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

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

Schools and Community

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

Bishopsgate Blog
Discover | Enquire | Debate

#TOWIEthics: Summer School and New Exhibition

by Schools and Community on 12 / 09 / 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Library and Archive Collections are open to everyone.

Sticking it to the armchair activists!

by Schools and Community on 19 / 12 / 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traces of Muriel Lester: the story of the story box

by Schools and Community on 25 / 11 / 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dürer: The wander years

by Courses on 20 / 11 / 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Bishopsgate Voices Hits One Hundred

by Schools and Community on 05 / 11 / 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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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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London Crime and Punishment

by Courses on 18 / 10 / 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

East End anarchists


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

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

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

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

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

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

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"Pretty fancy these days"

by Schools and Community on 10 / 10 / 2013

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

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

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









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

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

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

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

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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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Who is this Man?

by Courses on 16 / 09 / 2013

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

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

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

Michelle Johansen will be delivering London Episodes on Tuesday lunchtimes.

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Clays Lane Live Archive

by Library on 03 / 07 / 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modernism and Postmodernism in the City

by Courses on 01 / 07 / 2013

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

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

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

Liverpool Street awaits postmodernism

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

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

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Vertigo: the greatest film of all time?

by Courses on 04 / 06 / 2013

Our film studies tutor Hilary Smith considers why Alfred Hitchcock’s film Vertigo has knocked Orson Welles film Citizen Kane from the number one spot after fifty years:

Can we really say what the greatest film of all time is? Even if we managed the impossible task of seeing every film ever made, what criteria would we use to compare and evaluate them? Nevertheless, we tend to form opinions of a film as being good, bad or ugly and often a general consensus emerges.

That is the case with Sight & Sound film magazine’s Greatest Films of All Time poll. A survey of international film critics for their ‘top ten’ every ten years, the 2012 poll garnered a formidable amount of attention in the press and social media, not least because, for the first time in 50 years, the no.1 film changed from Orson Welles’ 1941 film Citizen Kane to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 release Vertigo.  

So if we accept Vertigo as the best film, what makes it so?  And why no longer Citizen Kane? Is it that tastes have changed? It could well be that Vertigo now appears a more modern film, or indeed post-modern film,  than Citizen Kane given - without giving too  much away - its radical approach to narrative structure.  But it also has many other remarkable qualities, including the innovative camera technique since enshrined as the ‘Vertigo effect’.

Whatever the reason, there is a certain irony in critics now championing the film, as critical acclaim was not universal on Vertigo’s original release. Variety damned it with faint praise as "prime though uneven Hitchcock" whilst The New Yorker just damned it as "far-fetched nonsense".  It didn’t get a love-in from the industry either; only two Oscar nominations, in the unglamorous categories of sound and set decoration.

Does the opinion of critics matter anyway?  Surely it’s the paying customers - voting with their feet (and wallet) - that count? Vertigo performed adequately at the box office but was not as commercially successful as the three Hitchcock films that followed, which may seem surprising given it was part of a run of films now viewed as Hitchcock’s glory days in Hollywood.  

What about a film’s afterlife following its theatrical release? Does familiarity breed contempt? In these days of a seemingly endless stream of material available on a variety of viewing platforms it may seem remarkable that for a number of years Vertigo could not be seen anytime, anyplace or anywhere, as it was withdrawn from circulation in the mid 1970s.

And the bottom line... do polls matter? Surely it’s just some nerdy High Fidelity-style list-making at work? Well, if a poll acts as a gateway to the discovery, study and appreciation of films like the wondrous Vertigo I’m heartily in favour of it; we’d be missing out on one of the great pleasures of life otherwise.

Hilary Smith will be exploring the qualities of Vertigo in an introductory study day: Hitchcock’s Vertigo in Close-up, Saturday 3 August as part of our summer School.

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Image is a still from Vertigo, directed by Alfred Hitchcockand starring James Stewart and Kim Novak. Courtesy of the British Film Institute.

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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At the beginning of June every year a nationwide campaign, Volunteers' Week, runs to acknowledge the fabulous contribution made by volunteers across the country.  In the UK, over 20 million people volunteer their time annually.  Not only does this add value to the organisations where volunteers are based, it also contributes to community cohesion: co-operation and trust is developed between individuals and organisations through the unique relationship that volunteering creates.  

Since 1895, Bishopsgate Institute has provided a welcome and inspiring space for people to come and learn and debate, listen and think. Access and diversity have been at the heart of the Institute’s mission before any of these buzz words were dreamt of; and our volunteer team contributes to this continuing reality by ensuring the visitor’s experience is inviting and inclusive. 

There are now around fifty people who volunteer regularly with the Institute, a number that has increased significantly since the completion of the renovation works two years ago.  At that point, in June 2011, a new, energetic and enthusiastic team of volunteer Launch Ambassadors joined the Institute to help raise the profile of the re-launch.  The passion and positivity offered by all volunteers since then continues to make its presence felt across the Institute on a daily basis.  Whether in the Library, at cultural events, supporting schools & community workshops, in the marketing team, or on the oral history project, the dedication of volunteers contributes exponentially to the Institute’s commitment to provide a stimulating and enriching space for the public. 

Many of our current volunteers have given their time to the Institute over several years, and this is particularly notable in the Library where people have long been applying their skills on a voluntary basis, assisting the Library team with the cataloguing of our collections, the digitisation of images and the conservation of materials.

Regardless of which part of the Institute people volunteer in and how long they have been here, the time given is invaluable. We are enormously grateful for their contribution in helping us ensure as many people as possible enjoy our library, historic collections, courses and cultural events.  Happy Volunteers’ Week for the beginning of June!

More information about volunteering at Bishopsgate Institute.

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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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St Paul's Cathedral, Bishopsgate Library, LAMAS collectionA look at recent global events might make one think that a little background information about different world religions would help us all understand what's going on in the world better.

Our tutor for An Introduction to World Religions, Clive Lawton, highlights some areas where more knowledge could create better understanding:

A new Pope, a new Archbishop, a new Chief Rabbi. Uncertainty about whether supporting the rebels in Syria will play into the hands of ‘jihadists’. BBC TV’s Panorama presenting a ‘shock horror’ undercover report on Sharia courts in Britain with at least one member of the House of Lords trying to limit the ‘power’ of such Sharia courts. Militant Buddhists (is such a thing really possible?) seem to be pushing issues in Burma and other parts of south East Asia. Militant Hindus regularly try to seize the political initiative in India. The United States, perhaps the most secularly founded and constituted country of the 18th and 19th centuries, seems to have a far higher proportion of church goers and God believers than traditionally Christian countries like Ireland, Italy or Spain, which seem to be secularising at an astonishing rate. But not soon enough to save a Hindu woman from dying in Ireland through lack of abortion opportunities. The reason given to her by one midwife because ‘it’s a Catholic thing’. Conflicts in various parts of Africa are commonly talked of as direct confrontations between Christian and Muslim groups. The first woman Prime Minister of India, Indira Ghandi, was assassinated by her own bodyguards because they were Sikhs and they perceived her actions to be deeply aggressive towards Sikhs. Putin courts the Orthodox Church in Russia and the president of Bulgaria asks his country to spend three days in prayer for the future of their recently communist state. Conflict between Israel and her neighbours is increasingly articulated as a war between Muslims and Jews, even though some of the fiercest and earliest of Palestinian fighters were staunch local Christians. The Coptic Pope lambasts the Muslim Brotherhood President of Egypt, accusing him of allowing deep aggression against Christians in that country.

An Introduction to World Religions starts on Thursday 23 May and will take you to the heart of many religious traditions.

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Q&A with the WI

by Schools and Community on 19 / 04 / 2013

The Women’s Institute uncover questions and find the answers in our archives

EE WI members explore the archives

Over the last seven months a small but energetic, eager and committed group of women from the East End Women’s Institutehave been rummaging through our archives. This exploration of our treasure trove of archives came about as a result of attending three of our community learning workshops

Quiz booklet coverWith the passion for learning and sharing ignited, the group decided that they wanted to continue exploring our archives and share the curious facts and miscellanea uncovered. The results of their exploration have resulted in the Tower Hamlets Miscellany Quiz. Independent and team-based research, primarily relating to the group’s neighbourhood of Tower Hamlets, has created a booklet of 30 questions ranging from "Where in Tower Hamlets was the Magna Carta confirmed by Edward I" to "When did Tubby Isaacs’ stall in Whitechapel open?"

This is just a sneak preview of the questions in the booklet, which will be launched in October at a quiz night for the East End WI. Afterwards, the East End WI will share the quiz through its website, and copies of the booklet will be distributed to a range of groups such as historical societies, community and educational groups.

Colleen Bowen, Chair of East End Women’s Institute, said that not only was the project a great opportunity to examine archived documents and hear other women’s experiences of the East End, but also reflected the East End WI's ambition is to have fun, learn, share new skills and be creative.

Please click on the links if you or your group are interested in either our community learning programme or working in depth with us.

About the East End Women’s Institute

The East End Women’s Institute welcomes all women to share, learn and enjoy good company. It is a member of the National Federation of Women's Institute's, which plays a unique role in providing women with educational opportunities and the chance to build new skills, to take part in a wide variety of activities and to campaign on issues that matter to them and their communities.

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Jean Sargeant Archive at Bishopsgate Library

by Library on 11 / 04 / 2013

Bishopsgate Library has recently accepted the archive of writer and political activist Jean Sargeant (1933-2011). Long-term friend and depositor of the collection, Lynda Finn, recalls Jean’s life and work:

Jean Sargeant arrived in London from Antigua in 1950, at the age of 17, never to return. While taking a secretarial course, and living with her aunt, she began to explore London. Within a year she had met and married her husband and, for a few years, lived in Newcastle upon Tyne and Inverness.

By the early 1960s Jean was back in London and, although the marriage was over, she remained good friends with her ex-husband for the rest of her life.  She began work as a secretary at The Sunday Times and rose to become an editorial researcher in the travel section where she wrote many articles. She stayed at the Sunday Times until 1986 when she lost her job in the Wapping dispute.

Despite a colonial upbringing which might have led her to different politics, Jean joined the Labour Party and actively campaigned in the 1964 general election and all subsequent elections, general and local, until the last few months of her life. She was a committed Anglican, a Christian Socialist and an active member of the Jubilee Group. Her booklet describing her experience of the Wapping conflict, Liberation Christianity on the Wapping Picket Line, is dedicated to “the printworkers and journalists who were dismissed for defending union rights at Wapping, to everyone who supported our struggle and to the memory of those who died”.

It is not surprising that a girl who grew up in Antigua and was educated in both Antigua and Barbados should love cricket. A regular visitor to Lords, especially when the West Indies were playing, she was enormously proud that her grandfather, Percy Goodman, was a member of the first West Indies cricket team to tour Britain in 1900 and again in 1906 – a multi-racial team, she was pleased to point out. When the anti-apartheid Stop the Seventy Tour campaign sought to disrupt tours by the all-white South African cricket team in the late 1960s, Jean became actively involved. The campaign succeeded in stopping the 1970 South African cricket tour of Britain. Peter Hain MP, former chair of the campaign, remembered Jean as: “a lovely, warm and committed activist, who energetically helped in the ultimately successful struggle to defeat apartheid.”

She was enormously well-read, articulate and wise – she loved modern fiction, art, poetry and crime novels but had a special love for Shakespeare and Dickens.  After Jean lost her job in Wapping, she joined the Guardian as a secretary where she worked until her retirement.

The archive was catalogued by Bishopsgate Library volunteer, Dawn Harman, who describes the experience of working with the collection:

Cataloguing the Jean Sargeant collection has been fascinating; I am glad to have helped to make these papers available for research. The collection gives a great insight into her background, political and religious beliefs and how these influenced her activism. I have found the records relating to her work as a campaigner to be particularly interesting. Sargeant kept scrapbooks containing records of all of her campaigning activities and newspaper cuttings to show how her efforts were received by the media. The range of different campaigns she was involved in is demonstrated, as is her pride when she had been able to make a difference. It has been a pleasure to catalogue the papers of such an inspiring woman!

The catalogue of the collection can now be viewed on the Library’s online catalogue.

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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Caravaggio and Soutine: Wild at art

by Courses on 14 / 03 / 2013

In the art world there have always been artists whose work and lives have been viewed as unorthodox. Two who stand out for their unconventional, even criminal behaviour are Caravaggio and Soutine. Freelance lecturer in the History of Art based at the National Gallery and one of our Arts and Culture tutors, Steven Barrett gives a colourful insight into the lives of these two extraordinary artists:

Caravaggio's daring religious pictures shocked many in Rome c.1600, but they pioneered a direct, naturalistic style and influenced later painting throughout Europe. His personal life was extremely turbulent: In 1606 he killed a man over a disputed tennis match and fled Rome with a price on his head. He died in mysterious circumstances while still in exile four years later aged only 38. He was possibly murdered, while most probably en route to receive a Papal pardon, ironically.

Chaïm Soutine fled Russia for Paris in 1913 and joined the community of unconventional, émigré artists based around Montparnasse that also included Chagall and Modigliani. In Paris, Soutine developed his unmistakable, intense and expressive style of painting. He was so committed to 'truth' in art that he once kept a cow's carcass in his apartment so he could paint the decomposing flesh exactly as it appeared to him. Needless to say, the neighbours complained and Chagall is said to have panicked, thinking Soutine had been murdered when he saw blood seeping under the apartment door. Soutine was famous for his complete lack of personal hygiene and avoidance of medicine. He died tragically from a stomach ulcer aged 50.

Caravaggio and Soutine are just two of the artists Steven will be looking at in his new course at Bishopsgate Institute, Rebels and Martyrs: Artists on the Edge which will unearth much more about these and many other amazing artists who dared to rock the boat.

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For the last four years the Schools and Community Learning department has been partnering with Historic Royal Palaces Tower of London to inspire cross-curricula activities and creativity in primary schools using the Take One model developed by the National Gallery.

This year we have chosen a picture postcard of Liverpool Street sent in 1904 as the focus for our project. The photograph on the front of the postcard shows the bustling street with cabs, horse-drawn omnibuses and delivery carts. The Metropolitan Railway station (opened in 1875 and at this time called Bishopsgate Station) is clearly visible on the left of the picture with Liverpool Street and Broad Street stations disappearing into the haze at the back of the picture. On the reverse of the card is a mysterious message from 'Fred' to 'Miss M Tomlinson'. Click here to view a larger image and see if you can decode the message.

Primary school students from Years 3 to 6 are visiting the Institute for workshops over the next month to explore the environment of Liverpool Street at the time the photograph was taken. Students have been examining postcards, maps and newspaper cuttings. The recreation of the typical sounds of a London street with the call "higher up!" from the bus conductors was particularly enthusiastic!

After the workshops the students and teachers will work together at school to develop a creative response to the postcard. The work will be displayed jointly with that from the Tower of London project at Banqueting House in July. We look forward to seeing what they produce.

Paul Hallam Archive at Bishopsgate Library

by Library on 22 / 02 / 2013

Bishopsgate Library is delighted to have accepted the archive of award-winning screenwriter and author Paul Hallam. Paul has written or co-written numerous screenplays including A Kind of English (directed by Ruhul Amin, the first Bangladeshi feature film to be made in Britain), the feature films Nighthawks (Britain’s first gay feature film) and Strip Jack Naked (both directed by Ron Peck) and Cannes Critics' Prize winner Young Soul Rebels (directed by Isaac Julien). His play, The Dish, performed in London, New York and Toronto and BBC Radio 4 adaptation was broadcast in August 1998. Paul was also involved in the foundation of film and photography centre Four Corners in Bethnal Green in the early 1970s.

Here, Paul talks about his archive and its transfer to Bishopsgate.

Free from self-storage at last, such a strange idea, a locked and stored away self. I look with some horror at the metal cage in the bleak beauty of a Purfleet industrial estate. Nothing was well packed in my hasty departure from London for Istanbul where I now live. There is a mountain of books and papers, my own and those collected from other people after their deaths, their houses cleared by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. Dealers swooped on the furniture, I grasped anything on paper. Stefan Dickers, the Bishopsgate librarian and archivist, will have quite a task sorting my papers from those of strangers. He seems more than up for and to the task. 

The first half of the collection reached Bishopsgate. I felt an immense release and relief. The weight of it, the expense of moving it from place to place, has been on my shoulders, and the shoulders of friends for years now. It has cost me more than one friendship in the past. Some of it will be in Istanbul with me soon for an arts project with the Istanbul artist, Mustafa Pancar. The arts organisation, Openvizor, is collaborating on the work in that city, as well as here on the archive in London.

I used to fantasise about a Montaigne tower for my books and papers; a tower to retire to. How much better for the tower to be open to all, and for new work to emerge from it. Already there are films being made of the opening and transporting of the boxes. It was then that I looked on the many rejected projects. Somehow the notes and drafts have become works in themselves. Nothing feels unfinished. The projects are what they are, or will change into. I would like to think that any visitor could find something there for their own use and purposes.

I have an archive and I am still alive! I think I am still in shock. So many people have helped make this move possible. As a teenager I loved the redbrick working men’s institutes, so many of them in the North, with their solid purpose of “improvement”. Such beautiful buildings, an immense dignity to them. I can’t think of a finer place than the Bishopsgate Institute for the archive to find its home.

A sense of the collection can be found in the film The Last Biscuit by Andrea Luka Zimmerman and Paul Hallam: http://vimeo.com/user2879340/videos

Openvizor can be found at:  www.openvizor.com

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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Islamist insurgents retreating from Timbuktu set fire to a library containing thousands of priceless historic manuscripts, according to the Saharan town's mayor, in an incident he described as a "devastating blow" to world heritage
The Guardian  - Monday 28th January 2013

Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.” (translated:"wherever they burn books, they will also, in the end, burn people" German-Jewish poet Heinrich Heine.

The Master and Margarita
Although reports following the attack suggest that the majority of books were smuggled to safety before the attacks, assaults on knowledge and imagination - and the reed, cloth, clay, or paper objects that record them - as a precursor of assaults on a people and their culture are as old as the records themselves. In fact, evidence for the oldest "books" (in this case, clay tablets) comes from a site where they were smashed and burned. What is it about the book, in all its forms, that provokes such passions: both of preservation and destruction? And why is the destruction of books a story that we tell and tell again?

Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita, recently brought to the London stage by Theatre de Complicité, tells the story of a book burned by its own author for being too controversial. Through the novel, Bulgakov uses satire to show how Soviet state censorship was internalised by writers, directors, and performers; only the Master (as the author who burns his book is known) resists both state control and his internal censor, but this resistance drives him mad.

Bulgakov, like the Master, burnt his first manuscript of The Master and Margarita in 1930, but wrote three more versions before his death in 1940. He never saw it published in his lifetime: in 1966, a heavily censored version was published in Moscow magazine, with the first complete version being produced by (West) German publisher Posev from smuggled, samizdat publications of the omissions and unexpurgated sections.

A recent biography of Bulgakov takes its title from one of the most famous, and poignant, lines in the novel, spoken by Margarita to the Master: "Manuscripts don't burn." Margarita reflects our profound belief that books can be burnt, but ideas survive - sometimes (as with Timbuktu's libraries), an attack draws our attention to a book or books of which we were previously unaware.

Is literature's free speech in some way defined by the presence of censorship, as Italo Calvino suggests in If On a Winter's Night a Traveller? And what's the relationship between overt censorship, which can be protested, and the various ways in which we all might hold our tongues or stop our ears?

In the Free Speech and Literature course, we'll use Bulgakov's novel as both a microscope and a kaleidoscope to look into the swirling ash of book-burnings, bannings, and bowdlerisations – by the state and the individual conscience – to see what's lost and what survives, and why it matters.

Our Free Speech and Literature begins on Wednesday 20th February.

The course is in association with English PEN and the Free Word Centre, and will be held at the Free Word Centre.

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Post by Sophie Mayer.

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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Crisis English Club at Bishopsgate Institute, January 2013

Crisis Skylight London provides practical and creative workshops in accessible and inspiring environments to help homeless and vulnerably housed people regain confidence, build basic skills and raise aspirations. The English Club within Crisis Skylight regularly books workshops at Bishopsgate Institute, as well as the British Museum and Historic Royal Palaces, to give its learners unique and inspirational experiences.

Our workshops with the English Club provide a vivid picture of London, both historically and culturally, for homeless people for whom English is a second language. Through the workshops, participants develop a stronger sense of the city they now live in. We use documents, photographs and ephemera from our world-renowned collections to stimulate discussions which are not only informative but a fun and inspired way of practising English.

Over the last 3.5 years, the English Club has booked more than 25 workshops. We asked Veena Torchia, Manager of Accredited Learning at Skylight and the English Club’s organiser, what she feels Bishopsgate Institute has to offer her learners:

What attracted you to our community learning programme in the first place?
The fact that the programme was relevant, innovative and accessible for our learners.

Why have you returned each term?
The facilitators and facilities are excellent.

What learning and skills do the learners gain from attending the workshops?
They learn about the history of London, and the East End. And they practise their English in an informal but structured environment using a wide range of resources.

In what ways do our workshops support and contribute to the English Club’s objectives?
The workshops support language, knowledge and skills development and stimulate raising confidence levels and social interaction.

If you were to recommend our learning programme to other ESOL providers or community organisations, what would you highlight?
The workshops are really interesting and well structured with authentic visual resources, and the learning environment is really conducive to effective learning and development. In addition, ESOL tutors accompanying their groups can team teach "organically" without much preparation.

Our community learning programme offers a range of workshops exploring our library and archive collections. During the workshops, learners are able to handle and explore original items in an informal, friendly and supportive environment.

Crisis Skylight London’s English Club works with people from all cultural backgrounds to improve their speaking and listening skills and knowledge of London and its history. This allows the members to develop other life and social skills, including how to get out and about, empowering them to live independent lives.

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.

Find Under the Cranes on twitter @underthecranes

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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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Trenton Oldfield, friend of Bishopsgate Library and joint co-ordinator of the forthcoming This Is Not A Gateway Festival at Bishopsgate Institute, discusses his protest action at the Oxbridge Boat Race in 2012, his views on the Institute and a recent deposit with the archives.

There are many fascinating aspects to the Bishopsgate Institute including how public pressure on the churches and businesses in the Corporation of London forced its creation, how the architecture was just ahead of its time and how the library and archives have remained the pumping heart of its operations. It is also fascinating that the building itself transgresses through and across the borders of the City of London and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. The City of London is increasingly and profoundly wealthy, while one in two children in Tower Hamlets wakes up each day in poverty.

London today is the most unequal city in the so called ‘west’. The gap between rich and poor has accelerated dramatically since the early 1990's. Inequalities are quickly increasing with the politically motivated dismembering of the social contract or as it’s more commonly known, 'the welfare state'. It is reported the gap between London’s rich and poor is a gap of around 236 times. This entirely unnecessary poverty and the ideas that encourage it to occur, is what pushed me from the riverbank into the river on 07 April 2012.

The Oxbridge rowing race came at the end of a horrific week for people living in Britain – the bill to give the NHS over to corporate interests was given royal assent, the coalition introduced the Communication and Data bill to allow snooping on all personal electronic communication and the minister for the Olympics said people should report on neighbours they suspected might protest at the forthcoming Summer games. This was on top of some of the most violent attacks on social welfare in the last 30 years. There was no choice but to register the indignation felt by myself and countless others. The Oxbridge rowing race was both on the agenda that weekend and symbolic – an astonishing 70% of the cabinet in the current government are Oxford or Cambridge graduates. I bought the wetsuit under the Hungerford Bridge, Embankment on the Thursday afternoon. I was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment for this act of public protest.

As a researcher archives are central to my daily work – it’s always best to go to the source wherever and whenever possible. I have always been attracted to and impressed by the Bishopsgate Institute’s library and archives. Its focus on social and political histories is seductive now and important for the future. The archiving of material culture is as much a battle as any other aspect of politics. Depositing the wetsuit here feels like the right thing to do. Having it in a box, underground, will also reduce the likelihood of my doing the same thing at a forthcoming race!

The forthcoming This Is Not A Gateway Festival, which I coordinate with Deepa Naik, will take place within the handsome rooms of the Bishopsgate Institute on 26 and 27 January. For more information, please visit: www.thisisnotagateway.net

App and Under London: modern technology and historic archives

by Schools and Community on 08 / 01 / 2013

‘It was good having the library collections available so we could find relevant text to read over the different sounds we recorded on the tube.’

Students explore underground maps

Working with young people from the Adventurers History Club and David Gunn from Incidental, the Schools & Community Learning department set out to discover whether it was possible to combine modern technology and historic archives to find exciting new ways of engaging with the past. The experiment took place on 17 December 2012.

The participants met in a quiet corner on the third floor of the British Library and the Incidental team handed out headphones and iPads pre-loaded with a music app called Feed. The app enables manipulation of a ‘live feed’ of sound drawn from the iPad microphone or an audio file. The Adventurers were shown how to record, play back and modulate sounds using the app: creating a sound loop by tracing a semi-circle around the recorded sound on the touch screens was an especially important part of the process. Once the young people were able to use the app with confidence, the group left the British Library and headed to Kings Cross underground station. On the metropolitan line from Kings Cross to Liverpool Street, incidental sounds were captured on the iPads – with safety and station announcements proving especially popular!

At Bishopsgate Institute, the Incidental team explained how the recordings could be remixed using the Feed app. Each Adventurer then created a single ‘Underground London’ track.

The next job was to add vocals to the compositions. Archive materials relating to the history of the London Underground had been placed on tables around the room. The young people pored over the close print of Victorian timetables, examined inter-war tube maps and read through late-20th century safety reports. Once they had selected a passage or extract which corresponded with the rhythm and mood of their audio track, they began to record short readings over their compositions. Two of the created tracks can be heard via Sound Cloud.

This experiment in learning showed how modern technology might be harnessed to help young people learn about and reflect on London’s past in new and creative ways. We are now considering using the Feed app to add value to our London Tourist workshop for school groups. If you are a teacher or youth worker, please contact us if this is something your young people might like to try in 2013.

The underground theme of our Feed workshop was inspired by the Institute’s upcoming series of events celebrating 150 years of the London underground

Read Incidental’s blog post about the workshop.