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

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Courses Our regular blogs will provide up-to-date news and information on our courses
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Schools and Community

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

Bishopsgate Blog
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Making the most of your special collections: Historic Libraries Forum annual conference, Bishopsgate Institute, 20 November 2012

By Ed

Bishopsgate Institute was proud to host the Historic Libraries Forum’s annual conference in November, which was dedicated to the theme of “Making the most of your special collections”. In times like these, in addition to their traditional tasks every library needs to raise its profile, boost its marketability, and maximise the impact that collections and services have on audiences old and new. Clearly, this is well-understood by librarians across the country, as indicated by the fact that this conference sold out well in advance.

Attendees arrived eager to hear about new ways and means of getting their libraries and collections under the public eye. Most of the presentations at the event centred on one of three topics: curating public exhibitions based on your collections; using social media to promote your library; and marketing and managing your library and building as a venue for filming (for documentaries, drama, and the big screen). Speakers generally focussed on the benefits of these activities for generating income, raising the profile of your special collections, and making the most of your holdings and professional expertise to build new audiences and new links with communities: burning issues for all libraries, not least historic libraries, all of which are increasingly expected to “do more with less”.

Highlights for me included Alison Cullingford’s talk about how she uses blogs and Twitter to promote Bradford University Special Collections; Alison provided important perspective and emphasised how social media provide a public arena where it is easier for small institutions to “punch above their weight”. In reference to work on a bigger stage, Harvey Edgington from the National Trust gave an entertaining talk about filming. In contrast to the National Trust, few heritage organizations are well-placed to act as venues for big-budget movies such as Pride and Prejudice (2005) and Alice in Wonderland (2010), but there are a number of potential benefits to being featured in a production, big or small, that may make the inevitable challenges and frustrations worth facing.

The speakers were all very good, and others hailed from institutions including the British Library, Cambridge University, King’s College London, and Lambeth Palace. While most were understandably drawn from large organizations, conference attendees seemed to come from a wide variety of institutions, including a large proportion from small or independent libraries and archives like our own. During the breaks, it was great to meet old and new friends in the profession, and to discuss ways of meeting the challenges and opportunities of the current period.

I found the talks to be very stimulating and finished the day with a number of new ideas. I was excited by the discussion about a potential future event on promoting and preserving digital collections; this is an area we are working on at Bishopsgate. On a personal note, I was also very pleased with the reaction of people to Bishopsgate as the conference venue: visitors appreciated our building and library for their visual appeal and distinctiveness, and we were also complimented on our efficiency as a venue hire service.

The Historic Libraries Forum is committed to promoting and protecting historic libraries and collections, and also serves as a forum for people working with these collections to share information and ideas. For more information about the Historic Libraries Forum, visit www.historiclibrariesforum.org.uk.

Bernie Grant MP in front of Big BenBlack History Month (BHM) was initially a US initiative aimed at raising awareness of Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) histories and cultures which spread to the UK in the 1980s and is now an established part of the school calendar. High-profile figures, including the Prime Minister, endorse the scheme while dedicated websites support teachers organising BHM programmes each October. 

We support the spirit and aims of BHM; but question the approach adopted in British schools towards the teaching of black history, as reflected in the BHM resources available. Of the 80+ resources shared ahead of BHM 2012 on the TES website, most were concerned either with slavery or with a specifically North American black experience. Fewer than 10% of the resources explored the British BAME experience, a fact which did not pass unremarked in the review section: "Good resource, but a lack of British black people on it … It is important for young black people growing up in the UK to be aware of role models in the UK."

UK-focussed resources shared on the TES website looked at racism or immigration or used a BAME British figure to provide inspiring classroom learning during BHM. All too often the role-models are from the fields of sport or entertainment, for example actor and director Noel Clarke (a Londoner of Trinidadian heritage) and Olympic athlete Mo Farah (a Somali-born Londoner) are the subjects of two TES resources. But where are the British BAME activists and politicians? As a recent Teaching History article pointed out, there is ‘a rich history of grassroots activism in the field of rights and relations within Britain’s Black communities, akin to the history of the African-American Civil Rights movement.’ (1) 

The career of Labour MP Bernie Grant (1944–2000) provides a fine example of this activism. Bernie Grant was the first black leader of a local authority in Europe (Haringey, 1985-1987) and one of the first black MPs in Britain, elected to represent Tottenham in 1987. The Schools & Community Learning Department is now using Bernie Grant’s archive (owned by the Bernie Grant Trust and deposited at Bishopsgate Institute) to develop an engaging classroom learning resource ahead of BHM 2013. 

In the meantime, we are undertaking consultations with teachers to help develop the resource content and activities. To have your say, join us on Thursday 22 November from 4.30pm-6.30pm for a Teacher Twilight Session as part of Parliament Week. If you’re unable to attend you can email us your thoughts and questions. 

Parliament Week (19 – 25 November 2012) is a national initiative to build greater awareness of, and engagement with, parliamentary democracy in the UK.

1. Robin Whitburn and Sharon Yemoh, ‘"My people struggled too": hidden histories and heroism’. Teaching History Issue 147, June 2012, pp.16-25, on p.18

Photo credit: Bernie Grant Trust/Sharron Wallace

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).

Finding London in the Fragrant Past

by Courses on 02 / 11 / 2012

Just down the road from Bishopsgate Institute is a branch of Boots the Chemist with a perfume section at the front. In fact, chemists and department stores often put their most fragrant products by the near nearest the main street. Why is that?

Bishopsgate Institute tutor Caryle Webb-Ingall tells us that back in 1900, London was a city of horses. There were 11,000 horse-powered cabs, thousands of horse-drawn buses requiring 12 horses a day as well as countless carts, drays and other equine industry making deliveries around the ever-growing city. Over half a million horses worked in early-twentieth century London which meant an unfeasible amount of horse manure gathering on the streets. The average horse produces between fifteen to thirty-five pounds of manure a day; presumably this goes from ponies to drays, producing an organic and fragrant pollution.

London’s newly opening department stores were aware of this, in fact everyone with a sense of smell would have been aware of this, so their sweetest smelling section, the perfume counter, was placed at the front to provide olfactory relief for their customers. And once in, perhaps they would take an interest in some charming Bakelite figurines?

Apocryphal or not this is one of the many insights into late nineteenth century London our tutor Caryle provides in our afternoon London after Dickens course. Caryle promises that students will “start noticing the streets around them more - they might look up above the old shop fronts or look more closely at the meaning of street names or make some links through a television programme or book.”

As well as horse poop, other topics covered on the course include other modes of transport, the London County Council, police and crime, markets and shops, the East End, Victorian ways of death, London’s Docks, civil unrest and much more. Come and learn about the era that was fertiliser to our own.

London after Dickens begins on Tuesday 6 November at Bishopsgate Institute at 2.30pm. It runs for 6 weeks. Please see our website for more details.

Bishopsgate Library holds substantial collections of digital material, which have mostly accrued through an ongoing project to digitise parts of the library’s archival collections, and through deposits of digital records from organisations such as the British Humanist Association and History Workshop.

We are delighted to have been awarded funding from SPRUCE and JISC for a new project which will enable the library to take the first steps towards preserving these collections.

Building on work carried out at the SPRUCE Mashup event held in London in September, the project has three objectives: firstly, to complete a comprehensive audit of the library’s digital collections; secondly, to compile a digital preservation business case; and thirdly, to produce and disseminate a short handbook documenting the project for the benefit of other digital preservation practitioners.

SPRUCE is a JISC-funded project which provides support for digital preservation activities through community engagement, both online and at a series of events around the UK.

For examples of some of the digital collections held by Bishopsgate Library, see our archives online pages.

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)

What do the 80s mean to you?

by Schools and Community on 10 / 10 / 2012

Exploring history together is the aim of the Schools and Community Learning team – we develop inspiring workshops and projects that open up our world-renowned library collections and engage with learners of varied ages and backgrounds.

To tie in with the Back to the 80s events we want to know what the decade meant to those who were there – and those who weren’t. What personal recollections do you have from the decade of Thatcher, New Romantics and red braces? If you didn’t live through the 80s, how do you think the decade’s events and attitudes have affected you? Your thoughts, memories, and memorabilia could become part of our next exhibition at Bishopsgate Institute.

Greenpeace Save the Whales certificate

As Liz (Schools & Community Learning Manager) recalls: ‘My parents subscribed to New Internationalist and supported Greenpeace so magazines from these organisations were my childhood reading – even though I couldn’t understand all the nuances. In the late 80s Iceland, Norway and Japan continued whale hunting despite international bans on commercial whaling. Greenpeace started a boycott of Icelandic frozen fish fingers and as a result of promising to not buy the fish I received the certificate pictured. I didn’t even like fish fingers!’

We are holding two ‘Remembering the 80s’ events, where you can explore relevant items from our library and archive collections, speak to one of our oral history volunteers and share your experiences of the 80s with us.

Remembering the 80s:

Friday 19 October, 2.30pm – 4.30pm, Library

Tuesday 23 October, 6.30pm – 7.15pm, Rear Library

If you have any memorabilia and mementos we could use in the exhibition – this could be photographs, badges, certificates, fanzines, concert tickets, election leaflets, alternative lifestyle pamphlets, anything that reflects your activities and interests in the 80s – please bring it along!

The resulting exhibition, a collage of images and words about the 1980s, will be on display December 2012 – January 2013.

If you’re not able to attend one of the events but would like to contribute, please email us your images and memories by 25 October.

Document of the Month

by Library on 16 / 10 / 2012

George Howell and the Campaign for Parliamentary Reform

Library and Archives Assistant, Natalie Whistance has selected two of her favourite documents from the Library and Archives Collections.

The Bishopsgate Institute Library and Archives holds a vast collection of material relating to the history of the labour movement and the struggles of various political and social gDemonstration in Hyde Park flyer roups.

The two images seen here come from one of our core labour history collections, that of politician and trade unionist George Howell (1833-1910). Amongst his other roles Howell was secretary to the Reform League which was a body established in 1865 to campaign for working class political reform. 

I was drawn to these records because they represent so much of what our archive and library holdings are about; showing the power that both individuals and groups of ordinary people have to change the world they live in for the better. 

reform demonstration in Hyde Park on 21st July 1884

There were three acts for large scale parliamentary reform passed during the nineteenth century. 

Briefly, the first, often called the Great Reform Act, was passed in 1832 and saw changes to the electoral system of England and Wales and extended the vote to the middle classes. However, there were many who did not believe that this reform went far enough. 

It was a subject that engendered much public feeling and there were many individuals and groups, primarily the Chartists in the late 1830s and 1840s who pushed for further reform. 

In 1866 William Gladstone, the Liberal Prime Minister, introduced a Reform Bill to extend the vote but this was unsuccessful.  Public disappointment at the failure of the bill to go through parliament resulted in several mass meetings and demonstrations organised by the Reform League; some of these demonstrations turned violent and there were several riots.  

This popular protest preceded the 1867 Reform Act, which for the first time enfranchised some (although not all) of the urban male working class. Working class males in rural areas were still not able to vote in parliamentary election and during the 1880s reform was once again being discussed.  Although the Reform League was dissolved in 1869 George Howell continued to play a part in agitating for parliamentary reform.  As secretary of the Reform Demonstration Committee in 1884 he helped to organise a reform demonstration in Hyde Park on 21st July 1884.

The flyer shown above is a handbill advertising the demonstration in 1884 and shows the various divisions of the planned procession, including the farriers’ society, agricultural labourers, miners and political and working men’s clubs (Howell Ephemera/42/5).

Thousands of people took part in the demonstration and we are lucky enough to have a collection of photographs from the day showing the sheer size and scale of the procession (Howell Collection/14/3). 

The second image shows some of the many banners that were carried by the various divisions.  The one in the foreground says ‘Kent and Sussex.  Will the Lords Defy the Labourers?’.  Each division on the day was accompanied by a brass band and you can just see one of these in front of this banner trying to make their way through the crowd.

Parliament did subsequently extend the franchise with the 1884 Reform Act. This meant that the counties now shared the same franchise rights as the boroughs and around six million voters were added to the total number eligible to vote in parliamentary elections.

The 1832, 1867 and 1884 reform acts provided hard won rights for working people. But even by 1884 around 40% of adult males, and of course all adult women, were still denied the vote in parliamentary elections. The records shown here are a testament to the workers who interested themselves in politics and demanded the right to have their voices heard.

Workers continue to demand to have their voices heard and as part of our Back to the 80's series we will look at the changing climate of industrial relations in Britain in our event Right to Strike?

Finding lost London at Bishopsgate Institute

by Courses on 02 / 10 / 2012
Old Spitalfields Market

London is an endlessly fascinating, ever changing place and Bishopsgate Institute courses and archives reflect this in the literature and images within our programme and files.

Our London Collection covers over 50,000 books, maps, pamphlets and illustrations. There are approximately 40,000 London photographs in other collections. Our archive images have recently brought a piece of old London to the BBC website, the Daily Mail and regularly to the excellent Spitalfields Life blog.

Our Images of London: Lost Buildings and Streets course begins this Saturday, 6 October 2012, so we thought we would have a quick chat with the tutor Steven Barrett as he emerges from our archive with lost images ready for the course.

Steven says “It is very exciting to be using Bishopsgate Institute archive images because they contain so many that are unusual and unpublished. There is a particular abundance of amateur street views and pictures that conjure a definite sense of the period. To my knowledge many haven't been used in teaching before.”

The Images of London course is about the city seen through pictures of buildings and streets that have changed in recent years. It will focus primarily on the pictures themselves, mostly street photography and not commercially produced images, so our students will look at what's going on with the people, traffic and incidental things as well as the period 'look' of the photograph itself.

The course will include a historical segment each week, taking a different area of the city in turn, which will lead into a discussion and possibly reminiscence of personal associations with that area. We may explore through guided walks the relevant parts of the City that are accessible from the Bishopsgate Institute, weather permitting. Steven Barrett works mainly at Bishopsgate Institute and the National Gallery. He is particularly interested in how time affects works of art, either because of the changes in how art is talked and written about in different periods, or in the ways that memory alters our experience of works of art themselves. So a trip into London’s lost buildings and streets is an ideal course for him to lead.

Images of London: Lost Buildings and Streets begins 2.30pm on Saturday 6 October at Bishopsgate Institute and runs for six weeks. Each session is two hours, the cost is £93 and £73 concessions. Please see our courses website for more information and online enrolment.


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?

Find out more about all our Back to the 80s events.