Blog

According to the GRO indices, since 1837 there have been ten boys registered with the forenames, Napoleon Bonaparte.

Emma Jolly, in the article NAMING NAPOLEON: how exploring first names can give an insight into Victorian world history.

Emma Jolly writer, historian, genealogist
  1. Streets of Dickens

    For fans of Charles Dickens and those who would like to know more about him, this  bicentenary exhibition is not to be missed. Streets of Dickens: Holborn, Hampstead, St Pancras is the latest celebration of the author to open in London, and can be seen at Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre, on the second floor of Holborn Library. The Archives are situated conveniently around the corner from the Charles Dickens Museum in Doughty Street (due to close from 10 April-December 2012).

    As described in my article for London Historians, ‘Charles Dickens in Camden’, the novelist had many associations with the area. Further links have been discovered by historian Ruth Richardson and are explored in her new book, Dickens and the Workhouse (OUP, 2012).

    The exhibition is one of the largest I’ve attended at the Archives, and is well illustrated with copies of photographs, prints and drawings in the collections. Amongst the original items featured are letters by the novelist from the 1830s and 1855, an 1857 Tavistock House Theatre poster, a 1924 drawing of Mr. Pickwick by Joseph Clayton Clerk, and a Burial Register of Highgate Cemetery showing the April 1851 entry of Dickens’ baby daughter, Dora Annie.

    All Dickens’ local residencies are covered, such as the now-demolished 16 Bayham Street with its views ‘over the dust-heaps and dock-leaves and fields . . . at the cupola of St. Paul’s’ (John Forster). For those unfamiliar with dust-heaps, the exhibition helpfully provides a print of those in Somers Town 1836 and displays Dickens’ description of them in Our Mutual Friend.

    Streets of Dickens is open now until 21 December 2012. Camden LS & Archives, Holborn library, 32-38 Theobalds Road, London is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 10-7; Saturday 10-5. Free entry.

  2. Lessons in Nursing Care from the Early Years of the NHS

    The first series of Call The Midwife ended last night on BBC 1. The show was a huge ratings success, with its final episode being watched by 9 million viewers. Much of its appeal lies in the fairly accurate recreation of 1950s Poplar and of its realistic scenes of childbirth.

    Today, with UK healthcare under threat from the NHS bill, this portrayal of the Service’s successful early years may hold some clues as to how it could more simply be reformed. There have already been calls for the NHS to go ‘back to basics’, with the return of matrons and a focus on patients’ essential needs. Could a return to 1950s methods of nursing care, whilst retaining 21st century scientific and technological advancements, be the answer?

    Decades before the NHS was created the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale, regarded open windows as the hallmark of a healthy hospital ward. Open windows were much in evidence on Call The Midwife, both in the hospital wards and in houses of the East End.

    This basic policy is supported by an article in today’s Independent, which reports on a microbiologist who believes air conditioning and an ultra-sterile environment are harming patients by contributing to infections. Jack Gilbert of Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago and head of the Earth Microbiome Project, explained the science behind his theory:

    Open windows let bacteria in from outside and you will either dilute out the pathogens, or you are not allowing the pathogens to establish themselves because there is too much competition for the nutrients and energy that the bacteria need to survive. . . There’s a good bacterial community living in hospitals and if you try to wipe out that good bacterial community with sterilisation agents and excessive antibiotic use, you actually lay waste to this green field of protective layer and these bad bacteria can just jump in and start causing hospital-borne infections.”

    Contemporary scientists are not alone in their praise of basic practice, as seen on Call The Midwife. My godmother, a retired chief midwife, was impressed by the authenticity of the breech birth scene in episode two. Mothers on the babycentre.co.uk webchat, agree. They believe that the 1950s method of covering the baby’s head with a towel, in order to keep it warm and prevent it taking a breath in the birth canal, was preferable to their experiences, which had resulted in lung pumps and incubators.

    Having been through childbirth twice, I agree that the birth scenes in this programme are the most realistic I’ve seen on any television drama. Happily, like mine, most of the births shown in the series ended successfully. However, one of the most tragic scenes was that in episode 4 where middle-aged headmaster David loses his beloved wife Margaret after she suffers eclampsia. Eclampsia and pre-eclampsia remain dangerous conditions. As now, good ante-natal care is key to identifying present and prospective complications. Sadly, Margaret was shown to have left her ante-natal appointment before being seen by the midwives.

    In the early 1970s, my mother saved the life of a farmer’s wife from a remote area who was admitted with pre-eclampsia:

    “We had to take her into a single room with the blinds down and keep her sedated. Suddenly she began fitting and her heart stopped. With no second to spare, I had to give heart massage until we felt a pulse. After this, she was given an emergency caesarean section, and both she and her premature baby survived.”

    mumnurse

    My mother, who began her training in 1963, warmly remembers the camaraderie of the early years:

    “There was much more of a family feel than there is in today’s nursing. There were many people aged 18, mostly young women, with very very few men in general nursing. We were all enthusiastic, really loved the patients and all the young ones felt we were in it together.”

    Like the midwives who lived together at Nonnatus House, my mother and her colleagues lived in a nurses’ home where hierarchy was much in evidence:

    “We were awe of the sisters, and the matron could sometimes be quite terrifying! We were issued with so many dresses, so many hats and so many aprons. There were the hospital laundries which did all the laundry and starched your hats. This helped keep infections down. The matron and sisters were very strict about hair being kept back, and absolutely no wearing of jewellery.”

    Community and personal relationships are seen as central to nursing care in the television series, and were very much key values for nurses of my mother’s generation:

    Everything was about caring for people, the care of the person. Especially as young nurses, we got to know the patients and their families. Great emphasis was put on nutrition – also the going out. The fluids in and the fluids out, as it were. Anyone who wasn’t up and about, we had their charts and went around making egg and milk drinks, making sure they were all well-nourished.

    I trained in a big hospital where we rarely saw the matron, but the assistant matrons did daily rounds. We had to make sure that we knew everything about our patients. The senior staff would walk round and ask any question at all. We had to be particularly alert with one, who asked the blood results of each patient, which we had to know without looking. Also, we looked after the whole ward so we knew every patient there.”

    This later changed, with nurses only being assigned a small number of patients on each ward.

    Some viewers have expressed relief that they do not have to give birth, drug-free, in a bug-infested slum in the bomb-shattered East End of post-war London. But many more are attracted to the positive experiences shown on Call The Midwife: the strong community, inexhaustible humour, and, above all, the patient-centred nursing care. On a day when so many are criticizing and heckling the Prime Minister and the Health Minister for their planned reforms, it seems appropriate to remember the value of high quality nursing in those early years of our National Health Service.

    The Guardian’s obituary of Jennifer Worth (Jenny Lee), who died shortly before the series was filmed, can be read at http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jul/06/jennifer-worth-obituary

    For more on the local history aspect of Call The Midwife, see the The Sugar Girls’ blog: http://www.thesugargirls.com/call-the-midwife/ 

  3. Dickens and London

    … the great heart of London throbs in its Giant breast. Wealth and beggary,

     

    vice and virtue, guilt and innocence, repletion and the direst hunger, all treading

     

    on each other and crowding together, are gathered round it. Draw but a little

     

    circle above the clustering house-tops, and you shall have within its space,

    everything with its opposite extreme and contradiction, close beside.

    Master Humphrey’s Clock, 1841

    Portrait of Charles Dickens 19th century © Museum of London

    Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth on 7 February 1812, but lived much of his life in London. Although he died in Kent, his remains lie in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey where he was buried on 14 June 1870. The city fed his imagination and Dickens spent decades reproducing London’s streets, sights, smells, sounds and people in his many written works.

    As part of the 2012 bicentennial celebrations mentioned in the previous blog, the Museum of London has created a stunning exhibition celebrating Dickens’ links with the capital. Exhibits are drawn not just from the Museum’s own extensive collections, but from museums and archives across Britain. There are also particularly notable items, such as Dickens’ writing desk, from private collections.

                  Copyright Museum of London

    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. He explored it by day and, often, by night. As he walked mile after mile he planned stories in his head. Visitors to the Museum can hear a reading of Night Works, Dickens’ description of London after dark, whilst watching William Raban’s 19 minute specially-commissioned film, The Houseless Shadow, made in October 2011.

    Throughout those four decades, Dickens’ life changed dramatically. He went from schoolboy and then impoverished son of a prison inmate to the greatest celebrity of his time. His peers changed from workhouse orphans working alongside him at the blacking factory by Hungerford Stairs to famous authors, millionaires and aristocrats from across Europe and the United States.

    Hungerford Stairs 1830 by John Harley. Copyright Museum of London

    Hungerford Market, 1830 by John Thomas Smith © Museum of London

    It is thus remarkable that the Dickens and London exhibition captures so much of his own varied life along with the lives of his characters. We see blacking pots, for example, like those Dickens’ worked with in his childhood employment, sitting not far from the author’s bank ledger – a reminder of his later riches. There are displays on the theatre, which Dickens adored, including a footlight from Wilton’s Music Hall. Also featured are themes of childhood, death, transport, wealth and poverty.

    Dickens London Map © Museum of London

    Copyright Museum of London

    The full geographical area of the capital is covered: there is ‘A copy of Verses from the Year 1835, humbly presented to all the worthy inhabitants of the Parish of St Pancras’ in the north to household items excavated in 1996 from Jacob’s Island in Rotherhithe in the south east. St Pancras parish included Camden where Dickens lived and which inspired scenes from David Copperfield, A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities. Jacob’s Island is probably most associated with scenes from Oliver Twist, particularly that of the dramatic death of villainous Bill Sykes.

    Unlike in the British Library exhibition, the displays here are concerned with Dickens’ world – what many refer to as ‘Dickensian London’ – rather than a detailed focus on what he wrote. However, this does not detract from its success. And those who are interested in how Dickens wrote will delight in the presence of three original manuscripts: Dombey & Son (1847) and Bleak House (Nov 1851) from the Victoria & Albert Museum,

    Dickens's Manuscript for Bleak House © V&A images/Victroia and A

    Bleak House manuscript. Copyright V&A Images

    and Great Expectations (1861) lent by the Wisbech and Fenland Museum. Visitors can also experience Dickens’ work like its first readers by flicking through a replica copy of an instalment of Little Dorrit (Copyright V&A Images).

    Little Dorrit partwork © Museum of London

    I once researched a family who lived around the corner from Charles Dickens in Holborn. One of my first thoughts was did he ever know them or see them? Did they inspire any of the characters in his novels or short stories? Although it is almost impossible to find out, this reminded me that many of those who inspired Dickens are the ancestors of people living today. That specific family would have recognized a watchman’s box in the centre of the exhibition, that stood outside Dickens’ old home at Furnival’s Inn – the home that neighboured theirs.

    For family historians who have at least one ancestor who lived in London between 1820 and 1870, therefore, Dickens’ writing is a unparalleled source of relevant social and domestic detail. This exhibition provides an extension of that. The exhibits bring Dickensian London alive.

    Overall, for anyone with even a passing interest in either Dickens or the social history of Victorian London, this exhibition is not to be missed.

    Useful Links 

    www.Dickens2012.org

    http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/dickens

    http://www.dickensmuseum.com/

    http://charlesdickenspage.com/dickens_london.html

    http://charlesdickenspage.com/ruth_richardson-cleveland_street_workhouse.html

    http://www.bfi.org.uk/whatson/bfi_southbank/film_programme/january_seasons/dickens_on_screen

    http://twitter.com/Dickensbookclub

    Dickens and London tickets

    Adult £8 (£7 advance booking);Child/concession £6 (£5 advance booking);Under 5s FREE; Friends of the Museum FREE; Flexible family tickets are also available

  4. A Hankering After Ghosts: Charles Dickens and the Supernatural

    I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book,

    to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my 

    readers out of humour with themselves, with each other,

    with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses

    pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.

    Preface to A Christmas Carol (December 1843)

    Dex.316

    If, like me, you are a fan of Charles Dickens, you have much to look forward to over the next year. In the run up to 7 February 2012, the bicentenary of Dickens’ birth, galleries all over the world are dusting off letters, books, and illustrations of the great author and his many works.

    To start us off in London, the British Library have a smallish exhibition in its Folio Society Gallery – the perfect size for a lunch break visit. The rich Christmassy feel also provides welcome escape from currently chilly London streets.

    Christmas permeates the display. There are several editions of A Christmas Carol, a theatre poster for an early performance, an oral recording by Ralph Richardson and Paul Scofield, plus a copy of the semi-autobiographical short story ‘A Christmas Tree’ (1850). Indeed, we learn that it was the ghost stories told around the fire in his childhood Christmases that first inspired Dickens’ imagination to ‘hanker’ after the supernatural.

    Childhood influences are highlighted throughout: from the supernatural imagery of The Arabian Nights to the ‘fiendish enjoyment’ of young Charles’ nurse in relaying ghostly tales. But later, more tragic events were also to inspire his writing. The deaths of loved ones, like Mary Hogarth, were said to have ‘haunted his dreams’. Similarly, Ebenezer Scrooge was to be haunted at night by the ‘ghosts’ of those he had once cherished.

    The Victorian obsession with the supernatural is highlighted through examples of spirit (or psychic) photographs and a display on spiritualism. Dickens satirized the spiritualists but was fascinated with the macabre. A close friendship with one of the finest exponents of the ghost story, Wilkie Collins, only served to further his interest. Although he sought to rationalise supernatural phenomena such as mesmerism, Dickens was not above sensationalizing them to terrify his readers. An original copy of Bleak House, for example, lies open on an illustration showing the spontaneous combustion of the alcoholic Krook.

    Amongst featured items in the exhibition are illustrations, theatre posters and a letter written by the author to his wife, Catherine. One of my favourite items was a copy of The Terrific Register – a penny weekly magazine whose tales of horror haunted Dickens throughout his life. He later remembered ‘there was an illustration to every number in which there was always a pool of blood, and at least one body . . .’

    The exhibition is free and runs from 29 November 2011 – 4 March 2012: Monday, Wednesday-Friday 9.30 – 18.00, Tuesday 9.30 – 20.00, Saturday 9.30 – 17.00, Sunday and Bank Holidays 11.00 – 17.00.

    For more on Dickens, see my article ‘Charles Dickens in Camden’ at the London Historians website http://www.londonhistorians.org/?s=articles

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. Postal Museum & Archive

    post-map

    Earlier this year, I was researching for a client at the Postal Museum & Archive in Farringdon. At the time, the Archive, around the corner from the vast postal headquarter’s of London’s Mount Pleasant, was in the process of updating its website and adding new material.

    The new website is now ready for use at http://postalheritage.org.uk

    There are some great features to the website such as a blog (http://postalheritage.wordpress.com/2011/06/13/women-in-the-post-office/), history of the post office (http://postalheritage.org.uk/page/history), galleries (http://postalheritage.org.uk/page/144/Online-Exhibitions) and the updated online catalogue (http://catalogue.postalheritage.org.uk/).

    Family historians will probably be most interested in the Family History Research section (http://postalheritage.org.uk/page/genealogy) which includes examples of appointment books (http://postalheritage.org.uk/page/appointments).

    If you are planning a visit to the Archive, I recommend ringing in advance and remember to take some ID! Overall, the Archive and its new website are excellent resources for anyone researching Post Office ancestors.

  8. 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.

  9. The Obituary of Miss Lily Knight: 29 May 1952

    lily-knight-1940

    Lily Florence Knight 1893-1952, seen here in 1940, around the time war forced her departure from the Palladium.

    A number of twitter users expressed interest when I tweeted recently about finding an obituary for my great grandmother, Lily Knight, in The Stage Archive (https://archive.thestage.co.uk).

    Although my great grandmother was not on the stage, our family knew that she had always worked in the theatre world. Her daughter, my grandmother, grew up around the theatre, and Lily’s grandchildren were treated to notable performances at the London Palladium. The tradition continued when my cousins and I were taken for our annual trip to West End theatres during summer holiday visits to Grandma in London.

    Lily adored her work: she became privy to all manner of backstage secrets and met the toast of the London stage. Her life in the theatre covered the music hall period from Marie Lloyd through the years of variety and the emergence of cinema, into the dance craze, the light comedies of Noel Coward, Repertory theatre, and the dominance of classical actors such as John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Peggy Ashcroft, Michael Redgrave and Alec Guinness.

    The discovery of the obituary filled the gaps in my knowledge of Lily’s career, pinpointing the exact theatres in which she worked and identifying some of her colleagues and employers.

    Lily Florence Knight began life in 1893, in a laundry in Stoke Newington. By the time of the 1911 census, Lily was working as a clerk in the establishment of a ‘Musical Agent’. Although Lily was just 17 years old, she had used all the intelligence, charm and looks at her disposal to make a career for herself away from the laundry in which most of the female members of her family worked. Her ambition was spurred by the contrast between the laundry she called home and the glamour of the early twentieth century stage.

    The obituary revealed that Lily had begun her career even earlier than 1911, when she ‘in her early teens’, working in the office of a ‘William Henshall’ – the aforementioned musical agent. Around this time, Lily married Sydney Spencer and gave birth to two children. In order to keep on working Lily retained her maiden name and was always known professionally as ‘Miss’. According to the obituary, Henshall gave up the agency in the 1920s and it was then that Lily began working as a secretary at the Alexandra Theatre in Stoke Newington. During the twenties, the Alexandra housed pantomimes, films (it had been a early cinema for a short period) and circus performances. More details about this theatre can be found at the Music Hall and Theatre History Website: http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/AlexandraTheatreStokeNewington.htm Some of its posters and programmes 1897-1935 are held at Hackney Archives (currently being moved to a new location) http://www.hackney.gov.uk/ca-archives.htm

    A few years later, possibly after the closure of the Alexandra in 1935, Lily transferred to the London Palladium – then one of the most celebrated theatres in the world, and in the heart of the West End. The Palladium was celebrated for its variety acts, and from 1935-39 saw a number of performances from the group later known as The Crazy Gang, which featured the composers Flanagan and Allen, as well as Jimmy Nervo, Teddy Knox, Charlie Naughton and Jimmy Gold. Here Lily worked as a secretary for the managers George Rhodes Parry and (later) Charles Hutchinson. Other acts of the 1930s who played the Palladium were the comedian Jack Benny, singer Paul Robeson, the musicians, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Cab Calloway, the actress Ethel Barrymore, the dancer and singer Josephine Baker, and the singer and entertainer Fats Waller (http://www.reallyuseful.com/theatres/london-palladium/history-1 ). It was during this period that Lily befriended the man in charge of bookings and, from 1945, the Managing Director of the Palladium, Val Parnell.

    Valentine Parnell (1892-1972), had begun his career as an office-boy, and later became a famous theatrical impresario and television producer. Val had been born in Hackney, and married firstly Dorothy O’Connell in 1913. In 1911 he was living with his ventriloquist father at 7 Wiltshire Road, Brixton. A biography and photographs of Val Parnell, can be seen at http://www.teletronic.co.uk/val_parnell.htm

    When war intervened, leading to the temporary closure of the Palladium in 1940, Lily took a position at the BBC. A few years later, in September 1943, she moved to the head office of the theatre owners, Moss Empires, working for Charles Henry, the head of the Press department and the chief of production. From 1946, Moss Empires owned the London Palladium, enabling Lily to keep in touch with old friends. More detail on how Moss Empires was run by a small staff at Cranbourne Mansions in Leicester Square can be read at http://glasgow-empire.webs.com/howmossempiresworked.htm

    Jack Sullivan, who had had been away serving in war, returned to Moss Empires and separated the Press department, taking Lily as his secretary. After he moved on, she continued to work for his successor John Carlsen.

    However, this happy period was soon to end. In 1952, Lily was struck down by cancerof theoesophagus. The obituary stated that, “After a short illness, during most of which she felt it her duty to carry on until it was impossible for her to continue. She was admitted to the Wanstead Hospital, where, after an operation, she died last Friday, May 23.” Although it was known she was ill, she had been expected to return home after the operation. Lily’s death in hospital at the age of only 58 was a huge shock to her husband, children and grandchildren. And, as the obituary shows, Lily was to be deeply mourned by her beloved theatre world:

    Her great knowledge of the business and unfailing helpful attitude to the many inquirers day to day were invaluable, and her loss is grievously felt. . . . Val Parnell said: “I knew Lily Knight personally for a great number of years. She was a most likeable person, and we shall all miss her very much indeed.”

    The Stage, May 29, 1952, p4

     Further Reading: Christopher Woodward, The London Palladium: The Story of the Theatre and Its Stars (Jeremy Mills Publishing, 2009)

  10. Not on ancestry: London parish registers #2 St Mary Brookfield

    This continues the description of Camden parishes not found on www.ancestry.co.uk To help visualise where in London these are, an outline map of parishes in St Pancras 1903 can be found on the genuki website: http://homepages.gold.ac.uk/genuki/MDX/StPancras/outline.htm

    St Mary Brookfield is only a short walk downhill from St Anne’s Brookfield. Although it resides in the modern borough of Camden, the church is literally across the road from the borough of Islington. Formerly in the civil parish of St Pancras and the old Pancras registration district, it is referred to as St Mary, Dartmouth Park Road (1875) in London Metropolitan Archives’ (LMA) records.

    In contrast from St Anne’s, this church was built by public subscription for rich and poor parishioners. When it was dedicated in 1875, it was one of the first open-pew churches, allowing all classes to worship together. The Gothic Revival architect, William Butterfield, began work on the church in 1869, but refused to complete the building as a result of “certain unpleasanteries” which occurred on the completion of the nave (T. F. Bumpus, London churches ancient and modern, 2nd ser., p. 103). Other architects who worked on the church were WC Street (the chancel) and Sir Ninian Comper (the rood). The building was Grade II listed on 10 June 1954.

    The parish is centred around the area of Dartmouth Park, just north of Kentish Town and Tufnell Park.  In the eighteenth century, the area was amongst vast fields owned by the eponymous Earl of Dartmouth. The park itself once stretched all the way from Highgate, but is now a small space, dominated by a reservoir tank. However, the park makes up for its size with its magnificent views of central London. From the mid-nineteenth century, the area saw continuous house building, and is now a popular residential area close to Hampstead Heath.

    Neighbours of the church in its early years included the impresario of Gilbert & Sullivan operas, Richard D’Oyly Carte, who lived at 2 Dartmouth park road. A blue plaque was recently unveiled there by the director, Mike Leigh (http://www.camdennewjournal.com/news/2010/dec/blue-plaque-unveiled-theatre-impresario-who-brought-together-gilbert-and-sullivan-film )

    The first vicars of the parish were Daniel John Twemlow-Cooke (from 1877), Philip Harold Rogers (1907), Charles Reginald Dalton (1928) and Frederick Salmon Vaughan (1945).

    LMA holds Assignment of Consolidated Chapelry of St Mary, Brookfield (ref. P83/JNE/91 21 Dec. 1877), but the parish registers are retained by the church. The church’s own website is http://www.stmarybrookfield.com/

    Further information can be found at https://wiki.familysearch.org/en/Brookfield_St_Mary,_Middlesex

    For more on the social classes of the parish, see the following page from Charles Booth’s Archive is at http://booth.lse.ac.uk/notebooks/b356/jpg/54.html (Booth B356, p54)

    Sources: 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; The Buildings of England London 4: North. Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner. ISBN 0-300-09653-4.

    John Richardson, A History of Camden: Hampstead, Holborn and St Pancras (Historical Publications Ltd, 1999)

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