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From 1822, when the Dickens family settled in Camden, to 1860 when the author took permanent residence at his Kent home of Gad’s Hill Place, London was his home.

Emma Jolly, in the article Dickens and London

Emma Jolly writer, historian, genealogist
  1. Here and There: The Story of the Bangladeshi Community in Camden

    I was lucky enough to be invited to a private view last night (Thursday 27 October 2011) of the latest exhibition at Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre .Here and there

    The exhibition, Here and There, details the lives of members of Camden’s Bangladeshi Community through their experiences in both Bangladesh and London. Curated by the Bengali Workers’ Association, the exhibition focuses on the Community’s life in Camden from the 1950s to the present day.

    Today the Bangladeshi Community is well-integrated into Camden life and many members now work as professionals in the area. Bengalis are well-represented politicially too: Councillor Nasim Ali OBE, the Leader of Camden Council, is featured in the exhibition; and Councillor Tulip Siddiq gave an introductory talk at the launch.

    The exhibits themselves are comprised of oral testimonies, recorded as part of a history project by members of the Oral History Society. Robert Wilkinson of the Society told us how few recordings have been made of Bangladeshi memories. He welcomed the Lottery funding that enabled this exhibition and the opportunity to keep these stories alive.

    One of the highlights of the evening was a fascinating talk by the founder of the Bengali Workers’ Association, Abdul Momen. Mr Momen is featured in the exhibition, and related to the audience some of his memories of growing up in Bengal and his esteemed work in Camden, which led to him saving lives through community action and welfare support.

    Born near Calcutta in 1938, Mr Momen’s childhood was disrupted by his father’s career in the postal service. The regular moves across Bengal meant Mr Momen attended eight schools: the saddest part of this, he told us, was that he couldn’t play football as he was never at a school long enough to join the team. He also remembered dark times, such as the horrendous Bengal Famine of 1943. Mr Momen was horrified by the sight of extrememly thin women begging for the starchy water from cooked rice. Happier memories included those of summer holidays at his grandmother’s rural house, where every morning he ran out to collect the ripe mangoes that had fallen from the trees. His life changed completely in 1969 after he received a scholarship to do a doctorate in English at Leeds University. In 1971 he was appointed Asian Community Officer in Camden.

    In February 1976 Mr Momen founded the Bengali Workers Action Group, now the Bengali Workers Association. This acted as an advice centre for issues such as immigration, accommodation and welfare. Today the Association continues to act as a support for members of the Bengali community as well as working closely with NHS Camden, the police, and local and national government. I met Tahmina Khanom who works with senior members of the community, helping to alleviate problems of isolation and language difficulties.

    A wide range of topics are covered in the exhibition, including the themes of village life and education in Bangladesh, migration and the lives of Bangladeshi women; and aspects of life in the UK, such as community, marriage and employment.

    Beside talks, we were also treated to poetry readings, Bengali dancing and wonderfully tasty samosas from the excellent caterers Ambala in nearby Drummond Street.  I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and learning more about my Bangladeshi neighbours.

    The exhibition runs from 8 October to 19 December 2011, and is warmly recommended to anyone visiting central London over the next couple of months.

  2. Not on ancestry: London parish registers #3 St Benet and All Saints Church

    st-benet-front

    This continues the description of Camden parishes not found on www.ancestry.co.ukTo help visualise where in London these are, take a look at the outline map of St Pancras parishes in 1903 at http://homepages.gold.ac.uk/genuki/MDX/StPancras/outline.htm

    Walk from St Mary Brookfield downhill into Kentish Town and you will find St Benet & All Saints in Lupton Street, towering over the backstreets. Like St Mary’s and St Anne’s Brookfield it is a High Victorian church with a High Anglican heritage. Situated at the north end of Kentish Town, bordering the modern borough of Islington, the church was originally part of the civil parish of St Pancras and the Pancras registration district. At the front of the church is a small raised garden, which is open for public use. The church is also referred to as St. Benet and All Saints Lady Margaret Road, Kentish Town. [1881/85] but it is not included in London Metropolitan Archives’ (LMA) records.

    The reason for the confused date of 1881/85 is that the parish has its origins in a mission church built on a small field given by St. John’s College, Cambridge “near a pond just off the Brecknock Road”. Father Frank Rowland opened the original church on 17th July 1881, but it was soon outgrown by its congregation. Eventually, this chapel became the church hall.

    The main church was designed by Joseph Peacock of Bloomsbury in 1884 and built quickly, with the foundation stone being laid on 13th June 1885. The saint’s name was chosen with reference to the Church of St. Benet’s, Paul’s Wharf, Queen Victoria Street – itself a corruption of St Benedict. The then vicar, Frank Oakley Rowland, consecrated the church only months later on All Saints’ Eve. Within a few years, the church’s hastily constructed foundations and a spring under the church, were creating several structural problems.

    In October 1908, the architects, Bodley and Hare, built a permanent chancel. But by 1925, the foundations of the whole were so unstable that the decision was made to take down the nave and rebuild it. London County Council condemned the old nave in November 1927. However, thanks to a legacy from a rich investor, Jeannette Elizabeth Crossthwaite (1845-1923), and “gifts of the faithful”, a new nave, with no aisles, was built in 1928 – again by Cecil G Hare. This was consecrated in November of that year by the Bishop of Willesden.  By the time of her death, Miss Crossthwaite was living at 51 St Charles Square, Notting Hill, but in 1871 she had been living at 106 Brecknock Road – not far from the site of St Benet.

    Today St Benet’s is the parish church of Kentish Town. Kentish Town CofE Primary School in Islip Street (originally Kentish Town National School) is connected, and there are some records relating to this school at LMA http://search.lma.gov.uk The parish registers for St Benet and All Saints continue to be retained by the church. The church’s own website http://www.saintbenets.org.uk/ contains further details.

    For more on the social classes of the parish in 1898-9, see the following page from Charles Booth’s Archive is at http://booth.lse.ac.uk/cgi-bin/do.pl?sub=view_booth_only&args=528970,185490,2,large,1

    Vicars:

    1881 Frank Oakley Rowland (perpetual curate)

    1887 Herbert Edward Hall

    1901 George Villiers Briscoe

    1906 Henry Tristram Valentine

    1913 Robert Caledon Ross

    1925 Harry Herbert Coleman Richardson

    1947 Cecil Eskholme Charlton

    Sources: the history section on http://www.saintbenets.org.uk/; Survey of London: volume 24: The parish of St Pancras part 4: King’s Cross Neighbourhood , Walter H. Godfrey and W. McB. Marcham (editors), 1952; John Richardson, A History of Camden: Hampstead, Holborn and St Pancras (Historical Publications Ltd, 1999); Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 4: North (Penguin) 1998; Camden Listed Buildings website; http://www.londongardensonline.org.uk

     st-benet-plaque

    st-benet-side-2

  3. Save Camden Local Studies and Archives

    On 19 May 2011, Dan Carrier reported in the Camden New Journal (link to online article) that Camden Local Studies and Archives (Camden LS Homepage) is under threat of closure following the publication of the results of the Council’s library consultation.

    The article stated: “as the results of a library consultation are number-crunched and the Town Hall considers how to cut about 25 per cent of the service’s budget, the archives look likely to be merged with Islington’s or closed.”

    John Richardson, Chairman of the Camden History Society (http://www.camdenhistorysociety.org/) argues the consultation suggested that respondents “were in favour of spending less on local studies, not closing it.”

    It is not likely that Camden can merge its archives with that of Islington as Islington’s Local History Centre (Local History Centre) does not have the space to retain the vast resources that Camden LS currently holds (believed to be 180,000 items). Recent rumours suggest the archive could move to London Metropolitan Archives (http://search.lma.gov.uk/opac_lma/index.htm) However, critics of this move, such as the Camden History Society, point out that staff at LMA do not have the Camden-specific knowledge and experience that current researchers find so useful.

    As Dan Carrier wrote, the collection includes muskets from “the Napoleonic wars to maps of every drain in the borough”. With the bicentenary of Charles Dickens’ birth in a few months time, it is important to note that three Dickens unpublished letters are also held in Camden LS. Many of these items are uncatalogued. In London, the only archive larger than Camden’s is that of Westminster City Archives (http://www.westminster.gov.uk/services/libraries/archives/).

    It is ironic that councillors are looking to closing the Archives as part of a cost-cutting exercise. On numerous occasions, the Archives have, in fact, helped Camden Council to save money. Former chief archivist Malcolm Holmes told the New Journal of one example whereby using some of the old maps in the collection enabled the Council to save “around £150,000 in 1970s money”.

    It is also odd that Camden’s Council should choose to close the archive whilst in nearby Hackney a new state-of-the-art Archives is currently being built (http://www.hackney.gov.uk/ca-archives.htm) The borough of Hackney is just as badly affected by the cuts, and it is unclear why  investments in local history can be made by its Council but not by Camden’s.

    Camden Local Studies and Archives helps a wide variety of people – many of whom live outside the borough and were not party to the consultation. Those who currently use the Archives include: social, economic & house historians, genealogists, economists, journalists, teachers, schoolchildren, students, council employees, lawyers, builders, and authors. For family historians, its collections of parish rate books (dating from 1726),  local newspapers, electoral registers, theatre programmes, the registers of Highgate Cemetery and the photographs of local interest are invaluable. It also holds the unique Heal Collection on St Pancras and the Kate Greenaway Collection.

    Those who have voiced concern about the impending closure, include best-selling author of The Fields Beneath, Gillian Tindall, as well as Camden New Journal readers from London and beyond. In a letter to the newspaper, Camden resident, Lester May, wrote that, “Camden Council seems set on closing the local studies library and archives service in order to save around £135,000 . . . Thus one of the best resources of its kind in London, perhaps in the country, will be lost and this at a time when more people are interested in their family and local history than ever before. . . The loss of the local studies collection and archive would be permanent. There is sufficient in the council’s reserve of £95.8million for consideration to be given to funding the local studies library and archive service such that it is retained as a local service within the borough, ideally where it is currently located in Holborn.”

    John Richardson states that the Camden History Society “is particularly concerned . . . [about] its closure and its contents [being] shipped elsewhere . . . Camden are taking £135,000 out of the Local Studies budget, in effect making it impossible to function.” He argues further that this not what the consultation response indicated.

    The collections cover the area of the present London Borough of Camden. This includes the history of Hampstead, Holborn, St Pancras, Camden Town, Somers Town, Kentish Town, parts of Highgate, and the parishes of Hampstead, St Andrew Holborn above Bars, including the Liberty of Saffron Hill, St George the Martyr Queen Square, St Giles in the Fields, St George Bloomsbury, and St Pancras. The earliest parish records date from 1618.

    Update 7 June 2011

    Yesterday, on Monday 6 June, I attended a Camden Council scrutiny meeting of the library report. The Town Hall was packed with library and archives supporters. Gillian Tindall, author of The Fields Beneath, spoke as part of the deputation on behalf of the Camden History Society. She said that if Camden Local Studies is closed, it will be “a great loss for future generations” and “would be a black stain” on Camden Council’s record. Holborn Library Users Group was also represented (the Archives are housed in Holborn Library’s building). The group’s deputation argued that the loss of the Archives to Camden would be irreplaceable, and condemned the report’s suggestion that Local Studies provision be outsourced. The speaker further said that no library buildings in whole or in part should be sold without full public consultation. This was greeted with cheers and clapping from the gallery.

    Tudor Allen, Senior Archivist at Camden Local Studies & Archives, told the Councillors present that he would like to publicize the value of the material they hold. He reminded those present that the collection is invaluable.

    One councillor announced that she had to contact the Archives that very day about the oldest Market in Camden for a press release. This only goes to show how essential Camden Local Studies is to the smooth running of the entire council.

    Fiona Dean, the Council’s Assistant Director of Culture, said that they had spoken with the British Library, local university libraries, LMA & Islington about housing the records. However, they were agreed that keeping the archives within Camden is preferred option. Near the end of the meeting, Councillor Tulip Siddiq, the cabinet member for Culture, stated that the Archives will stay in Theobalds Road until suitable accommodation is found for them within the borough of Camden.

    The decision on Camden’s libraries & archives will be announced at Town Hall on this Wednesday, 8 June. Supporters of the Archives are urged to telephone their councillors before next Wednesday to ask them to vote for Option D.

    A full list of Camden’s councillors can be found on the Camden Council website.

  4. Not on ancestry: London parish registers #1 St Anne Brookfield

     In Highgate days that gap was yawning wide,

    But awe and mystery were everywhere,

    Most in the purple dark of thin St. Anne’s

    John Betjeman

    St Anne Brookfield is a parish in the north of the modern borough of Camden, and formally in the civil parish of St Pancras, and the old Pancras registration district. Originally stretching into Kentish Town, the estate of Brookfield bordered Hampstead Heath and Highgate, where its heights and rural air refreshed those emerging from the miasma of inner London.

    The site of the church on the steep hill of Highgate Rise (now Highgate West Hill) was originally home to the Cow and Hare. This was conveyed to Richard Barnett Esq. by Harry Chester and his wife in 1838. After Richard’s death in 1851, his sister, Anne Barnett, erected the church of St Anne, Brookfield. The church was built in the Early English style and dedicated in 1853, just a few years before Anne’s own death in 1858.

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    St Anne’s peal of bells was given by the parish’s most famous resident, of the enormously rich Angela Burdett Coutts (1814-1906). Believed to be the richest woman in England, Baroness Burdett Coutts (as she later became) was a close friend of Charles Dickens and the inheritress of the fortune of bank owner, Thomas Coutts (her grandfather). On the death of her grandfather’s wife, she inherited all the land between Swain’s Lane and Highgate West Hill (except the Cow and Hare) in 1837, and bought the remaining land in the parish from the Chester Trustees in 1856. Her rural home, The Holly Lodge, lay just behind the church, but was demolished in the 1920s when it was replaced with the current Holly Lodge Estate.

    Other notable features of the area are Highgate Cemetery and Holly Village (featured on the gothic episode of Grand Designs).

    Transcriptions of monumental inscriptions for other churches in St Pancras, compiled Frederick Teague Cansick (1889), can be consulted at Camden Local Studies and Archives. LMA hold Bishops’ Transcripts for the church in reference DL/T/064, and London diocesan visitation returns for 1858 and 1862 are held at Lambeth Palace Library in references Tait 440/128 and Tait 441/237. Latter-Day Saints information on this parish can be found at https://wiki.familysearch.org/en/Brookfield_St_Anne,_Middlesex

    Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman (1906-84), who was baptised at the church on 25 November 1906, lived for the first three years of his life at nearby Parliament Hill Mansions. The former ‘John Betjemann’ (his family changed their name in the Great War) referred to the church in his poem, NW5 & N6.

    Whilst Betjeman was educated at the prestigious Highgate School, poorer parish children attended the National School of St Ann(e) Brookfield, built in 1870. Some pupils of this school lived in the parish of St Mary Brookfield – the next parish in the ‘Not on ancestry’ blog series.

    Sources: ‘Additional Churches’, Survey of London: volume 24: The parish of St Pancras part 4: King’s Cross Neighbourhood (1952), pp. 140-146; ‘Nos 45 and 46 West Hill’, Survey of London: volume 17: The parish of St Pancras part 1: The village of Highgate (1936), pp. 67-68; John Betjeman, Summoned By Bells (1960)

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
    Gate of Highgate East Cemetery, Chester Road

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    A gate at Holly Village showing gothic detail

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