visited by enthusiasts, often not those looking for a social history, and consequently displays can be very static with a very whiggish interpretation. Clark argued that the silent voices for these museums were those killed or injured in car accidents, and asked the question of how can victims be acknowledged or represented in display.

Following the varied and often emotional topics of the two days I left feeling pretty tired, but excited about the amazing work being done by museums around the world in presenting and including people in history, whether they be historical or contemporary. Furthermore I felt confident of the worthwhile contribution academics are making to how we view museums, their exhibitions and the wider social context. I’ve only discussed a few of the papers discussed, but here is a link to a list of all the papers given to give you an idea of the sheer range of speakers and topics (opens PDF): http://www.nmm.ac.uk/upload/pdf/Peopling_Past_Programme.pdf

Finally leaves me to thank the National Maritime Museum for a really great and thought-provoking two days.

Exploring an Unruly City: ‘London in Fiction’ at the Bishopsgate Institute

Bishopsgate Institute, Culture24.org

Earlier in the week I went to a ‘London in Fiction’ event at the Bishopsgate Institute, first in a series that invites writers of varying genres to look at some of their favourite works of fiction based in London. The event was appropriately held in the Bishopsgate Library, a beautiful and atmospheric venue. Co-hosted by the website ‘London Fictions‘, and similar to the website the event was hosted by Andrew Whitehead and emphasised an inclusive atmosphere, encouraging an open discussion from the audience on their thoughts and feelings on the works.

Under the theme of ‘Unruly City’ the three works under discussion were Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, presented by historian and writer, Alex Butterworth, John Sommersfield’s May Day, presented by poet, Andy Croft, and Colin MacInnes’ Absolute Beginners, presented by author, Jake Arnott.

With three different presenting styles and backgrounds the three presenters were excellent at contextualising their chosen work and highlighting the core themes without giving away too much of the plot. As much as this was an event for those who had read the books to celebrate them and discuss interesting points raised by the authors and events described, it was also an event to discover new works and explore litteraty avenues you may not have been down before.

The Greenwich Park explosion: siteseers near the scene of the fatality. From the Illustrated London New on the NMM website

Personally of the three titles being discussed I had only read The Secret Agent, a dark London thriller set within the conspiracies and plots of foreign embassies and anarchist in the 1880s. My interest in the book was sparked by my interest in nineteenth century London and also by the true story the book is based on; an intriguing story of a French man, an apparent anarchist, who blew himself up outside the Royal Observatory in 1894, the NMM has some information on the event here. (I also have it on good authority that the post-mortem photographs can be found in the Royal Observatory’s archives – gruesome!)

Through Alex Butterworth’s presentation I’ve become even more intrigued as I learnt that Conrad’s connections and networks were such that much of the novel could have been based on fact rather than his imagination. It also added Butterworth’s book, The World That Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists and Secret Agents, to my reading list.

I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of the second book, May Day, however it appeared that most of the audience had also not read John Sommerfield’s militant communist novel, and consequently Andy Croft made it his mission to sell it to us. His enthusiasm was enough to sell it to me, but for you who may not have been there, he pitched it as a revolutionary novel, written in the mid-1930s it is heavily influenced by cinematic techniques, establishing large networks amongst communities and people but also highlighting the alienation felt by some its 90 named characters. The plot is fairly simple focusing on three days leading up to May Day, and a dispute over when the labourers should celebrate May Day in Hyde Park, however it is the style and ideas behind the book that make it a cause for celebration. (There is a longer review of the book here, if I’ve wet your appetite.)

Absolute Beginners, London Fictions website

The last book I was ashamed to say I hadn’t read, especially as it is set in the area I grew up and currently live, North Kensington, and climaxes on the Notting Hill riots. Absolute Beginners is with out a doubt an iconic book, even making it on to the Guardian‘s list of the ten best books set in London. The narrator is a nameless photographer and, as well as celebrating the rise of the teenager in 1950s London with their strict tribal dress codes and slang, it also celebrates the multicultural nature of London. There is a great review on the London Fictions website, the only one of the three books featured on the site as yet.

Arnott argued that through Absolute Beginners MacInnes defined subculture long before any sociologist, demonstrating the different spheres of culture and cultural identity the Mod teenager was able to move through. A remarkable achievement, made even more remarkable when you realise the author was in his forties when he wrote the novel using the voice of an eighteen year old.

Overall the evening was enlightening, and gave me a chance to discover literature as a worthy microscope through which to examine historical themes. It also helped underline the presence of the author in a novel, but also the significance of place. London acts as a distinctive character in each of these works, and not only by the name check of London landmarks, but also by the atmosphere created, they could not be set anywhere else.

Well if you think this sounded interesting and what to go to any of the other events in the ‘London in Fiction’ series, the ‘London in Peril’ series, or any event at the Bishopsgate Institute, see their website here.

Also London Fictions website encourages readers to contribute reviews on any books you love set in London town. See here for more info.

Finally if you’re interested in anarchists you might be interested in my previous post regarding the Sidney Street Outrage, here.

Now excuse me, I have a lot of reading to catch up on….