17 February, 2013

A helping hand in the city

Every year the City of London trains a new batch of the guides who lead the walks round the city, for the benefit of tourists and others. All of them must practice leading groups of people round the sites and yesterday it was my privilege and delight to be one of the guinea pigs for a walk by the charming and knowledgeable David Charnick [link to be updated].  Entitled 'A Helping Hand' the walk showed us the human side of the city through its charitable institutions, dating from the medieval period until the present.

We began our walk at the old priory of St Mary Without Spitalfields which is hidden away underground in a very inconspicuous location near Spitalfields Market. Then we came right up to date with the Spitalfields Crypt Trust which was founded in 1965 as a drop in centre for people in difficulties. The church is, of course, by Hawksmoor, a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren, and as everybody knows a member of the illuminati and the priory of Sion. [What are your sources for this nonsense? Ed] We then came back to the 19th Century with the Bishopsgate Institute, with their recently restored buildings and their archive of radical thought including the G J Holyoake papers and London Co-operative Society picture archive. No tour of London charitable institutions would be complete without showcasing some of the livery companies who maintain almshouses and do other charitable work connected with education. We looked at all kinds of places and charities including one for paralysed priests, not sure how that came about, and the conclusion of the walk was perhaps one of the finest points where one could conclude a walk about a helping hand. I'm not going to give it away so you'll have to go on David's walk when he qualifies and find out. The walk was most informative with a few touches of humour. I think that when David qualifies as a city guide we will be in for some real treats.

13 February, 2013

Minet Estate Lambeth

There are four things a community needs: A church - Check A park - check A library - check A public hall - check Note that there is no provision for transport, shopping or refreshment whether it be alcoholic or non alcoholic, although I suppose there might be a cafe in the park or at the library. This was the vision of the developer of the Minet Estate, now a conservation area in the Borough of Lambeth. And very pleasant it is too. The church has now become a block of flats, called, rather inappropriately, Black Roof House, but some of the original blocks of flats carry the Minet Coat of Arms and stone sculptures of cats. There is also a cat's head one on the public hall. Minet is French for 'little cat' so the information board in the park tells me. There is also a former convent, somewhat extraordinarily given the Huguenot origins of the estate. All in all it looks a pleasant place to live. There is even a pub (now) near Myatt's Fields park even though it was built in the 1920s or so in 'Brewer's Tudor'. Another thing that is also surprising given the strong reformed faith of huguenots is that there is a branch of the Swedenborgian church. It is called simply Michael Church, and teaches the doctrines of Emanuel Swedenborg. I don't pretend to understand what the doctrines are but I think they are saner than the mormons. I don't think they baptise their (or other people's) ancestors by proxy.  We also met a Swedenborgian in Kingsbury when we looked at the architecture of Ernest George Trobridge.  That's another extraordinary suburb.

09 February, 2013

Minet Library - life beyond life

Libraries are very dangerous places, especially on National Libraries Day. Heavens there are steps, trailing cables and well, people might even... get ideas! They might even get ideas that give them 'life beyond life'. Perhaps we are on safer grounds with archives, after my solo tour with the Lambeth Borough Archivist. Lambeth has an archive rather than a local history library and this is housed in the Minet Library which is a surprisingly huge building on the Lambeth Minet estate. The original developer of the estate gave the library which was octagonal in shape until it was bombed in the second world war. The new building has vestiges of the original octagon visible and is built as a basilica with two wings. Mr Minet was a keen amateur historian and his collection makes up part of the Archive, but of course there is much more material than that. I was shown all kinds of records from air-raid message slips that had somehow survived from our darkest hours, and, in contrast song books from Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, some of which were a bit risque! There were runs of newspapers, housing brochures, family photographs that had been abandoned when a photographer in Brixton retired from business showing people looking very proud in their bus conductors uniforms, suits and best dresses. There are also items institutions have deposited in the archive for safekeeping and to ensure public access. The British Home for Incurables has deposited its early records there. I imagine that the records were in some sort of order in the home then put into boxes for shipping o the archive, and then the poor archivist has to make some sort of sense of them, and catalogue so that they are retrievable. That must be a job and a half. Who'd have thought that drainage plans could deliver social history, well Lambeth Archives has an enquiry obout drains from 1904 by Fred Karno's Commedians! Social history of the music hall. Play bills for theatres, church history (although not the Church of England) Local Government (but not hospitals) I even saw an ice skate in the museum collection. Wow. So many thanks for this tour through the wonders of the Lambeth Archives. After lunch in the Park Cafe I went back to the library to see a film show - the Name of the Rose, The best film ever to be set in a library, although poisoned books and the library eventually burning down is perhaps not for this library. As this post is a bit picture light I have posted some other 'library pictures'

03 February, 2013

Snow memories in the Surrey Docks.

Sometimes I travel 200 miles for you, O my readers, sometimes it simply takes 200 yards. Here are some snow memories around Greenland dock as the winter starts to bite. No explanation of these is necessary really, but the Howland Great Wet Dock was given to somebody once as a wedding present. Now that's the kind of wedding present I like.