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The Bishopsgate Blog provides an added insight into all of our activities, Library, Courses, Events and Schools and Community Learning. Our regular blogs will feature speakers from our Cultural Events, photographs, documents, letters, posters and ephemera from the Library, up-to-date news and information on courses and first-hand accounts of our Schools and Community workshops.

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Courses Our regular blogs will provide up-to-date news and information on our courses
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Schools and Community First hand accounts of our archive learning workshops

Schools and Community

Our inspired Schools and Community Learning programme delivers a range of workshops and projects using the unique and fascinating collections found within our world-renowned Bishopsgate Library. Our workshops are suitable for learners of all ages and are used by wide variety of audiences from primary school pupils to pensioners.

Our regular blogs will demonstrate how our Schools and Community Learning programme encourages discovery and enquiry amongst our wide-ranging participants.

Events

Culture and arts, heritage and history, ideas and independent thought all come together in our exciting events programmes. You can enjoy talks, walks, discussions and debates, or one of the many concerts that take place throughout the year.

Our regular blogs will give an added insight and perspective into our dynamic programme with content from speakers at our events.

Library

Situated in a Grade II* listed building, Bishopsgate Library’s beautiful reading room is a peaceful place to study that is open to all; a calm oasis amid the bustle of Spitalfields and the City. In our dedicated Researchers’ Area, you can consult our renowned printed and archival collections on London, labour, freethought and Humanism, co-operation, or protesting and campaigning.

Our regular blogs will provide a new way for you to engage with the library collections and services, new acquisitions, activities and future developments.

Courses

Our comprehensive range of short courses offer you the opportunity to discover, discuss and be inspired in a welcoming environment. Our courses are conveniently designed to take place throughout the day, including lunchtimes, after work and at weekends. We have five course strands, Arts and Culture, Words and Ideas, Languages, Performing Arts and Body & Exercise to choose from.

Our regular blogs will provide up-to-date news and information.

Bishopsgate Blog
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Summer Trips at Bishopsgate Institute

by Bishopsgate Institute on 06 / 07 / 2016

This summer we offer three short courses that provide students with the chance to take a trip through time and space without leaving a classroom setting. Whether you’re interested in ‘visiting’ the Crystal Palace in the 1850s, the Festival of Britain in the 1950s or Swinging London in the 1960s, course tutor Michelle Johansen has your journey mapped. 
Archive images of the Swinging 60s

As part of Summer School 2016, I’m delivering three courses that use library and archive materials to recreate three distinct moments in London’s social and cultural history. In programming these courses, the intention was to provide a break from the routine but without the stress that comes with organising a real day trip. Expenses are minimal; there are no frustrating transport delays; and there is no need to worry about the weather, a definite plus point as we move out of the dullest June on record.

All three courses take place in an atmospheric library setting and provide access to sources that evoke an authentic sense of place and period. In An Excursion to the Crystal Palace students examine 150+-year-old pamphlets, illustrations, admission tickets, press cuttings and guidebooks to discover what it was like to visit the most ambitious international public event ever yet organised in Europe. Health and safety precautions are covered. There is a chance to assess the mechanical properties of the ‘Vulcan Machine for Cleansing Chimneys’ along with other pioneering Victorian inventions. Naturally, you will spend time in the Italian Court and have a chance to view the famous panorama of the siege of Paris.

If you prefer the stark brutalism of the post-war era to Victorian fuss and excess, you might choose instead to join an afternoon jolly to the Festival of Britain as we collectively revisit the period after the second world war when London’s South Bank was developed and thrown open to the public. Promoted as ‘paradise on the water’, visitors to this Festival of Britain site in 1951 were greeted by a futuristic spectacle that sought both to reflect and usher in a new technologically-sophisticated age. The session includes an archival peep inside all of the main display spaces (including the Dome of Discovery and the Telekinema) as well as a strictly-just-on-paper boat ride upriver to the exhibition of live architecture at Poplar in east London. 

For the ‘gear’ or ‘with it’ type of student, an evening spent with mind-blowing materials from the swinging sixties might be more suitable. Get your hands on items like the Gear Guide (1967) to discover where it’s at on the fashion scene on the Kings Road and other London hip spots (see image above). But this ‘night out’ won’t only be about the boutiques and bistros; we will use pamphlets, flyers, photographs and press cuttings to examine heavier topics too, such as debates around abortion and birth control, the emergent women’s movement and changing attitudes to same-sex relationships. Definitely not to be missed if you’ve ever wanted to find out how and why London became the world capital of cool for an expanding youth market in the final decades of the twentieth century. 

Bishopsgate Instititute's special collections and archive holds a variety of collections relating to the social and cultural history of London.

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If you have ever said you're popping down the pub for a few "bevvies", "zhooshed" up your bijou flat, or commented "that's a bit naff" then you have already used Polari. But what is Polari? We asked Professor Paul Baker, author and tutor for our upcoming course, Polari: The lost language of gay men, a few questions to help us get a better understanding.
photograph of Paul Baker
Q: Can you explain what Polari is?

A: Polari is a form of language which was used by LGBT people in the 20th century. They used it as a way of identifying each other and to have private conversations while on public transport or in other situations around straight people. It also helped to create a sense of shared identity. But it had pretty much died out by the end of the 1970s.

Q: What will people learn about the culture on your course?

A: They'll learn about a range of different cultures, not just gay culture but all the different sorts of people who interacted with gay people, resulting in a mixture of words and phrases which became Polari. They'll also learn a bit about what it was like to be gay in the 1950s and how gay people were subject to blackmail, violence, police oppression and sickening medical procedures designed to make them straight. 
 
Q: What will surprise people about Polari?

A: I think people will be surprised to learn what's happened to Polari in the last 20 years, as it has been adopted for new purposes which are often very funny and also thought-provoking. I think people also might be surprised to find out that there is a somewhat darker side to the language, which reflects the casual racism and sexism of the time, and was one of the reasons why it was dropped.
 
Q: People were aware of Polari  through Julian and Sandy from  Around the Horne. Where else would they have heard it?
 
A: It cropped up in a 1973 episode of Dr Who (when the Dr was played by Jon Pertwee), where it was weirdly described as Telurian carnival lingo, and also was used briefly in a scene in a Frankie Howerd film called Up the Chastity Belt. Larry Grayson sometimes used the odd word in his Generation Game, while Julian Clary and Paul O'Grady have occasionally used it too. But these were often just brief snatches of Polari and it's really Round the Horne where it was used most extensively, although that was a much simplified and sanitised version!

Q: You have written a comprehensive dictionary of Polari,
Fantabulosa, but are there any words in your dictionary that have made it into the Oxford English Dictionary or are in common use today? 

A: Probably the word "naff" is the one which people may have heard of. There's mixed opinion on where it comes from but there's an interesting story behind it (which I will reveal in my course...)

Q: What light will your course shed on gay/queer culture across the years? 

A: I think what I want the course to convey really is just how much has changed for LGBT people in a very short space of time. Life is so different for us in 2016 than it was in 1956 and it's sometimes easy to forget that many difficult battles were fought for LGBT equality. We owe a debt to the people who came before us. They refused to do what doctors, police, politicians, newspaper editors and ordinary members of the public wanted them to do - which was to sit alone at home and deny who they were.

Q: What do you think people will be taking away from your course?

A: As well as learning about its history and some of the words and phrases, I hope that they will take away understanding and empathy of the people who used Polari. I also hope they'll have fun - learning a language can be a bit arduous so I've injected a bit of camp humour into some of the language exercises we'll be doing.
 
Our one day course, Polari: The Lost Language of gay men is on Saturday 30 July (2.30 - 4.30pm) as part of our Summer School.

There are a variety of collections relating to LGBT history, politics and culture within Bishopsgate Institute's Special Collections and Archives. These include the archive collections of organisations such as LAGNAStonewall and Outrage, and material relating to the Terrence Higgins TrustAchilles Heel magazine and QX magazine.

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Lady Malcolm's Servants' Ball music sample

by Bishopsgate Institute on 16 / 06 / 2016

Ahead of Lady Malcolm’s Servants’ Balls, Auntie Maureen and Readers Wifes each present a playlist of sounds for your delight . 

Auntie Maureen

Dressed to her vintage-nines Auntie Maureen has selected ten original international pop songs from the 20s and 30s. 

Listen to Auntie Maureen's playlist.
Photograph of Auntie Maureen












1) Kikutaro Takahashi - Sendo Kawaiya (1935). 

In English the song is called Cute Girl Standing At The Prow.  It was written by Kikutaro Takashi but sung by Geisha Otomaru who was noted for her virtuoso shamisen lute playing, her dancing, her voice, her clothes and her lovely Western Sokuhastsu Victorian-inspired hairstyle.

2) Lucienne Boyer - Tango Français (1936).  

Lucienne’s melodious voice gave her the chance, while working as a part-time model wink wink nudge nudge, to sing in the cabarets of Montparnasse, making her ultimately a French star of the Parisian music halls and Broadway in the 1930s.

3) Slim & Slam - Boot-Ta La-Za (1939). 

This jive-talking ditty is full of linguistic acrobatics by word trapeze artist and inventor of the language of ‘vout’ Slim Gaillard.  According to his own storytelling he was left behind in Crete at the age of 12, worked in vaudeville as a tap-dancing guitar player, jammed in speakeasies owned by Al Capone, who was always nice to him, and invented the word ‘groovy’.

4) Evelyn Dall & Ambrose Orchestra - I’m All In (1936). 

In Evelyn’s own words: ”it all started when I developed into one of those pesky little kids that will stand up and sing, though no one wants to hear them". To get rid of some of her surplus energy, she went, whilst still a child, into a knockabout stage act called Fields, Martin and Dall, made up of herself and two boys: "I hit them and they hit me. Folks liked that kind of thing then. I didn't find it so hot though. After six weeks I was so black and blue I had to quit”.  She joined the Ambrose Orchestra as a vocalist in 1935, making her debut at a Sunday concert in Blackpool.

5) Viola Smith with Frances Carroll & Her Coquettes - Snake Charmer (1939) 

Viola had seven sister who all played instruments in her dad’s band Schmitz Sisters Family Orchestra. When she  joined all-women dance orchestra Frances Carroll & Her Coquettes she recorded the beat whipping Snake Charmer as one of America’s first professional female drummers.

6) Rita Montaner - El Manisero (1928) 

The famous Peanut Vendor! but here in Spanish as the first and the original immortalisation by Cuban star Rita Montaner.  After blossoming as a great recording voice, Rita made her stage debut in Havana in 1927 in blackface and male drag as El Calesero, the coachman. This classic song has been recorded more than 160 times, sold over a million copies of the sheet music, and was the first million-selling 78 rpm single of Cuban music. 

7) Jack Parnell & His Rhythm- The White Suit Samba (1952).  

The “Guggle Glub Gurgle” opening sounds of this quirky song were not made using traditional musical instruments but rather laboratory equipment worked into a samba tempo rhythm that was scored as “bubble, bubble, high drip, low drip, high drain, low drain.” 

8) Irving Aaranson - Let’s Misbehave (1928).  

Cole Porter penned this in 1927, originally for the female lead of his first major production, Paris.  It was binned before the Broadway opening in favour of Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love but Aaranson and his Commanders commandeered it and made it a naughty hit.

9) Noel Coward - Any Little Fish (1931).  

Having written over hundreds of songs, Noel was King of theatrical and lyrical wit and this is why:
Any little duck can quack, any little worm can crawl
Any little mole can frolic in the sun
And make a little hole and have a lot of fun
Any little snake can hiss, in any little local zoo
But I can’t do anything at all, but just love you!

10) Val Rosing with Henry Hall & his Orchestra (1932) - Teddy Bear’s Picnic

More animal fun with a children’s favourite originally composed by John Walter Bratton in 1907.  Irish songwriter Jimmy Kennedy added the delightful words in 1932.  Local folklore has it that the small wooded area between the church and Staplegrove Scout Hut was the inspiration for his grizzly lyrics.



Readers Wifes

Regular Duckie DJs, Readers Wifes have created a top 10 of modern pop records influenced by the time. Here's little turntable teaser of what you'll hear. 

Listen to Reader Wifes playlist.

Photograph of Kim Phaggs and Chelsea Kelsey of Readers Wifes

1. Prince – Under The Cherry Moon

Off ‘Parade’, 1986.
The Minneapolis maven’s homage to Hollywood blockbuster musical comedies of the 1930s was somewhat casually tossed off in the middle of his unstoppable ‘80s purple patch… and promptly became nobody’s favourite film. Or even nobody’s favourite Prince film. Still, it looked the part and gave the world this gorgeous seductively old-school theme.
 
2. Sparks - Looks, Looks, Looks
Off ‘Indiscreet’, 1975

One can only wonder at the fun Sparks and producer Tony Visconti must have had when laying down this wickedly funny but surprisingly hard-hitting satire on popular culture’s (ongoing) preoccupation with appearances. An authentic ‘30s-style dance band twirls and booms, Russell swoops and croons and, while, the whole thing’s over in two-and-a-half minutes flat, by the end of it you feel like you’ve graduated from a masterclass in Hollywood Babylon. Sparks are just always, always spot on.
 
3. Chic – Dance, Dance, Dance
Off ‘Chic’, 1977

Any  Chic would do – at their late 70s peak they were a living, breathing reinvention of the dressed-up, dancing-in-the-face-of-adversity hedonism of New York a half-century before. Their biggest tune, Le Freak, harks back explicitly – Like the days of Stompin’ At The Savoy’ – while My Feet Keep Dancing has a tap dance solo slap-bang in its break. This, their debut hit, turns on its “yowsah yowsah yowsah” hook, a reference to jazz violinist and radio personality Ben Bernie’s popular catchphrase from the 1920s. You also hear the phrase in the film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, the 1969 film about Depression-era dance marathons.
 
4. Queen – Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy
Off ‘A Day At The Races’, 1976

Only Freddie Mercury could have come up with this campy tribute to Scott Joplin-style ragtime. Naturally, being Queen it’s massively and marvelously O.T.T. in every conceivable way. Its lyrics reference the hallowed totems of our period – the Tango, The Ritz, Valentino - while, interestingly (perhaps) the track features on the band’s A Day At The Races album, whose title was itself an homage to the 1937 Marx Brothers comedy of the same name.
 
5. Bryan Ferry – These Foolish Things
Off ‘These Foolish Things’, 1973

Roxy Music were always part-science fiction future shock, part-art school iconoclasm and part old-style Hollywood glamour, and when frontman Ferry broke away for his first solo record the latter strand came up right to the fore. On These Foolish Things he served up perhaps the definitive version of Eric Maschwitz and Jack Strachey’s 1936 standard that references Garbo, Crosby, silk stockings, dance invitations and Gardenia perfume. And yep, we are including Billie Holiday’s and Frank Sinatra’s renditions in that – Bryan’s bests them all.
 
6. Wings – Goodnight Tonight
Single, 1979

When it came to plundering both the Jazz Age and the Music Hall, McCartney's previous band The Beatles were always at it – think Your Mother Should Know, or When I’m Sixty Four or Ringo’s crooning on Goodnight at the end of The White Album. We rather prefer, however, the sleeve and especially the video for Wings’ late-‘70s disco-influenced smash. Linda’s in a purple cocktail dress and the band have been given a complete black tie and tails makeover. As Lady McCartney flutters her fan, Paul flutters those famous eyelashes and the whole world swoons.
 
7. White Town – Your Woman
Off ‘Women In Technology’, 1997

The ‘90s was an era of unlikely Number 1 singles and White Town – aka Jyoti Prakash Mishra – delivered the most unlikely one of all. In reality, Jyoti was an Indian-born, Derby-based, box-bedroom-confined Pixies-obsessive but the exotic-sounding genius one hit wonder was based entirely around a looped trumpet from Al Bowlly’s 'My Woman’. ‘Your Woman might have marked a case of “Goodnight Sweetheart” so far as chart hits were concerned but White Town are still very much a going concern.
 
8. Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band - Cherchez La Femme  (Se Si Bon)
Off ‘Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band’, 1976

So many of these songs come from the 70s – a decade when the smart set turned resolutely from the drab denims and macrobiotic miserabilism of hippie authenticity. Think Bette Midler, or Cabaret or Big Biba’s mirrored, potted palms interior. Think the Rock Follies doing Glenn Miller is Missing on ITV and Elton John’s collection of $15,000 Tiffany lamps. Disco was no exception when it came to plundering the past, and August Darnell’s (later Kid Creole) first musical outfit mixed big band swing with the beefy bass bottom of Sandy Linzer’s de rigeur uptown production.
 
9. Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band – I’m The Urban Spaceman
Off ‘Tadpoles’, 1969

McCartney again, this time co-producing with Gus ‘Space Oddity’ Dugeon for the Monty Python–affiliated Neil Innes’s whimsical trad-jazz / music-hall / psychedelic pop shambles. Compared to ‘Dr Savannah’s Studio 54-style smoked-glass poise it all sounds very low-rent, tea-dance, and quintessentially British but a massive chart hit and a perennial on Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart’s Junior Choice nonetheless.
 
10.  Guy Marks - Loving You Has Made Me Bananas
From ‘Loving You Has Made Me Bananas’, 1969.

A surprise novelty hit in the UK almost a decade after its conception for Marks, an American impressionist-comedian who specialised in skits on Hollywood’s Golden Age leading men. It’s true its inclusion in our top ten pushes the boundaries of this piece - Loving You Has Made Me Bananas has hardly made a seismic impact on popular culture. But it’s in there because 1 -  It’s hilarious and 2 -  It’s a stalwart First Song Of The Night at Duckie, and has been for two decades now. We love starting off with it, as the mirror ball turns softly in an empty Tavern and we guffaw about Guy’s delivery of lines like “Oh, your red scarf matches your eyes”. So think on, on what you’re missing, turning up gone ten o’clock.

Lady Malcolm’s Servants’ Balls are on 24 and 25 June 2016.  Browse through our LGBT archive.
Stay up to date with all our activities by signing up to our newsletter.

Fancy that: Dressing up for Lady Malcolm's Servants' Ball

by Bishopsgate Institute on 10 / 06 / 2016

On the 24th and the 25th of June, DUCKIE – those queer purveyors of working class entertainment – are restaging Lady Malcolm’s Servants’ Balls in an ode to the working ‘queans’ who paved London’s LGBT herstory.  Researcher and curator E-J Scott gives us a bit of background history on the event and popular costumes at the time. 

Lady Malcolm held her first fancy dress ball for London’s domestic servants in 1923 at the modest Queensbury Hall - 300 attended in total.  Even though she attended wearing a pearl tiara, turquoise necklace and highly fashionable haute couture, Lady Malcolm recognised that her working class guests might not own a dinner suit or ball gown, so set a fancy dress code to make the evening accessible to the poorly paid workers.  

The servants’ ball grew so wildly popular that by 1933 it was held at the Royal Albert Hall where it would repeatedly sell out the maximum 5000 tickets. There was fox trotting and waltzing to Percy Chandler and his orchestra from the prestigious Café de Paris, and a bar serving champagnes, liqueurs, whiskies, gins, chocolates, cigars, cigarettes, ham sandwiches, still lemonade and ginger beer.  

There was a fancy dress parade at 12.10 am and big name celebrities like Ivor Novella awarded prizes for the servants’ costumes in the categories of Best Original, Best Humorous, Best Home-made, Best Pair and Best Advertisement. 

According to London’s Police Commissioner, it was the chance to dress up, drink and dance at this type of ball that the queers found so irresistible. In 1935, he deduced that: “There is no doubt what[so]ever that these dances lend themselves to a certain number of undesirable people being present.”  

Tickets were printed with the preclusion that “No man dressed as a woman… will be permitted to remain.”  To enforce this, London Metropolitan Police Records document that a “Board of Scrutineers” were employed to inspect the guests’ costumes upon arrival. Records that year state that “About 15 men dressed in fancy male attire representing various ancient periods came into the hall in ones and twos, and by their facial appearance and manner they were looked upon by the ex-officers as suspect perverts… One man in fancy dress attire with cloak was considered by the Board of Scrutineers (through which all fancy dress had to pass) to be dressed in such a fashion as might become indecent should it fall.  He was asked to leave and did so.”

During the 1920s and 1930s, the fancy dress worn by Royalty, aristocrats and the very wealthy was made by the world’s finest couturiers.  Whereas, the fancy dress worn by the workers attending Lady Malcolm’s Servants’ Ball could have been bought from London’s department stores or postal ordered from catalogues. More likely, they were homemade. 

On the 29th of November 1930, the Daily Mail reported that “...9/10ths of the costumes were designed and made by the wearers”. Mrs Henderson, who in 1929 went as a “coster girl, with feathered hat, pearlies and mouth organ complete,” explained that she made her costume with feathers she had bought on sale, and her skirt and velvet jacket was made using old offcuts.

Homemaking their costumes gave the servants creative freedom to design ironic, satirical, if not cynical costumes that directly reflected their daily duties and allowed them to comment on their employment conditions right in front of their employers. They dressed up as cleaning products, other domestic servants from throughout the British Empire and even as members of the aristocratic classes they served. One young man was inspired by the advertisement for the scouring powder VIM, dressing as the character “Vimmy” who had featured in the Lever & Archer advertisements from 1904, with a can of VIM on his head and an oversized red bowtie with white polka dots.

At the ball of 1929, a Mr L. Stiff dressed as “The Porter’s Nightmare,” with dozens of luggage name tags confusingly stuck all over his dark suit.  In 1930, a maid dressed as an alarm clock set for 6am, and another wore green and carried a small broom, ticketing herself as “The Irish Sweep” – a pun on being a cleaner that actually referred to the sweepstake that was to be drawn the same day as that year’s ball.  One girl, possibly a kitchenmaid, was awarded a prize by the English film and stage star Gladys Cooper for her costume of an “Empire Christmas pudding inspired by a recipe in the Daily Mail.” The pool of prizes on offer for the best fancy dress at the ball of 1930 included brooches, a scarf and bag, bracelets, cuff links, smoker’s companions and note cases. 

Lady Malcolm’s Servants’ Balls are on 24 and 25 June 2016.  Browse through our LGBT archive.
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David Rosenberg asks who was Emma Goldman

by Courses on 31 / 05 / 2016

Who was Emma Goldman? This is the question writer and author David Rosenberg hopes to answer in his three-part course looking at the life of this activist, writer, rabble-rouser, nurse and philosopher. Here, he gives us a little glimpse into her dramatic life.  

“Wake up. Be daring enough to demand your rights. Demonstrate before the palaces of the rich. Demand work. If they do not give you work, demand bread. if they do not give you work or bread, take bread. It is your sacred right.” Tough talking, in hard times, from an even tougher woman. 
Photograph of Emma Goldman
Emma Goldman, born into a struggling Jewish family in Kovno, Lithuania, was standing on a soap box in New York City’s historic Union Square, in her adopted country, when she made this appeal to a crowd of 5,000 hungry, angry, unemployed and downtrodden low-paid workers. She was just 24 years old then, but her power as an orator had already been recognised.

She was soon sought after, as an international anarchist celebrity. Emma turned up in London’s East End in 1899 speaking in her native tongue, Yiddish, to packed audiences who crowded into Christchurch Hall on Hanbury Street to hear her talk about how to change the world.

She felt at home wherever she was among the oppressed, and helped give them the strength and inspiration to fight for their liberation. In 1906 she founded a magazine called Mother Earth, which indicated the true boundary of her concerns.

Emma Goldman led a dramatic life and influenced the lives of so many others with her powerful ideas of liberation and her rebellious actions. Small wonder that in 1917 a State attorney described her as “the most dangerous woman in America”. Her philosophy was “anarchism”, which she defined as standing “for direct action, the open defiance of, and resistance to, all laws and restrictions, economic, social, and moral.” Her activism took her to many destinations, some by choice, others by force. In 1919 she was deported from America as an “alien radical”.

Opponents derided her as a hard unemotional revolutionary, while simultaneously complaining that she spoke of ‘free love” and sexual liberation. Emma herself was married and divorced in her 18th year. After her divorce she vowed “If ever I love a man again I will give myself to him without being bound by rabbi or law, and when that love dies, I will leave without permission.” Yet, for Emma, the “most vital right” of all was “the right to love and be loved,” adding “I'd rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck.”

This three-part course will try to bring out the real Emma Goldman in all of her dimensions: activist, lover, philosopher, nurse, rabble rouser. It will look at her background, describe key moments in her life, explore her fundamental beliefs and examine the impact of her activism on the different places in which she lived. Whether it was the First World War, the Russian Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, wherever dramatic events were unfolding, Emma was there, in the thick of it, part of the struggle for better conditions and better times on Mother Earth.

Our course Who Was Emma Goldman? starts on Tuesday 14 June at 6.30pm. A fictionalised version of Emma Goldman also features in our event Ragtime: The Musical.

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Ragtime in London – the Course

by Courses on 27 / 05 / 2016

Bishopsgate Institute and Centre Stage London are producing a staged concert of ‘Ragtime: The Musical’ in June 2016. Tutor Michelle Johansen explains how the themes of Ragtime will inspire a new short history course at Bishopsgate Institute.

Based on the novel Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow, ‘Ragtime: The Musical’ examines pivotal moments in American history through the lives of three family groups in early twentieth century New York. Many of the themes that underpin the narrative in both the novel and the musical can also be found in the historical materials in the special collections at Bishopsgate Institute, collections that are especially rich in items that describe ‘ordinary’ people’s battles to achieve justice and equality. For example, the writings of anarchist and activist Emma Goldman (who appears as a fictionalised version of herself in Ragtime) are represented by pamphlets that report her lectures on hotly contested topics such as Marriage and Love (1914) and Anarchism (1916).

Other aspects of Ragtime that find direct parallels in the Institute collections include the story of immigration as told through the character of Tateh, an impoverished socialist and silhouette artist who travels with his daughter from Eastern Europe in search of a better life in the United States. At the start of Ragtime, we meet Tateh on a crowded ship about to dock at New York. In Terence McNally’s adaption of Doctorow’s novel for ‘Ragtime: the Musical’ the script refers to: ‘rag ships [carrying] immigrants from every cesspool in western and eastern Europe.’

Many Jewish immigrants made the hazardous journey from Eastern Europe to first London then New York in the final years of the nineteenth century, fleeing new laws in Russia that prejudiced their opportunities to make a living – and were sometimes violently enforced. It has been suggested that the poorer immigrants fetched up in the East End of London while the more wealthy travellers bought a ticket to New York. New York was the destination of choice in part because it was seen as a city of opportunities, a notion explored both in Ragtime and ‘Ragtime: the Musical’ (‘in America anyone at all can succeed’).

But on both sides of the Atlantic, visibly ‘other’ immigrant groups settling in large numbers attracted outspoken criticism and disproportionate media interest in the late-nineteenth century. In the Institute collections, pamphlets and journals from the period printed articles under inflammatory headlines such as ‘The Invasion of the Pauper Foreigners’ and ‘Alien Immigrants: are they Undesirable?’

Britain’s first Asian Conservative MP even secured his East End seat on an anti-immigration ticket in the 1890s, as this original election flyer from the collection reveals.



This item will feature along with photographs, articles and ephemera from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in a new half-day course called ‘Ragtime in London’.

Responding to the themes of the Ragtime novel and musical, the course will provide hands-on access to materials on anarchism, socialism and immigration as well as making more esoteric links to Ragtime through theatrical sub-plots that include escapology, Egyptology and arson. These subjects and more will be given a uniquely London twist, allowing students to spend an afternoon immersed in the city’s past at a pivotal moment of change, expansion and explosive drama.Keep checking our courses page for 'Ragtime in London' course dates and availability.

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Create Your Own Artist's Book

by Courses on 22 / 04 / 2016
Artist Sarah Sparkes will be joining us this May to run a six-week artist bookmaking course. Sarah has also taught artist bookmaking and other practical courses at Tate Modern, UAL and Putney School of Art and Design. Sarah told us a little about what you can expect to learn on her course.

An artist book is a book produced or designed by an artist that is intended to be a work of art in itself. Usually a limited edition or a unique item, the artist book can come in many different variations around the idea of what a book is, but still retain many of what we would consider to be the key elements that we identify as 'book'.

On this practical course you will be introduced to many exciting and wide-ranging examples of artist books and gain an insight into the processes involved in making them. You will learn how to make a range of different styles of book yourself using a variety of materials, bookbinding, paper folding and pop-up bookmaking techniques. You will explore different illustrative processes, from collage to mixed media mark making and use these to create exciting and personalised designs for your books. You will also explore how to present and exhibit your finished books.

The content course participants will be using to create books - to illustrate them and even to construct them - will be drawn from the fabulous images and texts in the special collections and archives at Bishopsgate Institute. In one session you will also learn how to make a unique art work by using paper cutting and folding techniques on an actual book from the library's book sale!

In preparation for the course, Sarah has been making books with materials from the Bishopsgate archive. Below is an example of a concertina book that she has made fusing protest posters and historical photographs of local markets.
Take a look at previous examples of students' work from Sarah's bookmaking course at Tate Modern.

Create Your Own Artist's Book starts on Thursday 12 May 2016. Stay up to date with all our activities by signing up to our newsletter.

Who are the Guerrilla Girls?

by Courses on 15 / 02 / 2016
When in 1985 the Museum of Modern Art in New York mounted a large exhibition titled “An International Survey of Painting and Sculpture”, out of 169 artists included only 13 were women. This disparity led to the formation of an influential and energetic activist group to combat sexism in the art world. Tutor Al Johnson introduces the Guerrilla Girls.

In 1984 a group of women artists created a radical collective: Guerrilla Girls. The group’s members protected their identities by wearing gorilla masks in public and by assuming pseudonyms taken from significant deceased female figures, including writer Gertrude Stein and artist Frida Kahlo. They were determined to expose sexual discrimination in the art world, and published thirty posters :Guerrilla Girls Talk Back. The posters included; Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into the Met. Museum? 1989. A naked woman with a gorilla mask reclines above the following text: Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art Sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female. The image is based on the painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres Odalisque and Slave 1989.

Guerilla Girl Poster 'Do women have to be naked to get into the Met?

Copyright © Guerrilla Girls, courtesy guerrillagirls.com

The Guerilla Girls were attempting to redress the balance after centuries of silence, since the work of women artists has so often been hidden or unnoticed. Many published art histories make no mention at all of women artists, Ernst Gombrich’s The Story of Art, still a standard text in Art Schools, makes no mention of women artists, and public collections still only represent a tiny minority of women working prior to the 20th century. The National Gallery in London has 2300 paintings in its collection, and only 15 of these are by women. 

Five Centuries of Women Artists will reconsider the contribution of women to the arts. We will look at the work of artists including; Sofonisba Anguissola, Rosalba Carriera, Judith Leyster, Artemisia Gentileschi, Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun, Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Kathe Kolwitz, Eileen Agar, Paula Rego and Judy Chicago. We will also explore the work of the feminist art historians of the 1970s, including the landmark essay by the American art historian Linda Nochlin; Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? 

Al Johnson will be looking at the contribution of women to the arts and the work of feminist art historians in the 1970s who strove to bring these women artists to our attention in Five Centuries of Women Artists.

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London’s Burning

by Courses on 28 / 01 / 2016
The year 2016 marks 350 years since the Great Fire of London transformed the built environment of the City forever. This anniversary will be acknowledged in a range of ways by our City neighbours, including the Museum of London and the Barbican. Here tutor Michelle Johansen explains how we are responding to the 350 milestone date through our courses programme.

For three dramatic and terrifying days in September 1666, fire raged through the streets of the City of London. The Great Fire destroyed thousands of homes and dozens of churches and public buildings. Parts of the City of London had to be almost entirely reconstructed in the years that followed, with Sir Christopher Wren taking responsibility for a transformative programme of planning and rebuilding in the area around St Paul's and what is now the Monument. 

The Great Fire took place less than a mile away from our present location. As a cultural and learning institution delivering events and courses with a distinctly London feel and focus, we could not allow this milestone local anniversary to pass unmarked in our programme. But our archives and special collections relate chiefly to the period after 1800 so how could we get involved? 

We recognised we were not in a position to engage in a meaningful way with our neighbours’ plans to commemorate the event so we adopted a creative approach by developing a half-day course exploring a range of ‘fiery’ topics. London’s Burning  is the latest in our archives-based courses that place the student at the centre of the learning process. Structured access to curated sets of original materials from our collections provide opportunities for learners to lose themselves in London’s history through immersive engagement with nineteenth-century pamphlets, Edwardian photographs, eighteenth-century maps, Victorian ephemera and so on. 

London’s Burning is perfect for curious learners with an open-minded approach to the study of the past. A wide range of subjects will be covered. For example, the course looks at changing views of childhood through mid-nineteenth-century campaigns to end the use of child chimney sweeps. We will explore fire as a recurring motif on the home front in London during the First World War, both as a positive concept (through the popular catchphrase ‘keeping the home fires burning’) and for its negative connotations (through an examination of the ground level impact of fires caused by zeppelin raids).

We will examine the use of fire as a form of political protest throughout the twentieth century and we will revisit the hazardous character of domestic life in Victorian London when house fires were an ever present threat in dwellings that were often overcrowded and insanitary and invariably heated by real fires. Some of the pioneering health and safety measures introduced at this time to mitigate personal risk, especially in new public buildings where people were increasingly gathering in unparalleled numbers to attend meetings, lectures and exhibitions, will also be scrutinised through illustrations, press clippings and institutional records. 

Finally, London’s Burning aims to mark a second key anniversary. The London Fire Brigade is 150 years old  in 2016. To add a light-hearted element to a session that focuses on otherwise relatively dark subject matter (war, destruction, poverty, child labour), we intend to include a few old photographs of firemen drinking tea between carrying out training exercises.

Also on offer for the first time in the spring term is Sex and the City, an alternative way to celebrate Valentine’s weekend by getting hands on with historic materials such as postcards, letters and flyers that place the changing nature of relationships and gender in London since around 1880 under the spotlight. Find out more here.

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Discover an A-Z of London Radicals

by Courses on 15 / 01 / 2016

London has a history of grassroots protest and revolt in the workplace, in local communities and at its centres of power. Tutor and historian David Rosenberg, introduces us to one of the activists he will talk about in his course an A-Z of London Radicals.

Olaudah Equiano, a freed slave living in London in the 1780s and 90s, came to prominence through his activity with the “Sons of Africa”, 12 men who campaigned here for the abolition of slavery. He published his autobiography in 1789. It was very popular and republished in a number of other countries. He died in 1797. 

Very few articles about him tell you what he was involved with in the last years of his life. He had become active in an innocuous sounding group called the “London Corresponding Society”. The government didn’t consider them innocuous. It passed Acts of Parliament against them to stem their activities and put some leading members on trial for high treason. Opponents of the society described them as “a motley crew of  pickpockets, seditionists, modern reformers, housebreakers, and revolutionists”. They were actually a group campaigning for democratic reform in a very undemocratic society, and it is possible to draw a line linking them to the Chartists of the 1830s, the Reform League of the 1860s and the suffragettes of the early 20th century.

The A-Z refers to the surname initials of thinkers, agitators, writers, activists and troublemakers, who lived and campaigned in London between the 1750s and the 1950s. We will meet more than 20 of them over 7 sessions: writers of incendiary pamphlets, outlaws who challenged the authorities through acts of civil disobedience, refuseniks who would not conform to the orthodoxies proclaimed by the ruling classes, courageous fighters in the workplace and on the streets, inspirers of change who promoted a vision of a new and better society. 

You can find out who they were and what they did in an A- Z of London Radicals starting on Thursday 21 January 2016.

Explore protest and campaigning in our collections. 

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Mindfulness has become almost a buzz-word. But what is it, really?  Using knowledge from her recent Masters Degree in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy at Oxford University and her signature humour, Ruby Wax explains why learning to pay attention is important.
Image of Ruby Wax

Attention is like a spotlight and what it illuminates streams into your mind, so developing control over it is the most powerful way to shape your brain.

I can hear you say, ‘What’s with attention? I pay it when I cross the street.’ No, for most of us, we are there physically but our attention could be in Sri Lanka. We don’t naturally pay attention, we have to learn it (a glitch in evolutionary development). The tragedy of most of our lives is that we’re asleep at the wheel and no one tells us how to wake up. They say to kids at school, ‘Pay attention’. How would they know how to do that? No one teaches them.

Scientists now have the technology to be able to trace what people’s eyes focus on when they scan a room. Who or what an individual seeks out is based on genes, chemicals, culture, relationships and experience. What your eyes fasten onto is where your mind is in any one moment. Some people enter a room and zoom in on a daddy figure (nice but not sexy) or a sugar daddy (same, but with expensive shoes).

We become the character we are at any particular moment depending on what we focus on. On the golf course, swinging the club, you’re a sportswoman. In bed in your nightie, you might be a sex kitten. With your kids you may be Mother Goose. (God help you if you ever get these roles confused.) These identities are all transitory; they come and go depending on which metaphorical clothes you wear and for what occasion.

The skill required to tame your mind is to be able to inhibit your attention on certain things and intentionally take your focus to others. This is self-regulation, becoming the captain of the ship, steering your attention where you want it to be. An expert at self-regulation would be able to stay calm even in the face of my mother during one of her episodes.  Mindfulness helps me tame the thoughts that flutter around my brain like moths on cocaine. I'll be talking about the brain and mindfulness in Sane New World, part of the Troublemakers?  series.

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Author and historian Sarah Wise is a regular tutor of 19th-century social history and literature at Bishopsgate Institute. One of her courses this term will look at the frightening re-imaginings of London in 19th- and 20th-century works of science fiction. We asked her a few questions about the new course and her interest in Victorian London.

Q: What first drew you to delve into London's Victorian past?
A: I grew up in the golden age of British telly - when adaptations of all the classic 19th-century novels were on at least once a week, and that fired my imagination about these larger-than-life people, the Victorians. So I started reading the novels and much later on, when I spotted the Victorian Studies Master's degree running at Birkbeck College, I signed up for it, and that was that.

Q: Your books on the underside of Victorian London have struck a chord with modern readers. Why do you think this is?
A: I had thought when I began to write that I was exploring social issues that were firmly in the past, such as human trafficking, rapacious, unregulated landlordism, abysmal working conditions. I'm unhappy to say that over my writing career, all of these things have risen up from the dead and have become very present concerns. Also, perhaps, my books show that there is so much virgin territory in the archives - stories that have never been told since the day they happened. It's always fun to try to find a fresh angle on an aspect of the past, or to rescue incidents and individuals from obscurity.

Q:Thinking about your Science fiction course this term. How much do you think the re-imagined worlds of Wells or Orwell drew on contemporary reality?
A: With Wells, he was exploring in fiction some of the growing ethical dilemmas that late-Victorian and Edwardian science were throwing up but which were not being deeply explored by scientists themselves or by journalistic popularisers of science. His novels were a way of opening up a dialogue about where amazing new discoveries could lead mankind. With Orwell, what is sometimes forgotten is how very well read he was in even pretty obscure Victorian fiction - although very much a 20th-century man, he was exceptionally well acquainted with the thought and unresolved anxieties of the 19th century too. For example, the 'Prole' scenes in 1984 are recognisable from some of the experiences of late-Victorian social investigators in London's slums.

Q: How much of an appetite was there among Victorian readers for stories of other worlds?
A: Well, Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe and HG Wells were all pioneers of what we now call science fiction and they found wide readerships -. There was a huge appetite for non-fiction books in which the latest scientific thinking was presented for a general readership, and science fiction also captured that hunger for probing new developments and how they might impact on everyday life.

Q : What do you hope your students will take away from their encounter with these unusual visions of London?
A: Terror and wonder! Well, also a sense of the 'real' world that each fiction was responding to - the various anxieties about how the future might shape up. Science fiction holds up the mirror to the real world, so it can be a great way into social history. Also, it would be nice if anything a student read on the course triggered their own ideas for fiction.

Apocalypse London: The City in Science Fiction starts on Monday 18 January 2016. Sarah will also be looking at The London 'Lowlife'Novel, 1889-1907

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The Victorians and the Modern-Day Christmas

by Courses on 17 / 11 / 2015
Christmas has been celebrated for centuries in various forms but it was not until the mid-19th century that it took on the popular guise which we know today. Tutor Caroline Ings-Chambers looks at how our present-day Christmas is a gift from the Victorians.

The signs that Christmas is coming are everywhere at this time of year. Evergreens seemingly spring forth in profusion, thousands upon thousands of tiny lights unashamedly generate pretty carbon footprints, minimalism is superseded by decorations of red and gold or anything shiny, seasonal foods amass ready to waylay the waistline, and medleys of “Christmas Greats” fill the bottomless pit of our ears over and over again. On the streets, in the shops, on the radio and the television, the message is one of seasonal good cheer - the Christmas rush is on. Commercial it may be, but the chances are it will draw us in.
Victorian Christmas Card
Christmas, as it is known today, began in the Victorian era. Christmas trees, garlands and other evergreen decorations, presents, Christmas dinner, mince pies, Christmas cards, crackers, Father Christmas - even the commercialism of Christmas, all began in that period. Amazingly, though, Christmas had almost disappeared as a festival at the beginning of the nineteenth century.  As a religious observance, it remained widespread, but the festive jollity that had once been associated with Christmas had been stamped out by the Puritans and not revived in the intervening years.

With their austere evangelical outlook the Victorians seem unlikely candidates to have revived and in many respects generated the modern “Merry Christmas”. Paradoxically, this came out of their fear of a changing modernising world. Mass migration from the country into the towns and rapid industrialisation meant that traditions were vanishing. The way of life of a nation no longer seemed stable. Amidst the upheaval, the Victorians cast into the past for answers about how to live in the present. Nowhere did they do this to more lasting effect than with the way they evoked the spirit of Christmas past.

In their revival of the festival of Christmas, the Victorians had an inspired vision. They began with an almost blank canvas and created a festival that moves beyond the boundaries of religion to celebrate life itself, with its emphasis on bringing people together, remembering the importance of loving one another, the joy of living, of new life and of family. The same message lies in the symbolism of the decorations, which is why, when we scratch below the tinsel, Christmas captures the better part of who we are across the boundaries of history, culture and tradition.

Caroline Ings-Chambers will be looking at how the Victorians revived Christmas and why in her course The  Victorians and the Modern-day Christmas.


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London street markets are a cherished and historic part of the capital's neighbourhoods, valued by tourists and locals alike as an essential aspect of London's character. But can they survive in today's overheated economy as anything more than an expensive plaything for the better-off? Author of 'Save our Town Centres' Julian Dobson takes a look at the pressures and tensions facing London markets.

Image of London market

Writing in The Phylon Quarterly in 1958, Jean Malcolm described Portobello Road as a combination of ‘marché aux puces and fruit-and-vegetable market’. ‘Along and off this dingy thoroughfare and between the squares and tree-shaded roads are streets of peeling porticos, five-storey tenements, or squat, decrepit houses that huddle over cramped shops and cafés.’

Nearly sixty years on, Portobello Road advertises itself to the well-heeled as ‘the world’s largest antiques market’ and visitors are encouraged to browse the ‘iconic London market stalls full of English character’ selling fruit and veg. Tourists come to see an area they know as the setting of the film Notting Hill.

The ebb and flow of wealth and reputation signal that this has always been a difficult and contested space. Notting Hill in the 1950s was the fiefdom of slum landlords and violent riots. Today the intimidation takes the form of property speculation that prices out low-income residents.

Yet Portobello Road is also a place where different notions of value are being tested.

Westway Trust emerged from the hugely disruptive construction of the A40 flyover at the north end of the road in the 1960s. As compensation to the local community, the mile-long strip of land under the flyover was handed over to a charitable trust.

Today there are community facilities including gardens and sports clubs, business premises and social clubs. But in an ironic twist, it is Westway Trust’s own plans that are now outraging some locals.

Homes and Property, the magazine of property portal Rightmove, reported in August that Portobello Market was threatened by plans to build a shopping mall. The Westway Trust calls ‘Portobello Village’ an ‘exciting opportunity’ to benefit the local economy; opponents claim it will destroy the character of the market, replacing it with a ‘sanitised shopping experience’.

Walk into a shop or past a market stall and you’re entering a complex game of power and capital. Westway Trust has long promoted community interests in the face of development: today it is being challenged to stay true to its history.

The tensions being played out in Portobello Road are close to the surface in many parts of London. Markets, from Brixton in the south to Queen's Market in Upton Park in the east, are often the flashpoints where those tensions are exposed.

Julian Dobson will be exploring these issues in Is the Market Killing our Markets talk on 24 November, drawing on the recently published 'How to Save Our Town Centres'.

Our current exhibition Cries of London was curated by the Gentle Author of 'Spitalfields Life' and runs until 29 January 2016. 

'How to Save Our Town Centres' is available from Policy Press or good bookshops.

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'Masters of the Airwaves: the Rise and Rise of Underground Radio' charts the history of black music radio in London. Co-author of the book Lindsay Wesker explains why he and Dave VJ felt it was important to tell the story of British black music radio.
Cover image of Masters of the  Airwaves by Lindsay Wesker and Dave VJ
When I try to summarise Masters Of The Airwaves in a neat, 30-second pitch, I explain that it’s a book about radio, a book about passionate music lovers, a book about music but, specifically, music we were not allowed to hear!

I will later tell you who prevented us from hearing black music on UK radio but, first, I will talk about some of the acts that benefited from black music pirate radio.

When my co-author Dave VJ (Vinyl Junkie) first conceived this book, he was anxious to tell the real story of British black music radio.  It was then my idea to e-mail a questionnaire, so the key players could tell their stories in their own words.

For us, the key theme running through everyone’s stories is that we were all very frustrated. We knew there was a lot of great black music out there, but it was really difficult to find it and enjoy it.

When the reggae singer Ken Boothe had a No.1 pop hit with his version of Bread’s Everything I Own, we were thrilled to hear some authentic Jamaican reggae on the radio, but we had no idea Ken Boothe had a vast catalogue.

When the reggae singer John Holt had a No.1 pop hit with his version of Kris Kristofferson’s Help Me Make It Through The Night, again, we were thrilled to hear this Jamaican icon on our transistor radios but, many of us, particularly those of us with English parents, had no idea how much music John Holt had already recorded.

When Kiss FM first launched as a pirate radio station, the main beneficiary of this exposure was the man known as The Godfather Of Soul, James Brown.  When Kiss FM launched in 1985, James Brown had only had seven Top 40 hits and only one Top 20 hit, so would have had minimal play on legal radio.  What we didn't know was that James had already released 54 studio albums, so it gave us all great pleasure to introduce James Brown to a wider audience.

As the most sampled man in hip hop history, many people were aware of 8 or 16-bar chunks of his music, but few had heard the full-length originals.  Nor did many people know of all his satellite projects; band members making solo music, such as Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker and Lyn Collins.

Pirate radio allowed a whole new generation of music lovers to gain a proper black music education.

But who were these people that refused to represent black music on their radio stations?

From my later dealings as a promotions person at assorted record labels, I learned that the radio establishment (Radio One, Capital One etc.) viewed much black music as ‘club’ music and not ‘radio’ music, and must have been enormously dismayed when Kiss FM got a legal license and stole many of their young listeners.

So, for Dave and I, the pioneers of pirate radio were not only entertainers and educators, they showed young, British music makers that legal radio was the mere tip of an iceberg and, had it not been for the exciting, innovative genres showcased by pirate radio, British pop music would not contain successful exports such as Sade, Mica Paris, Soul II Soul, Floetry, Dizzee Rascal, Estelle and Emeli Sande.

Thankfully, Dave and I now have weekly radio shows on an exceptional radio station, www.mi-soul.com, an online radio station now on DAB all over London.  It allows people to hear every black music genre from the last five decades and I know, from doing my own radio show, many people, even people that view themselves as experts, are still discovering songs and artists they had never heard before.

Popular music contains more songs than any of us will ever know, so it gives Dave and I real pleasure to share our appreciation and knowledge with the radio audience, and showcase all the wonderful ice below the ocean’s surface!

Lindsay Wesker and Dave VJ will be talking about Masters of the Airwaves:the Rise and Rise of Underground Radio on Thursday 12 November.

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With the film 'Suffragette' just about to be released in cinemas nationwide we asked  Sarah Jackson, who co-wrote 'Voices from History: East London Suffragettes' with Rosemary Taylor, why she thought it was so important to get a working class perspective of the Suffragette Movement.

Suffragette sees the UK suffragette movement brought to the big screen at last, in all its grave and gritty glory. When I heard that the story would be told from the point of view of a young working class woman – Maud, a laundress in the East End – I was delighted. 

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in her famous TED talk. She warned: “They make one story become the only story.”

For too long the story of British women's battle for the vote has been the story of the Pankhurst family alone. Though it is without doubt an astonishing, inspiring, important story, there are so many more to be told. What about the democratic Women's Freedom League? The women trade union activists in the North? The Indian suffragettes who marched with the WSPU? And my personal heroes, the socialist East London Federation of the Suffragettes? 

While the new film still tells a single story, the choice of a protagonist at the margins of her society is a step forward.  In 1912, the film's central character Maud (played by Carey Mulligan) is working in an East End laundry and gradually becomes involved with her local branch of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). 

It was only in October 1912 that the WSPU began actively campaigning in east London again, although the organisation's first London branch was opened there in 1906. The WSPU's physical move west in the intervening years was mirrored by a move away from their initial working class support base.  

Sylvia Pankhurst led the new East End campaign, and after a shaky start (in her memoir Pankhurst recalls being pelted with fish heads) in just over a year the east London WSPU branches built a true mass movement for equality, drawing support from women and men and becoming a trusted part of the community. 

Based in Bow but with branches all over the East End, they grounded their campaign in the everyday reality of working women's lives and connected individual hardship to structural inequality. They argued that if women had the vote the whole community would have greater leverage in the struggle to improve pay and working conditions, secure decent housing, and protect their children's health. 

From their very early days the east London suffragettes saw the vote as just one aspect of the struggle for equality and adopted a broad campaigning programme, often working with other groups and networks. They fought for a living wage, decent housing, equal pay, old age pensions, Home Rule for Ireland and many other causes. Being “mixed up” with other issues ultimately led to their expulsion from the increasingly autocratic WSPU in January 1914, when they opted to continue as a separate organisation.  

On top of sexism, surveillance, and state oppression, the east London suffragettes had to contend with intense class prejudice, sometimes from within their own movement. According to Sylvia, after demanding that the east London branches separate from the WSPU, her sister Christabel added that “a working women’s movement was of no value: working women were the weakest portion of the sex… Their lives were too hard, their education too meagre to equip them for the contest.” 

Free of stifling WSPU control the new organisation flourished, adopting new tactics which focused more on mass mobilisation than individual acts of heroism. Many of the East End suffragettes were the sole breadwinners for large families, and a spell in prison was too high a price to pay if it meant their family being evicted. Instead they marched through east London, lobbied politicians, held huge public meetings, opened their own social centres, organised benefit concerts and parties. They even recruited a small ‘People’s Army’ of supporters to defend them from police brutality.

When the First World War broke out in August 1914, factories across east London closed and food prices spiralled. The suffragettes led community action to support those most affected by the sudden wave of unemployment, organising the distribution of milk for starving infants and opening a volunteer-run children’s health clinic, a nursery school and a series of canteens serving nutritious food at “cost price”. They even opened their own cooperative toy factory, which paid a living wage and included a crèche.

After the events of Suffragette, did Maud join the East London Federation of the Suffragettes? I like to think so. This extraordinary organisation, like many others, has been left out of the single suffragette story. It's our loss because their democratic, grassroots, intersectional approach holds important lessons for activists today. The insensitive “I’d Rather Be A Rebel Than A Slave” t-shirt campaign accompanying the new film makes this clear. 

What makes their absence especially frustrating for me is that they were acutely aware of the importance of representing themselves, of recording their lives, and telling their own stories. “Some people say that the lives of working women are too hard and their education too small for them to become a powerful voice in winning the vote,” states the first issue of the Dreadnought, defiantly. “Such people have forgotten their history.”

Sarah Jackson will be discussing the East London Suffragettes in Votes, Wages and Milk: The East London Suffragettes on Tuesday 27 October. 

You can also 'meet' the rebellious East London Federation of Suffragettes in our course The Suffragettes who demanded more than the vote with David Rosenberg.

As home to many of the archives for protest and campaigning groups we are keen to explore protest and campaign, past and present. 

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Time Travelling to the London of 1716

by Events on 07 / 10 / 2015
London has a colourful history, from the depths of the Middle Ages, through the time of Shakespeare, the Great Plague and Empire, to the pummelling of the city during the Blitz, and its resurrection in the 50s, the capital has had many historical moments. Historian Dr Matthew Green tells us about one of his favourite times in London's history.


As the author of London: A Travel Guide Through Time, I’ve lost count of the number of times people have asked me where, if I could go back to any year in London's history, would I go?

I asked someone this question myself once, at the Port Eliot literary festival, late at night. The stranger (who had just fallen out of a dance tent, I should add) responded decisively: the 3rd September, 1666. And what would he do there? Stand in the middle of the City as the Great Fire raged about him, basking in the chaos, and then travel to Seething Lane to dig up Samuel Pepys’s carefully-buried Parmesan cheese, and eat it. 

For my part – and less dramatically – I’d like to visit London in the year 1716. Why 1716? For a start, it would be bloody exciting. You’d find the Thames frozen solid and could skate across its sparkling surface, past ox roastings, poetry tents, and printing presses churning out little mementoes ‘printed on ice’ at the Frost Fair. London would be awash with rumour, too.  As Jacobite armies drew closer to London, you could drop into a smoky, candlelit coffeehouse to learn the latest news from the misty battlefields of the North, and discuss it with strangers late into the night, fuelled by dishes of ‘bitter Muhammedan gruel’. Inside too you might read the Shift Shifted, easily the most radical paper ever to be published, oozing venom and calling for the overthrow of George I from its less-than-ideal newsroom: a prison cell. 


In February, you’ll be able to watch the ringleaders of the Jacobite Rebellion have their heads lopped off at Tower Hill, and in March, see a portentious comet flare across the night sky.

The celestial body would look down upon a liminal city on the cusp of the modern world. There’d be chocolate houses and pig’s-bladder condoms, wallpaper shops and mathematics clubs. The City was the nerve-centre of Britain’s expanding empire of trade. At the Royal Exchange, you’d find the colonnades thronged with international merchants, sealing deals that would send ships to the farthest reaches of the globe. And in the West End, Bond Street had emerged as the chicest street in Christendom where the ‘fireflies of fashion’ gadded about, window-shopping for their periwigs and civet perfume, excreted from the anal glands of African civet cats.

In 1716, London is beginning to look modern, too. All over the city, jagged timber-framed houses with lurching gables have been replaced by auburn brick townhouses boasting an elegant harmony of proportion, familiar to 21st-century eyes, though smeared in seacoal fumes. Though it's the biggest city in Europe, London is still relatively compact in this period - you can walk from the salty seadog suburbs of Limehouse and Wapping to the beau monde’s brand new townhouses in Piccadilly and Mayfair in three hours - but it's poised for massive expansion as it sprawls into fields, meadows and market gardens on her eastern and western cusps, like a giant squirming octopus. Hanover Square, a fine lamp-lit square in up-and-coming Mayfair, is a mere two year’s old; in the east, Spitalfields is taking shape. 

You’ll find the people reassuringly complex, too. If you visit the brooks and bowling greens of bucolic Hackney, you can meet the sex-crazed law-student Dudley Ryder, the epitome of a London bourgeois, who is forever affecting masks and guises to make people think more highly of him, a harbinger of British politeness and reserve. He is writing a secret diary – just as revealing as Samuel Pepys’s – chronicling this year and last. There is something of Hyacinth Bouquet about him.    

Yet there is horror here too, and savager. Go to the Sessions House at the Old Bailey, and you’ll see the sledgehammer of English justice at work, sentencing destitute mothers to death for stealing so much as a wig or silk handkerchief; their children will be amongst the crowd as she chokes on the Tyburn noose at one of London’s ‘hanging holidays’. In an increasingly commercial and consumerist society with no shortage of migrants, things are often valued more highly than people. If you go to the Hoxton Square coffeehouse, you can participate in an inquisition of insanity, or go to gawp at the ‘moonsick’ at Bedlam lunatic asylum, open to the public. 

At Clerkenwell's bloodsports arenas, you’ll see mastiff dogs crunched to death by grizzly bears for the pleasure of paying, blood-baying crowds. And you’ll find the streets strewn with festering offal and hopeless beggars and prowled by link boys who lure travellers towards cut-throats and footpads lying in wait in blind alleys. There will be cattle everywhere too, and see the River Fleet turn red with blood after mass slaughterings at Smithfield.

Modern in many respects, it’s still an alien world in others and this tussle between the familiar and the unfamiliar makes wandering the streets of London in 1716 an uncanny, almost hallucinogenic experience. Which is the stuff of great sci-fi - another reason why I’d choose to time travel back to 1716.

Dr Matthew Green takes us on an historical journey through 800 years of history in a Time Travelling London on Wednesday 14 October.

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Rhyming slang can claim to be London's one truly home-grown language. It may have started around 1830 among the canal-digging navvies, the villains of St Giles or, as is most likely, the costermongers of the East End. But in multicultural, modern-day London how is slang evolving? Expert in slang lexicography Jonathon Green takes a look.

No cities, no slang. Thus London is the crucible of the world's anglophone counter-language. The first terms – those of the capital’s criminal beggars – were collected around 1532, and the tradition of slang dictionaries has continued ever since. They have never wanted for material. Criminal terms were augmented and then overtaken by ‘civilian’ slang. The reverse of standard English, with its essentially top-down upper- or middle-class coinage, slang came from the streets: the genuine ‘gutter tongue’. 
Illustration of Petticoat Lane Market
But if all slangs can trace their ancestry to London’s poor, some are more ‘London’ than others. Rhyming slang, the probable creation of the East End costermongers of the 1830s, is the obvious candidate. It was coined mainly to befuddle the punters and, while there is really no great trick – one simply leaves off the rhyme – it doubtless worked, and still does. But rhyming slang was very much monocultural: the language of the white working class. If its form spread elsewhere – Australia, where it has persisted, and the United States, where it has not – it remained firmly rooted in the naphtha-lit markets of the 19th century Old Oak (Smoke: London). 

Rhyming slang has not disappeared, but like black cabs and red telephone kiosks its role is as much iconic as it is practical. The press regularly worries on its behalf, bewailing the seeming ignorance of its use by the under-30s. But this is as it should be. The year is 2015.

London is no longer monocultural. It is a world city seen as a showcase of multiculturalism. Slang moves on, perhaps faster than any variety of English. The under-30s have their own vocabulary: fittingly entitled Multicultural London English (MLE). It reflects their lives and their backgrounds. Initially, around 2006, dismissed as ‘Jafaikan’, i.e. the specious borrowing by young Londoners of Jamaican patois, it is far more complex. 

MLE does offer some patois, but it also blends in rap and other black slang from America, traditional Cockney terms (including the odd rhyme), the terms that have grown up around London’s own rap ‘grime’, and the home-grown inventiveness of young Londoners. It represents what has become of London since World War II; the influx of immigrants, the fading of rigid class barriers and, perhaps most vitally, the breakdown of a line between black and white. 

Yet MLE, for all it’s ‘cutting edge’ notoriety, may not be that new. Slang is a continuum that has run through the generations and MLE is simply the latest version. It is a development and not a sidetrack, let alone a parallel creation. MLE is the name that has been given to the current set of words that, for the last few years, have fulfilled the role of 'youth slang'. For the generations to come there will be new words and new ways to turn a phrase.

Jonathon Green will be looking at rhyming slang in Slingin' the Old Jack Lang on 22 October. This event is part of our Cries of London series of events. 

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Archives help us make sense of different historical perspectives and provide an amazing insight into the experiences of past generations. Patrick Vernon OBE  looks at the importance of black archives in promoting political activity and grassroots activism. 

Black archives matter for all of us in understanding political and social change today. Over the last two decades, academics, historians and community activists have been discovering and lobbying for research, preservation and funding of black-related archives in mainstream bodies and community-led organisations. In London and nationally there are many examples of major museums and institutions making their archives and collections more accessible to the public, often with the support of Heritage Lottery Funding. 

However most of these archives are connected to the slave trade and the British Empire. Although this is important, there is a growing trend in promoting the archives of community activists and their contribution to race relations and the fight for social justice in Post-war Britain. The George Padmore Institute based at new Beacon Books explores the life of the late John La Rose and the rise of the supplementary school movement. The Huntley Archives at the London Metropolitan Archives focus on the life of Jessica and Eric Huntley as publishers and campaigners on local and international issues. The Black Cultural Archives established by Len Garrison has a number of individual and community organisation archives, including the Runnymede Trust.
Bernie Grant and Lennox Lewis photograph
At Bishopsgate Institute there are a number of archives; but the one which has a personal interest to me is the Bernie Grant Archive, which covers the social and political life of the late Bernie Grant MP. His archive reflects a cross-section of black ephemera with newspapers, magazines, hand bills,  pamphlets and personal letters from the period 1950 to 2000. The archive also has a collection of racist stereotype post cards and advertising material from the late Victorian era to the 1960s, again highlighting the social change in the media and public perceptions of black people in the UK and USA.

Included in the archive are many wonderful photographs that show Bernie in his many roles; a Council leader in Haringey, trade union activist and MP, he also worked in Europe and founded the reparation movement, as well as campaigning on Broadwater Farm and policing. One of my favourite images is of Lennox Lewis, the most successful black boxer to date and Bernie. I tweeted this on the anniversary of his death and received over 30,000 views and was constantly retweeted by people around the world (including Lennox himself). This image reflected the growth, confidence, and aspirations of black people in the 1990s trying to break the glass ceiling in academia, sports, media, politics, the civil service and business. 

Patrick Vernon OBE will be talking to Jeffrey Green, Victoria Northridge and Stefan Dickers in Exploring Archives: Black Ephemera on Saturday 3 October.

Upcoming events and courses at Bishopsgate Institute offer you the chance to explore the Bernie Grant archive, while complimentary events look at the role music played in shaping the black British experience in the 1970s and 80s.

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Between 1981 and 1986, Ken Livingstone led the most experimental, controversial and influential city governments in modern British history. Author Andy Beckett uncovers the forgotten triumphs and  disasters of Livingstone's Greater London Council in his book 'Promised You a Miracle'. The following is an extract from the book: 

Protest badges from the 1980s

Of all the risky experiments in early 1980s Britain, cultural, economic or political, one attracted particularly wide derision. On 17 February 1982 the usually polite Guardian published a mocking three paragraph item about ‘a new wheeze’ from the spectacularly unpopular, seemingly doomed political curiosity that was Ken Livingstone’s Greater London Council. ‘This is a Womens [sic] Committee,’ explained the unnamed journalist, ‘which will monitor all council activities to check that they are looking at things from a woman’s as well as a man’s point of view.’ The report continued even more condescendingly: ‘Sexism – albeit of a cheery and trivial sort still lurks at County Hall . . . Valerie Wise, one of the councillors most enthusiastic for the scheme, wants “a committee that is going to be able to interfere with every decision of the council”.’

By 1982, for journalists, even some Guardian ones, feminism was an old story. Women’s Lib, in its modern British incarnation, had been going for a dozen years now. Some veterans of the struggle were slipping away to do other things, like Anna Coote with her new television career at Diverse Production. Meanwhile even feminists with fresh campaigning ideas, such as the peace camp at Greenham, struggled to get the attention of the media and Britain’s overwhelmingly male politicians sometimes, even, of the ideologically curious and unusually gender conscious Livingstone himself. ‘We had no proposal for the women’s committee in the 1981GLC manifesto,’ he told me, despite the document’s hundreds of pages and wide-ranging ambitions. ‘We had a proposal to set up an ethnic minorities committee, and on the back of that, people like Valerie said we should do something for women. So it was an afterthought.’
 

In February 1982 Wise was twenty-seven. She had been a GLC councillor, her first elected office, for barely a year. Tall and slightly gawky, her narrow face dominated by her trademark circular, thick-rimmed glasses, she spoke in a youthful, upbeat, slightly grating voice, with non-London tinges to her vowels (she had also lived in the Midlands and the north). She was still in awe of her mother, Audrey, a political prodigy herself who had been a prominent feminist from the late 1960s onwards, and a stubbornly outspoken left-wing Labour MP in the late 1970s. ‘I feel very privileged to have been the daughter of Audrey Wise,’ Valerie said, with oddly stiff affection, when I interviewed her in 2013. Two walls of her living room were given over to volumes of Hansard covering her late mother’s years in Parliament.

Socialism was the prime political faith passed from mother to daughter. ‘I’ve called myself a feminist for some time, but coming to the GLC has meant my first contact with the women’s movement,’ Valerie admitted to the feminist magazine Spare Rib in July 1982, two months after the women’s committee had officially started work. Her frankness was either naive, faux-naive, or immensely self-confident – or most likely a mixture of all three. ‘It’s been an amazing learning process for me, and I hope that’s going to be mutual.’

In 1982 Livingstone’s GLC badly needed a new purpose. ‘What we’d really wanted to do was build housing and modernize the transport system, and those we were blocked on,’ he told me. The council’s attempt to revitalize the capital’s economy and make it more socially just, through the Greater London Enterprise Board, was proceeding modestly at best. Livingstone was trying to wean himself off giving endless provocative quotes to hostile journalists, his original approach of leadership by outrage having proved increasingly counterproductive. The euphoria of the precocious London Labour left’s seizure of the GLC in 1981 – ‘London’s Ours!’ – seemed very distant a year on. As two of the many young, questing left-wing thinkers and activists who joined the Livingstone administration, Maureen Mackintosh and Hilary Wainwright, wrote in the slightly chastened 1987 book they co-edited about their experience, A Taste of Power: ‘No one in the GLC thought we were creating socialism now.’

This GLC rethink was part of a wider retreat by the British left from 1982 onwards, as Tony Benn’s Alternative Economic Strategy began to lose momentum after his failure to win the Labour deputy leadership, and Thatcherism finally started to create a new economy as well as destroy the old one. But if ‘Red Ken’ had given up on building socialism in one city, his GLC still had enough power, money and chutzpah for a different radical project. 

This was a new relationship between the state and the citizen, and between the increasingly disparate groups of citizens in London. It would have implications for the whole of Britain. And it would rival, and in some ways undermine, the psychological revolution being driven through by the Thatcherites.

The idea of the women’s committee had crystallized during 1981. When Wise arrived at the GLC, she knew a lot more about politics and bureaucracies than her innocent manner suggested. She had worked for her mother Audrey in Parliament. She had also worked for a groundbreaking group of union shop stewards at the military-industrial conglomerate Lucas, who sidestepped the company management to develop worker-designed green technologies and other non-military products. Finally, during her curries in Tooting with Livingstone and Michael Ward, she had helped arrange the left’s seizure of County Hall.
When she became a GLC councillor, Wise told me briskly, ‘Because of my involvement with the Lucas shop stewards, I became vice-chair of Mike Ward’s industry and employment committee straightaway. Industry and employment were key parts of our manifesto. It was one of the most important GLC committees.’ She nodded with satisfaction. ‘I was in the right place at the right time.’


At industry and employment she became interested in how the GLC might alter the London economy to better suit women. She told Spare Rib that she ‘tried meeting regularly with women[’s groups] outside the GLC but . . . it just didn’t work. The only way to get a proper strategy, to ensure things happen, is by a committee.’ Otherwise, ‘You get swallowed up by the system . . . becoming “the statutory woman” on things . . . just a front.’ She wrote a proposal for a women’s committee. She remembered, ‘I went to Ken, and he was very receptive. I put it immediately to the Labour Group [of councillors].’ She smiled: ‘It was hard for them not to agree to it, given that there was already an ethnic minorities committee.’

You can hear Andy Beckett in conversation with Ken Livingstone in Red Ken's GLC: Loonies or Visionaries? on Thursday 8 October.

As home to many of the archives for campaign and radical groups we are keen to explore protest and campaigns past and present.

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Hand & Lock have been producing the world’s finest hand embroidery since 1767 and this autumn we are delighted that they are going to be running two new embroidery courses with us. To provide a bit of background information for the courses Robert McCaffrey from Hand and Lock gives us a brief history of haute couture: 

Though haute couture started in France, it was a once-famed but now largely forgotten Englishman, Charles Frederick Worth,  who started the ‘high fashion’ trend. Moving to France in 1845 he started work as a dress salesman before graduating to dressmaking and winning acclaim for his designs at the 1851 Great exhibition in London and the 1855 Paris Exposition Universelle. 
Image of Charles Worth dressmaker
In 1858 The House of Worth opened its doors and was one of the first fashion houses to use live models to showcase designs to clients. In time, Worth became known as ‘The father of haute couture’. Notable clients included: Empress Eugenie, wife of Emperor Napoleon III; Elizabeth, Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary; Louisa, Queen of Sweden; Margherita, Princess of Usedom; Maria Cristina, Queen of Spain; and Ranavlona, Queen of Madagascar. One of his lasting legacies was sewing his name into each garment he produced, pioneering the concept of the fashion brand.

One of the most iconic fashion designers was Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel who founded the brand Chanel in 1909 and was credited with liberating women from the constraints of the corset and popularising ‘casual chic’. 

Image: Left: Coco Chanel. Right: Christian Dior 'New Look'

In her early days, Chanel hired Russian immigrants to work in her embroidery studio realising her vision and developing it through the 1920s and 30s. By the outbreak of WWII, when she closed her shops claiming ‘it was not a time for fashion’, she had a workforce of 3,000 women.

Throughout a colourful and controversial life she created the famed Chanel suit and the little black dress.  American Vogue likened Chanel's ‘little black dress’ -  to the Ford, alluding to its almost universal popularity as a fashion basic. 

Another famed French couturier was Christian Dior. In 1940 Dior was called away from fashion to undertake compulsory military service. Little is known about the next two years. 

In 1942,during the occupation of France , Dior produced couture dresses for the wives of Nazi officers and collaborators. Allegedly at this time he passed sensitive information to his sister in the French resistance. He would later honour her by naming his debut fragrance Miss Dior.

Pre-war fashion had been restricted by rationing but when Dior showed his debut collection in 1947 it was a voluptuous ‘New Look’ -  an average Dior dress used 20 yards of fabric. After Dior’s death in 1957, Yves Saint Laurent took over as haute couture designer and remained at the company until 1962.


In 1970 Pierre Cardin hired an eighteen year old assistant based on sketches he had been sent; the young man was Jean Paul Gaultier. Just six years later Gaultier released his first individual collection and developed his style year after year before becoming known as the ‘enfant terrible’ of the French fashion scene. 
Image of Jean-Paul Gaultier and Halle Berry in an Ellie Saab dress
Image: Left: Jean Paul Gaultier with Madonna. Right: Halle Berry in a dress by Elie Saab 

Another early starter was Beirut-born Elie Saab who at just 18 opened his first atelier with 15 employees. His overtly feminine aesthetic and romantic crystal-encrusted gowns are a dazzling fusion of Middle Eastern detailing and European sensibilities. He gained local notoriety when Bierut’s high society began wearing his pieces before earning international fame after Halle Berry wore an Elie Saab gown when she won the Oscar for Monster’s Ball.

Hand and Lock will be running two courses this autumn: Traditional Goldwork Workshop and Contemporary Haute Couture.

SPECIAL OFFER: Anyone booking a Hand & Lock embroidery course will be invited to attend their annual prize-giving event on 5 November and entered into a prize draw to win a VIP guided tour of their studios. Deadline to book is 21 September.

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Feeding London across the centuries

by Courses on 03 / 09 / 2015

From Roman oysters to priceless Parmesan, London’s position as a world-leading port has given her people plenty of food to choose from. Tutor Caryle Webb-Ingall looks at how Londoners’ appetites have been met. 

With what was at one time the largest and wealthiest port in the world, London has arguably shaped the appetite of the nation. As produce from around the globe found its way to the London docks, markets grew up throughout the city to supply traders, restaurateurs and citizens with all kinds of food from the exotic to the staple. 

Image of London Food market
As far back as Roman times, there is evidence that a wide range of food was available from oysters, sweet apples and cultivated cherries to new vegetables like carrots and cabbage, as well as herbs including borage and chervil. 

During the middle ages, the church held strict controls over fasting and feeding, although inevitably the wealthy ate well, notwithstanding the rules. Much of the population was employed one way or another in feeding London at this time, with unpaid labour from within the household and many street sellers, stall holders and specialist dealers. Some parts of the industry were important enough that guilds were established such as the Ancient Guild of Pepperers, which was established around 1100 and renamed the Worshipful Company of Grocers in 1376 to reflect their widening interests. 

By Tudor times expanding overseas trade made luxuries such as sugar, ginger or Parmesan cheese available to those who could afford them. Although little used at first, now-familiar items including potatoes and tomatoes were also appearing from as far away as the Americas.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Britain’s trade expanded to such a degree that individual wharves and docks became dominant in their specialist areas. Hay’s Wharf, for example, handled 80% of all of the dry goods entering the country and became known as ‘the larder of London’. The fishermen that sailed from Barking became part of the world’s largest commercial fleet.

The markets that grew up in medieval and Tudor times expanded, some becoming the great wholesale outlets for vegetables, meat, fish and flowers that still operate today. As London expanded during the 18th and 19th centuries, local street markets were established to serve the new suburbs. Many of these continue to thrive, with some seeing a new lease of life from a resurgent interest in fresh, quality produce.

Caryle will be looking at the history of London's great food markets and the development of coffee houses and chippies in her course Feeding London: Markets and Meals for Londoners.

You can also find out about the history and politics of street trading in our series of events Cries of London

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Open Houses London focuses people's attention on the capital's great architecture. We asked tutor Steven Barrett to tell us the landmarks and buildings that he thinks gives London its unique character.

I've chosen the Boundary Estate in Bethnal Green because it embodies many of the themes I'll be covering on the Architecture of London course. History isn't only about famous people, it's about ordinary people too, and a history of London's architecture shouldn't focus only on famous landmarks but include some of the everyday buildings that have changed Londoners' lives. 

Image of Bandstand at Boundary Estate
The Boundary Estate is a perfect case study - the first planned housing estate in the capital; one of the very first in the world. It replaced Victorian London's worst slum, the Nichol, a labyrinth of dilapidated streets and courts which housed upwards of 6000 people and had a death rate double that of Bethnal Green as a whole. In Charles Booth's famous survey of East London published in 1889, Life and Labour of the People of London, the Nichol was coloured almost entirely black, Booth's lowest category denoting 'vicious and semi-criminal' inhabitants.


However, in only ten years the Nichol was gone, replaced by the Boundary Estate with its gardens and bay-fronted flats, bandstand, schools, dairy and parade of shops. The course covers the history of the Boundary Estate, focusing on its origins in Victorian philanthropy, emerging socialism and new forms of local government, and its impact upon later housing projects including the large-scale postwar rebuilding of London's housing stock. The Boundary Estate provided the template for planned urban living not only in London, or the UK, but in many other great cities and nations of the industrial age.

Famous buildings such as the Palace of Westminster and St. Paul's Cathedral are hugely important buildings in the history of London and truly iconic (a much over-used word) in that they can appear to sum up or represent the city by themselves: a picture of Big Ben says 'London' to everyone familiar with the capital. 

Steven Barrett will be looking at the Architecture of London in a one-day course on the 28th November. As well as studying London's great buildings themselves you can explore how their special, iconic, status is achieved through photography, painting, film and TV. 

Make sure that we on your itinerary for Open House London

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One Century – Many Battles!

by Courses on 15 / 06 / 2015

The East End has been a magnet for immigrants seeking freedom, safety and prosperity for hundreds of years. It has also been a focal point for anti-immigrant movements resenting 'their' territory being encroached upon and transformed. During the  20th century it had been a venue for provocative marches and rallies and dramatic clashes of ideas on the streets, as our tutor David Rosenberg reveals. 

Mention the word “Battle” in connection with the East End and many people will instantly recall Sir Oswald Mosley and the iconic 1930s clash on the streets between fascists and anti-fascists at the “Battle of Cable Street”. Estimates for the numbers on the streets that day vary between 100,000 and 300,000. But in the bigger picture, that was just one of several dramatic encounters that occurred on this territory in the 20th century – territory that has provided a home for immigrants and refugees over several hundred years, despite the efforts of those who wish to claim it exclusively and keep “intruders”, “invaders” and “interlopers” out of the East End. 

The cast of characters who have contributed to these encounters includes some surprises. In 1978 the National Front was riding high in London on an anti-immigrant platform and contested dozens of seats in Tower Hamlets at the local elections, as it sought to follow in Mosley’s footsteps. On Sunday mornings in that period, its supporters gathered in growing numbers to sell papers outside a shop run by a middle-aged Jewish couple on the corner of Bethnal Green Road and Brick Lane. Rampages in the vicinity, directed against the local Bengali population frequently followed the NF paper sale. On the day of those local elections, a gang of teenagers whose minds had been poisoned by racists, attacked and murdered Altab Ali a 25-year-old Bengali clothing worker, as he walked home from work.

Later that year Mrs Thatcher stole the National Front’s thunder – and no doubt many of its potential voters. Her televised comments that Briton’s feared being “swamped” by “alien cultures” brought harsh anti-immigrant sentiment into the political mainstream debate. 

Harsh language, but also unoriginal. In 1902 the Bishop of Stepney, Cosmo Lang, accused (Jewish) immigrants of “swamping whole areas once populated by English people”. And a populist anti-immigrant group that filled the streets at that time expressing similar sentiments, claimed material support from, among others, the author Marie Corelli and Arthur Conan Doyle, inventor of Sherlock Holmes.

You can gather your own clues to try to uncover the deeper layers of the story of these recurring battles, and find out how the communities that have been victimised have built alliances across ethnic and religious divides, by enrolling on the course “Battle for the Streets: East London encounters with racism and Fascism” with David Rosenberg.

David Rosenberg is the author of 'Battle for the East End' (Five Leaves Publications, 2011) and 'Rebel Footprints' (Pluto, 2015)


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Gitika Partington: A few notes on singing

by Courses on 02 / 06 / 2015

I'd like to teach the world to sing’. Celebrating 10 years of acapella choirs at Bishopsgate Institute, tutor Gitika Partington tells us why she loves to teach singing and why she believes that anybody can sing.

Over the years I have sung harmony with thousands of people. I even taught a song to the entire audience and performers of the Royal Albert Hall – twice! I started harmony singing when I was about 5 years old - singing with my family. The love of harmony started right from the start and carried on through the Church Choir, the Drama School Pop Band, the Heavy Rock Band, Jazz, Reggae, Soul Pop bands of my twenties - it was all about the harmony. 

The Tubthumping Chorus and Bishopsgate Singers celebrate all types of voices, and the sound that comes from a mixture of very different voices is joyous. We have energy, passion, it is fun, we laugh and we sound great.  We don’t perform - we ‘share’. End of term concerts just seems to happen. We put out 100 or 200 chairs and the friends come. We have some great videos on youtube of end of term ‘sharings’. 

There is no audition and no-one has to have musical qualifications  or sight singing skills to join the choirs.  The rehearsals are jolly, challenging, there is usually an urn and a biscuit not far away. I put all the separate audio parts on a closed website and many singers download their parts and listen to them during the week on the bus. This term I asked the choirs if they could write me some little sound bites for this blog, as to why they came to the choir and I was a bit blown away as I had forgotten why people keep coming back every term. Here are a few of the quotes.

"I love the fact that when I first came and was a bit unsure of whether I was good enough, Gitika said to me, "Everyone can sing; give the altos a go."  

"It is a brilliant way for non-musicians to make music collectively. Singing opens my heart as well as my throat! It lifts my mood, is one of the highlights of my week. I haven't got that great a singing voice, but I feel welcome and it's such a great feeling to be part of a community choir."

"What I like best is that some songs are so challenging to learn at first, but with expert teaching we produce a performance that sounds pretty marvellous!  The whole is so much more than the sum of its parts! Not only that, but we have a lot of fun doing it and make new friends!"

" Singing with the basses has been an unexpected joy. Over the years close friendships have developed and led to other shared interests, none of which would have happened without the choir - it's a bit like a singing version of the "Men in Sheds" fraternity. I can't think of a better start to a week than singing with Bishopsgate and the Tubthumpers."

Gitika is the author of Novello’s Sing Pop Acapella Books 1-3 and Oxford University Press Voiceworks Community. Her new album with 3 Bucket Jones of self-penned electronica, melancholic indie pop folk-ish material continues to be lavished with layers of sumptuous harmony vocals. 

Tubthumping Chorus and Bishopsgate Singers will be starting again in our autumn term. Sign up to our newsletter for updates.

The Life and Death of Powell and Pressburger

by Courses on 22 / 05 / 2015

From the 1930s to the 1960s Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger revolutionised British cinema, producing films quite unlike anything produced in a national cinema traditionally dominated by 'realism'. Our film studies tutor, Hilary Smith looks at why the films of Powell and Pressburger created such an impact then and now.

Winston Churchill tried to prevent it ever being shown. It provoked publication of a pamphlet which harrumphed that it was: ‘a highly elaborate, flashy, flabby and costly film, the most disgraceful production that has ever emanated from a British film studio.’ The critics of the time didn’t exactly fall over themselves to offer gushing praise either. The Picturegoer reviewer rallied himself enough to opine: ‘I can't enthuse about this picture ... but I must say that it has a great deal of merit in it’, whilst the Evening Standard grudgingly conceded: ‘This is not a great picture, but it is exceptionally good entertainment.’ 

So why is it that a film so damned with faint praise, or simply damned, is now considered by many to be one of the finest British films ever made, and its creators to be the greatest artists in the history of British cinema?

The film in question is The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) and its creators were Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. They came from vastly different backgrounds and pathways into the film industry, yet together they made some of the most ambitious and remarkable films of British cinema. Their symbiotic relationship is indicated by their then unheard of joint credit of ‘writer-producer-director’ they created for the title credits of their films.

The responses to Blimp on its release show how out of sync their films were with the times - and indeed how ‘out there’ the films were. Yet when viewed now their work seems timeless. Ironically, Churchill’s wartime description of Britain’s ‘finest hour’ could equally apply to Powell and Pressburger, as it was during the Second World War and in its immediate aftermath that they produced a glorious run of films, their collective masterpiece. 

The need for wartime propaganda was a motivating factor, though the faces of the British government mandarins must have been a treat when they saw the results of their brief to Powell and Pressburger for films promoting Anglo-American friendship and understanding. One very much doubts they expected the ensuing glorious but decidedly quirky paean to the English countryside of A Canterbury Tale (1944). And they must have been positively agog at the portrait of an RAF pilot in limbo between the worlds of heaven and earth - the former depicted in crisp black and white, the latter in sumptuous Technicolor - in the achingly romantic A Matter of Life and Death (1946).

The palette of their colour films is absolutely stunning. Technicolor is utilised to magical effect in the hauntingly beautiful reimagining of a Himalayan convent outpost in Black Narcissus (1947) and the spellbinding ballet-world milieu of The Red Shoes (1948). It seems fitting at this point to return to the words of the aforementioned pamphleteers. They stated they singled out The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp because: ‘of all forms of idea communication - print, speech, radio or film - the film, especially Technicolor, leaves the most lasting impression upon both the conscious and sub-conscious mind of a nation.’  

For them, that was why the films of Powell and Pressburger were so dangerous. For us, it is why they are so worth discovering or revisiting, and revelling in their many delights.


Hilary Smith will be looking at the films of Powell and Pressburger in a one day course on
Saturday 27 June.

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Tools not rules: What makes a good play?

by Bishopsgate Institute on 21 / 05 / 2015

What is it that makes a great play great? Characters? Plots? Wisdom? Honesty? All of theses things and a little something extra. Our tutor Jennifer Farmer gives us an insight into what she looks for in a good play: 

Much of my life as a playwright, dramaturg and theatre-goer is governed by the pursuit of the 'good play'. Each working day I strive to either write a good play, facilitate a good play or see a good play. So with all of this time and effort spent on the good play, it is worth considering the question: what is a good play? And is what makes a good play the same as what makes a play good? Okay, yes, that ended up being two questions...
Jennifer Farmer playwriting course
The phrase 'a good play' can evoke thoughts of a conventionally well-structured work with three-dimensional characters and a strong narrative arc. One where the conflict is clear and draws to a satisfying resolution. A play which knows the rules and follows them. As a playwriting tutor, part of my job is to share with students the conventions, if only so they can be disobeyed or ignored. In order to strike the balance between technical skill and creativity, I think it is imperative to see the conventions as 'tools not rules.'

It is widely accepted that serial word inventor Ben Jonson coined the word 'playwright' as a sneer to dramatists he perceived to be merely constructing plays, but not imbuing them with poetry. Choosing 'wright' because it means builder or craftsperson, Jonson was targeting those who created plays which were solidly well-built, but lacked a sense of artistry, of daring and transformation. And though the original negative connotations to 'playwright' have disappeared, are we more preoccupied with building the solid and safe than creating the flawed yet fascinating?

Two recent plays to challenge our very relationship with narrative, structure and character -the rules- were Tim Crouch's Adler & Gibb and Anne Washburn’s Mr Burns: A Post Electric Play, at the Royal Court and Almeida theatres respectively. Bold and audacious, both plays polarised audiences and critics and definitely prompted more questions than they answered. During and after both, I felt confusion, revelations, unsettled, angry and exhilarated.  

Image: Mr Burns: A Post-Electric Play  at the Almeida Theatre. Photographer: Manuel Harlan

Grayson Perry, in a 2009 Guardian article, argued the value of emotional responses in gauging the quality and success of a work of art. “The art world over-privileges an intellectual view of the world rather than an emotional one... I think it's perfectly valid to say you love a piece because it makes you cry, rather than saying it references Lacan.” 

Because Adler & Gibb and Mr Burns were works which refused to play by the rules, refused to play nice and refused to be good plays, they also forced us to engage more than our intellect and our academic understanding of playwriting/ theatre-making. Which makes them plays which were good. 

Jennifer's Playwriting course starts on Monday 15 June. Join in the conversation. #BIcourses

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Radical Citizenship at Bishopsgate Institute

by Bishopsgate Institute on 21 / 05 / 2015

What happened when we allowed a group of young adults to develop a corridor exhibition inspired by historic materials documenting the story of an extraordinary twentieth-century political movement? Interpretation officer Michelle Johansen provides an update on a new arts heritage project and reflects on the process of interpreting historic collections in creative and collaborative ways.

Since February 2015 we have been collaborating with Emergency Exit Arts to deliver a youth training project called Radical Citizenship funded by the Heritage Lottery’s Young Roots grants scheme. The project builds upon a previous partnership (The Only Way is Ethics, 2013-14 ). The current phase of the project offers skills-based training to equip young adults (aged 18 to 25) to produce and facilitate a series of public events, a temporary exhibition and a schools learning programme inspired by items from one of our collections, the Mondcivitan Republic Archive, which has recently expanded from one to almost one hundred boxes of materials following a donation from the Schonfield World Service Trust

A project archives placement is currently supporting library staff to catalogue the newly-accessioned materials while an exhibition placement is working with me to curate a temporary corridor display that interprets the Mondcivitan message and materials in fresh ways. The exhibition work began in April 2015 when a small, self-selected group of young adults attended workshops teaching heritage interpretation and exhibition design skills. An informal exhibition working group was then established to continue developing the 11-panel, two-dimensional display after-hours in the library. 

Image: Interrupted in the decision-making process

The members of the group have committed increasing hours to the collaborative exhibition development process since April. When asked why, the responses included the following:

The thing that has kept me coming along week after week is the discoveries we make each time. Going through the folders of archive materials numerous times is like digging deeper and deeper into the past. Because we’re reading documents very closely, as we search out quotes or text to use to tell the exhibition story, every session reveals more historical background and new ideas or concepts. It’s just really rewarding.      

When we started looking at the archive materials in the first training sessions at the beginning of the year I thought they looked really boring but then I started reading the letters sent by the members to one another – and the nicknames they used, like ‘Owl’ – and suddenly the story became a human one. I was also seeing more and more modern parallels in the type of issues the Mondcivitan Republic were addressing, especially around the time of the election in May, and that made me want to explore their views further.

I finished my A-levels last year and I’m on a gap year working in a supermarket to save money for university. I miss school [laughs] and I wanted to do something with my time that wasn’t just going to my job but that made me think a bit deeper about things. I like the collaborative elements of working together on the exhibition too. We’ve all got different skills and ideas we bring to the sessions and I like sharing those and the discussions around which items will go on which panel to tell the overall story in the best way possible.

The group travel considerable distances across London to get here for sessions at the end of a full working day. Their levels of commitment to the exhibition process have been maintained even as the work has become less creative (the laborious process of scanning archive sources to submit to the designer is now underway). My tips to other heritage organisations thinking of undertaking similar collaborative youth work would be:

- Offer an intensive training session at the start of the process to build skills and encourage teamwork

- If practical, provide full and free access to a relatively unknown collection to encourage engagement, exploration and a sense of ownership 

- Provide clear exhibition milestones – then step back from the process to ensure the ideas and outcomes are authentic and participant-led

- Allow a long lead in from the initial training to the print deadlines to facilitate creativity and genuine collaboration across weeks rather than days

The project exhibition panels go up in our corridor on Monday 29 June. A ‘meet the curators’ exhibition launch in the main library from 7.00pm will provide an opportunity to question members of the exhibitions group about their experiences of developing the display from start to finish over a glass of wine or soft drink. 


Click
here to book your space at this free event. 

Bishopsgate Library collections cover a variety of subject areas which explore radical, social, labour, feminist and gay history in London.

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Archivist Nicky Hilton writes about our Alternatives to Religion project in the recent issue of ARC, the monthly magazine for members of the Archives and Records Association.


Bishopsgate Library collections cover a variety of subject areas which explore radical, social, labour, feminist and gay history in London.

Stay up to date with all our events and activities. Sign up to our newsletter.

Our Everyday Muslim Project has also been featured in ARC magazine.

Library and Archives Assistant Emmy Tither has written about our Everyday Muslim project for the recent issue of ARC, the monthly magazine for members of the Archives and Records Association.


Bishopsgate Library collections cover a variety of subject areas which explore radical, social, labour, feminist and gay history in London.

Stay up to date with all our events and activities. Sign up to our newsletter.

Our Alternatives to Religion Project is also featured in ARC magazine.

Colin Clews looks back at LGBT life in the 1980s

by Bishopsgate Institute on 16 / 03 / 2015

Colin Clews, author of the popular and informative 'Gay in the 80s' blog takes a look back at LGBT life in the 1980s:

Queer life in the 1980s was an extraordinary mix of progress and setbacks as lesbians and gay men became increasingly visible. The 1982 launch of Channel Four - with its remit to address the needs of minorities – had a hugely positive impact on the representation of queer people. Out and Out on Tuesday offered a magazine-style look at lesbian and gay life: the Corner House was the first attempt at a queer sit-com and two series of In the Pink charted the development of queer cinema.  


And despite the 80s beginning with global protests over the movie Cruising, filmic representations gradually improved. Films like Donna Deitch’s Desert Hearts and Stephen Frears’ My Beautiful Laundrette (another contribution from Channel Four) didn’t problematise queer people but rather social attitudes towards us.

But as our visibility grew so did the attacks upon us – from the physical to the political. The Campaign for Homosexual Equality’s 1980 report Attacks on Gay People found, for example, that “about one in eight [attacks] leads to the death or disablement of the victim”. A 1984 report by the Gay London Police Monitoring Group (GALOP) documented immense hostility from the police: for example, a man seeking police assistance when a group of men attacked a gay pub, was told, “Well what do you expect? You’re a queer in a queer’s pub. Fuck off before I nick you for being drunk and disorderly.”   

A Victorian law, the Customs Consolidation Act (1876), was resurrected to justify repeated raids on Gay’s the Word bookshop. Countless gay men were arrested for ‘importuning for immoral purposes’, an offence that was created to stop ‘stage door Johnnies’ harassing showgirls as they left Victorian musical halls. Public displays of affection by lesbians and gay men resulted in charges of ‘insulting behaviour contrary to the Metropolitan Police Act 1839.’

With the first UK case of AIDS in 1981 gay men struggled to make sense of this mysterious and deadly condition. Prior to the introduction of HIV testing in 1985, life for many gay men included an anxious daily check for Kaposi’s Sarcoma skin lesions – one of the defining conditions for AIDS. Meanwhile the Press revelled in the notion of ‘the gay plague’, suggesting that we were both morally and medically infectious.

And then the passage of Section 28 heralded the close of the decade.

Colin will be joining Linda Bellos to discuss LGBT London in the 1980s - the media and the 'Loony Left' on Tuesday 21 April.

The Lesbian And Gay Newsmedia Archive (LAGNA) is based at Bishopsgate Institute.

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London in Fiction: May Day by John Sommerfield

by Bishopsgate Institute on 12 / 03 / 2015
London Books recently republished John Sommerfield’s 1936 politically-charged novel ‘May Day’ as part of its London Classics series. This new edition was made possible by the generosity of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union and three of its officials – Bob Crow, Alex Gordon and Brian Denny. John King, co-owner of London Books, explains why the book is still as relevant today as when it was written.
 John Sommerfield's May Day
This March sees the first anniversary of the death of trade-unionist Bob Crow at the age of 52. He may have divided opinion as leader of the RMT, but even his worst enemies knew that he was an honest man. An idealist who believed in people over profit, he was also a pragmatist whose success often seemed to be resented by those in power. With Tony Benn, who passed away three days later, he represented true Labour values during an era when the party has moved further away from its roots.
 
Bob was greatly influenced by a previous generation that saw class and the workplace as the battleground for a fairer society, forming mass working-class movements and helping to create the welfare state. This generation included John Sommerfield, author of May Day.
 
First published in 1936, this unique novel is set over a three-day period that ends on May 1st. The workers in an east London factory are being bullied by new owners. Speed-ups, accidents and lost earnings have to be confronted. With today’s zero-hours contracts, wage freezes and falls, May Day could easily have been written now. But in 2015, it would struggle to find a publisher. It is just too original.
 
Sommerfield creates a vision of London that mirrors Walter Ruttmann’s 1927 film Berlin: Symphony Of A Metropolis, Ashley Smith’s non-fiction A City Stirs, the cut-ups of a David Bowie or DJ Shadow. There is no main character, instead a big cast of diverse individuals whose experiences weave together to create the larger tale. These threads tell us as much about the present as the 1930s. Human nature doesn’t change, so life repeats.
 
Bob Crow and John Sommerfield were optimists who felt capitalism was as bad for the bosses as the workers. They never met each other, but when the RMT funded the London Books republication of May Day in 2010 the link was cemented. A launch was held in The Brown Bear pub in the East End, once run by Bob’s aunt. He said some words and we drank to John. The circle was complete. Now it’s time to remember Bob through May Day.
 

You can hear Alex Gordon and Brian Denny discuss the impact of the book when it was first published and its relevance for today’s readers in our event May Day on Tuesday 24 March.

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When Anne-Marie Sweeney was asked to make a film for the National Women Against Pit Closures (NWAPC) she was happy to do so. Here's why:

The National Women Against Pit Closures (NWAPC) wanted a film to show their political voices were not silenced when the 1984/85 miners' strike ended, but continued to be heard long after. 
Image of women picket at Yorkshire Main Colliery Feb 1985

Image: Courtesy of John Sturrock (www.reportdigital.co.uk) Women picket at Yorkshire Main Colliery Feb 1985

In 2005 they held an extraordinary weekend in Sheffield to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the coal miners’ strike. They invited women that they had stood shoulder to shoulder with in struggles, both during the strike and in the twenty years after it. They wanted both to celebrate and learn from these voices that resonated from picket lines, peace camps, migrant movements and war zones.

Brenda Procter, Chair of NWAPC, was one of the organisers and chaired the event: “This wasn’t about nostalgia for 84/5 - we had business to do. This was 2005 with Thatcher’s offspring, Blair, in charge - attacking the working class, privatising and war mongering. We invited some of the most frontline and experienced campaigners in the last thirty years and we were there to get our heads together!”

The event was an unforgettable rollercoaster of radical politics, poetry, internationalism, dancing, theatre and song.  It ended with the night skies exploding with fireworks organised by members of the Fire Brigades Union.

I wanted to reflect in Going Through the Change! the uncompromising political stand these women had taken and the impact it had on their lives.  Many were regarded as 'enemies of the state'. They had endured surveillance, suffered strip searches and imprisonment. They chose, as their weapons of survival, stinging humour and sisterhood.

The Irish Civil Rights leader Bernadette McAliskey (formerly Bernadette Devlin) talks of the change that occurs to the whole of our lives, once we as women, cross the threshold and take to the streets – “There is no going back.”

Bernadette explains why we become, of necessity, so strong in resistance. Not only do we have to continue to care for our families but also, “We’ve had to fight alongside our men and with them at the same time. We’ve had to educate them in our equality while we’ve worked with them for the equality of the whole.”

The film’s title refers to this very big change in the lives of these women.  But it also acknowledges that this film is a portrait of women of a certain age, many grandmothers, all activists, speaking with a wealth of political experience and clarity. 

It is uncommon to hear the clear political analysis of older working class women, they are still hidden voices. Using rare archive footage we hear them from the heart of their struggles.

We filmed the audience, sharing their experience often in close-up. Their faces mapped hardship and suffering, but, also charted the way to continue to find great humour and joy in resistance, despite devastated communities, personal loss and the forces ranged against them. True grit and true stars!

You can watch Going Through the Change!and hear Anne-Marie Sweeney discussing the film on Tuesday 3 March 2015.

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Dramatising John Lilburne

by Bishopsgate Institute on 17 / 02 / 2015

The John Lilburne 400th Anniversary Conference turns the spotlight on an often overlooked historical character. The dramatic appeal of this courageous campaigner was not lost on writer Martine Brant who co-wrote with Peter Flannery the TV serial "The Devil's Whore" and its sequel " New Worlds". She explains why Lilburne is a gift to the dramatist.

It’s hard to imagine writing a drama set in the Civil War without casting the charismatic radical John Lilburne as one of its leading characters.  In Free-born John, the personal and the political are indivisible. Fearlessly provocative, obsessively single-minded in his fight for social justice, Lilburne stands out as one of the most striking figures of his age.
Devil's Whore Channel 4 image
Lilburne is truly a gift to the dramatist.  Here we have a man who shines through as colourful but complex, fanatical but flawed, egotistical but egalitarian.  A man unafraid to speak truth to power (even to his old comrade-in-arms, Cromwell),  a man driven by the desire for justice and reckless of his own safety and comfort. 

In our TV drama The Devil’s Whore, we tried to stay true to his historical character, and although not a great deal is known of his personal life, his persona spoke out from his words and actions:  indeed, for Lilburne, words and actions were one.  He acted out his principles and led by example.  Twice exiled and frequently thrown into gaol, he refused to be silenced but continued his campaign from his cell.  Father of 10 children (many named after the prisons in which they were conceived!), he was inevitably torn between his duty to his family and to the cause of liberty, yet he found a way to reconcile his conscience: without the rule of law and social justice, his family would have no life worth living.

Lilburne is a gift to the dramatist, too, because of his principles, burningly revolutionary at the time and bitingly relevant today.  Lasting democracy lies in our willingness to defend it.  Lilburne’s life demonstrates how important it is to stand up and speak out for our freedoms and to hold firm despite setbacks.  As we watch our civil liberties being eroded, we would do well to remember the man who, above all others, argued and fought and suffered in the cause of religious toleration, of a broader franchise, a government elected by popular mandate and a fair and equitable legal system. 

This year we celebrate the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta;  the sign at Runnymede declares the site to be ‘The Birthplace of Modern Democracy’.  Wrong.  Modern democracy was born in the blood, smoke and stench of the English Civil Wars and in the struggle of those men like John Lilburne whose conviction and sacrifice forged the liberties we know today and so readily take for granted.  Bringing these key figures to life through drama can only inspire and inform the ongoing discussion about our freedoms and privileges.  

Martine Brant and Peter Flannery will be taking part in the Lilburne 400 conference on Saturday 14 March

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Doctor Barnardo in the East End of London

by Bishopsgate Institute on 11 / 02 / 2015

John King gives us a glimpse of the London Dr Barnardo would have experienced back in 1866 as portrayed in Simon Blumenfeld’s 1930s novel 'Doctor of the Lost' and explains why the book is as relevant today as when it was published.

Image of a Boy from Dr Barnardos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The East End that Thomas Barnardo found when he first came to London in 1866 was one of great poverty. This was a time of rampant capitalism, when the few were becoming very wealthy at the expense of the many.

London was the capital of a great world power, and yet Barnardo found himself surrounded by disease, unemployment, prostitution, alcoholism and violence. Even more shocking were the thousands of hungry children he saw sleeping on the streets, many dying from the cold. He decided to act, offering food, shelter and education. He stayed and fought for their futures, part of a parallel tradition of charity and service. Jealous rivals tried to smear Doctor Barnardo, but he won his battles and his work continues to this day.

Simon Blumenfeld’s account of Doctor Barnardo’s arrival and early years in the East End – Doctor Of The Lost – was written in the 1930s, when the old ways were being challenged by an organised working class and the seeds of a post-war welfare state were being sown. Blumenfeld was a devout communist and in the novel he links the revolutionary spirit of Barnardo’s religious drive to his own beliefs.

Discussions between Barnardo and a non-religious colleague filter through the text while, in keeping with his debut Jew Boy, Blumenfeld recreates a dynamic, if cut-throat, east London. There is hardship and sorrow, but also humour, morality, bravery and a host of well-drawn characters. It is an optimistic work, one that merges the two eras.

In many ways, Doctor Of The Lost is more relevant today than when it was first published. The idealism of the 1930s and post-war era has been replaced by a familiar greed; a selfishness that is now hidden behind a stream of liberal values that are very rarely lived.  Those who question this doublespeak are belittled, told they live in the past, and yet the return to a society where profit drives every decision and the privatisation of core services is seen as progress is actually a return to a much older model. Doctor Of The Lost may tell us a lot about London in 1866, but it tells us even more about London in 2015

London Books is an independent publisher which aims to bring old and new fiction together in a tradition that is original in its subject matter, style and social concerns.

John King is a co-owner of London Books and edits its London Classics series. He is also the author of novels 'The Football Factory' , 'Headhunters', 'England Away', 'Human Punk', 'White Trash', 'The Prison House' and 'Skinheads'. 

Sarah Wise and Ken Worpole will be looking at Dr Barnardo in the East End of London on Tuesday 24 February.

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The John Lilburne 400th Anniversary Conference

by Bishopsgate Institute on 03 / 02 / 2015

Born 400 years ago, John Lilburne's courage and passion for justice was unfailing during the turbulent wars of  the English Civil War. Jeremy Corbyn MP explains why he feels that the Lilburne 400 Conference is a timely reminder of a man who fought to establish many of the liberties and political freedoms we take for granted today.
John Lilburne image

 

 

 

 

 


The John Lilburne 400th Anniversary Conference is an exciting opportunity to hear leading historians of the English Revolution, political activists, film makers and writers present their unique and engaging take on ‘Freeborn John’...a man of his age and ours.

As many of our civil liberties are under threat in the 21st century, now is exactly the right time to recall the man who fought so hard to establish so many of them.

The enormous power that Cromwell bestowed upon himself at the end of the Civil War was seen by Lilburne and others as the replacement of a monarchical power for a parliamentary one. Lilburne wanted to see the real flowering of ideas and a fundamental reform of the whole way England and Wales were governed.

He defended the right of citizens to be tried by a jury of their peers, the right to petition and to demonstrate. But it’s not just his strongly held views on political liberty that made him a key figure in the history of popular rights.  He was a political organiser who built one of the first ever popular political organisations in British history, the Levellers.

Although the Levellers were to go on to be defeated, they contributed an indelible legacy of popular democratic demands to British political culture. In the end their message was heard by American revolutionaries in 1776, by French revolutionaries in 1789 and by every generation of radicals since.

The conference is a great opportunity to show a new generation the importance and excitement of this period of history.

Jeremy Corbyn MP will be one of the speakers at the Lilburne 400 conference on Saturday 14 March.

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Advent 2014: Christmas cards from the archive

by Bishopsgate Institute on 28 / 11 / 2014

It started with an enquiry on the Archives mailing list:

‘I have this book of Christmas cards that was in our family. It must’ve been samples that a salesman used from G. Delgado Limited, 53/55 East Road, London, N1 ... I was wondering whether there might be any interest.’

When we at Bishopsgate Institute Archives spotted this, we were straight onto the enquirer saying, ‘Yes, please!’ As one of our specialist collections focuses on London, this was just the kind of ‘ephemera’ we treasure.
Image of Bishopsgate Library archives  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


After several emails back and forth to the donor in Canada, a large parcel arrived at Bishopsgate one day. Inside was the Delgado Ltd album book: measuring 33cm long by 28cm wide, with 130 pages of some 250 sample Christmas cards in a wonderful assortment of shapes, sizes, colour schemes and styles. The donor had suggested they dated mostly from the 1950s – though some of the styles, as you’ll see, have a real Art Deco feel to them. We were blown away by their vivid colours, their variety and their sense of fun.

Over the 24 days leading up to Christmas morning we will be posting a card a day from this catalogue to create an advent calendar on our social media.  We hope you’ll enjoy these images of jazz-playing penguins, dancing haggises, jolly postmen, skiing Christmas puddings, elegant skaters, wise men, sozzled robins and a Father Christmas who thinks he’s Lewis Hamilton!

If you’d like to come and see the entire album – or any of our other specialist collections – please visit any weekday between 10 and 5.30 (8pm on Wednesdays) and we’d be more than happy to help! In the meantime, Season’s Greetings and enjoy our advent calendar! 

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LGBT Voices: Sharing our past, shaping our future

by Bishopsgate Institute on 24 / 11 / 2014

We recently became home to the Stonewall archive. Stonewall has played a crucial role in various campaigns for lesbian, gay and bisexual equality over the past 25 years. Their recent publication 'LGBT Voices: SHARING OUR PAST, SHAPING OUR FUTURE' shares 25 stories from LGBT people who have lived through inequalities and experiences that are rarely reflected on television, in books, in films or in our schools. Here is one of those stories:

Jacqui Chapman
I grew up in a little place called Long Eaton, between Nottingham and Derby. I was the only black child at school. In fact, because I was born in the '50s, I've been so used to being the only black person anywhere! We settled there because my Dad came over in the war and met my Mum.

In those days the American soldiers were in charge of the black soldiers that came over from the Caribbean, and any social activities, my Dad and his troop weren't allowed to join in, it was only for white soldiers. The mayor, or whoever it was, some bigwig in Long Eaton, decided that that wasn't good enough, so a small town called Long Eaton put on dances and social sorts of activities, and everybody was included. That's where my Dad met my Mum, and they were married in 1947.

I was married to my husband for 28 years and we adopted two children, a boy and a girl. I divorced in 2003. I don't know whether I've always been a lesbian or whether it was just Jenny I fell in love with. My daughter found the transition difficult, but once I bought this place and she came to live with me, she's been fine. She's so lovely, because she said "Actually Mum, it gave me a bit of kudos in the gang!" She said "My friends are really proud of me that I've got a gay Mum!"

But my Mum and Dad were beside themselves with rage. I actually had a breakdown and was ill for a year as a result of it. I didn't see my Mum for weeks and weeks. My birthday came and she wrote to me and she said "I'm just distraught I can't bear not being with you, not having you in my life." So we met up at the village hotel, and there were lots of hugs and tears.

Part of the rift was healed but, at that time, she really wouldn't have anything to do with Jenny. I think it was because they perceived Jenny to be the predatory lesbian. I have always made it very clear that I made the decision with my eyes well and truly open. It was just very difficult because they were very cool towards Jenny. When Jenny was my mate, when I was married and she came round, they thought she was wonderful, but as soon as she became my significant other that was it.

They were awful. A lot of my Dad's friends were staunch church-goers and a lot
of these people had seen me grow up, had come to my first wedding, yet all of a sudden I seem to have grown a pair of horns and a tail. But I was the same person. My Dad was
convinced that it was a ‘white’ problem. He said it was "a European disease" and "they're in the gutter." That was when he was most vitriolic.

But, having said all that, they eventually came round and my Mum became very fond of Jenny. She came round wholeheartedly and my Dad came round, but he was more reserved. He was from Jamaica. They call gay men "Batty Boys", don't know what they call women. But it doesn't happen to black people, you see. It's a male, and it's a white thing. I’ve found that there is huge prejudice in the black community. I always used to think that if you're in any sort of minority group or oppressed group and – black people are oppressed – then I thought that they would be more tolerant to other groups but that's not the case.

I've been spat on once by a man. Some youths tried to heckle us once when we were walking into town. Oh, and we went to a wedding show where the woman selling the tickets wanted to know where our fiancés were and we said "We're marrying one another." There was a sharp intake of breath. I thought she was going to faint!

I feel very comfortable and I'm with my soulmate. I know that because when I'm not with her there's an emptiness. I can feel it in my stomach. I want to be with her forever because I love her to bits! It's been at a cost, but I'm prepared to pay the cost. I have paid the cost.

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Ronald Heaton, Librarian and Author

by Bishopsgate Institute on 17 / 11 / 2014
As part of our 120th birthday celebrations, the first chief librarian of Bishopsgate Institute Ronald Heaton (born 1867) is sharing his experiences on Twitter as @ronaldheaton. In the lead-up to the grand opening ceremony on 24 November 1894, with Mr Heaton promising to ‘live’ tweet from the event, our Interpretation Officer Michelle Johansen provides some information on Heaton’s life and career.

Ronald Heaton was born on the Isle of Man in 1867. His father was a churchman and schoolmaster. Ronald Heaton and his younger brother (the flamboyantly-named Montague Berkeley Heaton) were expected to follow their father into the church. Instead, Heaton chose to pursue an academic career and in 1892 he was awarded a degree in history from Kings College, Cambridge.
Ronald Heaton, Librarian at Bishopsgate Instititute

In the autumn of 1893, Heaton applied for the post of Director and Librarian at Bishopsgate Institute in the eastern half of the City of London. He was successful at interview and offered the job. As the Institute building remained under construction at this time, Heaton’s remit was a simple one: he was to set up a public library service on the premises from scratch including ordering furniture, selecting books and recruiting junior staff.

In the 1890s public librarianship was a relatively new profession in London. Librarians had been managing circulating libraries, subscription libraries and university and church libraries in metropolitan settings for many years. But running a freely open public institution was a novel concept in library terms, demanding particular skills and qualifications from managers and staff – skills and qualifications that Heaton did not appear to possess. At £400, the salary he received in 1894 was more than double the salary paid to the typical late-Victorian municipal chief librarian; the insistence upon a university degree (set out in the original advertisement for Heaton’s job) was also highly unusual. Most public librarians at this time were self-educated and even those in top positions had rarely stayed in formal education beyond the age of fifteen. Practical ‘on the job’ training was seen as more important than the lofty scholarly aspirations seemingly still cherished by Heaton.   

Working behind closed doors with Edward Maunde Thompson (1840-1929) of the British Museum Library to select materials for the Institute library ahead of the grand opening ceremony in November 1894, Heaton’s privileged upbringing and academic qualifications stood him in good stead. But once the library doors were thrown open to the general public he struggled to manage his duties and workload. He lacked a clear-cut vision for the expansion of the new educational scheme under his control and his ambitions for the Institute library were vulnerable to opposition. For example, Heaton attempted to recruit Oxford and Cambridge graduates for the new library assistant roles while the governors insisted on employing only local teenagers, straight out of school. Heaton acquiesced. Meanwhile, he struggled to manage his workload in the building. Organising an annual programme of lectures, concerts and classes with limited funds alongside his library management duties proved particularly challenging. In library reports from the period, we find him ‘depressed’ by budget restrictions that he believed restricted the amount he could achieve in the building. After three years in post, Heaton handed in his notice. His replacement was Charles Goss (1864-1946) an experienced public librarian from a working-class background who was familiar with the needs of a ‘free library’ type of readership. Goss remained in charge in Bishopsgate Institute library for almost fifty years. 

As for Heaton, on leaving the Institute he embarked upon a restless and ultimately unsuccessful search for a secure academic position. He spent time in France and Germany, carrying out independent historical research and improving his language skills. Back in London, and settled in Lincoln’s Inn Fields in the late 1890s, he appeared to be considering a career in the legal profession. Then by 1901 we find him living in Paddington with a wife and young family, rather grandly describing himself as an author although it is impossible to find any evidence of published works. Finally, he decided to return to library work. In 1902 Heaton was listed as a passenger on a steamer to South Africa where he had been offered a post at the State Library of Pretoria. This library role evidently suited him better than his comparatively short and clearly frustrating period as the first ever Director and Librarian of Bishopsgate Institute as a young man in the 1890s. Ronald Heaton remained a librarian at Pretoria State Library until the 1920s.

Follow @ronaldheaton to gain first-hand insight into the daily duties of Ronald Heaton at Bishopsgate Institute in the 1890s. Heaton also shares images and documents from our London Collection on his twitter feed.

To learn more about public libraries and librarians in Victorian London, sign up for our new five-week course taking place from January 2015.

Explore our world-renowned collections on London history, labour and socialist history, freethought and humanism, co-operation, and protest and campaigning. 

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Kate Adie: Fighting on the Home Front

by Events on 03 / 11 / 2014

In her book 'Fighting on the Home Front', Kate Adie looks at how women emerged from the shadows of their domestic lives to become a visible force in public life. The first chapter sets the scene for the major changes that would occur with the onset of the Great War.

In the days when much of the globe was coloured pink and Victoria was not only a queen but an empress, war happened far away: the British Empire’s battles were distant. Men went off to fight in places with exotic names; news came back fitfully, often long after the last shot had been fired.

In 1914, war came to the Home Front. The conflict was unavoidable and dominated every aspect of life, from whole streets of men marching off to be soldiers to the local pub having its opening hours rudely curtailed. The sound of the artillery in France could be heard from across the Channel in the fields of Kent. The sky over England saw the new flying machines arrive carrying bombs. The war was immense, like no other in memory,and the country so tested, so stretched, that for once it needed the strengths and abilities of its women – otherwise there would be no victory.

They rose to the challenge, proved themselves capable, and were partly granted the vote when peace returned. But they were then also expected to give up their new jobs, return to their second-class status and forget their endeavours and achievements. However, they had achieved so much and demonstrated that they could weld, deliver the post, saw off a leg, drive a tram, entertain troops to the sound of shellfire, read the lesson in church and play decent football in front of twenty thousand people – all previously thought utterly, completely and absolutely beyond a woman – that they left indelible footprints of a giant stride on the way to fairness and equality for their sex.

The memory of that war, though hazy for many, still hovers over the nation and over families. Schoolchildren are taken to the Flanders cemeteries to see the unending rows of white headstones. No illness in my youth was without the words: ‘Your grandmother died from that flu in the Great War – now take your medicine.’ Flying enthusiasts still talk warmly about the Sopwith Camel and ‘string-bags’. ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ can be hummed by millions. Family history searches turn up greatgrandfathers and great-great-uncles who died very young in some corner of a foreign field that is forever England: even the poetry has embedded itself in our collective consciousness. And the reasons for that whole terrible, relentless conflict which engulfed millions are still argued about.

I have reported on wars which have been violent, grisly, destructive, heart-breaking – but seem small skirmishes in comparison with descriptions of World War I. Modern military operations attract keen attention and tend to dominate because of their brutal significance and their grim drama: bombing, shells, explosions, destruction, monstrous cavalcades of death-dealing machines and the endless curiosity with the willingness to fight and to kill.

I first learned of warfare through the entirely domestic prism of a splintered walnut sideboard embedded with iron fragments,courtesy of Hitler’s Luftwaffe in 1943, some years before I was born. In the 1950s, I saw fear cross neighbours’ faces when the air-raid siren was occasionally tested and there were bomb-sites full of rubble and buddleia to play in.

My childhood was full of the echoes of World War II – and my family lived a long way from any battlefield. So I brought to my reporting a sense that war affected everyone, even if they were not in uniform and had never heard a shot fired. Looking at the Great War – as World War I was initially known – I was curious about what happened to all those who were enjoined to ‘keep the home fires burning’.

What did the war demand of women – and how did they respond? Maids and duchesses, housewives and young girls. The nurse, the student, the factory worker, the suffragette. How did the war change lives at home? If we remember the millions of men who sacrificed their lives, what should we remember about those who fought on the Home Front?

Kate Adie will be discussing her book 'Fighting on the Home Front' on Wednesday 3 December as part of our Remembering WW1 series.

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A typically untypical day in the life of an Archivist

As part of #exploreyourarchives we asked one of our library archivists Nicola Hilton to describe a typical day in the archives:

Half way through my Masters course in Archives and Records Management, we had a curious seminar. The whole purpose of the lesson was to discuss how we would describe the job of an archivist to a stranger at a party. We all laughed at stories of people mishearing ‘archivist’ as ‘alchemist’ (it’s happened to me several times since!) but quickly discovered that describing a typical archivist’s job wasn’t as easy as it first seemed.
Nicola Hilton, archivist in Bishopsgate Library
One of the first things you learn when starting out in this career is that there is no typical day. The job can be incredibly varied and the tasks are heavily dependant on where you work. In the morning you might be travelling through Elizabethan London, decoding a deed for an amateur historian and fishing out early maps. But by midday you’ll have jumped right into the 21st century, advising depositors on state-of-the-art preservation for their digital photographs or generating metadata to support long-term access to digital files.

However, despite the day-to-day variation in the job, there are some myths about archivists and archives which prove hard to dispel. One of the most enduring misconceptions is that archivists are experts in local history. It certainly helps to know your local area and to also have a general overview of British and world history. But it’s much more important for an archivist to know their records. We’re here to be a helpful guide for others - historians, artists, community groups, who wish to explore the past. This includes turning vague statements like “I’m interested in Spitalfields market” into real pieces of history laid out on the study room table.

In fact a significant part of my time is taken up being a guide to others whilst they discover treasures in the archives. Running workshops about ethics for young adults, guiding artists who are using the archive to inspire new work, and taking local students on a tour of the collection are all in a weeks work. As you can see, it’s really important that archivists like talking to people! Gone are the days of the semi-academic sitting in their office. Today’s archivists have to be ready to give talks, write funding bids and give presentations on any aspect of their collection.

As an archivist, you also regularly come across a general misunderstanding about what makes an ‘archive’.  The image of a room full of dusty archaic papers, hidden from public view in a badly lit basement is the one favoured by TV producers, novelists and film makers. Although archives are often located in basements, archivists don’t wait for something to become ‘old’ before it’s worthy of inclusion in the archive. For an archivist, the past is as recent as yesterday. Archives can comfortably include the earliest written records of an ancient civilisation, as well as an email (in digital form) created by Bob in marketing last week.

In fact, one of the really exciting things about working at Bishopsgate is that we are receiving new collections all the time (it’s often a race to keep up!). A large part of my job is preparing this material for access by our researchers. Perhaps surprisingly this will usually include disposing of a good amount of material. Disposal of duplicate copies, scrap paper, and material of little value will make the archive easier for researchers to use and ensures we can provide high level care for the remaining documents and e-documents. For example, receipts for paperclips purchased in 1980 are on their way out. Planning documents for a protest in Hyde Park are here to stay. And when archivists say ‘here to stay’, we really do mean forever. Once something is selected to form part of the archives it will be kept in perpetuity. 

It’s a privilege to be responsible for a unique part of London and world history at Bishopsgate Institute. Although I’m still not sure I could concisely describe my job to a stranger at a party, I know I am extremely privilege to play a small but essential part in the making and re-making of social history. 

Bishopsgate Library's collections cover a variety of subject areas which explore radical, social, labour, feminist and gay history in London.

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As our Anniversary Ball draws near we asked Susanna Cordner, Assistant Curator in the Fashion History Department at the Victoria and Albert Museum, to describe the kind of outfits men and women would have worn to our opening event back in 1894:

Combining glamour with sufficient protection from the cold has been a difficult fashion balance to strike in every era. While the weather had become much milder by the end of the month, the Met office’s records show that in November 1894 some parts of the south of England had over twice the average rainfall for the period. Therefore, I think it’s safe to assume that, while guests for the opening event at Bishopsgate Institute will have no doubt been well dressed, they will also have arrived well wrapped up!
Victorian red hat and cape

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[Image one:
Ensemble outfit, cape, hat, bodice and skirt, 1893 - 96 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London]

I had a look in the National Art Library at The Queen, the society women’s newspaper, and, according to their reports, key looks for eveningwear in November 1894 included black satin, low bodices and large sleeves. In our collection, we have a Stern Brothers embroidered silk velvet evening dress which manages to combine all these trends. The beaded design would have sparkled under the low lighting of a ball. Designs influenced by the bold prints and contrasting colours of Japanese design, such as our orange print jacquard-woven silk dinner dress, were also fashionable in the 1890s. 

Victorian black beaded evening dress

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[Image two: Evening dress and bodice made by Stern Bros, New York, c.1894 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London]

Such structured styles required sturdy underpinnings. In our collection, we have a bustle from 1884 made from steel wires and cotton tapes. Worn over a petticoat and set in arched tiers, the steel frame would create a round form from the wearer’s hips and bottom under their full skirt. Offset by the enviable waist created by a corset, this silhouette was essential for a fashionable woman’s evening attire.
Victorian Bustle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[Image three: Bustle, 1884 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London]

While menswear of the period didn’t come with quite so many trimmings, it was just as important for a man to be dressed appropriately for both public and private occasions.

In 1888, the classic evening dress coat gained an opponent in the dinner jacket. Cut whole at the back, rather than in the peaked tails of the dress coat, the dinner jacket is more informal and practical in style.

Dinner jackets have varied very little in design from then to now and it remains a classic style. While the social sartorial rules were quite clearly set, there was still room for a little customisation.

Our red wool dress coat has a classic cut but fastens with initial emblazoned gold buttons. While in the case of our example the initials refer to the Hampshire Hunt, if they were to denote the wearer’s name such a detail could have provided an added twist in the hunt for new friends and potential beaus at a ball..!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[Image four: Man's hunting coat, detail of two buttons with monogram initials, English, c.1850 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London]

The V&A Museum has a collection of over 104,000 textiles and fashion pieces, as well as many fashion designs and sketches. For more information about the collection and the pieces in this post, please visit our website. While other garments from the late nineteenth century are on display in our Fashion Gallery and in our exhibition Wedding Dresses 1775-2014, the majority of the pieces mentioned in this post are in storage at our Clothworkers’ Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion. Pieces are available to view by appointment at the Centre. Please visit the website for further information.

The 120th Anniversary Ball is on the 21 November 2014. We have a wide range of dance events and courses.

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As our Anniversary Ball draws near we asked Caroline MacVay, Curator at the London Transport Museum to describe the kind of vehicles people would have used to arrive at the opening ceremony back in 1894:

Those attending the Institute’s 120th anniversary bash should be planning not only their outfits but their journey. When the inaugural opening ceremony was held on 24 November 1894, the weather was cold and blustery. Satnavs, transport apps and journey planners were beyond imagining and London’s overcrowded streets jammed to capacity with trams, buses and taxis, all horse-drawn.  


Cheapside, London, 1896 © London Transport Museum collection

The most important guest, Prime Minister Lord Rosebery, probably arrived by private carriage. For invitees lower down the social order and dressed to impress, a taxi to the nearest tube must have been tempting. By the turn of the century over 7,000 Hansom cabs were operating in the Capital. Pulled by a single horse these perfectly balanced carriages were capable of manoeuvring around narrow streets at up-to seventeen miles an hour. They carried three passengers at a pinch. The driver sat behind the occupants, only releasing the door catch once the fare had been paid. For larger groups four-wheeled cabs, nicknamed ‘Growlers’ were popular.


Hansom Cab and driver, London, 1898 © London Transport Museum collection

Once underground and destined for Bishopsgate (now Liverpool Street) on the Metropolitan line, the comfort of the plush first class carriages offered some compensation for the smoke and smut discharged by the steam engines hauling the trains. 

Charing Cross Underground Station, 1894© London Transport Museum collection

For guests travelling from south of the river, the City and South London Railway (now part of the Northern Line) with its swanky new electric trains offered a cleaner and healthier alternative to steam locomotion. A trip from Stockwell to the City took about eighteen minutes, double the speed of a steam train and much faster than taking a horse drawn omnibus or tram.

The modern tube did not distinguish between first and second class passengers. Commentators complained that Lords and Ladies sat next to the Billingsgate ‘fish fags’ and ‘Smithfield butchers’. As philanthropists and social reformers Bishopsgate Institutes's guests may well have embraced this modern development as another step towards social equality.

Over the next decade the internal combustion engine and electric traction transformed urban travel.

London Transport Museum tells that evolutionary story through the people who have travelled and worked in the city over the last 200 years.

The 120th Anniversary Ball is on the 21 November 2014. We have a wide range of dance events and courses.

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The fifth and final This is Not a Gateway festival will take place in November. Festival organisers Trenton Oldfield and Deepa Naik explain why they feel that it's time to stop despite the festival's growing popularity:
This is Not a Gateway poster

The final This Is Not A Gateway Festival will take place within the beautiful walls of Bishopsgate Institute on Saturday 1st and Sunday 2nd November 2014. It will be the fifth and final festival we have co-organised.

In late 2007 we decided to co-coordinate five festivals, no less and no more. We had the following very specific aims

- to problematise the deeply flawed post-critical rhetoric that promotes cities as being centres of innovation, creativity and opportunity, the ridiculous notion that cities are good for you.
- to draw attention to the outrageous racial and gender gaps in any discussion that contributes to forming policy about cities.
- to demonstrate independent spaces free of corporate and ivory tower influences can exist.
- to create a platform for the majority world (often called ‘ethnic minorities’) to share their knowledge.

This is what people have thought about the Festival over the years. With such supportive comments, why will this be the last Festival?

We felt it was essential for us to finish after five festivals. In our experience organisations that start out doing very interesting work addressing urgent political questions eventually tend to ‘flatten out’. This flattening out process can go on for many years where the organisation does a similar thing over and over again. In this period the organisation becomes obsessed with itself; it becomes preoccupied with its identity and its own ideas of prestige, competition and importance. Sooner or later through this process the organisation cannibalises itself, becoming what it set out to challenge or destroy. Ultimately, the primary focus becomes maintaining an institution and energy is spent on funding and revenue streams. Before long the organisation becomes a parody of itself and often does a lot of damage as a result. So it makes sense for us to avoid this!

It is of course very important a new generation ‘takes over’ as the world is a very different place since we started back in 2007. A sharp, critical, and militant group of people is ready to take over; we just need to move aside, to get out their way!

The last Festival is going to be something quite special. The programme is here.  It is our best yet and we are pretty excited to bring these people and ideas together! We hope you can join us at the festival. It would be great to hear as many thoughts as possible on all of these important issues.

Are we going to retire? Certainly not! From January 2015 we will be working full time on Myrdle Court Press. We are going to publish books that we have wanted to read for years but have never been able to find the time!

This is Not a Gateway Festival is free but booking is required.

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It's fifty years since Ruth Rendell introduced her popular fictional character Chief Inspector Wexford in 'From Doon with Death', first published in 1964. In this extract we meet Wexford for the first time.

The police station stood appropriately at the approach to the town, a guarding bastion or a warning. It was new, white and square like a soap carton, and, rather pointlessly, Burden thought, banded and decorated here and there in a soap carton’s colours. Against the tall ancient arcs of elms, only a few yards from the last Regency house, it flaunted its whiteness, its gloss, like a piece of gaudy litter in a pastoral glade. 

Its completion and his transfer to Kingsmarkham had coincided, but sometimes the sight of it still shocked him. He watched for Parsons’ reaction as they crossed the threshold. Would he show fear or just the ordinary citizen’s caution? In fact, he seemed simply awed.

Not for the first time the place irritated Burden. People expected pitch pine and lino, green baize and echoing passages. These were at the same time more quelling to the felon, more comforting to the innocent. Here the marble and the tiles, irregularly mottled with a design like stirred oil, the peg-board for the notices, the great black counter that swept in a parabola across half the foyer, suggested that order and a harmony of pattern must reign above all things. It was as if the personal fate of the men and women who came through the swing doors mattered less than Chief Inspector Wexford’s impeccable records.

He left Parsons dazed between a rubber plant and a chair shaped like the bowl of a spoon, a spongy spoon, cough-mixture red. It was absurd, he thought, knocking on Wexford’s door, to build a concrete box of tricks like this amid the quiet crowded houses of the High Street. Wexford called him to come in and he pushed open the door.

‘Mr Parsons is outside, sir.’

‘All right.’ Wexford looked at his watch. ‘I’ll see him now.’

He was taller than Burden, thick-set without being fat, fifty-two years old, the very prototype of an actor playing a top-brass policeman. Born up the road in Pomfret, living most of his life in this part of Sussex, he knew most people and he knew the district well enough for the map on the buttercup-yellow wall to be regarded merely as a decoration.

Parsons came in nervously. He had a furtive cautious look, and there was something defiant about him as if he knew his pride would be wounded and was preparing to defend it.

‘Very worrying for you,’ Wexford said. He spoke without emphasizing any particular word, his voice level and strong. ‘Inspector Burden tells me you haven’t seen your wife since yesterday morning.’

Ruth Rendell looks back over 50 years of Wexford on Thursday 30 October.

We hold in our archives an album of press cuttings by Frederick Porter Wensley who joined the Metropolitan Police at the time of the Whitechapel murders in 1888 and played an important role in the Siege of Sidney Street in 1911.

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Phil Maxwell: What Bishospgate Institute means to me

by Bishopsgate Institute on 19 / 09 / 2014
Since it opened 120 years ago, Bishopsgate Institute has continued to welcome people through its doors to take part in its unique learning experience. Photographer Phil Maxwell explains what Bishopsgate Institute means to him.


A few years ago, I was invited by Bishopsgate Institute to exhibit my photography in the library. This was for me the start of a dynamic relationship that would lead to a long-term project, which would see my huge archive of negatives scanned and digitised.

Phil Maxwell Image of a man selling bananas

I’ve spent over thirty years recording the East End, and Bishopsgate Institute has now started to facilitate the archiving of this huge body of work. The original negatives will be housed in the archive together with digital copies. This will enable my work to be available to a wide audience and will give the archive a contemporary take on the East End to complement its well-established historic collection.

Phil Maxwell photograph of interior of a betting shop

It is important to me that this is happening at the Institute, as the archive is so rich and diverse; I know that my images won’t fall into obscurity and will provide a resource of information about the lives of ordinary people for future researchers.

Every few months I provide the Institute with a file of negatives and I get back a CD of the images. I then edit the CD and return a new copy to the collection. I’m delighted that the Institute is helping me in this way as it involves a lot of work; I am very grateful to the volunteers who are doing the actual scanning. Their hard work means I have the time to continue to photograph one of the most exciting places on earth: the East End of London.

Find out more about the Phil Maxwell collection at Bishopsgate Library.

Bishopsgate Institute has a range of events and courses happening this autumn.

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Sarah Wise: What Bishopsgate Institute means to me

by Bishopsgate Institute on 02 / 09 / 2014

Since it opened 120 years ago Bishopsgate Institute has continued to welcome people through its doors to take part in its unique learning experience. Author and historian Sarah  Wise explains what Bishopsgate Institute means to her.

In the 1890s east London underwent ‘a civic awakening’ (Lord Rosebery’s phrase), and museums, free libraries, lectures and artisan-skills training flourished where previously working people had been starved of accessible educational and cultural facilities.

Bishopsgate Institute was a huge part of that renaissance; and in today’s political culture which seems hell-bent on restricting higher education to those who can pay, Bishopsgate Institute continues to provide a non-elitist, open-hearted and welcoming approach to learning and culture. Above all, it has never forgotten that all these things are great fun, too.

I’ve been lucky enough to start my adult education teaching career here, and also to have been on the Talks Advisory Committee. Bishopsgate Institute has a marvellous way of integrating the events and courses with its basement archives (curated by its presiding genius, Stefan Dickers, and inspirational Interpretation Officer, Michelle Johansen) and its wide-ranging London collection of printed books.


The East End has for hundreds of years been the gateway to Britain for many different cultures, and the Bishopsgate’s collections wonderfully reflect this diversity: here, you can find the stories of the Irish, Jewish, Huguenot, British provincial and Bangladeshi immigrants who have come to London in order to make their way in the world.

Bishopsgate Institute archive image

The collections are still growing and in another 120 years’ time, future folk will be able to read about our strange lives and opinions!

Sarah Wise will be looking at the London 'Lowlife' Novel, 1889-1907 and Madness and the 19th Century Novel as part of our autumn courses.

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Owen Jones: What Bishopsgate Institute means to me

by Bishopsgate Institute on 02 / 09 / 2014

Since it opened 120 years ago Bishopsgate Institute has continued to welcome people through its doors to take part in its unique learning experience. Author and journalist Owen Jones explains what Bishopsgate Institute means to him.

Questioning, debating, exploring – all of these things are, by their nature, subversive. They challenge authority, encourage people to think for themselves, and even undermine the status quo, opening the possibility for change. And that is the tradition that Bishopsgate Institute stands in: an oasis of open-minded debate in the heart of London.

I’ve had the great privilege to share a platform at the Institute with many figures who have had a huge impact on me. My own highlight was chairing a conversation with Tony Benn following the publication of his final volume of diaries. It was one of the last events before his death, and he received a rapturous, emotional response from the audience. But Benn was perfect for the Institute; in some ways, he embodied its ethos. “An educated, healthy and confident nation is harder to govern,” he once said, and amen to that.

Many of the recent events have brought together leading cultural and political figures to talk about their own work, or to examine today’s significance of towering figures from the past. There have been debates on compelling topics ranging from Salman Rushdie’s fatwa to Charles Dickens’s relationship with London, while Man Booker Prize-winning authors have debated their work, and Shadow Cabinet Minister Tristram Hunt opened up a discussion on Friedrich Engels.

One of the dangers of being a writer is to end up in a bubble, kept away from your readers and never really being prodded and challenged by them. But the Institute excels at using authors’ work as a starting point for a wider discussion about many of the issues that need debating – and, in a sense, holding us to account in the process.

The Institute is even more interactive than that, hosting a wide range of courses to broaden cultural horizons – such as encouraging interest in photography and art appreciation; breaking down barriers with language lessons; training people up in the art of creative writing; and even offer lessons on acting and dance. It’s all based on the approach of building up engaged, well-rounded individuals.

London can be a fragmented, atomised place, so this effort to bring people together in such a stimulating way is particularly commendable. Today’s radicals need to learn about the great defeats and victories of the past; after all, we stand on the shoulders of giants, and those who wish to change the world need to learn from the struggle and sacrifice of those who came before them.

That’s why the library is such an invaluable resource, hosting fascinating collections of London’s radical history,including its socialist, trade union, humanist and free-thinking traditions.

Bishopsgate Institute is at the heart of the community. It really is a hub – culturally, intellectually and socially. Over the last 120 years, Bishopsgate Institute has become iconic, and understandably so. It has enlightened, entertained and stimulated for generations. It will continue to do so. Let it continue its subversive mission of education: an honourable tradition that the Institute has so much to contribute to.

Owen Jones will be looking at 'The Establishment' as part of our events this autumn.

Bishopsgate Institute has a range of events and courses happening this autumn.

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Walking Tours: London and the Great War

by Courses on 14 / 08 / 2014

The bombings London suffered in the First World War are often overshadowed by the Blitz of the Second World War. Take a walk through the City, Holborn and Westminster to see what impact the First World War had on London in our course Walking Tours: London and the Great War. Tutor, Anne-Marie Craven gives us a glimpse of what you'll discover along the way.

Montage of WW1 images
These walks will take us through four very different parts of London to look at aspects of life on the Home Front where fear and trepidation, particularly of the unknown, were prevalent. Discover the memorials to the great and unsung heroes.

The walks will look at the vital role the medical profession played with accounts from everyone including surgeons dealing with facial reconstruction, stretcher bearers who struggled to bring back the wounded in desperate and often dangerous circumstances and the nurses, caring for the sick and dying. ‘As a patient I would rather have a good nurse than a good physician. A physician gives his blessing, the surgeon does the operation. But it is the nurse who does the work’.

What was the role of the church at this time? How did padres and chaplains make life more bearable for the troops? How did poetry and the visual arts bear witness to ‘a war to end all wars’.

Examine the complex and intricate machinery of war and how it was used to defend and attack. Ken Timbers, author of "The Royal Artillery Woolwich - A Celebration" and closely involved with Firepower, Royal Artillery Museum, will guide us through the complex Royal Arsenal.

Our course Walking Tours: London and the Great War starts on Wednesday 24 September 2014.

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The Pink Pound

by Courses on 19 / 05 / 2014

During the 1980s and 90s the gay scene in London, Manchester, Brighton and other towns and cities across the UK began to bring in serious money and the homosexual market segment became a desirable demographic. Justin Bengry, Honorary Research Fellow at Birkbeck College takes a look at the history of the Pink Pound:

The Pink Pound is not what you think it is. Or rather, I hope to convince you that it’s a lot more than you think it is. Generally defined as the economic or spending power of gay men and lesbians, the Pink Pound for many signals queer political power as well. Money, after all, can often translate into power.

Capitalists have sought this lucrative group of consumers relatively openly since the onset of Gay Liberation in the 1970s, but particularly from the 1980s and 1990s growth of a more public gay and lesbian community.

Queer men in particular, but also women, have been targeted as a valuable market segment ever since. They are assumed to have higher incomes and lower financial responsibilities than other consumers, greater interest in leisure services and related goods, and also to be eager and early adopters of new products. They were already in 2006, according to an Ingenious Group marketing conference, worth some £70 billion to British business, with their estimated value only growing since then. But what happens when we look historically to other incentives and other relationships between homosexuality and consumer capitalism?
How to spot a possible Homo
I want to suggest that we redefine the Pink Pound more broadly to include all economic incentives offered by homosexuality, and that it need not be restricted by the sexuality of the consumer. This can include the standard definition above, highlighting the economic power of homosexuals as consumers. It can also include politicised treatments of homosexuality in the commercial sphere, both progressive and even anti-homosexual, which find support among consumers. And finally, we can also look at the strategic use of scandal and titillation to attract audiences of any sexuality by employing homosexual experience and desire for commercial gain. Consumption is key, whether selling to homosexuals or the ‘selling’ understandings of homosexuality to all consumers.

Take, for example, anti-homosexual vitriol in the tabloid press from mid-twentieth-century newspapers like the Mirror and Sunday Pictorial (later the Sunday Mirror). Mirror Group executives like Cecil Harmsworth King and Hugh Cudlipp knew that sensational coverage of queer scandal and exploitation of the public’s fear of homosexuality was a winning tactic in the tabloid circulation wars of the 1950s and 1960s. Thus, in 1952, the Sunday Pictorial accelerated sensational tabloid coverage of homosexuality in Britain by reintroducing the homosexual exposé to readers in its three-part series ‘Evil Men’. The series suggested an unseen homosexual menace from which every Briton was at risk, particularly children.

In addition to ‘Evil Men’, a number of articles in both papers continued and even amplified the strategy over the next decades. ‘The Squalid Truth’ (1955) and ‘How to Spot a Possible Homo’ (1963) among many others all commodified homosexual scandal and desire to shock and titillate an eager audience of tabloid readers. The use of homosexuality by both papers was part of an overall strategy to sensationalise sex for public consumption and increase circulations figures. And it worked. By 1964, the Mirror achieved average daily sale of 5,000,000, which corresponded to a readership of 14,000,000 for each issue, making it in Hugh Cudlipp’s own words, ‘the greatest commercial success of any newspaper in the Western world’.

Responding in 1963 to the range of anti-homosexual content long circulating in the British tabloid press, author Douglas Plummer recognized both the lucrative nature of the vitriol, but also the commercial complicity of queer Britons as consumers of it. He called for a boycott: ‘If homosexuals stopped buying those particular newspapers,’ he asserted,  ‘some circulations would drop by many hundreds of thousands of copies. Intolerance, ignorance, and lack of understanding is no excuse for abusing us.’

The virtually exponential growth of recognition and interest in queer consumers over the last decades of the twentieth century and first years of the twenty-first has actually obscured the existence of a long and dynamic relationship between homosexuality and consumer capitalism throughout the twentieth century. Relationships between queer consumers and business enterprise go beyond our tendency to see such interactions only as relatively recent and unidirectional expressions either of oppression or opposition.

A history of the Pink Pound illuminates multiple messages and complex interactions that existed between homosexuality and the marketplace even before the partial decriminalization of male homosexual acts in 1967.

You can hear Justin talking more about the pink market in our workshop The Pink Pound.

Keep it Clean!: Lesbian and Gay Characters in British Soap Operas

Spend an exciting afternoon exploring the ways in which gay, lesbian and trans characters have been represented in British television soaps over the years. Speakers include Daran Little, BAFTA-award winning TV writer, formerly a writer for Coronation Street and now writing for EastEnders and John Partridge, The hugely popular actor, dancer and singer who is best-known for his role as Christian Clarke in EastEnders.

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Lesbian And Gay Newsmedia Archive (LAGNA) is based at Bishopsgate Institute.