Breaking Histories @ Shuffle Festival Line Up

Breaking HistoriesI’m really excited to announce the line up for Breaking Histories at this year’s Shuffle Festival.

As you’ll see we have a great mix of periods and topics for an event that will be a fantastic showcase of some of the exciting research and projects.

Breaking Histories joins a vibrant and varied festival and for more information and to book tickets please see the Shuffle Festival website:Shuffle Festival 2015 Programme Breaking Histories will be free and you can just turn up, but you should be able to book free tickets soon as well.

Saturday 25 July 2015
History in its Place
Looking at the theme of place these talks will explore the history of human interaction through a London estate at the turn of the century to ancient Roman farms, through the prism of disability and across generations in a socialist feminist choir.
Breaking Histories 25 July 2015

Love Thy Neighbour: inter-neighbour relations and the syntax of complaint in early 20th century London

Anna Robinson (University of East London)

Asylums and their Communities: Mental Health Patients and their Families during the First World War

Caroline Nielsen (IHR, University of London)

Contested Knowledge in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History.
Bob Taylor (Birkbeck, University of London)
Velvet Fist: Uncovering the History of the London Socialist Feminist Choir
Rosa Kurowska Kyffin (Beyond Past)


Saturday 1 August 2015
History Going Places
History is always moving and these talks will explore how, whether it is presented by experimental history trails or focused on the history of migration through the lens of community projects or works of fiction and biography.
Breaking Histories 1 August 2015

Moving Stories Judith Garfield MBE & Claire Days (Eastside Community Heritage)
Forced Walks: Honouring Esther….an instant case study Richard White (Bath Spa University/Forced Walks)
“but I am Price from Glynmawr” Stephen Woodhams
Stepney: Profile of a London Borough

Samantha Patterson

Shuffle Festival takes place in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. The nearest tube is Mile End and the entrance is on Southern Grove. We hope to see you there!


For more details on the papers please see below.

Saturday 25 July 2015
History in its Place
Looking at the theme of place these talks will explore the history of human interaction through a London estate at the turn of the century to ancient Roman farms, through the prism of disability and across generations in a socialist feminist choir.

  • Love Thy Neighbour: inter-neighbour relations and the syntax of complaint in early 20th century London
    Anna Robinson (University of East London)

Anna has been researching the history of her flat – a one bedroom former tenement designed by Octavia Hill in 1903. Through this research she stumbled upon some letters of complaint in an archive. Through these letters Anna will reveal the main concerns and antagonisms between neighbours in the early 20th century.

  • Asylums and their Communities: Mental Health Patients and their Families during the First World War
    Caroline Nielsen (IHR, University of London)

In 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War, over 100,000 men, women and children lived in psychiatric asylums. Caroline’s research explores how the First World War fundamentally affected the lives of these vulnerable people and their families.

  • Contested Knowledge in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History.
    Bob Taylor (Birkbeck, University of London)

Bob’s research is focused on a 1st century Roman scientific work called The Natural History. His interests include Roman knowledge and its construction by those who have left no written evidence. He asks how knowledge was generated and contested in a Roman farm, or before a battle in Macedonia, or in a herb-garden.

  • Velvet Fist: Uncovering the History of the London Socialist Feminist Choir
    Rosa Kurowska Kyffin (Beyond Past)

In 2014, Beyond Past, a social enterprise for youth oral history projects, facilitated interviews with the London based socialist feminist choir, Velvet Fist, by a group of year 10 Tower Hamlets pupils. Rosa will explore the history of the choir and reflect upon the potential of young people as community researchers and oral history interviewers.

Saturday 1 August 2015
History Going Places
History is always moving and these talks will explore how, whether it is presented by experimental history trails or focused on the history of migration through the lens of community projects or works of fiction and biography.

  • Moving Stories
    Judith Garfield MBE & Claire Days (Eastside Community Heritage)

Eastside Community Heritage has accumulated a fascinating collection of oral histories. As part of Shuffle they want to share some of the Jewish, Hungarian and Ugandan stories of migration they have collected. ECH will highlight the importance of oral history in gaining new insights into history and education.

  • Forced Walks: Honouring Esther….an instant case study
    Richard White (Bath Spa University/Forced Walks)

Richard will be discussing a project that used an artist-led performative and socially engaged public walk to transpose a Nazi death march on to the English countryside. This project sought to connect history with place to reveal obscured stories and generate contemporary responses. Richard will discuss the project, how they used social media and subsequent responses.

  • “but I am Price from Glynmawr”
    Stephen Woodhams

South Wales almost uniquely in Europe witnessed net in-migration in the decades around 1900. While the subject of continuous study, in South Wales that history is lived too through biography, the novel and poetry. The talk explores this interweaving of written forms through Raymond Williams’ acclaimed novel Border Country.

  • Stepney: Profile of a London Borough
    Samantha Patterson

Samantha’s focus is on a specifically defined area, Stepney, rather than the vague area of the ‘East End’ which is open to interpretation. Stepney, an iconic London borough situated in the heart of the East End, has many well-known associations and images, but would you knowingly associate them with Stepney?

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

Bishopsgate Institute,

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….

Discovering Jeremy Bentham: Bentham in the Community Event

Transcribe Bentham Project

Last night I went a long to the first event in the ‘Bentham in the Community’ series of events being hosted by the Transcribe Bentham project. This event acted as an introduction to Jeremy Bentham and his ideas, as well as a bit of context of the ideas circulating at the time and also some context for the Transcribe Bentham project itself.

The three speakers were Professor Philip Schofield, Director of the Bentham Project, Lucy Inglis, author of ‘Georgian London‘ blog and soon to be published author, and Mike Paterson, Director of the London Historian‘s group.

A Young Bentham in 1790

I have to admit I didn’t know very much about Bentham before this talk. I had previously come across him when looking into Nineteenth Century Radicalism, Bentham did have correspondence with Daniel O’Connell, the Irish Reformer, but as he died in 1832 he did not have much to do with the Chartists, whose first National Petition was presented to parliament in 1839.

What I didn’t know was that Bentham was something of a child genius, attending Queens College, Oxford at the age 0f 12 years, and completing his BA by the age of 16! He clearly was an intelligent man from a privileged background, brought up as a member of Britain’s establishment, however, perhaps surprisingly, he became one of the loudest and most infamous champions of reform.

Looking at his three main points it is clear what a radical he was:

  1. To remove the current common law system and start again on the principles of his theory of Utilitarianism (simply put: what brings happiness and pleasure is good and right, where as what brings misery and pain is bad and wrong.)
  2. Abolish the current establishment, from the monarchy to parliament, creating a system accountable to the people through universal male suffrage.
  3. Euthanasia of the Church of England, slowly dismantle the religious establishment, by simply not replacing members once they retired or died.

Plans for Bentham's Panopticon, Georgian London

Through Professor Schofield and Lucy’s talk it quickly became apparent that there wasn’t a topic that Bentham didn’t have an opinion on. From his innovative design for a prison, the Panoptican, (here is link to more info on it from Lucy’s great blog) to his thoughts on sexuality; he disagreed with homosexuality being illegal, but thought masturbation was unhealthy encouraging ‘social’ sex opposed to ‘solitary’ sex.

Something that linked Lucy and Mike’s talk was the idea of collaboration. Bentham didn’t arrive at these grand ideas all by himself, he too was influence and worked with people. People like Patrick Colquhoun, who did the ground work on which Bentham would base his great philosophies and theories. Colquhoun wrote a lot about poverty in the London docks area, and particularly the link between the role of public houses as employment agencies, he was also a statistician and magistrate. In the 1790s, working with Bentham and John  Harriot, he established the Thames River Police, the first regular preventative police force of its kind. By working with people, Bentham was able to develop his ideas and well and see them enacted.

Bringing us back to the present day, it is clear that something like the Transcribe Bentham project would be impossible without collaboration. UCL holds 60,000 folios of Bentham’s papers and have so far managed to transcribe 27 volumes in the past 50 years. With an estimation that the end result probably equals something like 70 volumes, they have a long way to go. However 2010 saw the launch of an innovative project to not only increase the output of the Transcribe project, but to increase awareness of Bentham and his ideas. Through the Transcribe Bentham website anyone can sign up to transcribe parts of his work, and progress is tracked by the Benthamometer.

Benthamometer from Transcribe Bentham project

This is a project, Mike reminded us, that has only really become possible in the past few years, as historians are using social media and technology to interact and further their research. Being a blogger, tweeter and facebooker I can also vouch for the variety and insight using these tools provide to further my historical knowledge and contacts, furthermore digital humanities continues to grow and through websites such as Connected Histories it seems we are only starting to realise the possibilities. With JISC continuing the fund projects and developments of Transcribe projects like Bentham, I share Mike’s enthusiasm for what the future may bring.

The Bentham project have two more events in the ‘Bentham in the Community’ series, see here for details.


The Mass Meeting at Kennington Common: 10 April 1848

Poster advertising the Chartists Demonstration, 1848 organised by the National Charter Association at Kennington Common, London on 10 April, 1848. TUC Library Collections

Today, 163 years ago, the Chartists met in a mass demonstration on Kennington Common beginning a procession to present their third National Petition to Parliament.

The Chartist movement was named after the People’s Charter which demanded six points:

People's Charter, 1838. British Library

  1. Suffrage for men over 21 years.
  2. No property qualification for MPs.
  3. Annual Parliaments.
  4. Equal Constituencies, returning the proportional number of MPs to voters.
  5. Payment of MPs, which would allow working class men to take a seat.
  6. Use of the secret ballot.

These demands were not new in working class politics, however in 1838 the London Working Mens Association created the new form for the demands under the name of the ‘People’s Charter’. This, coupled with the proposals of the Birmingham Political Union of developing a National Convention and National Petition, were significant for producing a national movement which became known as Chartism. Over the years between 1838 and 1848 the movement produced three National Petitions and countless mass meetings and demonstrations. These meetings were typically characterised by the showing of banners, (one of my favourite reoccurring banners read : ‘More Pigs and Less Parsons’) and the playing of music. These elements were seen in the meeting in 1848 but this rally met under a very tense atmosphere compared to the previous petition.

The authorities were becoming increasingly cautious of the Chartist movement, many leaders had been imprisoned or deported after the strikes and demonstrations of 1842, and though there was much debate within the Chartists regarding the use of ‘physical’ or ‘moral force’, the use of forceful rhetoric was common.

1848 saw an even more guarded attitude from the authorities. There had been several violent revolutions in Europe, see Dan Snow’s article in BBC History Magazine for more info on them, here. Furthermore preceding the 1848 meeting at Kennington, the Chartists appeared to be arming, drilling and the oratory of leaders was increasingly republican.


Daguerreotype of the Chartist meeting at Kennington Common, British Library

The demonstration itself took place on a sunny and warm Monday, much like today, and in contrast to the procession of the second National Petition in 1842 there was a strong military and police presence. It’s thought over 20,000 people met at Kennington Common for the rally, and the authorities were determined to keep control. Fergus O’Connor, one of the most prominent Chartist leaders, was to present the 1848 petition to Parliament and was called into a nearby pub for a meeting with Police Commissioners and Magistrates. It was agreed that following the rally the petition would be carried in cabs to parliament and the demonstration would be asked to disperse.

It is arguable if the crowd, or even the Chartist leaders, believed the petition would have an impact on Parliament. The two previous petitions had failed and Dorothy Thompson notes that in many of the sources there was little mention of the petition at the Chartist meetings called in support of the French. Though it is clear that there was still a large show of support on Kennington Common and it was seen as a possibility that the demonstration could turn violent if and when the petition was rejected by Parliament. This was probably the main reason why the authorities did not want to procession to follow the petition to parliament and also took strong control of the bridges.

There was consequently some small skirmishes with polices, according to the Northern Star, principally at Blackfriars Bridge and due to the crowds’ confusion regarding the strong police presence and controlling of numbers across the bridges into the City. Though the crowds did disperse and according to the Illustrated London News:

‘at two o’clock, not more than 100 persons were to be seen upon the Common. Many of these consisted of its usual occupants – boys playing at trap-ball and other games; and, by a quarter past two, a stranger to the day’s proceedings would never have guessed, from the appearance of the neighbourhood, that anything extraordinary had taken place.’


The Great Charter Procession at Blackfriars, 1848. TUC Library Collections

The petition itself, was not only rejected by Parliament, it was discredited. O’Connor claimed the petition held just under six million signatures, but (in a remarkable short time – just under two days) Parliament came back and claimed it was full of mistakes and forgeries so only had a third of what was claimed. This could be seen as a massive blow for the Chartists, but as Thompson notes that petitioning was never a clear index of Chartist enthusiasm or activity and as the rest of the year demonstrated the failure of the third National Petition did not signal the end of Chartism. The rest of 1848 saw continued efforts to support the Charter and is also seen as the height of London Chartism.

At the time of the Chartist rally Kennington Common was seen as the ‘speakers corner’ of south London and in 1854 it became the first public park. In the park is the Prince Consort Lodge, originally built for the Great Exhibition of 1851 and paid for by Prince Albert as President of the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes. It was decided to base the Lodge in Kennington due to its association with the Chartists, and as the Friends of Kennington Park put it, in this way the Lodge can be seen as the only standing ‘memorial’ to the Chartists in the park and its connection to working class politics.


Museum Of London’s ‘London Street Photography’ Exhibition: An Introduction

A magazine seller at Ludgate Circus, 1893. Paul Martin

Yesterday I went to one of the ‘Meet the Expert‘ events at the Museum of London, held on the last Wednesday every month. The event normally consists of a curator, or other resident expert, talking about an area of their research or recent discovery. It’s held in the theatre on the 1st lower level of the museum – something I didn’t realise and was late for the start!

This was held by Mike Seaborne, the Senior Curator of Photographs, on the subject of the Museum of London’s newish ‘London Street Photography‘ exhibition. This exhibition has met with huge success, and I know the couple of times I’ve gone to have a nosey it’s been full of people absorbed in these intriguing images.

Admiralty Arch on the day before Queen Elizabeth II's coronation, June 1st 1953. Bob Collins. London Street Photography Exhibition, Museum of London

I know nothing about photography, I was a little familiar with the history of the development of the technology, but as a practice I am clueless. Consequently the talk by Mike Seaborne, was great for filling in some context and history of some of the images on display. I also learnt a bit about the theory of ‘street photography’ and recent debates on the subject matter.

For the Museum of London’s exhibition, they took a strict definition of street photography; that people should be the main focus rather than landscapes, that it should be in the street (though there are a few exceptions in parks), they should look at the everyday rather than important or unusual events, like festivals or protests, and finally the best ones, or perhaps the most interesting visually, have an element of chance or a juxtaposition of people and place.

The historical significance for these sorts of images almost goes with saying, but I’m going to say something anyway. As with written documents, photography all too often focusses on the big events and the important people. Street photography gives social historians, as well as architectural, cultural, and many other sorts of historians, an insight into the everyday life of the everyday person. From simple clues as to what people are wearing or carrying, to looking at more complex relationships, such as how people appear to be interacting, and what sort of people are in this particular place at a particular time.

As with any historical document the context of the creator, the photographer, is an important, if not crucial, part of understanding the image. I think this was the main point that Mike Seaborne was able to put across in his talk. He told us about the nineteenth photographers like John Thomson, who worked on a project with a journalist and would normally have some sort of arrangement in his photographs, but was not afraid to let the unexpected interrupt his composition. Also Paul Martin, who was one of the first to disguise his camera and take pictures of people on the street who were unaware of the camera under his arm. What was interesting about Paul Martin’s work, recording life at the turn of the century, was that he was an amateur photographer and part of a camera club and consequently expected to be trying to take more artistic photographs. His work was eventually appreciated later in the mid twentieth century, thankfully when he was still around to discuss his work.

Big Ben, April 2007. Stephen McLaren. London Street Photography, Museum of London


Paul Martin eventually became a photo journalist, an occupation that became possible from the 1910s due to developments in technology to print photographs, and over the course of the twentieth century the role of the photo journalism in street photography began to increase in significance. By the 1930s the genre was reaching a wider audience than ever before through the publication of specialist magazines, in which photo stories were featured. Seaborne described the post-war period, approximately 1950-1970 as the hey-day of street photography, possibly because it was a time of such change and redevelopment, photographers saw their role in recording the here and now.

Roger Mayne worked predominately in North Kensington and his photographs looked at the use of the street as a social space, being from North Kensington myself these images really intrigued me, especially as you realised that some of the streets in his images no-longer exist, torn down from redevelopment possibly replaced by Trellick Tower. The work of Charlie Phillips from the 1960s also captured the changing face of North Kensington, as he looked at the social interaction between the white and newly arrived West Indian residences.

Charlie Philips was born in Jamaica and is evidence of the increasing role of the immigrant photographer in twentieth century, bringing over new ideas and concepts they play a significant role in the street photography exhibition. They also continue to play an important role in street photography as Mike Seaborne informed us that many photographers make the trip to London specifically to take street photography here. Don’t we have very special streets?!

The final thing I’ll mention is the question Mike Seaborne left us with, which is where is street photography going? Photo journalists are now focused on either international disaster or celebrities in the street, and digital advancement allow photographs to be manipulated in ways never possible before. Many of the modern street photographs have a humorous element to it, but is there any documenting going on? And what can be call documentary now and at what point does photography become art? It seems street photography will continue to evolve and throw up interesting themes and maybe tell us something interesting about ourselves.