Breaking Histories @ Shuffle: A Round Up

Caroline Nielson talking at Breaking Histories

Caroline Nielson talking at Breaking Histories

Well, what an event! The week long Shuffle festival is now over and with it the two Breaking Histories events. These events saw eight historians talk about a particular aspect of their research that they felt should be more widely known and discussed – you can see the call for participation here.

Historians spend a lot of time talking to each other, the holiday seasons, particularly summer and Easter, are chock-a-block with conferences, symposium and workshops. These are fantastic and important for us to share, challenge and discuss ideas. However, opportunities to talk directly to the public are few and far between and I was hoping that Breaking Histories would give historians, particularly new historians such as PhD students and early careers, a chance to talk about history in an unusual setting.

The Homestead Pavilion for the first Breaking Histories event

The Homestead Pavilion for the first Breaking Histories event

And Shuffle certainly provided an unusual setting! Located in the Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, which is also 31 acres of woodland, these historians were part of festival celebrating film, art, food and nature. The theme of this year’s festival was Migration, Movement and Place and gave us plenty of scope to explore the modern relevance of our work.

The first event was on Saturday 25 July in the Homestead Pavilion. We had a great mix of talks with Anna Robinson talking about neighbour complaints in the early 20th century, Caroline Nielson on asylums and mental health patients during the First World War, Bob Taylor on concepts of knowledge in Ancient Rome through the lens of the work of Pliny the Elder, and concluded with Rosa Kurowska Kyffin from Beyond Past on a schools oral history project looking at Velvet Fist, a socialist, feminist choir.

We were all delighted with how engaged and interested the audience was and questions varied from questions about family history to relating the control of knowledge in current debates around intellectual property!

Rosa Kurowska Kyffin from Beyond Past, another speaker, Bob Taylor can be seen in the audience.

Rosa Kurowska Kyffin from Beyond Past, other speakers, Bob Taylor and Anna Robinson can be seen in the audience.

The second event was on Saturday 1 August in the Ecotherapy Grounded Den. There was a fair bit of confusion on our location as we’d been moved from the billed Migration Pavilion and I think some of the Shuffle team thought we were in the Homestead Pavilion again. Unfortunately I think the confusion led to a smaller audience, but it didn’t dampen the discussion and we had a great mix of talks. We had Judith Garfield from Eastside Community Heritage talking about the fantastic collection of 2600 oral histories from the East London community, Richard White discussing the project ‘Honouring Ester’ as part of Forced Walks which transposed a Nazi death march into the English countryside, Stephen Woodhams looked at the work of Raymond Williams and the use of different written forms to tell history and finally Sam Patterson discussed the work of the Stepney Tenants Defence League and notably their role in ensure tube stations were opened as air raid shelters during the Second World War.


I think one of the surprising outcomes from this series of talks was how well they connected with each other. From hidden stories of migration and movements, quickly forgotten or ignored, to looking at different ways to communicate and discuss history either through artist-led performative act of walking or the use of creative writing. I think the discussions could have continued for a long time, but we had to move out of the way for a talk on genes!

Sam Patterson taking questions

Sam Patterson taking questions

Communities came out as a strong theme across both weekends, communities as a subject of research within asylums or council estates, to a source base for oral histories having migrated from a particular place, to a particular place or emerging through political movement or choir, to communities created through the creative practice of history in the act of walking or collaborative work.

Overall, I think we had an audience of 45 people over the course of the two events, which I think is fantastic! I hope the talks have encouraged people to think about history differently and possibly inspired some future collaborations. I certainly learnt a lot, (did you know the borough of Redbridge has the largest Jewish community in Europe?). I hope we can repeat the experience at next year’s Shuffle festival and would be interested in hearing ideas of other ways of using the Breaking Histories model for other events!

Finally, a huge thank you to all the speakers and everyone who attended an event. I couldn’t have done it without you!

Some useful links:

Shuffle Festival

Raphael Samuel History Centre call for participation for Radical Histories Public History Festival

Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park

Beyond Past – oral history project on Velvet Fist

Eastside Community History

Forced Walks

History Today review of Samantha Patterson’s book on the history of Stepney

Here are some more photos from the two events:

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Breaking Histories @ Shuffle Festival 2015 CFP

Breaking Histories @ Shuffle Festival 2015

Call for Papers

24 July – 1 August 2015

Would you like to share your research with the public and be part of a unique community arts festival?

This is an invitation for papers as part of a new history event during the 2015 Shuffle Festival in East London. Panels would include three 10-15 minute papers and time for general discussion. Panels aim to demonstrate the wide variety of research amongst history PhD students and early career researchers happening now.

The themes for this year’s Shuffle Festival are Migration, Movement and Place. Though a connection to these themes would be useful, what is more important is that the papers reveal a range of historical debates and discussions. Let’s show that historical research is breaking boundaries, breaking conventions and should be breaking news!

The Shuffle Festival is a week-long annual event in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. It involves film, science education, storytelling, performance art, architectural installations, walks, food, comedy and music. This year we’re adding history to the list!

Breaking Histories is organised with support from the Raphael Samuel History Centre (RSHC). The RSHC is a research and educational centre devoted to encouraging the widest possible participation in historical research and debate.


How to be part of the festival

Please send 100-200 words on your research and why you think it’s important (essentially what you’d like to talk about). It would be great if you could link your research to the festival themes, but it is not essential.

Please send this by Tuesday 26th May to

Please include your availability for the festival. We don’t have a set date but we will have an hour slot on a weekday evening or weekend daytime between Friday 24 July and Saturday 1 August 2015.


Raphael Samuel History Centre

RSHC New Historians Network

Shuffle Festival

RSHC logo 

Local history comes to Life – Enfield Life

Enfield Life Exhibition at the Dugdale Centre. copyright Kathleen McIlvenna

Enfield Life Exhibition at the Dugdale Centre. copyright Kathleen McIlvenna

Recently the Enfield Life exhibition, looking at the history of the modern London Borough of Enfield, which includes the historic boroughs of Edmonton, Southgate and Enfield, was officially launched. It was curated by Enfield Museum Service and has been open and receiving visitors for a number of months, but as part of the redevelopment of the first floor of the Dugdale Centre in Enfield Town, it was officially launched with the availability of meeting rooms and community spaces in the heart of Enfield Town.

Enfield Life exhibition including room sets. Copyright Kathleen McIlvenna

Enfield Life exhibition including room sets. Copyright Kathleen McIlvenna

Now, I should immediately admit my bias to this, and declare that I was part of the team that put this exhibition together. It is something I am immensely proud of and can only claim to be a small part of the team that put it together, my two other colleagues, who were full time, put in a lot of time and effort and I think this is evident in the final display.

The exhibition is generally chronological, using aspects of life across Enfield to draw out themes. It largely follows a standard panel and case format, which results in the first couples of cases looking at the pre-history, ‘Early Life’, and also the Early Modern or ‘big house’ era called ‘Aristocratic Life’. However, I think a few touches have gone a long way to make the display more dynamic drawing visitors into and through the space. It was also a great excuse to exhibit some of the larger gems in the collection. A Roman coffin sits in the middle of the floor and two room sets demonstrate changes and continuity from Georgian to 1930s homes.

Community Life case in Enfield Life exhibition. Copyright Kathleen McIlvenna

Community Life case in Enfield Life exhibition. Copyright Kathleen McIlvenna

The people of Enfield are at the heart of this exhibition and the cases looking at the later history of the area become more thematic looking at Suburban Life, Industrial Life, Municipal Life and Community Life (not in that order). Most of the objects in Enfield Museum Service collection were donated by local residents and hopefully the exhibition will facilitate a connection between the people of Enfield through the ages by translating how life has changed. From the Belling cooker, to a 1930 Toucan dinner gong and from a turn of the century silk women’s cooperative banner to a t-shirt created by the Enfield Island Village Mothers and Daughters group to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee in summer 2012.

The exhibition was also a great excuse to put up some of Enfield’s art collection depicting various aspects of Enfield’s people and places, and most of the press coverage of the exhibition has focused on the Constable drawing that has also been put on display. I won’t say much about that as it has been said elsewhere, but I will urge to take the trip to Enfield Town and the first floor of the Dugdale to have a look.

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.


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.

Easter Island Exhibition at Canning House

I went to the private view of the new exhibition at Canning House on Easter Island, Myths and Popular Culture on Tuesday night.

Poster from the Easter Island, Myths and Popular Culture Exhibition

As with many private views it was a bit difficult to make it round all of the panels and take in the whole exhibition amidst the wine and nibbles, but from what I saw it looked really interesting.

The exhibition mainly focuses on the myths and popular culture of the island and in particular the famous Moai, but there are a couple of panels that look at the history of the island to satisfy history geeks like me. There is also an interesting section on the written language of the people of Easter Island, Rongorongo, which has never been translated! The Curator of the exhibition said that when the exhibition tours one of the school activities is going to invite children to try to translate the language – hopefully one of them doesn’t crack it and embarrass the academics!

Hoa Hakananai'a at the British Museum

Though the main focus is the island’s and the Moai’s appearance in popular culture, spurred on by the myths surrounding it. That the Moai heads could walk, that they were put in place by aliens, the usual really. There is an examination of how they have been used around the world to intrigue and entertain audiences.

It’s definately worth a look, and is in Canning House until the 26 November so catch it while you can.
Friends of the north, don’t fret as it is heading up to Middlesbrough and the Captain Cook’s Birthplace Museum.

If you’re interested in the Moai, the British Museum featured it in their brilliant History of the World in 100 Objects, which gives a concise history.