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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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Summer Trips at Bishopsgate Institute

by Bishopsgate Institute on 06 / 07 / 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lady Malcolm's Servants' Ball music sample

by Bishopsgate Institute on 16 / 06 / 2016

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

Auntie Maureen

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

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

1) Kikutaro Takahashi - Sendo Kawaiya (1935). 

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

2) Lucienne Boyer - Tango Français (1936).  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6) Rita Montaner - El Manisero (1928) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Readers Wifes

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

Listen to Reader Wifes playlist.

Photograph of Kim Phaggs and Chelsea Kelsey of Readers Wifes

1. Prince – Under The Cherry Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Bishopsgate Institute on 10 / 06 / 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Courses on 31 / 05 / 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ragtime in London – the Course

by Courses on 27 / 05 / 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Create Your Own Artist's Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who are the Guerrilla Girls?

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

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

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

Copyright © Guerrilla Girls, courtesy guerrillagirls.com

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

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

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

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London’s Burning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Discover an A-Z of London Radicals

by Courses on 15 / 01 / 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Explore protest and campaigning in our collections. 

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