The Role of Public History in the History of Refugees and Migrants

As a convener of the IHR Public History Seminar, I’m chairing an event next Wednesday looking at Public History and the recent refugee crisis. Please do come along.

IHR Public History Seminar & Blog

A home for Belgian refugee children in England. © IWM (Q 108266)

Over the summer the media was full of images and news stories on what was being called the ‘worst refugee crisis’ in Europe since the Second World War. Such a label inevitably brings historical comparisons and many reports attempted to underline the scale of the migration into Europe from the Middle East and Africa with statistics and historic case studies.

Other reports aimed to establish a historic tradition of accepting refugees as a way of criticising the current political attitudes towards refugees from Syria and other migrants, either in Europe or in Westminster. The Kindertransport in 1938 and Hungarian crisis of 1956 were popular comparisons, and my own Facebook feed started to fill with references to the Irish diaspora of the 1840s, (the result of numerous Irish and Irish-American relatives). This photo gallery is a perfect example of…

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Radical history today: come and meet the Raphael Samuel History Centre

I’m going to be at this on Monday, so please do come along if you’re interested in the RSHC New Historians’ Network!

RSHC New Historians' Network

The Raphael Samuel History Centre is a four-way partnership between Queen Mary, Birkbeck, the University of East London, and Bishopsgate Institute. In the spirit of its founder – the socialist historian Raphael Samuel (1934-1996) – the Centre is dedicated to fostering radical history in and beyond the academy. Its members work in many areas, from London history and ‘heritage’ studies to histories of sexuality, memory studies, psychoanalytical history, history and public policy, and the history of feminism. We have many postgraduates among our members.

Come and meet us! We are holding an open forum on Feb 9th at 5.30 pm in the Arts 2 Building, 4th floor Senior Common Room (Queen Mary UL, Mile End Road, London E1 4NS).

Barbara Taylor (QMUL director of the RSHC) will speak briefly about the Centre’s work, followed by short presentations from two or three of our pgr members, then general discussion. Wine and…

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Oral History and the Gerry Adams Case

With news that Gerry Adams has been released with papers sent to the Public Prosecution Service and political tensions increasing, this interesting blog from Dr Bethan Coupland reminds us where the evidence has originate and discusses the implications for the field of history and specifically oral history projects.


The recent arrest of Gerry Adams is not only enormously significant to the stability of the peace process in Northern Ireland, it re-opens a number of questions as to the scope, purpose and ethical implications of oral history research.

The Sinn Féin president is the latest individual to be questioned by the police over the 1972 abduction and murder of Jean McConville, a move based on evidence confiscated from the an oral history archive at Boston College. The Belfast Project was undertaken between 2000 and 2006, a secret collaboration between freelance historian and former IRA member Anthony McIntyre, journalist Ed Moloney, BC’s Professor Thomas Hachey and Robert O’Neill, head of the College’s Burns Library. Over the course of the project, McIntyre carried out dozens of interviews with 26 of former IRA militants about their involvement in and impressions of the Troubles.

Participants were contractually promised confidentiality and an embargo on…

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The History of My Hand-drawn Map at the Museum of London

Hand-drawn London Exhibition, Museum of London

To my utter disbelief I am currently in an exhibition at the Museum of London. No, I’m not a time traveller or old enough to feature in stories of the Blitz or even the Brixton Riots, I’m not even an artist, but somehow my hand-drawn map is in the most recent temporary exhibition at the Museum of London, ‘Hand-drawn London‘.

Me & my map in the exhibition

The exhibition is a collaboration with the Londonist website, and features ten hand-drawn maps hand-picked to represent different Londoners views and perceptions of the city they live in. There is a lovely depiction of Brixton as a tree, a very humorous insight into the world of an over-seas student whose world focuses on the Bloomsbury area with unmapped territory surrounding, and an intriguing look at London’s firsts mapping events and inventions that were premiered in London. You can find a preview with images of all the maps on the Independent website here.

My map is ultimately very simple (seemed the best idea due to my artistic constraints), and is probably one of the few without much annotation. With my interest in local history and my love of North Kensington I used the hand-drawn map project as an excuse to research the long gone Kensington Hippodrome, a Victorian racecourse that stretched from Holland Road to modern-day St Quintin’s Avenue.

When I first created the map I wrote a blog on the maps that influenced my final creation can be found here, but I’d thought I’d take this opportunity to share a bit more history of the Kensington Hippodrome.

A Notting Hill racecourse was the brainchild of local entrepreneur called John Whyte. Situated on 200 acres of the Ladbroke lands, leased from James Weller, the Kensington Hippodrome boasted a larger capacity and closer proximity to London than the other famous racecourses, Epsom and Ascot. It opened on 3 June 1837 to much praise and acclaim from the sporting and national press, and it was soon considered to be a very fashionable place to be and be seen.

"The last grand steeplechase at the Hippodrome racecourse, Kensington" oil on Canvas, by Henry Jnr Alken, Wikigallery

However, there had been an oversight in Whyte’s plans and it turned out that his racecourse intercepted an ‘ancient public way’. Though apparently situated in a sleepy and leafy area, the Hippodrome had actually been built next to one of the worst slums in London’s suburbs, the Potteries, possibly represented by the chimney in the background of this painting. And this public way, or footpath, had become popular with the inhabitants of the Potteries and the nearby area as they attempted to avoid Pottery Lane, affectionately nicknamed ‘Cut Throat Lane’, to give you an idea of the undesirables that resided there.

Whyte tried to block this footpath, but the locals were having none of it, and continued to protest, campaign and also dismantle any obstruction there. For the press this became a matter of class warfare, and to them it seemed acceptable that people should have a few hours enjoyment at the races without seeing the dregs of society, who kept breaking into the Hippodrome for free through the footpath.

This wasn’t the end of Whyte’s problems, and though the Hippodrome had become fashionable (visited by the Grand Duke of Russia and other foreign dignitaries) and extended in 1841; the jockeys weren’t keen on the clay soil and began to shun the racecourse. Eventually Whyte admitted defeat and gave up the lease in 1842. With this Weller turned to the builders and the Ladbroke Estate was subsequently built over the racecourse. This wasn’t the end of racecourses altogether in the area and there was a course also called the Kensington Hippodrome built as part of Portobello Pleasure Gardens, featuring a track around the axis of Talbot Road. Also in the early 1850s there was a third Kensington Hippodrome, this time an equestrian extravaganza amphitheatre on the site of De Vere Gardens.

Hippodrome Place, W11

Today the ghost of the Kensington Hippodrome still lingers in the area. There is of course street names, Hippodrome Place at Clarendon Cross, between Portland Road and Pottery Lane, and also Hippodrome Mews, former stables. There are also several pubs in the area that date back to the 1840s and probably have origins in Hippodrome business; the Prince Albert in Notting Hill Gate at the entrance to the racecourse, and the North Pole on North Pole Road at the other end of the racecourse. Parts of the Ladbroke Estate were also built along features of the racecourse, most notably that the Notting Hill grassy knoll, that became the ‘natural grandstand’ is now where St John’s Church is situated, accessible by a gate which is now the main entrance to Ladbroke Square Gardens.


History: an Art or Science? How different are they?

Conrad Shawcross is the Artist in residence at the Science Museum, London. The Science Museum is one of many scientific institutions that see a value in having artists in residence to engage their audience.

This is an age old question, and as I was trying to put together a presentation on it for University, I’m not planning on trying to answer it at length here.

But while mulling it over I began to realise just how intermingled the two disciplines are today.

History is a bit of a confusing subject, it sits under the branch of learning called Humanities (defined as the study of human culture), different History masters courses can get you a MA or a MSc, and funding for the Arts and Humanities Research Council comes from the Science and Innovation Group, part of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. None of these points help.

Most arguments of this nature seem to focus on whether or not History is a science, assuming that if you are not a science you must be an art. But I’m not entirely convinced they are exact opposites. Both generally speaking build on previous knowledge or thought, and Postmodernists are able to demonstrate cultural influences on scientific thought as much as artistic, I’ve included a picutre of a piece of work by Conrad Shawcross, and here is a link to an interesting article about Salvador Dalí’s relationship and interest in science. Some of the most interesting pieces of modern art can come out of scientific influences, and scientists can get inspiration or that spark from the arts. Thomas Kuhn demonstrated that even scientific discoveries have been influenced by cultural factors, and it is clear that some sciences are heavily influenced by interpretation. It seems to be increasingly important for science to borrow from the arts to help engage a wider audience with their work and from the large amount of ‘popular’ science books out by authors like Brian Cox and Robert Winston it seems to be a healthy relationship.

I’ll finish up with a letter by Gregory Petsko, a Professor in Biochemistry and Chemistry, recently published in the Genome Biology journal arguing that science needs the arts and humanities:

One of the things I’ve written about is the way genomics is changing the world we live in. Our ability to manipulate the human genome is going to pose some very difficult questions for humanity in the next few decades, including the question of just what it means to be human. That isn’t a question for science alone; it’s a question that must be answered with input from every sphere of human thought, including – especially including – the humanities and arts. Science unleavened by the human heart and the human spirit is sterile, cold, and self-absorbed. It’s also unimaginative: some of my best ideas as a scientist have come from thinking and reading about things that have, superficially, nothing to do with science. If I’m right that what it means to be human is going to be one of the central issues of our time, then universities that are best equipped to deal with it, in all its many facets, will be the most important institutions of higher learning in the future. You’ve just ensured that yours won’t be one of them.

The rest of the letter can be found here.

This letter was written in reaction to the State University of New York at Albany deciding to get rid of its departments of French, Italian, Classics, Russian and Theater Arts. As cuts loom over the UK and both the sciences and arts feel the need to defend their purpose and position it is worth remembering the similarities and benefits of both.

Kensington Hippodrome: Ladbroke Grove’s Racey History in maps

The Hippodrome Racecourse in 1841, looking north to Notting Barns Farm (right), The London Survey, British History Online

Before Christmas I decided I wanted to get involved with the Londonist‘s calling for hand drawn maps . It seemed like a great way to celebrate London and I love looking at maps! To add even more excitement to the project there was the possibility of being involved in a future exhibition at the Museum of London – how could I not jump at the chance??!!

So the next question was – what do I draw a map of? Well being a history geek, it had to at least has a link to the historical, and being a dweller of West London I wanted to incorporate lovely Ladbroke Grove. It’s at times like this that previous niggling questions, pieces of information that have been acquired then set aside, come back looking for attention.

This information was that there had been a racecourse that ran down Ladbroke Grove in the nineteenth century, back when Notting Dale was a slum area filled with potteries and pigs, before the grand Ladbroke Estate was built. So I asked the question, what would modern day Ladbroke Grove look like if the Victorian racecourse, the Kensington Hippodrome still existed?

This led to internet research and there are some great information on Wikipedia, a HistoryTalk publication (link to PDF), and my favourite British History Online.

As well as giving the history, which is fascinating, they also offered up very usefual maps that helped to inspire me. I liked them so much I thought I’d share with you. They are, after all, some excellent hand drawn maps themselves!


Plan for the Hippodrome Racecourse, 1841. Survey of London, British History Online

1841 map of Kensington Hippodrome by BR Davies, HistoryTalk


One of the planned developments of the Ladbroke Estate, based on the Ordnance Surveys of 1863–7 and 1894–6. British History Online

If this has inspired you I think the deadline for possible inclusion in the Museum of London exhibition has now closed, but don’t fret, I do believe the Londonist is still taking hand drawn maps so get drawing!

To finish off here is the fruit of my labour, not the finest piece of art, but I really enjoyed creating it!

Modern Ladbroke Grove, W10, with Victorian Racecourse, the Kensington Hippodrome 1837-1842


[Update: Since writing this I have learnt that my map was chosen by the Museum of London! Here is a link to the exhibition, ‘Hand-drawn London’ that opens this month (21 April 2011). Will write a seperate post for it soon!]

Celebrating the working lives of the Thames Gateway


Working Lives of the Thames Gateway reception. Jonathan Eudall

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the opening of the new exhibition at the London Guildhall Art Gallery, Working Lives of the Thames Gateway. I was there for Culture24 and my review of the exhibition can be found here.

The exhibition is the result of a three-year oral history project focused, as the title gives suggests, on the working lives of people who lived and worked in the Thames Gateway area, an area that was once the industrial heartland of East London. As a volunteer on two oral history projects (see my previous post) I found this exhibition particularly interesting.

Listening Point, with snippets of oral histories. Jonathan Eudall

It is popular for exhibitions to use and integrate oral histories into their narrative, but this exhibition is slightly different as it is based on an oral history project. Consequently the objects and panels were supporting the oral histories and the historical research done in tandem with that.

With two listening posts at either side of the exhibition offering snippets of a total of 16 interviews, and transcript extracts as part of the panels I was very aware that the history on offer was only a fraction of that contained in the over 250 interviews conducted.

I get the feeling the exhibition is only an introduction to the work done by the Eastside Community Heritage group and their volunteers. The exhibition itself does cover some interesting aspects of life working in the Thames Gateway, the sense of community and recreational activities organised by the companies, but it is understandable that the output of the project is an exhibition, a book, a documentary and an education pack.

Image of Chemicals and Engineering panels. Jonathan Eudall

It really highlighted for me the difficulty in presenting a thought-provoking and engaging exhibition on such a large topic with a massive source base, but with restricted money and space. With this in mind I think the exhibition does very well, and its setting at the Guildhall is striking, the use of images on the windows really draw you up to the landing. Also the juxtaposition of the exhibition with the portraits and busts of kings and queens is interesting, its like two historiographical traditions having a stand-off, top down vs social history. For me social history wins every time.

Hopefully in the coming months there will also be some events that can explore some of the related topics of the Working Lives of the Thames Gateway in more depth, or maybe I’ll just have to buy the book.

As a final point, here’s a link to an interesting blog asking: What is the Thames Gateway? An interesting point regarding the framework put upon this oral history project. Boundary choices are always interesting for defining a history project’s standpoint, and as the Thames Gateway is designated area for regeneration it could be seen as a nostalgic look at an area before it fell into decline, or perhaps seen as slightly more forward looking and political objective. I’m defiantly going to have to get the book to decide.

Marking 100 years since the Houndsditch Murders and the Siege of Sidney Street

H.S Harris Jewellers where the attempted robbery and the Houndsditch murders took place

At 3pm on 16 December 2010 a plaque was unveiled in memory of three policemen murdered on 16 December 1910; this tragedy is generally known as the Houndsditch Murders and 2010 marks its centenary.

The gunmen were Latvian revolutionaries who had come to London after the failed Russian revolution of 1905. They were attempting to fund further revolutionary movements at home through crime on London streets, this included the attempted robbery of the H.S Harris jewellery shop in Houndsditch on 16 December 1910 which led to the murder of three policemen.

This was a very well planned operation. The group had rented three of the properties on the Exchange to ensure secure access to the back of the building, and they had rubber piping and asbestos pads to assist in blowing the shop safe. It almost seems odd that they didn’t consider the noise they would make knocking through walls, which is what aroused suspicion and brought the police to their door.

Though a significant event in itself, it remains the highest loss of police life on a single day, the Houndsditch Murders is normally overshadowed by the Siege of Sidney Street.

Winston Churchill at the Siege of Sidney Street, Museum of London

The siege was between two of the suspected members of the group involved in the Houndsditch Murders and over 200 armed policemen. These Latvian revolutionaries held their own for so long that it was requested that the Scots Guards were called in.

Sounding like something out of a Hollywood 1920s American gangster film, the situation became even more surreal when Winston Churchill, the then Home Secretary, arrived on the scene. He was needed to give permission for the Scots Guards to be put into action, but no one expected him to turn up.

The Museum of London Docklands’ new exhibition London Under Siege: Churchill and the Anarchists, 1911 focuses on the unprecedented events of the Houndsditch murders and the Siege of Sidney Street. Taking their centenary as an opportunity to look at the historic and social context of these events in London’s history, the exhibition highlights early twentieth century debates on topics that are not unfamiliar today, including the levels of immigration and if police should be armed.

The exhibition opened in December 2010 and is well worth a look, here is my review in Culture24.

If the exhibition isn’t enough and you want to know more I would recommend the wonderful Old Bailey records online, which has the records of the trial of the suspected members of the Houndsditch group. BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme have also looked at the Siege of Sidney Street with extracts of oral histories and some archive BBC film looking at the Siege.

I have also discovered the wonderful world of the Songs from the Howling Sea, and they have produced a video and song in commemoration.

Hide and Seek, Songs from the Howling Sea

You can find out more about the Songs From the Howling Sea on their blog.


Becoming part of the British Library’s collection

Evolving English exhibitiona the British Library

Evolving English exhibition at the British Library

Yesterday I went to the British Library to do some reading. During my lunch break I decided to pop in to the new Evolving English exhibition.

For a start I was surprised at how busy the exhibition was considering it was a Tuesday lunchtime. Thankfully it wasn’t too busy and I was still able to pause at the many displays and exhibits. I admired the copy of Beowulf and listened to an analysis of the language used in the Canterbury Tales.

Having spent the morning in the reading rooms and planning on returning in the afternoon, I was very happy to wander between the recordings, enjoying the opening of Shakespeare’s Richard III and the interactive map to Britain and Ireland sampling accents over time.

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (11th c.)

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (11th c.) from the British Library

The sound archive has a collection of over 3.5 million recordings that vary from oral histories (the British Library is currently working on a very interesting oral history project relating to the history of science) to performances of music and drama, to recordings focused on accents and dialects. It is certainly an archive I’d love to explore more, but I never imagined I could be part of it!!

At the end of the exhibition there are some small phone booths inviting visitors to sit down and make their own contribution to the British Library’s collection. You can contribute in two ways; you can read an extract of the children’s book Mr Tickle used to record our different vowel sounds. The Evolving English Exhibition blog discusses the reason for using Mr Tickle in more depth, suffice to say a children’s book is used so as not to intimidate the reader and to encourage a constant flow of words and record an accurate pronunciation.

Or you can contribute by recording any words that you consider slang, funny or particular to your family or group of friends, this I assume will help identify any trends developing or the influx of outside influences.

Mr Tickle himself

Mr Tickle the subject of your contribution to the British Library's Sound Archive

I contributed in both areas, unashamedly getting into a jackanory style reading of Mr Tickle and I also contributed two words that I considered everyday and common until I used them outside of my family unit.

These were ‘foundered’ meaning feeling cold, for example ‘I was foundered’, and (I was laughed at a lot for using this) ‘bumfled’ which I generally use in reference to being uncomfortable specifically with too many clothes on, ‘I’m really bumfled’ or ‘this is really bumfley’. Has anyone else heard of these, or is it just my family???

Language is a very personal thing and a person’s use of it can tell you a lot about them, but it also seems that the evolution of our language can teach us a lot about the history of England and all the people in this country and those further afield that speak the English language.

Hello blogging world!!

Hello all,

My name is Kathleen and this is my first blog. I am interested in history and culture and plan to be sharing my thoughts, discoveries and reviews on historical and cultural topics in and around London.

I write reviews for the Culture24 website which you can see here.

I have also written a couple of blogs for the Science Museum collection blog, Stories from the Stores, when I was working on a mobile phone project there.
One was commenting on the importance of the battery in our modern mobile world, with a brief look at its history. Find out more here.
The Second was on the Rabbit Phone, don’t worry it’s not anything rude (though the other type of rabbit is in the Science Museum collection). The Rabbit Phone worked as a Telepoint service and is one of the blips in our technological past, a brief interlude before mobile phones became popular. Learn more here.
If anyone has spotted any traces of the Rabbit Phone or any of the other Telepoint services I would be very interested, so let me know!!

Speak to you again soon.