From Train Tracks to Record Tracks
Documenting Camden’s Working Life
Over the years Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre have worked with many partners on a range of projects relating to aspects of Camden’s history. Of these the one we have worked most often with is Digital Works. An arts and educational charity, Digital Works run oral history projects across London working with communities to explore the history of work and workers in the capital. Subjects they have dealt with over the years include: the printers of Fleet Street, bus workers, underground workers, black cab drivers, the tailors of Saville Row and Thames lightermen.
Former drivers, Ray Knight, Steve Forey and Chris Luesley after the film screening © Sav Kyriacou
In past years we have supported two of their Heritage Lottery Fund projects - one working with schools to explore the history of Leather Lane Market, and another looking at the story of the jewellery makers of Hatton Garden. And this year we have been working with them on two more.
The first – “Tracking the Heritage” - collected the memories of former King’s Cross station staff and culminated with Digital Works putting together a wonderful film exploring the history of the great station as seen through the eyes of its workers. “The Train at Platform 5” draws on interviews with drivers, guards, and other station staff to chart the many changes in the work and the station from the days of steam up to the present day.
On the 4th of July the film was screened in our Centre, followed by a fascinating question and answer session with some of the participants, including three former train drivers. You can watch the film here
Left to right – session musicians Mo Foster, Ray Russell, Jim Watson and Simon Willescroft © Sav Kyriacou
The latest Digital Works project we have supported – “On the Record” - deals with a very different aspect of life - the hidden stories of London’s session musicians. As with “Tracking the Heritage” the full set of oral history interviews produced will be deposited with us. These draw back the curtain on the hidden world of this industry in London and the many music studios that peppered the city including, within Camden, at Camden Town, Chalk Farm and Primrose Hill.
A documentary film has again been created, entitled “Music Makers”. Drawing on over 20 interviews this explores the working lives of the many musicians who recorded with famous artists, with not so famous artists, for TV, for film, for advertisement jingles.
The film will be screened in Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre at 6pm on the 19th of September, again followed by a q and a’s session. But you can watch it now online here
Archives of Artist and Printmaker, Richard Beer
Richard Beer at home around 1970 © Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre
We have recently completed cataloguing of an exciting new accession relating to the painter and printmaker Richard Beer who was a longterm resident of Primrose Hill. Jennifer Hawkins Opie, author of “Richard Beer: Art and Life” (published in 2019) has kindly deposited with us her collection relating to the artist whose work can be found in Tate Britain, the V & A and galleries and museums abroad. He was also a book illustrator, a designer for ballet and theatre, and a teacher at Regent Street Polytechnic and Chelsea School of Art.
“Casale” by Richard Beer 1956 © Michael Fletcher
Beer lived at 21 St Mark’s Crescent for over fifty years up until his death in 2017, aged 88. He was also educated within what is now Camden – studying at the Slade School of Art in the later 40s. And his retrospective was held in Bloomsbury, at the Abbott and Holder gallery in Museum Street.
Ms Opie’s collection embraces exhibition catalogues, photographs, travel diaries (with sketches) and correspondence, including letters from the poet, John Betjeman.
The catalogue of the collection can be viewed here
1964 publication illustrated by Richard Beer
Celebrating the Bard of Bengal
The performers © Sanjay Dasgupta
On the 30th of May we were delighted to hold a very special event in Camden Local
Studies and Archives Centre. The Tagore Centre UK presented an evening
celebrating the Bengali literary giant, Rabindranath Tagore, the “Bard of Bengal”.
Poet, dramatist, novelist, composer, singer, philosopher and educationalist, Tagore
became in 1913 the first non-European recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature. In
1912 he was resident within what is now Camden in a house which still stands – 2
The Villas in the Vale of Health.
Talking us through the great man’s life and work was – all the way from Kolkata in
India – the celebrated interdisciplinary artist and screen personality, Sujoy Prosad
Chatterjee. Sujoy gave some wonderful performances of Tagore’s poems and
dramatic works. His passion for the writer was manifest.
Sujoy Prosad Chatterjee
Mamata Lahiri, a noted Rabindrasangeet exponent, sang beautifully, ably
accompanied by Dr Tirthankar Roy, a legendary ersaj player and Sunith Lahiri on the
Sunith Lahiri, Mamata Lahiri and Tirthankar Roy
A huge thank you to Srabantika Dasgupta of the Tagore Centre for making the event
happen. I have my copy of Tagore’s selected works – in translation of course – ready
to start reading. And I look forward to us working with the Tagore Centre again in the
Down at the Old Archives Centre
Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre hosted a memorable event on Thursday 27th April, a celebration of the old Holborn Empire, the music hall which once stood on High Holborn just to the east of today’s underground station. The evening was brought to us by the wonderful Good Companions, a troupe whose mission is to tell the story of London through the songs that Londoners used to sing, the songs of the music hall, once the capital’s most popular form of entertainment. They led us through the history of what was once one of London’s largest and most cherished venues, entertaining local people from the 1850s up until its bombing in 1941 and playing host to the leading stars of Victorian and Edwardian music hall. We were transported back in time through terrific performances of old music hall numbers which would have been performed at the Empire, among them “Champagne Charlie”. “My Old Man”, “The Boy in the Gallery” and “London Pride”. We learnt how the songs told the tales of everyday life for local residents – revelry in the local pubs, poverty in the rookeries, crime, romance, and finally, resilience as Holborn was devastated during the Blitz. Most of all, we learnt how the songs dealt with the hardships of life through a plenitude of humour and fun Thank you once again to the Good Companions for a such a special evening. We hope we can have you back!
Celebrating and Collecting Camden's Black History
On 13 March Camden’s first Black British History hub opened in a former florist’s shop in Malden Road, Kentish Town. Founded by Community Engagement Co-ordinator, Emily Momoh, and supported by London Borough of Camden, it showcases the exhibition Emily curated “We Were Here” which tells the stories of eight key figures in Camden’s black history - Olaudah Equiano, Dido Elizabeth Belle, Robert Wedderburn, Billy Waters, Mary Prince, Sarah Parker Remond, Beryl Gilroy and Jerry Williams. The hub also contains a mini-library on aspects of Black history. From June it will be running workshop activities, events and exhibitions to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Windrush. The hub is based at 18 Malden Road, London NW5 3HN. open from Tuesday to Friday from 11am to 4.30pm. Admission is free.
Emily Momoh at the Camden Black British History Hub in Malden Road
As part of Camden’s Strategy for Diversity in the Public Realm, Emily will be leading “Hidden Voices” a project to collect historical information, documentation and artefacts of Camden’s African and Caribbean communities of the Windrush era and pre-Windrush – from the 18th century on. The material collected as part of the project will be added to our collections here at Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre. If you are interested in volunteering to assist in the project Emily would be pleased to hear from you at: [email protected]
Camden's Historians of the Future
Approaching ten years ago Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre began offering class visits to Camden primary schools in which teachers could bring in their pupils to work with local history resources relating to historical subjects they were studying. Over the years we built up the service until we were running, on average, one class visit per month. Then Covid hit and of course this aspect of our service became impossible for a period. I am pleased to say, however, that as life has returned to normality in recent times, we have been able to revive this offer to schools. Currently we are in the middle of a period where we have five separate class visits over five consecutive weeks. Recently Eleanor Palmer School in Kentish Town brought in a class and have kindly given us consent to reproduce here some of the photographs they took of the session.
© Eleanor Palmer School
My colleagues, Kate and Ingrid, have done brilliant work in publicising our offer to schools, arranging visits and preparing all the resources for the sessions. The schools which visit let us know in advance what area of history they are studying and Ingrid and Kate prepare a range of related resources for them to work with including books, photographs, maps, newspapers and illustrations. We mainly use facsimiles to prevent any damage by over-boisterous handling!
We run the sessions on Fridays when we are closed to the general public. We rearrange our search room to create four large table areas. Each of the four tables is devoted to materials relating to one particular aspect of the area of study and has a list of questions for the pupils to consider.
I give a short introduction to the session in which I show them one of our prize documents – a letters patent dating from around 1610 issued by King James I. I present it in its large flat box which is about three by three feet in dimensions and ask them what they think is inside. On one occasion one boy suggested “A pizza!” If only…
© Eleanor Palmer School
The pupils then start to work with the materials. The class is split in to four groups and each group has fifteen minutes on each table. I ring a bell when it is time to move tables. It is a pleasure to see how engaged most of the young people are during the visits and we have had some excellent feedback from schools. When schools wish to return we consider that proof they have found the sessions beneficial. The children get a particular thrill out of using the magnifying glasses and it has been known for the occasional dispute to arise over whose turn it is to use one.
We have a display on in the Centre currently showcasing some of our children’s books collections – including precious first editions of the famous illustrator Kate Greenaway and the well-known writer, Eleanor Farjeon, both of whom lived locally. The exhibition is entitled “A Selection Box of Children’s Books” and for fun we added in the display cases – well away from the books I might add – some Quality Street chocolates. These have also attracted the notice of our young visitors!
© Eleanor Palmer School
I went to school in the sticks in Cumbria in a small village school which had only about 40 pupils in total. History education comprised watching a half hour tv programme once a week. I am pleased that our Centre is able, through these class visit sessions, to help bring history alive for the children of Camden.
Our exhibition on Camden-based children’s book authors and illustrators
Visitors from Across the Pond
Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre recently played host to a visit from students of New York University. The college has a campus based in Bedford Square in Bloomsbury. The wonderfully enthusiastic, Professor Susanna Horng, brought in 21 of her students of Liberal Studies to find out about our collections and researching in archives and to look at our current exhibition – “We Were Here” – which focuses on eight key figures in Camden’s Black history. Its curator, Emily Momoh, was on hand to answer questions from the students. It was a delight to have the students here and we are hoping that the tours will become a regular annual event.
The students on their visit with Professor Susanna Horng (9th from left) Emily Momoh (10th from left) and Tudor Allen, Archivist at the Centre (far right)
(© Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre)
Charles Freestone - A Painter's Family Visits
We recently had an interesting visit to the Centre from a woman called Pauline High and her daughter. After her mother’s death in 2010, Pauline came across an old photograph in an envelope of her grandfather and her mother each holding a painting, the largest depicting the Blitz over St Paul’s Cathedral. The paintings were by her grandfather, a commercial artist who traded under the name of Charles Freestone. The photograph was taken in 1941 by an Evening News photographer when Freestone was on his way to the Royal Academy to enter the paintings either in the Summer Exhibition or the Fireman Artists Exhibition held that year.
Pauline High and her daughter with Charles Freestone’s painting of Gray’s Inn library on fire after an air raid.
Pauline had recently developed a great interest and love for art history, and had become an amateur artist herself, so upon discovering the photograph she wanted to find out more and see if she could track down the paintings depicted. She contacted the Royal Academy Archives but they held no records about them. However they informed her that several of her grandfather’s paintings were in our collections here at Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre.
We hold six of Freestone’s works – five oil paintings and one watercolour – and we were delighted to show these to Pauline and her daughter on their visit. The artist was an ARP warden in Holborn during the Second World War and the five oils all depict the aftermath of air raids in the Holborn area in the early years of the war including damage to buildings in Theobalds Road – where our Centre is based - and a fire in the library of Gray’s Inn, the Inn of Court located directly opposite to us.
Firemen putting out fire after air raid in High Holborn, 1940 by Charles Freestone © Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre
The watercolour is of St John the Evangelist Church, the beautiful church by John Loughborough Pearson, which once stood in Red Lion Square, where Charles Freestone once lived. The painting captures the church before it was sadly destroyed by wartime bombing.
Red Lion Square showing St John the Evangelist church, no date, by Charles Freestone
© Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre
Pauline tell us that to the see the paintings in person was “lovely and overwhelming, quite an emotional experience.”
Unfortunately, the current whereabouts of the St Paul’s painting remains a mystery.
A Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Evening in Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre
As part of Camden’s Black History Season, Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre held a special event on October 11th, an evening celebrating the great composer, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, who was born in the same street as the Centre is based in – Theobalds Road – in 1875. Hilary Burrage, Founder of the Samuel Coleridge Taylor Foundation introduced an evening of excerpts from his music performed by Foundation members, Richard Gordon-Smith on violin and Martin Anthony Burrage on keyboard with Richard providing a commentary, exploring the composer’s life, work and legacy. The evening included the presentation of a new portrait of Coleridge-Taylor to Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre. Councillor Sabrina Francis, Camden’s Cabinet Member for Young People and Culture, accepted the portrait on our behalf from the artist, Judith Booth. The portrait is currently on display in the Centre during our opening hours.
Richard Gordon-Smith (left) and Martin Anthony Burrage (© Hazel Dunlop)
Judith Booth (left) and Councillor Sabrina Francis (© Hazel Dunlop)
From left to right - Tudor Allen (Archivist at CLSAC), Hilary Burrage, Richard Gordon-Smith, Judith Booth, Councillor Sabrina Francis, Martin Anthony Burrage (© Hazel Dunlop)