Home About Us Blog

Bishopsgate Blog
Discover | Enquire | Debate

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.

Click here for more information.

Our bloggers

Courses's avatar.
Courses Our regular blogs will provide up-to-date news and information on our courses
Events 's avatar.
Events Featuring content from speakers our blogs give added insight into our events
Library 's avatar.
Library A new way to engage with the library collections and services.
Schools and Community 's avatar.
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.


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.


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.


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
Discover | Enquire | Debate

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.

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

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

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

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.

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

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.

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

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! 

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

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

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.

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

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

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. 

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

Find out about all our events. Sign up to our newsletter to stay up to date with all our activities.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

Find out about all our courses. Stay up to date with all our activities. Sign up to our newsletter

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.

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

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.

Find out about all our courses and stay up to date. Sign up to our newsletter.

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.

Find out about all our courses and stay up to date with our newsletter.

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

Ten Cities that Made an Empire

by Events on 30 / 05 / 2014
“Tristram Hunt is one of Britain's best-known historians. Since 2010 he has been the MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, and in October 2013 was made Shadow Secretary of State for Education”. In his book ‘Ten Cities that Made an Empire’ he presents a new approach to Britain's imperial past through the cities that epitomised it. He examines the stories and defining ideas of 1700s Boston, Bridgetown, Dublin, Cape Town, Calcutta, Hong Kong, Bombay, Melbourne, New Delhi, and 20th century Liverpool. The following extract looks at four of these cities:

Bombaycover image of Ten Cities that Made an Empire

Jan Morris described Bombay’s Victoria Terminus station as ‘’the building which expresses most properly the meaning of the imperial climax’’. It was also the defining backdrop to Slumdog Millionaire, the film that acquainted Western audiences with contemporary Mumbai: a rambling, quasi-dickensian slum megalopolis of 20m inhabitants – and home to the new India of call-centres, Bollywood and multinational corporations.


In the urban centres of the ‘’white colonies’’, a conception of empire emerged as a partnership between an Anglo-Saxon tribe separated by oceans but connected by race. Today, the official ideology of Melbourne is consciously multicultural: metropolitan, Pacific-rim, China-focused, itchingly republican. The only element of imperial history with which the city is concerned is the unresolved legacy of Aboriginal genocide.

New Delhi
After independence in 1947, the statues of King George V and Queen Victoria were removed but New Delhi continued as a place of power – with a different set of rulers. The city’s clean, wide boulevards, five-star hotels, high security, lush planting and cordoned-off villas provide an air of exclusivity for modern India’s governing classes. As such New Delhi can feel all too reminiscent of old empire.

In 1981, the end of empire hit home. After 112 years of business, the sugar giant Tate & Lyle closed its Liverpool refinery with the loss of 1,600 jobs. Where once the Merseyside warehouses had been piled high with the harvests of Caribbean plantations, the docks now stood idle. The port’s slow-motion collapse led to falling populations, spiralling unemployment and rising child poverty. What had made Liverpool now unmade her.
You can hear Tristram discussing all ten cities in our event Ten Cities that Made an Empire.

We are giving away free copies of Tristram Hunt’s book to 5 lucky winners who buy a ticket for his event by Monday 16 June. So hurry and enter our prize draw!

Find out about all our events and stay up to date. Sign up to our newsletter.
How has the press shaped ideas about homosexuality? What does past coverage of gay and lesbian news stories tell us about the agenda of the press and the ideas and understandings about queer lives they were circulating? Cultural historian Matt Cook explores these and other questions in his exploration of Bishopsgate's  Lesbian and Gay News Media Archive.

In 1962 news broke of the murder of two men ‘who lived in the twilight world of the homosexual and […] died in the garrotter’s noose’.* The News of the World salaciously re-imagined the murder scenes in Notting Hill and Pimlico, and the lives of the two victims.

Norman Rickard was 38, ‘a muscle man with a background of Civil Service respectability. [Alan] Vigar was 23, a slim pretty boy with a weak chest and theatrical ambitions’. They were, the report went on, ‘both bachelors; they lived alone; they were both apparently people who minded their own business and they shunned women. They both entertained men friends in their room.’  Vigar’s clothes were folded away and ‘his room was almost too neat – like Rickard’s’. The News of the World fitted the men into emerging ideas about queer types in the city: the weak, effeminate (‘pretty’) theatrical type, and the man with a double life (civil servant by day, kitted out in ‘tight blue faded jeans, a cowboy plaid shirt, cowboy buckled boots and an epaulletted leather jacket’ by night).  What connected them was that (tell-tale) neatness and their flats in London’s liminal bedsitter land. 

A week later the Sunday Pictorial carried a front page story of a man who ‘escape[d] the wardrobe killer’ (as the murderer was known: the bodies of Rickard and Vigar had been bundled into their respective wardrobes). Patrick Lambert (pictured anxiously clutching a telephone) had taken a man home before being attacked. The paper doesn’t label him homosexual but the suggestion is there: Lambert was ‘a bachelor’ who lived ‘in a part-furnished bed-sitting room’.**

Matt will be looking at Lesbian and Gay lives in the Press in our hands-on workshops at the  using materials from Lesbian and Gay News Media Archive to  show  shifting conceptions of lesbian and gay lives since the war.

* Jack Miller, “Murders in a Half World,” News of the World, 25 Feb. 1962.
** Norman Lucas, “I Escape Wardrobe Killer,” Daily Pictorial, March 3, 1962.

Find out about all our courses and stay up to date with our newsletter.

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.

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

#TOWIEthics: Summer School and New Exhibition

by Schools and Community on 12 / 09 / 2013

Summer holidays are traditionally a quiet time for the schools and community learning team at Bishopsgate Institute. Not this year. During August we hosted The Only Way is Ethics project summer school which saw almost thirty young people from across London taking part in a lively programme of archival exploration, creative workshops and street theatre. Some participants even stayed behind afterwards to help curate a new temporary exhibition in the corridor space outside our library...

In the schools and community learning team we are used to delivering thought-provoking one-off workshops exploring London past and present through original archive materials such as photographs, pamphlets, guidebooks and maps. We also encourage a more sustained public engagement with our historic library collections by supporting a range of community projects such as The Only Way Is Ethics or TOWIE. TOWIE is a youth-led project funded by the national lottery and delivered by Emergency Exit Arts in partnership with the Museum of London and Bishopsgate Institute.

The project explores the history of democracy and social activism since the 1840s. It also seeks to examine the broader ethical implications of public protest, encouraging individual young people to find their voice – and use it to affect political change in the world around them.

TOWIE’s learning programme kicked off on Tuesday 9 August with a summer school attended by 15–25 year olds from across London. During an eventful four days we looked at the themes of class, children and young people, race and nation, and gender.

Participants had the opportunity to undertake training in collections care using objects that had special value and meaning for them. They improved their research skills by working hands-on with archive materials relating to the project themes from the Bernie Grant archive, the Freedom Press archive and the Feminist Library Pamphlet collection among others. They responded creatively to their findings with the support of a spoken word artist and a photographer.

Image: Participants switched conventional gender roles in a pop-up photographic studio set up by photographer Chris Morgan in the Bishopsgate Library as part of TOWIE summer school. Image reproduced courtesy of Enrique Rovira

Opportunities for group discussions took place every day, and these were lively affairs with our thoughtful participants articulating a number of ethical questions such as: ‘who is London for?’; ‘how important has conflict been in creating cultural differences across Europe?’; and ‘if everyone says they’re not racist, why is there still racism in Britain today?’It was agreed that reading historic texts beforehand encouraged dialogue. One young person said: ‘I enjoyed the opportunity to handle archive documents. Viewing original materials certainly added a level of excitement and authenticity to our discussions.’ Another expressed it more bluntly: ‘My brain's still hot from those burning questions - what an amazing week!’

Some project participants returned to Bishopsgate Institute after the summer school to help select images and draft text for a temporary TOWIE exhibition for display outside the library.

True to TOWIE’s spirit of open enquiry and healthy debate, the display aims to provoke discussion. You can have your say on Twitter using the hashtag TOWIEthics.

To keep up with project news and events, follow TOWIE on Twitter @OwnYourViews. The project exhibition can be viewed during Institute opening hours until 6 December 2013.

Our Library and Archive Collections are open to everyone.

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.

We are giving away free copies of Ruby Wax's book Sane New World  to 5 lucky winners who buy a ticket for our Troublemakers? Live Show: Ruby Wax - Sane New World before the start of the season on 7th of May! So hurry and enter our prize draw!

Find out about all our events and stay up to date. Sign up to our newsletter

On Saturday 10th May we throw open our doors to the London Radical Bookfair and Alternative Press Takeover. An exciting part of the day will be the announcement of the winners of the Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing. Nik Gorecki of Housmans Bookshop gives us a summary of the shortlist:
Bread and Rosies Award shortlist covers
The Bread and Roses is a book prize unlike any other: presented by the Alliance of Radical Booksellers, and without the backing of corporate sponsors, we started the award to help draw attention to the many excellent political non-fiction titles published each year, many of which by the nature of their radical content are overlooked by other book prizes.

The award is now in its third year, and I’m very happy to see it growing. This year we had a record number of submissions, and from an ever-widening range of publishers, which has made for a very strong shortlist. The winner will be announced in the main hall of the London Radical Bookfair at Bishopsgate Institute on 10th May at 4.30pm. All the shortlisted authors will be giving talks about their books throughout the day, so please do come along and hear them talk about their work.

The following is a run down of the shortlist, and my own personal reflections on the books:

‘Undercover: The True Story of Britain’s Secret Police’
by Rob Evans and Paul Lewis

(Faber and Faber, 2013)

‘Undercover’ collates the crucial investigative journalism of Rob Evans and Paul Lewis, which has resulted in the uncovering of forty years of state espionage. Their revealing of undercover police operatives has resulted in cases being thrown out of court and the revisiting of previous convictions. It has also created emotional turmoil, as activists have found out that people they considered a friend, lover, or in some cases even parent of their child, have been undercover police operatives. In an era when newsrooms rely increasingly on uncritical replication of press releases, ‘Undercover: The True Story of Britain’s Secret Police’ demonstrates just how important real investigative journalism is.

‘Soldier Box: Why I Won’t Return to the War on Terror’
by Joe Glenton
(Verso, 2013)

Joe Glenton’s autobiographical account tells of his joining the army, going through training, serving in Afghanistan, and then being pressured to return on a second tour against his will, which lead him to going AWOL abroad, before voluntarily returning to the UK to fight his case. It takes great courage for a soldier to speak out against the military, and such voices are often deliberately sidelined by the media. Joe writes with honesty, clarity and an accomplished, tight style, which makes the book as readable as it is important.

‘Story of a Death Foretold: The Coup against Salvador Allende, 11 September 1973′
by Oscar Guardiola-Rivera
(Bloomsbury, 2013)

The well-orchestrated killing and overthrow of Latin America’s first democratically elected Marxist president, Salvador Allende of Chile, is a story that is by now relatively well known, but Oscar Guardiola-Rivera’s account explores the subject in a unique way, and brings a sense of renewed relevance to this sad chapter of US-facilitated injustice. What makes the book unique is the lyrical style with which Guardiola-Rivera brings to life not only Allende’s early life and rise to power, but the broader socialist struggles of Latin America of which he was such a crucial part.

‘Who Needs the Cuts? : Myths of the Economic Crisis’
by Barry Kushner and Saville Kushner
(Hesperus Press, 2013)

There have been many books published on economics since this most recent financial crisis of 2008 began, but few manage to broach the topic with such clarity. The Kushners’ book does two things incredibly well: it challenges the narrative that austerity is the only possible response to the crisis, and secondly, highlights the media’s complicity in perpetuating this narrative. By demonstrating how national debt is in fact historically low, this book makes for a very useful tool in both helping the layperson understand the key concepts of government finance, and enabling them to go on to make the case themselves against the dominant ideology that “cuts are essential”.

‘No Place to Call Home: Inside the Real Lives of Gypsies and Travellers’
by Katharine Quarmby
(Oneworld, 2013)

Quarmby’s book on travellers and gypsies in the UK expertly explores their seemingly never-ending struggle to co-exist with settled communities. The book is concurrently subjective and objective, with first hand accounts gathered over seven years sitting side-by-side with fascinating historical research into the persecution travellers have long faced. The crescendo of the book comes with the resisted eviction of travellers from the Dale Farm site in 2011, which brought together a coalition of supporters to try and overturn the Basildon Council decision to evict the families. A powerful read, that skilfully combines history with reportage.

‘Cancel the Apocalypse: The New Path to Prosperity’
by Andrew Simms
(Little, Brown, 2013)

Simms’ book manages to achieve the near impossible, in that it inspires in the reader a sense of optimism and opportunity in the face of the ever-mounting, seemingly-apocalyptic, problems the world faces.  The author has pooled together countless examples where solutions to the most pressing problems have been found and implemented, and shows that where the will exists nothing is insurmountable. A much needed does of positive thinking.

‘Revolting Subjects: Social Abjection and Resistance in Neoliberal Britain’
by Imogen Tyler
(Zed Books, 2013)

In ‘Revolting Subjects’ Tyler brilliantly describes a model of power that both categorises people as ‘revolting’, and then legitimises their persecution through the inevitable reactive ‘revolts’ that the abject group is forced to enact. The relationship between marginalised groups such as asylum seekers, gypsy and traveller people, migrants, young people, the unemployed, the poor, and disabled people, and those with the power to marginalise, is ingeniously and innovatively conceptualised. Imogen Tyler’s book may be primarily for an academic audience, but the book’s insights deserve a much wider readership.

Find out more about the London Radical Bookfair and Alternative Press Takeover as well as all our Troublemakers? events.

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

Seumas Milne's bookThe Enemy Within explores the media myths created around the miners' strike. We reproduce an extract of it here:

Since the first edition of the book was published in 1994 under the title The Enemy Within: MI5, Maxwell and the Scargill Affair – and an accompanying documentary, Spy in the Camp, broadcast by Channel Four television – more has emerged about the covert methods used against the NUM and other trade unions; formerly secret cabinet papers have thrown new light on the Thatcher government’s plans to break the miners’ union, with troops if necessary, drawn up before and after the strike; the principal accuser of the miners’ leaders in the 1990 scandal was repeatedly found by the French courts to have lied and himself signed documents he claimed were forged by Scargill (and the judgments enforced in England); the Mirror conceded that its original allegations had ‘falsely smeared’ Scargill’s reputation; and fifty MPs called for a public inquiry into security service operations against the miners’ union. On the basis of the allegations set out here and in the Channel Four film, the parliamentarians declared at the time, Stella Rimington should be sacked as head of MI5. Instead, she retired two years later and glided effortlessly into a new role as a corporate non-executive director, dining off the system her organization had spent so many years working to protect – and later turning her hand to writing spy fiction. But in 2001, Rimington herself ran into trouble with the secret state for publishing a book of heavily filleted memoirs. 

Her successor as head of MI5, Stephen Lander, was particularly insistent on deleting passages about the 1984–5 miners’ strike. She did at least publicly confirm for the first time – as earlier laid out in this book – her own role during the strike and MI5’s targeting of Scargill and other NUM leaders, while  attempting  to  pass  the  buck for the most controversial operations to police Special Branch. But the experience of coming into conflict with the Whitehall security machine also appeared to bring out the former spy’s inner civil libertarian: she attacked New Labour for undermining civil rights, warned it was playing into the hands of terrorists by fuelling fear of a ‘police state’, criticised the US over torture (while insisting MI5 ‘doesn’t do that’) and called for greater oversight of the intelligence services.

Meanwhile, the MI5 whistleblower David Shayler revealed that while working for the security service he had seen part of Scargill’s personal file, which made clear there had been at least one agent operating at a senior level in the NUM national office during the 1984–5 strike. Former senior police officers also claimed Special Branch had had a high-level agent in Scargill’s office who helped ‘beat the strike’. As the Cold War has receded into history, veterans of the secret state have been increasingly prepared to yield up a little bit more of their seedy, anti-democratic world: the mass blacklisting of activists, the use of agents and informers at all levels of the labour movement, the destabilisation and undermining of strikes, and the betrayal of their members by trade union leaders who secretly worked for the security services. A retired police Special Branch officer told the BBC True Spies programme in 2002 that one of his covert sources inside the miners’ union during the 1970s had been none other than its then president: the bluff ‘moderate’ Joe Gormley.

Neither the security services nor their political masters have ever been called to account for any of these abuses of power. But given that MI5 has never even been held accountable for the fact that a faction in the agency plotted to bring down Harold Wilson’s Labour government in the 1970s, perhaps that should come as no surprise. Rimington insisted when she was the security service’s director general, both in public and private, that the plot against Wilson had been a figment of the former MI5 assistant director Peter Wright’s imagination (the more recent MI5 authorised history does so as well). However, as Lord Hunt, the cabinet secretary during Wilson’s second administration, was prepared to concede in 1996: ‘There is absolutely no doubt at all that a few malcontents in MI5 . . . were spreading damaging and malicious stories about some members of that Labour government’

You can hear Seamus Milne discussing the legacy of the miners' strike along with Arthur Scargill, Ewa Jasiewicz, Owen Jones and Dawn Foster in our event,  The Enemy Within.

Find out about all our other events. You can stay up to date with all our events. Sign up to our newsletter

Jane Austen's London

by Courses on 09 / 04 / 2014

What was Jane Austen's relationship with London? What was London like at the time she was writing? Our course tutor Caryle Webb-Ingall gives us a glimpse of London at that time.

Image: Microcosm of London, London Collection, Bishopsgate Institute.

What did Jane Austen have to do with London? If you’re a Janeite you’ll know that most of the action takes place away from the City and Jane is not fond of London; indeed in the eponymous novel, Emma considers “Nobody is healthy in London, nobody can be”. In a similar vein but in real life Jane jokes with her sister Cassandra “here I am once more in this scene of dissipation and vice”.

Clearly she has a particular view of “the Great Wen”.  Nonetheless she did visit London several times and it does appear in her books. Did Jane’s experiences in London match up with the reality of everyday life?

There is a lot to discover in this brief period of English history known as the Regency. The architectural work of John Nash, the influence of the Prince Regent on London’s streets and houses, the ongoing war with France and its impact, or the Gordon Riots in the 1780s which threw London into complete turmoil.

There was cholera and poverty in the backstreets of St Giles while the aristocracy entertained in the London Season.  There were orphans and cruel punishments and silks and good food. The many attractions of the 18th century included the gaming halls, coffee houses, ladies of Covent Garden, places of culture as well as the darker side of London in the backstreets of Spitalfields and the prisons of Newgate and the Fleet.

There existed a huge disparity in the experiences of different people in London at the turn of the eighteenth century.  Whether you're interested in Jane or Georgian London our course Jane Austen's London is an opportunity to find out about London life with informal talks and a walk through the London Jane knew.

Find out about all our courses and stay up to date with all our activities. Sign up to our newsletter.

The Leveson Report in 2012 criticised the way women are depicted in the press, echoing the concerns of many campaigners. Sarah Mathewson from the organisation OBJECT explains why she feels there is a need for regulation to curb sexism in the press.
Image from No more page 3 campaign

In the UK media and popular culture, women’s bodies are routinely sexualised and portrayed without agency and autonomy. OBJECT and other women’s organisations examined the content of eleven UK newspapers over a two-week period in 2012 and found alarming levels of sexual objectification of women; sensational and trivialised reporting of violence against women, and the denigration of women in public life on the basis of their appearance. Indeed, while men (an overwhelming majority of news editors and journalists) were vocal, active contributors to public life, with reporting focused on their action and achievement, women featured mainly as images: silent, interchangeable and passive.

Women who did not conform to social standards of attractiveness were markedly less visible. While men were viewed and treated as subjects, engaged in debate, action and decision-making, women were presented as passive objects to appeal to the subjective male gaze, through which they were often cruelly mocked and humiliated.

This relentless objectification of women in the media and popular culture, with few alternative portrayals, reflects and perpetuates gender inequality. It sends out harmful messages which discourage girls and women from participation in public debates or influential decision-making, by keeping them focused on their looks and anxiously policing their bodies. It also sends the message that the sexual exploitation of women is normal and inevitable, even desirable, which reinforces the reach and influence of the sex and porn industries. For example, escort services are advertised alongside objectified images of women in ‘page 3’ tabloid newspapers. This mainstreaming enables exploitative industries to re-brand themselves as a positive career choice for women and an acceptable leisure pursuit for men.

The objectification of women has a dehumanising effect: subjects act, while objects are acted upon. Studies show that exposure to objectifying images of women affects male attitudes towards women, by increasing tolerance for physical and sexual violence against them. This is not insignificant in a context where one in four women experience domestic violence, one in six women are raped in their lifetime, and two women are killed a week by their current or former partners.

challenges the objectification of women in the media, highlighting its damaging effects and lobbying for regulation of all media, including the press and broadcast media, as well as advertising and music videos, in line with equalities legislation. We aim to end all forms of commercial sexual exploitation, and highlight the links between these practices and the exclusion and sexual objectification of women in the media and other public platforms. Women, in all their diversity, deserve to speak out and be heard, to take up public space, and to be treated as full and equal citizens.

Sarah will be discussing The Evolution of Feminism and the Raunch Culture as part of our Troublemakers? series of events with former Playboy Bunny Girl Barbara Haigh. The event will be chaired by Rosamund Urwin of the Evening Standard.

Find out about all our events.

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

Photo of John Sinha

Social media has changed the way people organise and demonstrate creating new types of fast-moving protest groups and challenges for the authorities. But how new is the use of digital media and has it completely replaced traditional methods of mobilising protestors? John Sinha from Occupy looks at how social media has been used in recent demonstrations:

The current wave of social protest movements are the first to make use of the full capabilities of Web 2.0, including social media and smartphones. But they are not the first to make use of the internet. The alter-globalisation movement of the 90s and 00s had Indymedia, list servers and websites. Although these still have a part to play, the greater capabilities of social media for organising events and communicating real-time information have supplanted many of their uses. Applications such as live streaming, for example, can now reach potentially much larger audiences and provide a more immediate documentation of action on the ground, including cases of police aggression during occupations.

At the same time, more traditional ways of mobilising protest have not been forgotten. Leaflets, posters and papers are still effective channels of communication and often coexist with their virtual equivalents. As social media theorist Paulo Gerbaudo has noted, for example, many of the major hash tags and Twitter slogans were spray stenciled on the streets of Cairo in the days leading up to the revolution.

This interaction between the online and physical worlds has been studied by a group of researchers from the 15M movement (a Spanish protest group that was launched with a gathering on 15 May 2011). They carried out a statistical analysis into the use of social media by their organisation and identified a phenomenon that they called technopolitics – the tactical and strategic use of technological devices for organisation, communication and collective action. Unlike the similar concept of cyberactivism, however, technopolitics is not limited to the internet. Rather, it represents a series of collective practices that can take place or start on the Internet, but that do not stay there.

The use of social media disrupts the relationship between the mass media and what is happening on the street. This ability of social media to influence wider agendas has been understood, as the Snowden revelations show, by the Government and corporate elites, and it is as well for social movements to be aware of the counter-strategies that are open to them.

Here in the UK a major Occupy sponsored action for democracy will put all these lessons together on a large scale.

John Sinha is an Occupy activist currently working on a major action on democracy which Occupy in London has called for in the autumn. He is also involved with anti-fracking campaigns and developing devices with the Internet of Things.

John will be taking part in Protest in a Digital Age, part of our Troublemakers? series with Ian Dunt (politics.co.uk), Symon Hill (author of Digital Revolutions: Activism in the Internet Age), Jamie Bartlett (Head of the Violence and Extremism Programme and Centre for Analysis of Social Media at DEMOS) plus representatives from UK Uncut.

Join in the conversation for our Troublemakers? series with #BITroublemakers.

Find out about all our events and stay up to date with all our activities with our newsletter.

Columbia Road – A strange kind of paradise

by Events on 10 / 02 / 2014

Columbia Road Market is a popular Sunday morning destination for many Londoners and visitors to the city. With coffee in hand they browse the colourful flower stalls and shops. But it wasn't always such a popular destination as author and historian Linda Wilkinson explains: 

When I grew up on Columbia Road it wasn’t famous. It was a street of small shops that served the community which in those pre-supermarket days provided everything you needed. On Sunday mornings the flower market took place. A small huddle of stalls appeared, which again, served the locals. I doubt if anyone from outside Bethnal Green had even heard of it. This was true up until the 1970s when I left the area briefly to live abroad. What has happened since with the 'discovery' of the East End by a whole new group of people is not unique, but I have lived through it.

As an author and historian I set myself the task of writing the history of this one street. I thought in all honesty that there wouldn’t be enough information to fill a book. Luckily I was wrong and at times I felt like calling the book Death amongst the blooms, as I discovered the number of people who had passed away in unusual circumstances.

As my research progressed I also discovered that my family have been in Tower Hamlets for over 400 years, this added a frisson to the revelations of life on and around the road.

From a Huguenot rural idyll to one of the worst slum areas in Britain in a very short time, the area became a byword for Union dissent. Resurrectonists murdered their prey here. Charles Dickens wrote his last book about a dust pile which existed here. Some of the first attempts at philanthropic building took place here. And people came and stayed.

This is the end is the essence of the work, the loyalty to the area. No matter how grim life was, people simply wanted to stay. Slum clearance was opposed. Wilmott and Young who researched Family and Kinship in Bethnal Green came, were amazed, and stayed themselves.

Romance is not a word to bandy about in relation to Columbia Road. But there is no doubt that to some it remains – A strange kind of paradise.

You can hear Linda talking about the history of Columbia Road as part of our East End in Focus series here.

Exhibition at Eleven Spitalfields Gallery
Our East End in Focus series was inspired by the wonderful images taken by photographer
C. A. Mathew in 1912. You can see for yourself the wonderful images that he took at Eleven Spitalfields Gallery from 7 March to 25 April 2014.

Full details of all our events are available to download.

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

‘It’s Really Niche’: the ethics of archives and archiving

by Schools and Community on 17 / 03 / 2014

‘It’s Really Niche’: the ethics of archives and archiving

Is it ever appropriate to de-accession or throw away an archive? Are all archive materials suitable for sharing with all library users? If budgets are tight, how are decisions made about which archive collections to digitise? These and other questions on the ethics of archives and archiving were discussed at a recent training session at Bishopsgate Institute as part of The Only Way is Ethics youth arts project.

The Only Way is Ethics (TOWIE) rebooted in February with a new cohort of young people as well as some familiar faces from last year's summer school. This term participants learnt about collecting, cataloguing and curating during intensive heritage skills training sessions delivered by the project heritage partners, Museum of London and Bishopsgate Institute.

On Saturday 1 March at the Museum of London in Docklands the training included opportunities to put together a pop- up exhibition of historic postcards with Honorary Research Fellow Cathy Ross and a session on how to date archaeological skeletal assemblages with Curator of Human Osteology Jelena Beklavac – featuring actual human remains from the Museum's collections.
Museum of London workshop

On Saturday 22 February at Bishopsgate Institute, the focus was on archive interpretation and the ethics of collecting. TOWIE participants Antonia Bici, Tanisa Gunesekera, Linda Gyamfi and Beth Jellicoe joined Project Archivist Nicky Hilton for an afternoon of hands-on training that began with a jargon-busting quiz giving Antonia, Tanisa, Linda and Beth a chance to discover some of the specialist terms used by archivists such as acquisition (the process of identifying and obtaining historical materials) and appraisal (the process of determining whether collections have sufficient value to warrant acquisition by an archive). Linda pointed out: 'This is like learning a different language! The jargon acts as a barrier to understanding archives and archiving for general audiences.'

Next the group looked at some controversial stories from the archives, which included the opportunity to handle the Minute Book of the First International Working Men's Association (1866-9) – a volume considered so politically inflammatory in the years immediately following the Russian Revolution in 1917 that the governors of Bishopsgate Institute locked it in a bank vault for some twenty years. A lively discussion followed about whether it was ever acceptable to prevent readers accessing historic items in a public library or archive collection.

During the discussion, Linda pointed out: ‘archiving isn’t as straightforward or impersonal as you might think. Some aspects of collecting seem to be about fashion or what’s popular at the time.’  Beth agreed. She was especially struck by the importance of an archivist’s role and the power he or she has to direct, even rewrite, history: 'archiving is a useful skill to have because it's really niche. It's been fun discussing the ethics around archiving. It's great that it's not abstract. These are real people and real legacies so that makes it seem important.'

Archives workshop
Once the discussion ended, Nicky explained more about the work of an archivist. Everyone was surprised to learn that there are no hard and fast rules involved in archiving. Instead archivists follow a code of ethics which focuses on: maintaining the original archive order or filing system of the material; protecting the material; and promote access to the material. Nicky also pointed out the curious fact that the unique character of archive materials means that they cannot be insured because each document, letter, minute book and so on is irreplaceable – and therefore priceless!

The archives training ended with the group gaining an intensive introduction to cataloguing, using the Unite Against Fascism collection of badges, posters and flyers from the 1980s to the present day and including items from the high-profile Love Music Hate Racism campaign. Tanisa had had some experience of object cataloguing in a museum but found it quite different working with printed materials. ‘How do you paraphrase the text and pick out the "right" information from the pamphlet or book to include?' she wondered. Antonia is a Drama and English graduate who had never done any cataloguing before. She said afterwards: ‘I feel really privileged taking part! Finding out more about how the process of cataloguing works is something most people don't get to explore. The things we’ve discovered today from the collections about history and politics in London will inform my performances in the future.' 

Before the session ended, the participants worked with Nicky to put together a Unite Against Fascism Pinterest board featuring items from the collection they had catalogued. All agreed that being archivists for a day had been a valuable and thought-provoking experience.

The next TOWIE event at Bishopsgate Institute takes place on Sunday 11 May as part of the Trouble Makers? festival (details of the festival will be available on our website from Wednesday 26 March). All welcome.

Bishopsgate Library and Archive Collections are open to everyone.

Arthur Morrison's novel 'A Child of the Jago' is a classic of slum-fiction, depicting the Victorian underworld and drawing attention to the bleak prospects for children living in such surroundings. Author Sarah Wise looks at the impact of the novel at the time and the social debates it aroused:

In November 1896, Arthur Morrison published A Child of the Jago — the Jago being a scarcely disguised Old Nichol, the slum that lay behind Shoreditch High Street. The furore the book provoked continued for two years in the press, and significantly longer on the ground, in Shoreditch.

Sherwood Place, Bethnal Green

Literary critic HD Traill led the charge – stating that Morrison had exaggerated the awfulness of life in the Nichol. Traill believed that by selecting some of the very worst aspects of East London life Morrison had done exactly what an artist should do —  he had created a dense, undiluted composite that bore little relation to its factual inspiration: ‘the total effect of the story is unreal and phantasmagoric’, wrote Traill, and the reader feels like ‘one who has just awakened from the dream of a prolonged sojourn in some fairyland of horror’.

But Morrison would always swear that his novel was a faithful dramatisation of hard facts — facts that he had collected by more or less moving in to the Old Nichol, and using his journalistic skills to observe and record. A Child of the Jago was less art than life, he claimed; and anyone who said otherwise was deluding themselves about the ‘social emergency’ that was about to explode and wreck civilisation. By which he meant — what are we going to do about the seething, breeding underclass that swarm at the heart of our great cities?

Many were perplexed that Morrison had decided to write a novel about a location that was on the cusp of being torn down. The Old Nichol was scheduled for demolition, in order that the Boundary Street Estate could be built — as the London County Council’s flagship housing scheme. But what most people of the day failed to spot was that by the period in which Morrison claimed to be semi-resident in the Nichol (October 1894 to March 1896) large swathes of the slum had been boarded up and some streets partially demolished. In January 1893 — a whole 20 months before Morrison turned up — one local newspaper proclaimed the area ‘The Land of Desolation’, declaring, ‘Half the houses are now closed by the orders of the County Council.’ It was not possible that Morrison was witnessing the ordinary everyday activities of the long-term residents of the Nichol.

So why did he do it? Why libel an entire district? The answers are likely to involve an infatuation, a deep sense of shame, and an author ill at ease with his own imagination and artistry. Morrison’s novel has been  the most impressive of literary re-brandings of a district in London history, perhaps even in world history. ‘Arthur Morrison-itis’ has afflicted most 20th and 21st century commentators’ views of the Old Nichol. We fall in love with Morrison’s image of the Nichol because it is so powerfully presented; we assume that it’s true because no one wrote a similarly powerful novel that denies it.

You can hear Sarah Wise talking more about Arthur Morrison and his fictional account of the Old Nichol as part of our East End in Focus series on Tuesday 1 April 2014.

Exhibition at Eleven Spitalfields Gallery

Our East End in Focus series was inspired by the 1912 street photography of C. A. Mathew. You can see for yourself the wonderful images that C. A. Mathew took at Eleven Spitalfields Gallery from 7 March to 25 April 2014.

Full details of all our events are available to download.

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

Until recently little was known about the history of Sandys Row Synagogue and ‘the Chuts’ who founded it. Rachel Lichtenstein is currently working as Project Manager for the Heritage Lottery Funded project "Our Hidden Histories" which aims to chronicle the past 150 years of the oldest Ashkenazi community in London using archive materials and oral history interviews. Rachel explains more:

The oldest Ashkenazi synagogue in London, Sandys Row in Spitalfields, was established by Dutch Jewish immigrants in 1854, who began arriving in the city from the 1840s onwards. They came in search of a better life, rather than fleeing persecution like the thousands of Ashkenazi Jews who came after them in the 1880s from the Pale of Settlements.

Sandys Row Synagogue

Image: Sandys Row Synagogue. Rachel Lichtenstein

Mostly from Amsterdam, many settled in a small quarter of narrow streets in Spitalfields known as the Tenterground. Here they continued to practise the trades they had bought with them from Holland, which were predominately cigar making, diamond cutting and polishing, and slipper and cap making. Many small workshops were established in the area and businesses were passed on within generations of families.

With their own practises and customs, many of which were different from other Ashkenazi Jewish groups, they became a distinctive, tight knit community of about a thousand people. To the frustration of the more established Anglo-Jewish population living in the area at the time, ‘the Chuts’ (as they were known locally) refused to join any of the existing synagogues, instead they met in a house on Whites Row, which served as a makeshift synagogue. For festivals and high holy days they rented Zetland Hall in Mansell Street.

In 1854 fifty families from this community formed the Society for Comfort of the Mourners, Kindness, and Truth, which originally functioned as a burial and mutual aid society. In 1867 the society purchased the lease on a former Huguenot Chapel in a small side street in Spitalfields called Sandys Row. Nathan Solomon Joseph, one of the most famous synagogue architects of the time remodelled the chapel, keeping many original features of the Georgian interior, including the roof and the balcony.

Since it opened in 1870 Sandys Row Synagogue has never closed its doors. in 2013 it was awarded a major grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund for an oral history and local community heritage project called “Our Hidden Histories”. The project involves collecting memories, photographs and artefacts relating to the heritage of the building as well as uncovering more about the role of the synagogue in the local community during the past one hundred and fifty years.

Artist and writer Rachel Lichtenstein, is the Project Manager and has been working closely with Bishopsgate Institute on this project. Fragile archival material based at Sandys Row Synagogue has been removed for safe keeping to Bishopsgate Institute’s Archives, where it is being conserved and preserved properly for the future. Working with a team of excellent volunteers, Rachel has been cataloguing and documenting this collection preparing it to be returned to Sandys Row Synagogue when the correct facilities are in place for exhibiting these this material

This project also entails recording oral history interviews with elderly Jewish members of the synagogue by volunteers who have received full training in oral history techniques by Rachel Lichtenstein and Sarah Lowry of the Oral History Society. These interviews, which have nearly been completed now, will be summarised, transcribed and deposited at Bishopsgate Institute Archives. Edited excerpts from these interviews will also be used on the forthcoming website and exhibition, which will be created about the project.

The project will culminate in an exhibition, which will be shown in Sandys Row Synagogue at the end of the project before touring to other local venues.

If you have any memories, stories or photographs relating to Sandys Row Synagogue please contact Rachel Lichtenstein info@rachellichtenstein.com

As part of our East End in Focus, Rachel Lichtenstein will be in conversation with Phil Maxwell and Hazuan Hashim in Synagogue Stories: An oral History Project. The evening will conclude with the premier of a short film about the project created by Phil Maxwell and Hazuan Hashim.

Exhibition at Eleven Spitalfields Gallery

Our East End in Focus series was inspired by the 1912 street photography of C. A. Mathew. You can see for yourself the wonderful images that C. A. Mathew took at Eleven Spitalfields Gallery from 7 March to 25 April 2014.

Full details of all our events are available to download.

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

Our season East End in Focus is just about to start. Inspired by the wonderful pictures taken by C. A. Mathew over a hundred years ago, these talks and walks bring the people, stories and history of the  area to life. The Gentle Author takes an insightful look at C. A. Mathew and his work.

Photograph by C. A. Mathew of Artillery Lane

On Saturday April 20th 1912, C. A. Mathew walked out of Liverpool St Station with a camera in hand. No-one knows for certain why he chose to wander through the streets of Spitalfields taking photographs that day. It may be that the pictures were a commission, though this seems unlikely as they were never published. I prefer the other theory, that he was waiting for the train home to Brightlingsea in Essex where he had a studio in Tower St, and simply walked out of the station, taking these pictures to pass the time. It is not impossible that these exceptional photographs owe their existence to something as mundane as a delayed train.

Little is known of C. A. Mathew, who only started photography in 1911, the year before these pictures, and died five years later, shortly after his wife at Christmas 1916 – yet today his beautiful set of photographs preserved at the Bishopsgate Institute exists as the most vivid evocation we have of Spitalfields at this time.

Because C. A. Mathew is such an enigmatic figure, I have conjured my own picture of him in a shabby suit and bowler hat, with a threadbare tweed coat and muffler against the chill April wind. I can see him trudging the streets of Spitalfields lugging his camera, grimacing behind his thick moustache as he squints at the sky to appraise the light and the buildings. Let me admit, it is hard to resist a sense of connection to him because of the generous humanity of some of these images. While his contemporaries sought more self-consciously picturesque staged photographs, C. A. Mathew’s pictures possess a relaxed spontaneity, even an informal quality, that allows his subjects to meet our gaze as equals. As viewer, we are put in the same position as the photographer and the residents of Spitalfields 1912 are peering at us with unknowing curiosity, while we observe them from the reverse of time’s two-way mirror.

What is immediately remarkable about the pictures is how populated they are. The streets of Spitalfields were fuller in those days – doubly surprising when you remember that this was a Jewish neighbourhood then and these photographs were taken upon the Sabbath. It is a joy to see so many children playing in the street, a sight no longer to be seen in Spitalfields.

The other aspect of these photographs which is surprising to a modern eye is that the people, and especially the children, are well-dressed on the whole. They do not look like poor people and, contrary to the widespread perception that this was an area dominated by poverty at that time; I only spotted one bare-footed urchin among the hundreds of figures in these photographs.

The other source of fascination here is to see how some streets have changed beyond recognition while others remain almost identical. Most of all it is the human details that touch me, scrutinizing each of the individual figures presenting themselves with dignity in their worn clothes, and the children who treat the streets as their own.

These pictures are all that exists of the life of C. A. Mathew, but I think they are a fine legacy for us to remember him because they contain a whole world in these few streets, that we could never know in such vibrant detail if it were not for him. Such is the haphazard nature of human life that these images may be the consequence of a delayed train, yet irrespective of the obscure circumstances of their origin, this is photography of the highest order. C. A. Mathew was recording life.

This blog was originally published on the Spitalfields Life blog in 2013. Reproduced here by kind permission of the Gentle Author.

Exhibition at Eleven Spitalfields Gallery
You can see for yourself the wonderful images that C. A. Mathew took at Eleven Spitalfields Gallery from 7 March to 25 April 2014.

Full details of all our events are available to download.

Our photography courses are a great way to develop your photography.

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

Tin Bashing and Backyard Farms: Bishopsgate Voices CD Launch

by Schools and Community on 17 / 02 / 2014

Bishopsgate Institute’s oral history volunteers have added to their skills by compiling and editing an audio CD from the interviews carried out as part of the Library’s Bishopsgate Voices project.  The CD launch takes place on Wednesday 19 March at 6.30pm in our atmospheric library. All are welcome to join us in celebrating this milestone in the Bishopsgate Voices story.

Since 2007, Bishopsgate Institute staff and volunteers have been collecting memories of the local area in the form of oral history recordings. In October 2013, the 100th oral history interview was recorded. Reaching a Bishopsgate Voices century prompted the idea of compiling an audio CD. We wanted to celebrate the lives and contributions of the interviewees, to share the project recordings with a wider audience and to let people know about the significant and expanding oral history collection available to researchers and family historians in the Library. The resulting CD takes the listener on an intimate, hour-long tour of the sights and sounds of the East End; a tour led by some of the men and women who have worked and played in and around its streets since the 1930s.  

Image: Queens Head, Chicksand St, E1 ‘Pub annual beano to Southend’, John Charlton (boy with hands in pocket)
Image: Queens Head, Chicksand St, E1 ‘Pub annual beano to Southend’, John Charlton (boy with hands in pocket)

A colourful and evocative aural collage has been created using short clips from a range of  Bishopsgate Voices interviewees, organised in themed chapters under headings that include ‘Growing Up’, ‘Making a Living’ and ‘The Surrounding Streets’. The listener is transported from the carefree fun of post-war childhood games such as ‘Knock Down Ginger’ to the reality of life as a single mother holding down three jobs to support her family, including working shifts at a ‘tin bashing’ factory on Bethnal Green Road. We hear about trips out of the area to tea dances in the West End and to Sussex camping holidays in Chapel tents blessed with incense. The East End’s olfactory delights are evoked through descriptions of farm animals kept in backyards, local fish, fruit and veg markets, Godfrey Phillips’ tobacco factory and malt from the breweries. And there are tales of runaway lobsters and a young girl unwittingly acting as a runner for her grandmother’s clandestine betting habit.  

The Bishopsgate Voices CD will be on sale in the library from Thursday 20 March.  For more information about Bishopsgate Voices, contact the Library on 020 7392 9270 or click here.

Music and Shakespeare

by Courses on 22 / 01 / 2014

Music oft hath such a charm
To make bad good, and good provoke to harm.   

William Shakespeare

The quote above from the play ‘Measure for Measure’ illustrates the importance William Shakespeare placed on music in his work, and how he used it to heighten moments of comedy and drama. Tutor Roger Thomas will look at some of the many connections between music and the works of William Shakespeare in his course Music and Shakespeare. He discusses some of them here:

We're accustomed to studying Shakespeare as literature or drama, while music is regarded as a distinct subject. The fact is, though, that the way in which different art forms interrelate and interdepend will often have an important effect on their development - classical music, for example, actually began in the theatre before the very idea of the concert - let alone the concert hall - ever existed.

Music and Shakespeare will look at some case studies in the connections between music and the plays of Shakespeare, cramming as much as possible of this huge subject into six hours. The aim is to cover some of the ways music is used in the plays, musical adaptations of Shakespeare, and some film soundtracks - in fact any and all the ways in which the two subjects are linked.

Every connection raises more fascinating questions. Was Beethoven influenced by Shakespeare? Did Verdi fail to understand key aspects of Macbeth when he wrote his opera based on the play? How do particular instruments predict the action in the plays? How did Shakespeare use musical fashion for dramatic effect? Can you tell a sennet from a tucket and a hoboy from a dump?

When Hamlet accuses his friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of 'playing' him like an instrument, why does his choice of a recorder show how angry he really is? What does he mean when he says he'll 'stake his Cremona to a Jew’s trump'? Was there music in the theatre in Shakespeare's time and what did it sound like? Which Shakespeare play has been turned into an opera by 46 different composers, and why? And which composer has turned some of Shakespeare's worst writing into some unique and successful music?

We'll be working with examples of recorded music and sections of Shakespeare's texts alongside what we know historically to try and investigate at least some of these ideas. Period costume and an ability to converse in iambic pentameter will not be required, but you will need to be conversant with at least some of the major plays. The only musical skills you’ll need will be the ability to listen and a general interest in the subject.

Music and Shakespeare starts on Thursday 6 February 2014.

This course is just one of our many Arts and Culture courses. View them online or download the spring prospectus.

Stay up to date with all our activities by signing up to our newsletter.

If you enjoy listening to music, why not come along to our evening and free lunchtime concerts?

Life in Spitalfields, over a hundred years ago is brought into sharp focus by photographer C. A. Matthew. His images offer a unique journey into a past that seems within reach and almost present. For the 21st century viewer, strangeness and familiarity are blended in images that offer rich rewards for the curious gaze.

We asked contemporary photographer Phil Maxwell to comment on his favourite C. A. Mathew image as well as one of his own East End Images:

C. A. Mathew was a brilliant street photographer who took a series of photographs around Spitalfields in 1912. He probably never regarded himself as a street photographer as he worked mainly from his studio in  Brightlingsea in Essex.











Image: Looking down Sandys Row from Artillery Lane – observe the horse and cart approaching in the distance.

I love the photograph above as quite a crowd has gathered to see the photographer who would have taken a few minutes to set up his camera and tripod. The inquisitive crowd of children and a few adults eventually lead the eye into the surrounding streets and the approaching horse and cart in the distance; the photographer gives us a great ‘slice of life’ with his audience as willing participants in the event.











The photograph I took of children in Brick Lane c.1987 (above) has a similar vibe to Mathew’s image. The subjects are also inquisitive and welcoming to the camera. There is a relaxed formality about the shot with the children positioning themselves around the milk crate and creating a delightful pose. The image is more fluid and spontaneous thanks to the use of a SLR camera free of a tripod. Mathew was a great pioneer of street photography unfolding the secrets of  East End streets at the beginning of the last century.

Both of these photographs provide a commentary on culture and life for future generations to enjoy. Photography can provide a taste of a period in a way that transcends other art forms. At its best street photography reveals and celebrates the lives of ordinary people.

You can hear Phil talking about photographing the East End as part of our Modern Magic Lantern Shows in our East End in Focus series.

Find out more about Phil Maxwell's street photography at philmaxwell.org where you can find thousands of images taken over the past 30 years.  

The incredible images C. A. Mathew took are part of our Archive Collections. Bishopsgate Institute is currently digitising Phil Maxwell's entire archive.

Exhibition: C. A. Mathew Photographs of Spitalfields a century ago
You can see for yourself the wonderful photographs that C. A. Mathew took over a hundred years ago in an exhibition of his images at Eleven Spitalfields Gallery from 7 March to 25 April 2014.

Full details of all our events are available to download.

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

Sticking it to the armchair activists!

by Schools and Community on 19 / 12 / 2013

On Saturday 7 December almost two hundred people from a wide range of backgrounds and of all ages gathered in the Great Hall at Bishopsgate Institute to mark the successful completion of the Sounds from the Park project – and celebrate the launch of the project exhibition in the Bishopsgate Institute corridor. The exhibition tells the story of Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park, through the words and photographs of regular speakers, hecklers and listeners at what is now Britain’s last great open air site of oratory.

Sounds from the Park was a one-year project to record the history of protest and free speech at Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park since the 1860s. The project was devised and managed by Laura Mitchison and Rosa Vilbr at On the Record and funded by grants from the National Lottery and the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust. As the project heritage partners, Bishopsgate Institute has been involved in many aspects of Sounds from the Park since the project launched in December 2012. We delivered archive learning workshops for students and young people to explore the theory and history of public speaking; we provided a home for a newly-created Speakers’ Corner archive of oral history recordings, documents and images; and we hosted project events – including the project finale on Saturday 7 December in the Great Hall.

The atmosphere in the hall was relaxed and welcoming, with lunch kicking off the afternoon in sociable style. True to the community-led ethos of Sounds from the Park, the event provided a platform for a range of project participants to share their experiences, both of Speakers’ Corner and of the project itself. After lunch, invited speakers took to the stage in turn to provide invariably eloquent, and frequently humorous, overviews of their own areas of interest at Speakers’ Corner. Some spoke about memorable individuals from the past, such as Donald Soper, the Methodist minister, socialist and pacifist who spoke regularly at Speakers’ Corner from the 1920s until the 1990s. Historian Edward Packard managed to compress an informative history of Speakers’ Corner into just ten minutes, including a slideshow of well-chosen images. Oral historian and project volunteer Lynda Finn spoke movingly about her interviewing experiences during the project – almost 30 oral history recordings have now been deposited at Bishopsgate Institute as part of the Sounds from the Park archive collection.

To round off the speeches, a group of Year 11 students (aged 15-16) from George Mitchell school in Leyton, east London, took to the stage to share their learning from the project. They also introduced short soundscape compositions created during October half-term using the Feed app for iPad with the help of David Gunn from the Incidental. The thoughtful content of the students’ compositions marked a continuity between activism then and now, reassuring some Speakers’ Corner 'old stagers' in the audience that there is a next generation of politically-engaged young people emerging who are keen to consider and debate ideas. As one of our project partners said afterwards: "I've been typing up the event feedback and loads of people said how much they'd enjoyed the students' speeches and sound compositions – and general sticking it to the armchair activists!" The Head of History at George Mitchell School set out in more detail the value of this type of extra-curricular programme of creative heritage learning:

"Being involved in Sounds from the Park has been enormously beneficial for this set of students and a real pleasure for me to see them grow into the roles offered by the project. As they spoke on the platform, mingled with the older people during breaks, engaged in debate and discussion, designed posters and taught people to use Feed, the many skills the project drew out of them were all in evidence. They all loved it and I’m delighted that we were lucky enough to be involved. Thank you a million times!"
Sounds from the Park celebration event
Above: During the event people of all ages got talking about community politics and ideals. Photograph reproduced with the kind permission of Sophie Polyviou.

Following the speeches, teas and coffees were served and guests were able to take part in workshops, from sign-making to debating skills to creating a soundscape. An impromptu Speakers’ Corner style ‘meeting’ almost immediately popped up in one corner of the Great Hall, attracting knots of listeners, hecklers and would-be speakers. It was a lively and fitting end to a fascinating and informative day, itself a fine celebration of an important and long-overdue London heritage project.

The Sounds from the Park exhibition, featuring original artwork by Annette Fry, is free to view in the corridor at Bishopsgate Institute until 30 April 2014. The project archive is accessible from January 2014 in the researchers’ area of the Bishopsgate Library. No membership required. No appointment necessary. Click here for library opening hours. 

Traces of Muriel Lester: the story of the story box

by Schools and Community on 25 / 11 / 2013

Social campaigner, committed pacifist and friend of Mahatma Ghandi, Muriel Lester (1883–1968) was described at the time of her death as a legend. In her own lifetime she was "admired by statesmen" and "loved by the poor". Lester’s relative obscurity today – coupled with an extraordinary life of contrasts that combined periods of international travel with time spent living in voluntary poverty in the East End of London – make her the ideal subject for the ‘story box’ exhibition as part of the Explore Your Archives campaign.

The Explore Your Archives campaign is a new initiative which launched on 16 November to raise the profile of archives in the UK and Ireland. At the centre of each campaign is the story box, a discrete exhibition created by archives of all shapes and sizes to celebrate their unique collections – and ideally to promote the more obscure or neglected items or individuals featured among their holdings. Unlike a traditional exhibition, which will usually have a narrative and a viewing order, the story box format allows for a more creative approach with each person or institution interpreting the materials in their own way.

The Muriel Lester story box was produced to open out the Lester archive to new audiences. It was devised in collaboration with young adults from The Only Way is Ethics (TOWIE), a lottery-funded youth project led by Emergency Exit Arts with heritage support from Bishopsgate Institute and the Museum of London.

TOWIE Young Producer Rumela Begum explored the Lester archive with archivist Nicky Hilton to help create the story box. Rumela said afterwards:

"Being given the opportunity to curate the story box has been an intriguing and rewarding experience. Exploring the archives was like walking in the footsteps of those who had fought to get their voices heard and create a change. Looking through newspaper articles, pamphlets and images we were able to piece together the traces of Muriel Lester’s past and create our own interpretation. Her courageous and inspiring story, which gained Muriel thousands of supporters worldwide, should be known and celebrated. Who knew such an influential women was living among us not so long ago?

Muriel Lester is one excellent example of how the past can help and inspire us in the present. Likewise, our story box is one example of the fascinating histories that can be uncovered through just a few hours of your own investigation. Come along to the Bishopsgate institute (or your local archives) and start your own research trail to discover what has been hidden away for too long!"

The Lester story box was revealed to more than fifty adults and young people at the ‘I’m not a Feminist but… dinner and debate held in our Great Hall on 21 November as part of Parliament Week 2013. The theme of Parliament Week this year was Women in Democracy: "celebrating women’s contribution to UK democratic life and exploring how women’s voices can be better heard." Throughout her life Muriel Lester made her voice heard by campaigning for peace and equality across the world. Today she is almost silent in the archives; the materials that reveal her extraordinary life are infrequently accessed and little known.

If you’d like to explore the story of Muriel Lester for yourself, you can view the story box in the glass case in the main Bishopsgate Library until January 2014. Or you can enjoy the digital version, which includes additional photographs, on our Pinterest page.

You can also join the Explore Your Archives discussions on Twitter using #explorearchives to keep up to date with the campaign events and displays. #TOWIEthics will get you involved in the TOWIE Twitter dialogue about ethics, gender, protest and politics. Finally, why not tell us who you would nominate as the ‘Muriel Lester’ of the twenty-first century by leaving a comments card on our discussion board in the Institute corridor in the coming weeks? 

Dürer: The wander years

by Courses on 20 / 11 / 2013

When artists have travelled, their experiences have often had a great influence on their work. One artist who travelled widely was Albrecht Dürer and his early journeys are explored in the current exhibition, The Young Dürer: Drawing the Figure at the Courtauld Gallery. Our tutor James Heard gives us a short tour of where Dürer went and what he saw on some of his travels:

Dürer was a traveller. Artists during the Renaissance visited the princely courts in search of patronage as well as calling at the workshops of other artists as part of their development. Dürer had an extended year of travel (wanderjahre) after he had finished his apprenticeship and in 1495 made the first of two visits to Italy.
'Young Hare' by Albrecht Dürer, 1502
Picture: 'Young Hare' by Albrecht Dürer, 1502

In 1520 he started a travel diary which includes the entry: ”On Thursday after Whitsuntide, I Albrecht Dürer, at my own cost…set out with my wife from Nuremburg for the Netherlands.”

This journal reveals the various purposes of artists’ travel – curiosity (“There has been a whale thrown up on the coast of Zeeland”) and seeking patronage (“I have seen the Lady Margaret and have shown her my pictures and would have given to her but she took so a dislike to it”) and as an art tourist seeking inspiration (“I saw the alabaster figure of the Virgin and child that Michel Angelo has done”).

During the course A Grand Tour: Artists and their Journeys, James will also lead us on a guided tour of other artists’ journeys including Hogarth’s drunken jaunt to the Isle of Sheppey, Turner’s wanderings in Europe, Ruben’s travels in Italy and Mme Vigée-Lebrun's enforced visit to Russia.

This course is just one of our many Arts and Culture courses. View them online or download the spring prospectus.

Stay up to date with all our activities by signing up to our newsletter.

Fanny & Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England is a tale of cross-dressing, cross-examination and a scandal that shocked and titillated Victorian England in equal measure. Award-winning author Neil McKenna gives us a glimpse of the extraordinary lives of Fanny and Stella:

By day they were Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton, aged 22 and 21, leading respectable lives as clerks. But by night they were Miss Fanny Winifred Park and Miss Stella Boulton, drag queens extraordinaire and the toast of London’s sodomitic underworld.

Fanny and Stella were sisters. Sisters for better and for worse. Sisters in sickness and in health. Sisters in drag and out of drag. They were formidable and they were fearless. London stood before them waiting to be conquered, ready to swoon, ready to fall at their feet.

Fanny was decidedly plain and Stella was pretty. More than pretty. In fact she was quite beautiful. But what Fanny lacked in looks, she made up for with good-humour, guile and low cunning. When they were not on stage performing, they were on the streets, looking for love or for money, and sometimes both.

Stella had a husband – of sorts – in the shape of Lord Arthur Clinton, son of a Duke, godson to Mr Gladstone, and an Honourable Member to boot. But Arthur was feckless and in all sorts of trouble over money, whereas Stella was reckless and in all sorts of trouble over men.

For three years until their arrest and spectacular trial in 1870, Fanny and Stella lived extraordinary double lives. But their world came crashing down when the powers-that-be decided that enough was enough. To save England from being overrun by sodomites and drag queens, an example must be made. Fanny and Stella were selected to be the sacrificial lambs. But like everything else in Fanny and Stella’s world, things did not go according to plan …

Neil McKenna’s Fanny & Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England was published earlier this year to overwhelming critical acclaim. Find out more about this extraordinary story when Neil McKenna discusses his book as part or our Girls & Boys season on Wednesday 20 November.

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

Bishopsgate Voices Hits One Hundred

by Schools and Community on 05 / 11 / 2013

Bishopsgate Institute’s oral history programme reached an important project milestone on Friday 4 October 2013 when we carried out the 100th Bishopsgate Voices interview with East End pharmacist Julian Langer.

Bishopsgate Voices records the memories of ‘ordinary’ people who have lived or worked in the City or East End of London. With the support of a dedicated team of volunteers, since 2007 the project has been steadily accumulating an oral history archive for researchers and family historians to learn from and enjoy. Interview recordings are added to our library & archive collections along with a written summary of their contents. Interviewees sometimes also donate family photographs or ephemera. These items are catalogued alongside the audio recordings and anyone is able to view photographs like the one above (donated by interviewee Sheila Reed, a machinist in the local rag trade) or listen to the oral history recordings by visiting Bishopsgate Library.

Our 100th interviewee was Julian Langer, a retired East End pharmacist. Julian was born above his parents’ shop, the Old Maids’ Pharmacy, on Bethnal Green Road. He visited Bishopsgate Institute during Open House weekend in September 2013 – and heard some audio clips from our oral history interviews playing as part of a Bishopsgate Voices exhibition. Keen to share his own experiences of local life since the 1940s, Julian approached library staff and an interview date was set. Julian’s interview has now been added to our collections; it includes memories that are highly personal but also of general historical interest. For example, in recalling his childhood memories of rationing after World War Two, Julian describes to the interviewer the extraordinary demand for Brylcreem. He explains how he would be perched on the top of a box in the Old Maid’s Pharmacy, handing out tins of the hair cream one at a time to queues of customers keen to get their hands on the latest American import to the East End.

Bishopsgate Voices creates a unique opportunity for the community both to contribute to and hear personal accounts of events and cultural life in the City and the East End.  To celebrate the contributors and their stories, we are compiling an audio ‘Best of…’ Bishopsgate Voices CD and booklet with the generous support of local design company Gensler. Look out for the launch event in spring 2014.

We may have hit our first century but we plan to bat many more overs, so if you have a connection with the area and would like to share your own experiences with our Bishopsgate Voices volunteers, get in touch with Volunteers Co-ordinator (Clare Coyne) on 020 7392 9225 or Library & Archives Manager (Stefan Dickers) on 020 7392 9292.

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

Lonely Hearts: Advertising for Love

by Events on 25 / 10 / 2013

Today friendship, love and sex are just a click away with dating websites offering a common way of looking for your perfect partner. But 'advertising for love' is not a new idea, and it wasn't always viewed favourably. Author of  Classified: The Secret History of the Personal Column Harry Cocks gives us a little insight into the history of advertising for love:

In June 1921, Alfred Barrett, the proprietor of a little paper called The Link, was sentenced to two years in prison.  His crime was inventing the modern lonely hearts advertisement.  Until that point, it was just about respectable to advertise for husbands and wives, but not for 'companionships' or dates. 

To modern eyes, the respectable servant girls, majors, colonels, lawyers, barristers and clergymen who advertised in his paper seem harmless enough.  What could have been offensive about the “Busy Bachelor Girl, (London), sincere and refined, usual social accomplishments, interested in others, perhaps a little interesting herself,” who in 1914 sought “correspondence from gentlemen over thirty of similar dispositions,” or the “Boheman Girl” of 1921, “interested in most things,” looking for a “man pal, London or abroad”? 

Though perhaps there was something singular about “Iolaus” who was “intensely musical” and after “a tall, manly Hercules.”  For all their apparent innocence, these ads provoked accusations that Barrett was promoting immorality, homosexuality, prostitution and white slavery.   
Barrett invented more than he knew.  Using the personal ad to find love or friends is now a vital tool of our social lives from networking to romance, sex and even marriage.  Many people spend hours wondering how best to present themselves in the kind of short, eye-catching phrases that are almost second nature in the information age.  How did that happen?    
Ever since its invention, back in the seventeenth century, the personal column has been a gateway to all sorts of delights and dangers.  It sheltered gay men and women, those in search of husbands and wives, lurking lotharios and adventurous single girls looking for "pals." 

There was a whole world of adventurous bachelors, persistent spinsters, correspondence clubs, companionship columns and lonely hearts clubs hidden in plain sight.  In his talk Lonley Hearts: Advertising For Love, Harry Cocks discusses how we learned to stop worrying and love the personal ad.

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

Download or view our events brochure online.

London Crime and Punishment

by Courses on 18 / 10 / 2013

"We are a trading community, a commercial people. Murder is doubtless a very shocking offence, nevertheless as what is done is not to be undone, let us make our money out of it.” Punch, 1842

Long before the British public were enthralled by the pursuits of Victorian super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes, there had been a fascination with crime and grim tales of killers in our midst. The popularity of the BBC’s A Very British Murder with Dr Lucy Worsley demonstrates our fascination with the darker side of human nature. Tutor Caryle Webb-Ingall shines a light on our guilty pleasures:

In Georgian times many people viewed criminals and law-breaking as heroic and courageous, and the activities of robbers and villains were often widely celebrated in popular culture. Stories of daring criminality were widely reported in a host of printed pamphlets, books and newspapers, and generated high levels of public interest across the country.

Image: The trial of Steinie Morrison, 1912 (Wensley Family Archive)

When street robber Jack Sheppard was hanged in 1724 after making four escapes from prison, 200,000 people attended his execution. 100 years later in 1849 Maria Manning and her husband were hanged in public, and among that crowd was Charles Dickens who wrote The Times a letter demanding that executions be removed to within prison walls on account of the unedifying conduct of the spectators. Public opinion was turning.

Crime still made money in penny-bloods, early crime fiction and melodramas in Victorian times, but it did not sit easily with Victorians’ ideas of progress and religion. They were convinced crime could be beaten if only they could solve the crimes, punish the criminals and then reform them.

Image: Press cutting regarding the murder of Leon Beron and conviction of Steinie Morrison, 1912 (Wensley Family Archive)

In our course London Crime and Punishment,  Caryle Webb-Ingall investigates how public attitudes to crime and punishment have  changed over this period, looking at Old Bailey documents, newspaper reports and other contemporary sources. Students will hear from both sides of the fence, looking at the criminals and gang leaders as well as the reformers such as Elisabeth Fry, John Howard and Robert Peel.

The two images are from The Wensley Family Archive in London History collections, part of our world-renowned Library and Archives collections.

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

Download or view our prospectus online.

American Varsity Football teamThe belief that all-male institutions are breeding grounds for homosexuality has been a constant one. But what does go on behind the doors of the executive boardroom or the communal changing room? Is homosexuality the elephant in the room? The serpent in the grass? Or is it all just homosexual wish fulfilment fantasy?

Justin Bengry, Honorary Research Fellow at Birkbeck, University of London takes a look inside all-male domains:

Homosocial spaces, or locations of single-sex interaction, loom large in many men’s experiences, fears and fantasies.

For many queer men they can be sites of danger or desire, and often a combination of the two. The machismo and sexual banter of the all-male locker room, bar or sports venue can breed intense homophobia. But the hyper-masculinity and sexuality on display there has also been used as a code, signaling to queer men shared marginalisation, observation and desire.

Homosocial spaces are not in and of themselves, however, sexual spaces, and homosociality is distinct from homosexuality. Yet there is a historical and important connection between homosocial locations and homoerotic fantasy and activity.

The desire to uphold (hetero) sexual morality by restricting access to certain spaces only to men has, in fact, historically provided erotic opportunities for queer men who could gain access to those places. While examples abound across the UK and abroad, a couple of London examples illuminate how homosocial spaces could be used for homosexual encounters in the years before the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality (1967).

Until the late 1930s, for example, the respectable Long Bar at the Trocadero in Piccadilly, London was a meeting place for queer men of a higher social status who could afford to socialise there. Women, namely prostitutes who worked the nearby streets alongside local rent boys, were barred entry. One group was excluded by its gender, and the other by its class position. Each could socialise at less exclusive pubs, bars and clubs, but in doing so lost a measure of the security and safety that the Long Bar’s respectability ensured.

More accessible for many men were the Turkish baths, which remained a feature of metropolitan topography until the 1960s. Here, for the cost of entry, men could gather for much of the day to enjoy the leisure, socialising and relaxation the baths offered.

But in the evening, socially acceptable nudity, relaxed policing by attendants and a desire by management to increase entry sales allowed queer men another space in which to explore sexual opportunity. The baths were more socially accessible than the exclusive bars and early homosexual members-only clubs of London’s West End, though entry charges at the baths still limited some men.

What soon becomes clear looking at spaces of homosociality is that male homosocial spaces are not open to everyone. Women, of course, are excluded by definition, but not all men may gain entry either. Access is often restricted by race, social class and economic barriers that may limit socialization to men of similar background and affluence. Sexuality (or at least sexual desire), however, could not be accounted for so easily, and in some cases was actively overlooked where it was economically advantageous to welcome men looking for homosexual possibilities.

You can find out more about what goes on in all-male institutions on 24 October in All Boys Together:Homing in on Homosociality, part of our Girls & Boys season.

Stay up to date with all our activities by signing up to our newsletter.

Download or view our events brochure online

The history of the East End is full of accounts of extraordinary individuals who contributed to making this such a politically important area of London. Throughout its history the East End has seen unlikely alliances develop in the struggle for equality, justice and dignity. An illuminating example was the pairing of German anarchist, Rudolph Rocker and Milly Witkop, a Jewish immigrant from the Ukraine, as our tutor David Rosenberg explains:

A German anarchist bookbinder raised in a Catholic orphanage, and a young and very religious Jewish immigrant from the Ukraine were an unlikely couple. A bakers’ strike in 1895 brought young Milly Witkop into contact with the East End’s jewish anarchists, whose ringleader was Rudolph Rocker.

East End anarchists


Rudolph Rocker (second from left back row) and Milly Witkop (first on left front row)

The scandalous conditions that Milly Witkop saw and experienced in the sweatshops and tenements of the area challenged her deeply-held beliefs in a loving God and she threw herself into the fight to liberate the sweatshop workers. When she had been in the old country she had sat down serenely with her family on Friday nights, the eve of the Sabbath. In London she spent Friday nights at passionate and intense political meetings at the Sugar Loaf pub on Hanbury Street, where she helped to plot the next audacious and rebellious actions that workers could take to win their rights.

Milly and Rudolph never married but lived in a 'free union', an unconventional arrangement that led the American authorities to refuse them entry when they first tried to emigrate there in 1897. Over the next two decades, back in the UK, Milly and Rudolph became pivotal in the struggle for better lives among the East End’s most oppressed and exploited workers. They changed the East End, and the East End changed them.

Rudolph Rocker learned Yiddish well enough to edit a newspaper – Arbeter Fraynd – Workers’ Friend. He helped create the Jubilee Street Club, a radical community centre offering cultural as well as political sustenance for immigrant Jewish workers, and educational opportunities for those whose schooling was curtailed early.

The couple epitomised unity across a divide, and they devoted themselves to unifying Jewish and non-Jewish workers. In 1912 Milly led a committee seeking temporary homes among sweatshop workers’ families for dockers’ children, who were starving in the last few weeks of a bitter strike. More than 300 children were accommodated and cared for.

Find out more about Rudolph Rocker and Milly Witkop and other extraordinary individuals who left their mark locally, on a six-session course that starts on Monday 4 November - Tribunes of the people: 8 individuals who changed the East End. It is taught by David Rosenberg, author of Battle for the East End, (Five Leaves Publications).

Stay up to date with all of our activities. Sign up to our newsletter.

Download or view our prospectus online

"Pretty fancy these days"

by Schools and Community on 10 / 10 / 2013

Over the summer, a group of adults from Headway East London worked with the Schools & Community Learning Team at Bishopsgate Institute to research and photograph Spitalfields past and present.

Headway East London supports people affected by brain injury in thirteen boroughs of London. The charity aims to empower people with brain injury to lead full lives and achieve their potential as active citizens. As part of their activity this summer, members of Headway East London carried out a programme of research in partnership with Bishopsgate Institute.

The programme began with a hands-on research workshop exploring photographs, pamphlets and maps from our historic library and archive collections. Through original sources and structured activities, the group discovered why this part of east London has been a site of migration and immigration since the seventeenth century. The group leader said: "I found in the project workshops…that they were all interested in talking about the changes in the area and reflecting on their broader experience of London markets, gentrification, the history of immigration in their own families."
Headway East London project at Bishopsgate Institute









After researching the history of Spitalfields, we went on a walking tour of the area to ‘map’ the classroom findings. We traced routes and sites with links to the past, in particular those with meaning for the different communities that have settled in this part of London over the years. Equipped with cameras, the group documented their discoveries by taking photographs throughout the walk. Exploring local streets also led to lots of thoughtful reflection on the transformations that have taken place, both socially and in the built environment. For some, visiting the area stirred up old memories. One said afterwards: ‘The walk helped me to remember what the area was like when I went there in the 1970s.’ When we stopped for lunch at a curry stall on Petticoat Lane there was some lively reminiscing about life in the old East End. Everyone agreed that the area had got "pretty fancy these days" with its high-end fashion shops and state-of-the-art, sky-scraping new office blocks.

In the weeks that followed, the group got together at Headway East London to refresh their memories of the project, continue the discussion and work on a Flickr album of their photographs from the workshop and walking tour. Items from the archives were included for historical context; the members also started to add comments to the album to personalise and caption individual pictures. They overcame impairments of language and memory to express their views.

The Headway East London Tour of Spitalfields album created from this summer programme is an evocative collection that mixes up the past and the present to provide a very personal overview of how one area of inner East London has transformed over the years.  

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

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

Gender: Still on the move by Lynne Segal

by Events on 04 / 09 / 2013
As our new season Girls & Boys approaches, we ask feminist and activist Lynne Segal what gender really means in the 21st century:
Image for Gender: Still on the move blog

Paradoxically, gender is both the most basic and yet also the most volatile term we have to describe ourselves. Are you a boy or a girl? This is the first thing we know about ourselves. Nevertheless, that knowledge is never free from puzzles, which is hardly surprising when the norms we have for understanding gender are forever changing, always on the move.

Meanwhile, for diverse reasons, a significant minority of both girls and boys fail to feel comfortable in the gender they are given. Others, but especially boys and men, are forever finding ways to display and seek confirmation of their gender identity, their masculinity, telling us something about how strongly it is valued still, as the dominant sex.

This is why ‘gender’ is now ubiquitous as a topic for debate across the Humanities and Social Sciences, even becoming an interdisciplinary field in its own right. This is evidence of both the highly diverse and contested nature of issues it addresses, and also testament to the impact of feminist thought over almost half a century.

Gender today remains as controversial as it is inescapable: controversial because it still seems inescapable, despite all the differing attempts to displace or diversify it as a core site of identity. Furthermore, the theorizing, situating, performing, refashioning or undoing of ‘gender’, or today of ‘genders’ (embracing transsexuals, the intersexed, and more), is always shadowed by apprehensions around sexuality.

As codified by sexologists, including Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis, at the close of the nineteenth century, gender is assumed to be tied to heterosexuality: a man’s presumed strong, assertive desire for a woman; her passive responsiveness to such desire.

The late nineteenth century is thus seen as the crucible for the gender patterns of Western modernity. It consolidated the idea, if never the actualities, of separate spheres for men and women, with their associated presumptive/prescriptive mentalities: man’s independence, toil and leadership outside the home establishing his authority within the family; the bourgeois wife’s gentle, nurturing, spiritual ways exemplifying woman’s estate. However, in the very moment of consolidation of sexual difference there were already rising anxieties over the place and nature of men and women.

From the late nineteenth century, the rise of first wave feminism was seen as putting ‘manhood’ in danger: the ‘masculine woman’ (those seeking education or the right to vote) undermined the ‘natural’ demarcations of sexed difference. The impact of Darwin on the medical sciences, alongside sexology, was also understood as entailing the divergent evolution of the sexes: males as active, passionate and variable; females as passive, conservative, and stable.

Furthermore, the Darwinian significance accorded sexual differentiation merged with racist views of the day to declare African, Asian and Jewish bodies less sexually segregated than that of the Aryan, and hence more degenerate. Male and female identities were one’s biological fate, as was racial hierarchy.However, no sooner were these men of science affirming the proper contrasts between men and women – physical, sexual, psychological – than sexual variations, or ‘aberrations’ leapt out at every turn.

The instability and troubles shadowing sexual difference soon proved a prominent feature in Freud’s writing, as psychoanalysis crept into Western thinking from the closing decades of the nineteenth century, alongside social Darwinism and sexology. This would lead Freud to suggest that there were no essential psychological sexual differences at birth, but that gender contrasts were installed, somewhat precariously, as a consequence of identifications with the same-sex parent, relating, in particular, to the cultural significance given to possession of the ‘phallus’.

Freud was partially anticipating trends that would re-appear (in different ways) only towards the end of the twentieth century, when first of all feminists would once more reveal the essentially cultural and linguistic basis for our understandings of gender.

Yet still today, the job of untangling the confusions surrounding what exactly gender signifies is far from concluded. For one thing, the significance of gender differences vary across a lifetime, marked clearly in those playgrounds in schoolyards, as girls hang back and boys take centre stage with their footballs. They shift again in the sexual and social diversity of domestic spaces, never more varied than in today’s households and workplaces. Then they mutate once more in old age, as new fears and anxieties associated with growing fragilities and increased isolation take a gendered form, though far from ones that can be read off from any presumed biological differences. 

Lynne Segal looks at the gendered pressures of ageing in her latest book Out of Time: The Pleasures and Perils of Ageing (Verso).

Explore the ever changing nature of gender in our series of talks and discussions Girls & Boys or in our two short courses Art and Gender or Orlando and Everyting After.

Make sure you stay-up-date with all our events news by signing uo to our newsletters.

Today's stay-at-home culture, fuelled by the internet and social media makes it hard to appreciate how valuable the working men's clubs were for many communities.  Dr Ruth Cherrington, who attended working men's clubs from a very young age, reflects back on what made them so popular and also what has led to their demise:

I grew up on a post-war council estate in Coventry with a working men’s club just across the street. The feeling that it was a home away from home was shared by hundreds of other families on that estate. The Canley Social Club had soon become, after opening in the late 1940s, the social centre of the community.

My dad played bagatelle - a game closely linked to Coventry - billiards, dominoes, cribbage and later on bowls with his friends in the Club. These and other games and sports were hugely popular in clubs all over the country with hundreds of inter-club competitions, leagues and trophies.

My dad and his pals were not so different to men a hundred years before them who set up and used clubs. Those early clubs were assisted by the Working Men’s Club and Institute Union (WMCIU) which was founded in 1862 by a teetotal minister, the Reverend Henry Solly.

He wanted working men to have their own recreational spaces as an alternative to the pubs. As private members clubs, they would run these clubs themselves on a voluntary basis through elected committees. His ideal was for no drink to be sold and no profit taken.

There was to be a strong ‘self-improvement’ ethos along with educational aspects as befitted the rational recreation movement ideals. Above all, Solly realised men wanted somewhere to go where they could socialise in civilized surroundings without the pressure to buy a round of drinks. He and his supporters believed clubs would benefit working class women with less drunkenness among their menfolk and the rent money being kept for exactly that rather than being spent on another round of drinks.

From a small handful to start with, the club idea spread across the country. They could seek the assistance and advice of the WMCIU and affiliate to this organisation by paying a small fee.  

The Reverend Solly soon had to accept that clubs should decide for themselves about selling beer but he was right that working men wanted their ‘own’ social spaces without bosses telling them what to do. Most clubs were set up by groups of men, often with their own money and labour.

This was the case with our club across the street, the Canley Social, with founder members helping to dig the foundations in the late 1940s and erecting a temporary hut for the first room. The ideals of self-help and mutuality had been passed down from their Victorian predecessors to the post-war context not only in bomb-damaged Coventry but hundreds of towns and cities across the country.

Although ‘working men’s clubs’, many had from their early years allowed the wives and children of men in to use the facilities, even if on a restricted basis. Christmas parties became an annual highlight for the children as well as summer coach outings. By the post-war period, women could join clubs as ‘lady members’, without full rights such as being able to vote or be elected onto the committee.

Women had managed, however, to carve out a space for pleasure in these largely patriarchal institutions. They could attend concerts, watch the games and sports, join in the ‘sing-alongs’ and play bingo with their friends in a place they saw as ‘safe’ and close to home.

They might go into the clubs with their husbands and fathers, but soon find a place for themselves to share with other women and have a drink or two. Kids were ‘kept an eye’ on communally and they knew that misbehaving would bring the attention of the committee men which was to be avoided at all cost, just as was making any noise when the bingo was on!

There were many informal rules about behavior and expectations of what would happen in clubs that accompanied the formal regulations. A form of socialisation of children took place including about what was acceptable/unacceptable behaviour in public spaces.

Even though clubs usually sold beer and alcohol, rowdy drunken behavior was condemned and it was very much social drinking. There were rules and regulations about drink, games and gambling and clubs needed to discipline their own members to retain a degree of respectability as private member’s clubs. They were not pubs where anyone could walk in and buy a drink. You had to be proposed, seconded and approved by the committee and pay the annual subscription fee. Any member who broke the rules and behaved in an unacceptable manner such as excessive drinking, brawling, gambling and the like, would be up before the committee and probably be banned.

Members tended to want to avoid that happening for in their heyday, in the 1970s, clubs offered all-round entertainment and activities for the family as well as fund-raising for all sorts of charitable causes. Entertainment had come to dominate over the educational aspects by this time but some clubs still made efforts with the latter.

My own local club across the street, the Canley Social, hosted my school’s brass band several times for concerts and another school held their parent’s evening there. It was felt there would be better attendance of parents in the club rather than at the school. Other clubs had art exhibitions, plays put on by local theatre groups, courses for older people such as local history and keep-fit.

There was far more than ‘beer and bingo’ going on in most of the 4000 plus clubs affiliated to the WMCIU in the early 1970s and the several million members of those clubs would bear testament to that.

In the current period, there are less than half the clubs there used to be in their heyday. They started losing members when traditional industries went into decline and unemployment rose. The stay-at-home culture expanded, partly by choice but partly due to lack of money for nights out, and the large, refurbished clubs of the post-war era in particular started to suffer and look tatty.

The younger generation was no longer interested as there was more on offer for them with the expanding diversity of social and leisure activities, the popularity of computers and the internet for example. Young working class men no longer automatically followed their father’s footsteps into their clubs just as they no longer followed them into the mines, factories, steel mills, car factories and shipyards.

Clubs increasingly became seen as outdated with mostly older people using them. The type of entertainment of the 1970s wasn’t so appealing in the 2000s. The growing popularity of cheap supermarket alcohol fuelled the ‘stay at home’ culture and many see the smoking ban of 2007 as another important factor in the decline of working men’s clubs.

Failure to keep up with modern times and the loss of local communities meant hundreds have closed down in the past few years. Once boarded up they usually become the target of vandals and arsonists. My own old local in Coventry, was torched in early September 2013. 65 years of history went up in flames and a local community centre that could have been revived with some good planning and support, lost for good. It was not the first to suffer this undignified ending and it probably won’t be the last.

So- is there a future for any of these clubs that can trace their origins back to the mid-19th century? Times have changed for sure but what people still need is a community centre, a place to meet and socialise not too far from home and where they can feel some sort of ownership as well as shared identity. With good planning and some updating, clubs could remain part of our cultural landscape and they can still fulfill the many roles they once played. It has been recognised that social isolation can be combatted through participation in club life.

Perhaps clubs need a helping hand from council and other authorities, not just the WMCIU, but they have first to be recognised as the valuable community assets they are. We very much need these local spaces where people can mix easily with others and where profit is not the overriding concern. I believe that clubs remain at the heart of many communities and we pay a price when another one closes.

You can hear Dr. Ruth Cherrington talking in more detail about the Social History of Working Men's Clubs in Not just Beer and Bingo part of our Girls and Boys season.

Stay up to date with all our activities by signing up to our newsletter.

Who is this Man?

by Courses on 16 / 09 / 2013

Brushing book dust and bits of journal bindings from her clothes, course tutor Michelle Johansen emerges from among the boxes and folders in the Bishopsgate Institute archive to tell us about a new five-week lunchtime course. London Episodes uses historic materials to introduce adults to some curious incidents and lesser-known characters in the life of the city since the 1880s:

I’ve been using the Bishopsgate Institute archives since 2000 to inspire and inform my research, writing and teaching projects on London’s social history. The range of materials held in the Institute’s collections is surprisingly varied but, with such eclectic and expansive holdings, finding the ‘best’ materials can prove to be difficult and time-consuming. This is particularly true for the novice researcher. Online catalogues don’t reveal, for example, which are the most visually arresting flyers or posters. Book titles can be misleading or off-putting. Promising-sounding pamphlets might prove disappointing once they’ve been fetched up by library staff from the basement strong-room. How do you find that one intriguing data entry in among the one hundred mundane institutional records? How do you know which collection will yield the type of information you require? And how do you make the fragmentary whole, the pieces of the jigsaw (badges, letters, diaries, directories, maps) fit together to create a meaningful story of the past?

What’s needed is a knowledgeable guide, an experienced explorer of the stacks who has navigated their way through hundreds of folders, files and boxes, directly handling their beautiful and fragile contents and able to bring the past back to life through a thoughtfully selected set of materials. My new London Episodes course has been directly inspired by the Institute’s historic collections. The course guides you gently through the research process, introducing you to a gallery of curious and colourful characters from the archives. Each week a different subject area will be studied, from philanthropy to public libraries, from terrorism to trade unions, and from criminal activity to social clubs. By the end of the course, you will be equipped with the confidence and understanding to begin to carry out your own independent research programme. You will be able to entertain your friends and family with a fresh set of stories about curious incidents and characters from London’s past. And you will also be able to identify the man whose image appears at the top of this post – and explain his historical significance.

Michelle Johansen will be delivering London Episodes on Tuesday lunchtimes.

Make sure you stay-up-date with all our news by signing up to our newsletters.

Clays Lane Live Archive

by Library on 03 / 07 / 2013

Bishopsgate Library is delighted to have recently accepted the Clays Lane Live Archive. Clays Lane Housing Co-operative was the second largest purpose-built, fully mutual, singles co-op in Europe and the largest in the UK. It was an experiment in building close-knit communities as a way of helping vulnerable single people in East London.  Initiated by the Borough of Newham, the Housing Corporation and the then North East London Polytechnic (now University of East London) in 1977, the co-op provided its members with low-rent housing and the possibility of self governance otherwise denied in conventional social housing through meetings and committees.

The co-op was a home for up to 500 contracted tenants spread across 2, 4 and 6 bedroom units with communal kitchens and bathrooms, and it housed a café and a community centre on its grounds. In 2006 the co-op received a compulsory purchase order from the London Development Agency. In 2005 the co-op lost its fully mutual status as a result of a Housing Corporation enquiry which transferred its assets to Peabody Trust. This effectively made protecting the co-op (by this time the Clays Lane estate) against the Olympics even harder. At the time of eviction 430 people inhabited the Lane.

The Clays Lane Live Archive was born out of long-lasting and more fleeting relationships between artist Adelita Husni-Bey and a number of ex-Clays Lane co-op members after the demolition of their homes. Each participating ex-member formalized a project according to aptitude and interest, thinking about what was to be ‘retained’ of this space and their particular experience of Clays Lane, swept away to accommodate the 2012 Olympic Games in 2007. Each individual project occupies one or more boxes, and the relative taxonomy developed with each resident is exposed within the catalogue for the collection in the form of a text and a description of contents. Questioning the authoritative practice behind archive-making through participatory projects this collection is ‘live’, and will be able to accommodate new ex-member interactions in the future.

Artist Adelita Husni-Bey explains the origins and aims of the project below.

Archives fascinate me in a very particular way. When I delve into boxes of documents, pages transcribed by hand and bodies I do not recognize in spaces which have changed dramatically over time, I am always struck by how those facets of the past speak to our present collectivity. Salvaged morsels of landscapes and micro-narratives, which do not only represent ‘their’ time but more importantly reflect ‘ours’. It’s at that junction, that break between what is perceived as the political, cultural and economic past and what is perceived as the political, cultural and economic present that the most interesting notions about archives operate. It’s in realizing how ‘progress’ is a very tormented line, far from being straight or forward pointing.

When I came across Clays Lane in 2009 the co-op had long been demolished. Throughout the first 5 years that allowed for this initial collection to be established I met Julian Cheyne, John Sole, Dexter Hoonamansingh and other incredibly generous and committed participants weekly, sometimes monthly and sometimes more sporadically. With their help I began to understand the extremely complex task I had set up for myself: how to represent a space that had now gone, collectively?

No place is ever ‘idyllic’ and Clays Lane certainly was not to be represented as such. It was incredible mix of classes, provenances, genders and age groups which appeared to me unlike any other space I had ever come across. It was both a site for mutual aid and self-governance as well as a site of conflict and transition. When it became clear that the co-op was no longer going to exist many quickly accepted the offer to move on, but others, who had spent 15, 20 and 30 years of their life there, would steadfastly refuse.

While conducting the initial research phases I ran across the only representation the London Development Agency was willing to grant Clays Lane. The image was a carefully constructed photograph, taken after the evictions had occurred and prior to demolition. Litter and an empty shopping trolley conveniently placed in the foreground, the caption below the photograph reads: "A deserted Clays Lane Estate, adjacent to the site of the Olympic Village". There is no mention of the co-op or it’s radical history. No mention of the court-battle. No mention of the Compulsory Purchase Order, the evictions, the delayed (and at times denied) compensation payments or the broken promises and half-truths which drove the ex co-op members out of their homes.

I began to think about collective memory and the type of surgical erasure that mega-projects can generate, a quick and minutely-prepared disappearance from our urban register. An erasure without mourning or acknowledgement, whilst the megaproject advances in its constant ‘urbanalisation’ of the spaces it colonizes. Frequently referred to as ‘waste’ or ‘wasteland’, the inhabitants of Clays Lane were a dent on the pristine surface of new pre-Olympic London. It was clear to me then that producing the archive was going to be more than just ‘the production of an archive’ but it was going to be a political act, aimed at re-establishing a memory purposefully consigned to amnesia.

All of the archival collections at Bishopsgate Institute possess this quality. Allowing the public to perceive social struggle, alternative lifestyles and forms of organization in detail, in their material character. Each collection becomes a testimony to the actual possibility of struggle; for identities, for housing and for work, which is a very powerful tool in understanding how struggle may be articulated in the present. This function and the institute’s focus on radical East London histories immediately appeared to be an ideal home for the Clays Lane Live Archive, making it’s final scope and it’s public availability, a reality.

If you have been a member of the Clays Lane Housing Co-op and would like to contribute to the project please get in touch with Adelita at adelitahusnibey@gmail.com

Modernism and Postmodernism in the City

by Courses on 01 / 07 / 2013

As a city, London is rich in architectural styles making it a living guide book of past and present architecture. In post-war London, modernist and postmodernist architecture made a huge impact on the city landscape and skyline. Arts and Culture tutor Steven Barrett explains how the Barbican and Liverpool Street station define the ethos of both modernism and postmodernism:

Amongst the jumble of buildings within the City of London there is a rich seam of post-war architecture. Part redevelopment, part post-Blitz rebuilding these buildings are London’s first big experiments in Modern and Postmodern architecture. The City did not take to Modernism before World War Two but the building boom of the 1950s and 60s gave a new generation of architects a chance to create bold designs that emulated European Modernism.

The Barbican is the most famous example: a vast housing and arts complex, it is loved by many and hated by many too. It is regarded as near-perfect Modernist architecture, replacing centuries of history with a confident and optimistic vision of how life should be lived now. This concrete city-within-a-city stands on the remains of medieval streets flattened during World War Two. 

Liverpool Street awaits postmodernism

The redevelopment of Liverpool Street Station in the late 1980s reflects a different ethos; one more in tune with the past. The old station was a wonderfully chaotic and confusing place: two separate stations, connected by a web of walkways and bridges. The new scheme preserved much of the old station but added a new concourse and shops. In the spirit of Postmodernism, the new building echoes the architecture that it replaced.

Steven Barrett will be running two study days in August as part of our Summer SchoolModernism in the City and Postmodernsim in the City. Both study days will take an in-depth look at the history of post-war architecture in the City followed by a guided walk. On Modernism we will walk to the Barbican via further Modernist architecture close to Bishopsgate; the Postmodernism walk will begin at Liverpool Street Station and will conclude with recent office building around Bishopsgate and the City.

Stay up-to-date with all our news. Sign up to our courses newsletter.