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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.

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Lady Malcolm's Servants' Ball music sample

by Bishopsgate Institute on 16 / 06 / 2016

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

Auntie Maureen

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

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

1) Kikutaro Takahashi - Sendo Kawaiya (1935). 

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

2) Lucienne Boyer - Tango Français (1936).  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6) Rita Montaner - El Manisero (1928) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Readers Wifes

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

Listen to Reader Wifes playlist.

Photograph of Kim Phaggs and Chelsea Kelsey of Readers Wifes

1. Prince – Under The Cherry Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lady Malcolm’s Servants’ Balls are on 24 and 25 June 2016.  Browse through our LGBT archive.
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Fancy that: Dressing up for Lady Malcolm's Servants' Ball

by Bishopsgate Institute on 10 / 06 / 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lady Malcolm’s Servants’ Balls are on 24 and 25 June 2016.  Browse through our LGBT archive.
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Mindfulness has become almost a buzz-word. But what is it, really?  Using knowledge from her recent Masters Degree in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy at Oxford University and her signature humour, Ruby Wax explains why learning to pay attention is important.
Image of Ruby Wax

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image of London market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Time Travelling to the London of 1716

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protest badges from the 1980s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kate Adie: Fighting on the Home Front

by Events on 03 / 11 / 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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












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

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

Victorian black beaded evening dress














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

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













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

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

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

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

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













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

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

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

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

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

Cheapside, London, 1896 © London Transport Museum collection

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

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

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

Charing Cross Underground Station, 1894© London Transport Museum collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Mr Parsons is outside, sir.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Ken Keable, editor of London Recruits: The Secret War Against Apartheid and speaker at the forthcoming event The ANC's London Recruits: The Secret War Against Apartheid (held in partnership with the Raphael Samuel History Centre) tells us a little about the African National Congress' recruits who bravely smuggled anti-apartheid literature into South Africa:

Mary Chamberlain and Joy Leman shared an office and were good friends when they worked together for ten years 1977-87, teaching at the London College of Printing. Yet it was only in 2012 that they each discovered that the other had been among the African National Congress' 'London Recruits', after Mary had told her story in the book London Recruits – the secret war against apartheid, published in that year. This deeply ingrained habit of secrecy helps to explain why the book took so long to be written.

After Nelson Mandela and other leaders of the ANC were jailed in 1964, almost all ANC members who were not in prison had to go into exile, to evade arrest and torture. They then had a problem: how could they continue the struggle against the apartheid regime and show the people that the ANC was not defeated? The ANC’s London leadership began recruiting young, white, non-South African men and women, unknown to the regime, who could enter South Africa without arousing suspicion. Most were British, but there were also three Irishmen, an American, a French woman, a Greek and a Greek-Australian.

It is now estimated that there were at least 60 London Recruits in all, though many have still not been traced. Some of us will be telling our remarkable stories at Bishopsgate Institute on Tuesday 4 June at 7.30pm.

One of the main activities of the Recruits was to plant 'leaflet bombs' as shown in the picture below. We also arranged street broadcasts, using amplified cassette players. Some unfurled banners, some posted thousands of letters and packages, some helped ANC fighters to enter South Africa, some did reconnaissance and some smuggled large quantities of weapons. Three – Alex and Marie-José Moumbaris and Sean Hosey - were arrested and tortured; Alex and Sean were jailed for long periods.

This is an inspiring story of youthful idealism, international solidarity and anti-racism of which Britain can be proud.

Ken Keable's book London Recruits – the secret war against apartheid. 

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A reforming spirit is not a description often associated with the Marquess of Queensberry. Author Linda Stratmann suggests reasons why maybe we should reconsider our view of this troubled man:

The Marquess of Queensberry was thought to be eccentric and even a little mad during his lifetime since he had a habit of promoting causes that astonished and outraged Victorian society.

An unhappy marriage led him to suggest a radical reform of the then strict English divorce laws, since he thought it wrong for a husband living with his wife to practice deceit.

His unusual solution was that a couple should be able to stay platonically married while the husband took a concubine who would have the protection of the law.  Since paternity was a crucial issue, women would not take two husbands, but be granted easier divorce.

He appealed for mercy for Florence Maybrick, convicted of poisoning her husband, declaring that no woman should be forced to live with a man she hated. He described a court case on that subject as "one of the most glorious victories that a woman has yet gained in the progressive emancipation of her sex towards freedom."

The tragic death of his 18 year old brother led him to question his belief in Christianity, and he become an agnostic and a disciple of Herbert Spencer. Queensberry’s renunciation of Christianity led to his being ejected from the House of Lords and probably cost him an English peerage.

In the last months of his life he joined the campaign for the formation of a court of appeal in criminal cases.

His friends described him as a much misunderstood man, who on seeing a wrong felt it was his duty to right it, whatever the consequences to himself.

"It may be," admitted an old friend,  "that his procedure was not uniformly guided by prudence, and that he, on occasions, failed to exercise self-restraint; but a more sincere, single-minded, kind-hearted man did not live."

Linda Stratmann is the author of eleven books on crime, fiction and historical biographies including Chloroform: The Quest for Oblivion, Notorious Blasted Rascal, Greater London Murders and The Marquess of Queensberry: Wilde's Nemesis.

There a lot more to discover about the Marquess of Queensberry in our event Seconds Out: A New Look at the Marquess of Queensbury

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Dan Cruickshank on Disappearing Spitalfields

by Events on 08 / 04 / 2013

Ahead of our Disappearing Spitalfields talk, Professor Dan Cruickshank takes us through his memories of Spitalfields and the memorable buildings that have disappeared in his living memory:


It’s strange to imagine now, but 40 years ago Spitalfields was an empty and echoing district, secreted between the commercial hum of the City and the endless sprawl of east London.  It was a place that few explored, with many of its early Georgian streets and houses empty and generally unloved and unrecognised. The most powerful presence was the wholesale fruit, vegetable and flower market. This was a vast nocturnal affair that, with its cast of exotic characters - including wayward derelicts carousing around nightly bonfires of market pallets - was intensely picturesque, Hogarthian. It was like a vignette of the Georgian city, with an incredibly atmospheric authenticity. It was at this time that I began my intimate relationship with Spitalfields, becoming a resident in the late 1970s.


I was attracted by the architecture, by the lingering presence of 18th and 19th century London life and by the rich legacy of the ethnic communities that had settled in the area.

But for most people this image of ancient, outcast London evoked by the market and by obvious and outward expressions of poverty and depravation was too disturbing. Spitalfields was generally regarded as dirty, noisy, lawless and even dangerous. As if by common consent it had been consigned to oblivion. But this was not to be. When the market closed and mass demolition seemed inevitable Spitalfields became a high-profile conservation battleground. Ultimately most of what was historic was saved. But there had been grievous losses during the 1960s and 70s, and the losses continued - indeed continue still - each loss tragically diluting the very special character of Spitalfields. As is so often the case with urban conservation battles, even when the body is saved the soul of an area is lost.


The lost houses that I remember, that still haunt me as I walk the streets of Spitalfields, include the stupendous merchants’ palaces that formed the east side of Spital Square. These houses had been built in the early 1730, became the homes of the most prosperous members of the Huguenot community - including Ogiers and Dalbiacs - and despite being listed and in good condition, were swept away in the very early 1960s by the City Corporation to make a lorry park for the adjacent Spitalfields market. After decades of sporadic use the site was finally built-on in the 1990s to provide private flats and restaurants.


A few decades before the destruction of Spital Square, the gradual demolition started of the substantial remains of the terraces built on the Old Artillery Ground. This area had been developed in the early 1680s and became the heart of post-Great Fire and pre-Georgian Spitalfields - a weaving, residential and commercial district arranged around Fort, Gun, Duke and Steward streets. It was a small city within a city - but all has gone, even the majority of the streets have been obliterated for the creation of the soulless and placeless Bishops Square and its adjoining office blocks.


And then there is the north side of Hanbury Street. At the time of my first encounter with Spitalfields in the late 1960s, this side of Hanbury Street was formed by a most evocative and informal terrace of the very early 18thcentury, with one house being infamous as the location of Jack the Ripper’s evisceration of Annie Chapman. I saw the houses, empty, abandoned yet beautiful, generally sound - and listed. It was one of my first tangles with the murky world of development and an early and depressing confrontation with the often baffling politics of local planning and with the potential powerless of the conservation lobby if it fails to take bold and decisive action. The battle to save the buildings was lost. I tried to save some panelling but failed and in about 1970 the entire terrace was demolished by Truman’s Brewery for an excessively ugly bottle store - itself redundant and empty in little more than a decade. But the lessons learned during this battle were applied a few years later when the Spitalfields Trust was launched. We resolved to fight hard, to take direct action and occupy threatened buildings if necessary and to carry the fight to developers and planning authorities in the most direct manner possible. This proved a more successful strategy and no more Spitalfields terraces were demolished and many individual houses saved.


But the fight for the historic fabric of Spitalfields - indeed for it heart and soul - is not yet over. Even as I write plans are being finalised for the demolition of all but the facade of the splendid late 1920s Fruit and Wool Exchange in Brushfield Street, opposite Christ Church. Late last year local residents and a local heritage group persuaded Tower Hamlets politicians to reject the scheme for the Exchange - a scheme which not only proposes the loss of the interior of the building - with its fine Art Deco detailing - but also the adjoining Gun public house and the total obliteration of late seventeenth century Dorset Street. And the proposed replacement building is entirely commercial - just shops and offices with no housing, and thus can only dilute the residential nature and special community character of Spitalfields.


In a extraordinary move the Mayor of London intervened and - acting a judge and jury at his own hearing - chose to reverse Tower Hamlet’s democratically reached decision to refuse consent. Quite why the Mayor took this action has yet to be fully explained. But the building still stands, and while it stands there is hope - the battle goes on - and it’s a battle not just for a single fine building but for the future of Spitalfields as a place of distinct and charming character, where uses are rich and mixed, and where individual enterprise can flourish.

Disappearing Spitalfields is part of The Huguenots of Spitalfields Festival. Other interesting talks in this series are Ireland as Paradise: Huguenot Military, Political and Economic Power and Contemporary Tapestry at West Dean.

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London In Fiction: Where to start?

by Events on 21 / 03 / 2013

Matt Brown, editor of Londonist.com, tells us his thoughts on some of the captivating novels set in London:

No place on Earth has attracted the writer’s pen as enduringly, multifariously and emphatically as London. The city is intimately bound with its literature. Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Mary Poppins and Peter Pan have all achieved super-icon status, and are familiar to billions around the globe. All are Londoners. Harry Potter, too, has strong capital connections. This is the city of Shakespeare, Dickens, Wilde and Woolf. Can you think of any other cities whose fiction reaches so far?

This pool is also unfathomably deep. Every month sees the publication of a dozen or more novels set in London, across all genres. Some bookshops have started London fiction sections, as though the city could form a major genre like ‘crime’ or ‘horror’. There are even books about the books (Merlin Coverley’s London Writing is an excellent example). Where does one begin?

I’m no literary critic. My tastes are quite mainstream. But I perhaps have an unusual perspective, given that my day-job and great passion in life is to explore London. I’d therefore like to share a few of my favourites. Not all are literary masterpieces, but every one presents a memorable vision of the city.

Let’s start with the kind of literature that wins posh awards, and always makes it into articles. I’d have to recommend two very different classics. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf drifts through a day in the life of the titular Mrs D as she prepares to host a party. Its emphasis on characters’ thoughts rather than actions, and the famous descriptions of London locations, lodge the book in the mind like a dark dream. London Fields by Martin Amis, meanwhile, is a gritty, horrible book of despicable characters, unreliable narratives, and an ending revealed in the first few pages - yet you’ll struggle to find a more masterly London novel. Patrick Hamilton’s two most famous works, Hangover Square and Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky (actually a loose trilogy), should also be read for his depictions of loneliness and the everyman’s struggle in the early 20th Century city.

Historical fiction is often forgotten in discussions about the capital’s literature. Although it wanders all over the world, Neal Stephenson’s sprawling Baroque Cycle has many key scenes in Stuart-era London, whether it’s courtly intrigue, members of the nascent Royal Society cutting up dogs, or a zip-wire plunge from the Monument (not involving Boris Johnson). CJ Sansom’s Shardlake novels, about a hunchback lawyer in the time of Henry VIII, are also nourishing.

The London crime genre is almost entirely dominated, at least in the popular imagination, by Sherlock Holmes (here’s a map I made of all the London locations from the stories, should you be interested). But there is room for other detectives. Among my favourites are Christopher Fowler’s Bryant & May novels, which feature two octogenarian sleuths who investigate London’s more peculiar crimes. Macabre whodunnits, these stories also incorporate London settings in almost tangible detail. I feel like I might one day bump into the aged detectives, who tend to visit my favourite pubs and hangouts.

The fantasy genre seems to be particularly bounteous, drawing heavily on our city’s surfeit of fogs, secret underground spaces and existing mythology. Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere is usually ranked chief among such books, and was recently adapted for radio. If you enjoyed that, check out China Mieville’s The Kraken, about the theft of the Natural History Museum’s giant squid specimen by a group of cephalopod worshipers - it’s a challenging read, but rammed with ideas. The Borribles trilogy by Michael de Larrabeiti is also recommended: the first volume is basically Lord of the Rings set in Wandsworth and Wimbledon, and features a bloody battle to the death with some thinly disguised Wombles. Mad, but brilliant.

I could go on. And on, singing the virtues of other favourite books from Sarah Wise, Ian McEwan, Monica Ali, Zadie Smith and Dickens himself. But I’ll finish on my absolute favourite work of fiction about London. From Hell, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Eddie Chapman, is essentially a graphic novel about the Ripper murders. But the complex narrative takes London’s biggest mystery and makes it yet more mysterious, weaving in Masonic rituals, Blakean visitations, suggestions of time travel, and (that now-cliched staple of London fiction) a pentagram of Hawksmoor churches. The appendix of notes at the back is almost as thick as the story, and just as compelling to read.

Matt Brown is editor of Londonist.com, a web site about London and everything in it. @MattFromLondon, @Londonist.

You can find out more about London-based novels in our event London Fictions on 18 April 2013 with authors Courttia Newland, Cathi Unsworth, Jerry White and Ken Worpole. The event will be chaired by Andrew Whitehead.

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How much do we really know about the Tube?

by Events on 18 / 02 / 2013

How much do we really know about the Tube?

For Londoners the Tube is part of everyday life whether they love it or hate it. Yet how much do we actually know about it? For example, could you answer the following:

  • If you took a walk along the very impressive looking Leinster Gardens with its imposing stucco, five storey, Georgian houses you would expect that to the rear of these impressive houses would be equally charming gardens. However, venture to the rear of 23 and 24 Leinster Gardens and you find no garden, in fact no house at all  - just a gaping hole and a railway line.  What happened to 23 and 24?
  •  Due to open in 1907, North End station (aka the ‘Bull and Bush’) is now famous for being the only ‘closed’ station never to actually open. Situated on what is now the Northern Line between Hampstead and Golders Green, the station would have had a street level building on the north side of Hampstead Way. Why was it never built?
  • The London Transport roundel is one of the most familiar and recognisable corporate logos. Created in 1908 the initial 'bullseye' design underwent several transformations before becoming the striking, stylish logo we know today. But what was the inspiration behind the design?
Journalist and novelist Andrew Martin provides answers to these and many more questions in A Passenger's history of the Tube on Thursday 21 February. Blending reportage, humour and personal encounters he will present an engaging social history of London's Underground railway system.

Andrew's book UNDERGROUND, OVERGROUND, A Passenger’s History of the Tube highlights the fascinating characters who shaped the tube and wil be available to buy after the event.

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On Philanthropy and the City

by Events on 08 / 02 / 2013

Yesterday's interview with the Lord Mayor of the City of London Roger Gifford on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme got our Chief Executive  Andrew Fuller thinking about philanthropy and the City:

I heard the Lord Mayor’s interview yesterday on BBC Radio 4's Today programme about philanthropy in the City which was very welcome. I appreciate what Mr Gifford says about the City’s extensive philanthropy. 

My own organisation, Bishopsgate Institute, is a product of that philanthropy, which in our case dates back to 1481, when a certain City merchant by the name of John Steward, gave £12 in his will for coal to be distributed to the poor in his City parish. To cut a long story short, the Victorians converted Mr Steward’s donation (which had grown considerably in value by this time), and many other similar bequests left for beneficiaries in City parishes which had become completely de-populated by the late-19th century,  for other beneficial and charitable purposes – in our case, education and cultural events.

At the core of the Institute lies our reference library and renowned archives. We have a host of material relating to freethought and protest and campaigning, and the City Corporation would do well to commence the task of improving the City’s image at Bishopsgate Institute.

Thank you John Steward: the ripples from the ‘pebble’ you dropped in the pond of philanthropy in 1481 are still benefitting us all in the 21st century.

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Under the Cranes, 2011 - Courtesy of Hackney ArchivesIn advance of their film screening and discussion of Under the Cranes, we asked poet Michael Rosen and producer and Director Emma-Louise Williams to explain the process behind the making of this film.

Image: Under the Cranes, 2011. Courtesy Hackney Archives

Michael Writes:

If I decide I want to write something, I know that I'm asking of myself to do a variety of things with my mind. In any combination and in any order I know that I will end up doing quite a lot of daydreaming; pulling out images, phrases and sounds from what is in effect a store of such things in my head, laying things out on a page or screen; playing with what I've just written - moving things around, swapping words with other words from the same piece of writing or going back to the 'store' and pulling out something else; getting to a point where I think I've got things right.

Some writers want this to feel mysterious - both for themselves and when they're talking about it to others. I sympathise with this to a degree. I think I like the idea that there is some spontaneity and surprise in what I'm doing and that I'm not trudging off to that 'store' along the same old well-worn path, only to find what I know is already there. I want the path there to be different and for the store to have things in it that I didn't know were there.

This is a way of saying, how can I write something that feels fresh and seems to engage with something unfamiliar? And if that's my objective, are there ways of training oneself to do this?  I know this sounds a bit sanctimonious, but I'll say it anyway, I would say that one way to achieve that is to stay curious: curious about the world around you, curious about the things you read and curious about yourself. Take yourself to places (real and imagined) that will surprise you, and try being an archaeologist on yourself in order to be surprised by what's in the next layer down.

This is what I've tried to do. I have a sense of myself when I'm coasting and not being curious about anything. So there are times when I say to myself, do something new; make something happen; poke your nose into that building or book or magazine or radio programme or website or memory; see what happens.

There aren't immediate 'results' to these excursions, I find. Instead, there are 'connections'. A memory chimes with something I read or with a place I'm in, or something that someone says and this triggers off the possibility that there is something I could write.

One problem with all this is that I've made it sound very private, as if no readers or listeners or viewers are involved. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Writers are constantly trying
to find ways to get to the audience, to let the audience in to how they work. One way is to imitate aspects of what another published writer has done already. It's as if the audience
is fossilised in the words, phrases, scenes and plot of that piece being imitated. Another way is to go out and find people - one person even -  and see what happens when what you
write meets that audience.

Eventually, you embed the memories of these encounters with audiences in the very process of writing. It's as if people are at your elbow, not so much telling you what to do, more sensual than that: smiling, nodding, frowning, shaking their heads, laughing. They are your hired spectators who you have conjured up from your memory of seeing what happened when you took what you wrote to a place 'out there'.

Emma writes

Michael talks about his imagined audience, I was part of the literal audience at a play for voices that he wrote called Hackney Streets which was originally performed at the Round Chapel in Clapton and then at the Rosemary Branch Pub Theatre in Islington in 2008.

I was very moved by what Michael had written and I had the notion that I wanted to take on his original piece of writing, to complement the feeling he expressed in words about Hackney, the place and the people, with my own expression of feeling about the place. Where Michael had created a wonderful collage of different voices, I wanted to bring some other textures and transform the piece into something like a film-poem.
In my work as a radio producer, I had already been trying to think about how we live in cities, social histories, how migrants are welcomed, music and memory, and working on a film gave me the chance to explore these themes a bit further.  So mine is an artistic response to a piece of poetic writing; a montage of urban sounds and images, where I have tried to weave together old fragments (archive footage) and new cinematography, layered with voice, song, poetry, music and location recordings.  

In making Under the Cranes (the title is a line from the final poem in the film), I drew a lot upon films that have inspired me, particularly Patrick Keiller's London with its total-fiction-all-true quality, which is rather like Michael's writing.  I am also a big fan of Agnes Varda's films, with their playful, enquiring, essayistic style.

For me, it all starts with the street and how familiarity with the geography of where we live and work, going about our everyday lives, makes us feel 'at home' (or not).  Like many people, I think it is important how buildings, architecture, spaces and places suggest meanings to us, are the repositories of our thoughts, ideas, feelings and memories, and in the film I have tried to re-imagine derelict buildings as sites of history, beauty and worth, like the painters whose works appear in Under the Cranes; Leon Kossoff, Jock McFadyen and James MacKinnon.  

And, in a spirit of camaraderie with the generation of Londoners, like my grandparents, who lived through WWII, I have tried to re-connect to that moment of immediate post-war optimism, in terms of planning the city and building decent homes, expressed so clearly

in Forshaw and Abercrombie's County of London Plan (1943), showing us the city as a place of possibilities.

Under the Cranes is on Wednesday 13 February.

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Eddie Johnson and his son MattTime gentlemen please!

Matt Johnson looks at the changes that threaten that great British institution, the local pub:

Having literally grown up in a 'public house' - from the age of one until my mid-teens - I've witnessed huge changes to the English ‘local’ in my lifetime. From the heyday of my family’s busy east London pub in the sixties to the second decade of the twenty first century, where the traditional pub finds itself in retreat - perhaps even in danger of extinction - due to threats from a variety of sources, including supermarkets, smoking bans, government taxes, unscrupulous landlords, American-style sports bars and European-style gastro pubs. Every week dozens of pubs, the length and breadth of England, close their doors for the last time. Some may re-open as bars under a different guise but many of them, sadly, just become private houses, shops or offices. But a ‘local public house’ is such a heart-warming phrase isn’t it? And many of us, like George Orwell in his wonderful essay The Moon Under Water, carry within us our own romantic notion of the perfect pub. Personally, as I’ve grown older, I now loathe noisy, overcrowded, brash, new-built venues, preferring instead an old, atmospheric building, teeming with the ghosts of good times past, a place that eschews loud music (I prefer the sound of people chatting and laughing), serves a broad selection of well kept ales, decent wines, tasty bar snacks, is dimly lit, with perhaps a roaring log fire or two, and steamed-up windows, creaking wooden floors, various nooks and crannies, comfy chairs scattered about, friendly staff (who aren’t over familiar) plus nice customers, happy to enjoy themselves without imposing on others. I’m sure you have your own idea of the perfect pub too?

Whether the English pub survives, and once again thrives, only the future can tell (I personally believe it will) but in the meantime I hope you’ll enjoy looking at, listening to and reading about Tales From The Two Puddings at Bishopsgate Institute. Although my family’s pub closed its doors for the final time in 2000, the Two Puddings on Stratford Broadway is still lovingly remembered by its many loyal customers as one of the finest public houses of east London.

On Wednesday 30 January, Matt's dad, Eddie Johnson will tell some of his Tales from the Two puddings to writer and broadcaster Robert Elms.

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Peter Tatchell takes a look back at the struggles of the LGBT community in the 1980s in advance of our event, Pride and Prejudice on ThEquality Now March 1992ursday 8 November:

The 1980s were a period of intensified homophobia, sanctioned from the top echelons of society: the government, church, police and tabloids. It was open season on queers.

The Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher was at war with the LGBT community. She launched a series of homophobic and sexist moral crusades under the themes of “family values” and “Victorian values”.

Labour councils that supported local LGBT communities with funding and the use of council premises for events were denounced by the Tories. The LGBT community became a political football. Homophobia was stirred up and exploited by the Conservatives. They appealed to the bigoted vote - and won it.

On top of all this, the AIDS epidemic was demonised as the “gay plague.” It was manipulated to blame and vilify LGBT people - and to justify increasing homophobic repression. The Chief Constable of Manchester, James Anderton, abused gay people as “swirling around in a cesspit of their own making.” Police operations and arrests intensified.

At the 1987 Tory party conference Thatcher attacked the right to be LGBT; suggesting there was no such right. The following year, her government legislated the notorious Section 28, which banned the so-called “promotion” of homosexuality by local authorities; leading many authorities to impose self-censorship to avoid prosecution.

By 1989, the number of gay and bisexual men convicted for consenting same-sex behaviour was almost as great as in 1954-55, when male homosexuality was totally illegal and when the country was gripped by a McCarthyite anti-gay witch-hunt.

This homophobic repression was the making of the LGBT community in Britain. It mobilised people as never before. The 1988 London Pride parade was double what it had been in previous years (an increase to 30,000 marchers).

Act Up London, Stonewall and OutRage! exploded into existence and began the successful fight back that led to a rapid decline in arrests for consenting homosexual offences and a decade later to the wave of LGBT law reform from 1999 - 2010. It proved to be the biggest, fastest, most successful law reform campaign in British history.

Peter Tatchell

You can hear Peter talking more on this subject at our Pride and Prejudice event where he will be joined by Lisa Power MBE ( Terrence Higgins Trust) and Michael Cashman (Labour politician, founder of Stonewall). The event will be chaired by Dr Matt Cook (Birkbeck University of London).

In advance of our event The Legacy of the Iron Lady: Are we all Thatcher's Children? on Tuesday 13 November, we invited former Labour MP Clare Short and Mark Field MP to tell us what they think the impact and legacy of Margaret Thatcher was on Britain.

Clare ShortClare Short in her words:

I am one of those, I have found there are many, who avoided watching the recent film about Mrs Thatcher because we did not want to be touched by the plight of a poor old lady, when we remember the harm she did to so many people.

In my old constituency of Birmingham Ladywood, we saw terrible rise in unemployment and had riots in 1981 and 1985, quite unlike anything that had previously happened in my lifetime. I also remember people coming to see me at my advice sessions and weeping over the poll tax bills that they simply could not pay.

But it is said that Mrs Thatcher considered her greatest achievement to have been Tony Blair, or new Labour more generally, and I think that would be a reasonable claim. Inequality in Britain increased massively in the Thatcher era and this was not reversed by new Labour in power. Britain is now one of the most unequal countries in the OECD and the 3rd worst in social immobility. It also shares with the US the distinction of having the highest share of low-paid employees in the workforce at 20.6%.

This means that the country I grew up in and gave me my life opportunities and values has gone. It also means all those unhappy things that highly unequal countries experience, more crime, mental illness, drink and drug addiction, teenage pregnancy etc etc. It isn't all her fault personally; neoliberalism is the zeitgeist. But it is what she did to the country and I think she made it a lesser place.

Mark Field MPMark Field MP in his words:

I was a grammar schoolboy in the 1970s and I vividly recall being repelled by the politics of envy and the class war rhetoric of that period. Britain had become complacent about its place in the world and was being left behind. Energy crises, rising inflation and untamed unions dogged successive governments. The Winter of Discontent left rubbish uncollected and coffins unburied, provided the iconic images to accompany this sclerotic era.

The 1979 election represented a real crossroads moment. Against a backdrop of paralysis, Margaret Thatcher presented a distinctive and radical offering to the electorate. For those who now bemoan her as a divisive politician, they might well recall the divided and dysfunctional country she inherited. By the time she left office, she had restored a sense of confidence in our nation and Britain was a more exciting, prosperous and dynamic place.

Mrs Thatcher understood aspiration in a way that the modern Conservative Party perhaps has not. She encouraged individual share ownership, the buying of council houses and liberalised the domestic economy so that people felt freer to set up businesses. She led the world on privatisation and actively encouraged competition.

Politically, she changed this country beyond recognition. Whatever her detractors say, Mrs Thatcher was chosen democratically by Britons in three consecutive elections. Not only did she effectively leave the Labour Party out in the cold for eighteen years but she forced it to accept the need to change fundamentally by adopting some of the economic principles to which she so passionately adhered, giving birth to New Labour.

In my own constituency of the Cities of London & Westminster, Mrs Thatcher’s most notable legacy is in the liberalisation of the City following the 1986 Big Bang of financial deregulation, something that is now being regularly held up as the cause of the 2008 financial crash. Doubtless with hindsight, some of those changes would have been designed differently. However it was the combination of Big Bang with a new tripartite system of regulation, excessively loose monetary policy and the consequent expansion of credit and overleveraging of households and governments that contributed to the bust. Mrs Thatcher was a crusader for tight monetary policy and abhorred debt.

If twenty-first century Britain is a portrait of Mrs Thatcher’s legacy, it has only shades of the Iron Lady.

Clare Short and Mark Field MP will continue this debate in The Legacy of the Iron Lady: Are we all Thatcher's Children? on Tuesday 13 November. Also taking part in this discussion will be author and journalist Owen Jones and chair Aditya Chakrabortty (The Guardian)

Gary Kemp interview

by Events on 24 / 09 / 2012

Musician, songwriter and actor Gary Kemp will be taking part in our event, Poptastic: Music in the 80s (Thursday 27 September 2012) along with lead singer of The Selecter, Pauline Black and chair of the event Robert Elms. The event is part of our Back to the 80s series and Gary shares some of his thoughts on the 1980s music scene ahead of the event this Thursday.

BI: The new romantic era is sometimes written off as a time of flamboyant fashion, but was there a more serious/political side?

GK: If working-class kids dressing aspirationally is political, then yes. We are all divided by culture which classes us. The Orwellian view of the working classes in cloth caps, or the middle-class rock writer shunning soul boy culture while praising the Rasta, was being threatened by what we were doing. My father wore a tie everyday to go to the factory, we were just following in the well-shod footsteps of the history of working-class vanity. 

BI: The influence of the 80s can certainly be heard on contemporary acts like The Killers, Lady Gaga, Hot Chip etc. Why do you think today’s musicians draw so much on the electronic heritage of the 80s in their work?

GK: I'm convinced that the fashion for it's glamour is because we are in another recession. During our last boom-time bands and youth culture looked purposefully dreary, it seemed to me, looking more like the ticket touts outside than something to aspire to. Youth culture has always operated in a dialectical fashion. Strangely up until the nineties and bands like Oasis, there was no looking back. Have we run out of musical ideas, or are we just archivists now? Maybe the frontiers of youth culture are no longer in music.

BI: Who were the influences on your music at the time?

GK: Bowie, certainly, in all his incarnations, and of course Roxy Music. But Spandau were an eclectic amalgamation of the best of the seventies: the fun, gang-like mentality of the Faces; the cultish ambitions and blueprint of the Sex Pistols; the glamour and pop of Generation X and the Rich Kids, plus the soul scene with all it's fashion, dance culture and 12' remix adventures. Add to that the new German electronic sounds, blessed of course by who else but David Bowie. 

BI: Who do you think are today’s influential musicians and why?

GK:The sound of U2 has permeated everywhere, most especially on Coldplay, with it's anthemic mood music. Radiohead set a musical style that has also been very influential. But it's American pop music, especially R&B that is the biggest influence now on the UK. This is the first time, surely, since Elvis and Chuck Berry that it's been that way round. 

BI: Spandau Ballet recently did the Reformation Tour. How does gigging today compare to back in the 80’s?

GK: It's the same but now it's where bands make most of their money, as opposed to selling records. I think Youtube has taking the mystique out of live shows. Those early Spandau shows were unfilmed and word of mouth created an enormous buzz about them. If it had happened now it would have been posted on Youtube and derided by trolls in days!

BI: Music aside, what do you think are the other lasting legacies of the 80s?

GK: Wow! Let me think about that... Alfresco dining?

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