Categories
Archive Blog Post Collections Local History

Pantos, Pageants and Puddings: Islington’s Christmas Past

Image 1 WW1 card
Embroidered card sent by Leonard Mansfield during World War I with the words ‘From Lenn, Wishing you a merry christmas + a prosperous new year’ [Islington Museum: 2003.2]

We’re all witnessing a different kind of Christmas in 2020. One without the usual carol services, Christmas fairs, pantomime outings and no spending ‘real time’ with family and friends. As a diversion, we thought we’d take a brief look at some of the Christmas ‘goings-on’ of Islington past.

Read on with a cup of spiced tea and a mince pie!

Have Yourself an Aggie Little Christmas!
Image 2 Royal Smithfield Show 1908
Cattle for Christmas at the Smithfield Club Show [The Sphere, 12 December 1908]

You can learn all about the Christmas fun fairs filled with pageants, fairground rides, music and wild animals at the Agricultural Hall or ‘Aggie’ in our presentation Meet Me at the Aggie. However, the Smithfield Club Show (first established in 1798) was the most enduring annual event at the Aggie. It took place between 1862 and 1938 and was usually held a week or two before Christmas. The first livestock fair held at the Aggie attracted almost 135,000 visitors. Members of the royal family frequently attended these showcases of Britain as a leading meat-producing nation. The Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII) took a particular interest and regularly entered specimens from the royal farms.

There was no better place to see all the finest varieties of cattle, as well as pigs and sheep. In 1864, the Islington Gazette commented that “We would not want to exaggerate the effect of the Smithfield Show but we do regard it as a triumph of principles that has almost infinite outgoings” and observed that livestock shows were a fitting event for the lead-up to Christmas, traditionally a season of abundance. Press coverage also indicates a habit of complaints about the most recent show not being as good as those in previous years!

The Pleasure of Pantomime and Performance
Babes in the Wood at the Grand Theatre, Islington
Babes in the Wood at the Grand Theatre, Islington High Street, 1904

Christmas really isn’t Christmas without theatre, and especially the tradition of pantomime. We can usually expect delightful and hilarious Christmas shows at Sadler’s Wells, the King’s Head, the Rosemary Branch, the Little Angel and others (do check out what’s available to watch online). Islingtonians of the past would have sought festive entertainments filled with uproarious dames, dashing principal boys and lines of dancing girls at venues including Collins Music Hall, the Finsbury Park Empire and the Grand Theatre, Islington High Street.

A notable figure in the world of Islington pantomime was Geoffrey Thorne, who by day was chief registrar of births and deaths (as Charles Townley) and a contributor to the Islington Gazette and other publications. Thorne was best known for his comic song Who Killed Cock Warren? (satirising the resignation of police chief Sir Charles Warren in 1888 when he failed to catch Jack the Ripper). He was also closely associated with pantomimes at the Grand Theatre (located where the Royal Bank of Scotland building now stands, adjacent to Angel Station). The 1904 production of The Babes in the Wood, penned by Thorne, was praised by the London Daily News for its “transformation scene in which no fewer than three tons of glass featured prominently […] a fitting climax to the performance, and praise is due to the management for its efforts in upholding the reputation for good pantomimes so long enjoyed by the ‘Adelphi of the Suburbs’”. Sounds spectacular indeed!

Christmas Day in Cornwallis Road Workhouse
Image 4 Christmas pudding recipe
Recipe for Christmas pudding, Cornwallis Road Workhouse, 1904 [Islington Museum: 2002.12]

The workhouse system was established in 1834 under the New Poor Law in order to centralise poverty relief, which was previously administered on a case-by-case basis by local parishes, in order to deter all but the most destitute from applying. The harrowing conditions featured in many works of Victorian art and fiction, most notably Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist (1837-9). The campaigning journalist George Robert Sims’ impassioned ballad Christmas Day in the Workhouse was first published in 1877 and became hugely popular and was frequently parodied.

A version of the workhouse system continued into the twentieth century. Cornwallis Road Workhouse, Upper Holloway was established in 1864-5 by the West London Union and by 1882 was taken over by the Board of Guardians of St Mary’s, Islington. The quantities in this recipe for Christmas pudding for the inmates (over 900 of them) of 1904, handwritten by workhouse cook Clara Dyer, certainly are extraordinary. The Islington Gazette depicted the Cornwallis Road Workhouse Christmas as a jolly affair with copious amounts of food and a dining hall decorated with “a fairylike appearance with its embellishment of flowers, greenery, various coloured rosettes and Chinese lanterns”. However, it’s unlikely that the rosy treatment in the press reflected the reality.

A Twixmas* Read
Image 5 The Christmas Egg
The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly (1958). A great Twixmas read!

If you are a fan of vintage crime fiction, it’s almost certain that you’ll enjoy The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly (1958), recently reissued as part of the British Library Crime classics series: Shortly before Christmas, White Russian émigré Princess Olga Karukhina is found dead in suspicious circumstances in her seedy bedsit off Islington High Street and her priceless Fabergé egg has been stolen… will the mystery be solved by Christmas Day? Kelly was an amateur opera singer who knew Islington through her visits to Sadler’s Wells and she bestowed her love of music on her sleuth, the aptly named Inspector Nightingale.

The book contains evocative descriptions of Islington High Street in the aftermath of the Second World War:

“[Nightingale] had only seen it before in daylight; by night it appeared to be even more a survival from the past. Its narrow curving course and pavements sloping to a central runnel recalled the village long engulfed by the city. The high, flat-faced buildings crowded on either side, their ground floors of tiny shops bedizened at this time with dusty Christmas decorations, belonged unmistakably to London; but to the last century.”

Quite different to today but the sense of economic depression strikes a chord.

[* Twixmas is the word given to the ‘relaxed’ days (27-30 December) between Christmas and New Year’s Eve]

Walking Islington
Image 6 Canonbury House
Canonbury House, Canonbury Place, Islington (built 1795)

As well as curling up with a good book, such as The Christmas Egg, one activity that we can still indulge in is a good walk. Admittedly, there hasn’t been much else that we can do outside the home since March but Islington has so much handsome architecture and walking around in wintry sunshine is one of the best ways in which to enjoy it. I especially like Canonbury House (built 1795), which must be full of the ghosts of the most gloriously Dickensian Christmas memories. I wish I could have attended a Christmas party there in days gone by!

What do you enjoy most about Christmas in Islington? Do you have any special traditions and what are you doing differently this year?

All at Islington Museum and Local History Centre wish you a safe and peaceful festive season and a happy (and better) New Year!

Researched and written by Julia Rank
Islington Museum | Islington Local History Centre (December 2020)

Sources

Islington Museum and Islington Local History Centre Collections

British Newspaper Archive

Cornwallis Road Workhouse, Islington in Workhouses.org [acc. December 2020]

Workhouses in Islington in Workhouses.org [acc. December 2020]

The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly (1958, reissued by British Library Publishing in 2019, with an introduction by Martin Edwards)

Categories
Collections

Arsenal FC Collection

London has always been known for its association with football. Islington is the home of one of London’s greatest football clubs, Arsenal. The club was founded in 1886 and over the course of its history, they have gone on to win a number of titles and gained worldwide prestige. Originally Arsenal was based in Woolwich, but in 1913 the club built a new stadium in Highbury and they moved to Islington.

The museum holds a fine collection of objects related to Arsenal and some of these are showcased in their permanent gallery. The objects vary from photographs, match programmes, shirts, medals and flags. These have come from the fans and club, and they provide a good insight into the experiences of fans as well as some of the club’s most interesting matches and greatest achievements.

I’m Fatima and I am a student at the University of Westminster. For one of my modules, I have been volunteering at the museum. During my time here, I have been working with the museum’s Arsenal FC collection. My tasks involved locating the collection’s objects and updating information about the collection in the museum’s Adlib database. Working on this particular project was very interesting, because I learnt about the risks associated with museum objects and the way to handle them properly.

To explore the museum’s database yourself, why not follow this link? http://islington.adlibhosting.com/?extra=9

Here are 3 objects I found interesting from the Arsenal FC collection (either on display or in store):

  • Object Number: 1999.67
  • Object: Photograph
  • Object Description: This is a photograph of one of Arsenal’s football players – Ted Drake. Ted Drake joined Arsenal in March 1934 and he went on to play 167 games for the club. During his time at Arsenal he helped his team win 3 titles and this included two league divisions and one FA cup.
  • Object Number: 2005.22
  • Object: Match Programme
  • Object Description: This is the official programme of Arsenal’s match against Manchester United in 1933. The game was played on 17th May and its kick off was at 7:45 pm. The cover depicts one of Arsenal’s football players – David O’Leary. This is because it was his final match for Arsenal.1730.JPG
  • Object Number: 1999.71
  • Object: Scrapbook
  • Object Description: This is a scrapbook of Arsenal’s 1948-49 season. It was compiled by fan Harry Trigg. Harry was a commentator at the time and his scrapbook includes a signed team photograph.

Here are some images of objects from the Arsenal FC collection:

1756

1742

Categories
Collections

Dadabhai Naoroji Photo Album and Presentation Box, 1892

The constituency of Central Finsbury elected Britain’s first Asian MP in 1892. This album and its presentation box were gifted by the people of Bombay (now Mumbai) to commemorate Dadhabai Naoroji’s election. He served as MP for Central Finsbury until his defeat in 1895.Naoroji Photo Album

Dadabhai Naoroji (1825-1917) was born near Bombay and was the first Indian appointed as a Professor at Elphinstone College there. He moved to England in 1855 and became Professor of Gujurati at University College London (UCL) in 1856. Naoroji was a founder member of the East India Association and the London India Society. Within both of these organisations he promoted Indian rights in trade and the Civil Service.

Naoroji, photograph

During his time as MP for Central Finsbury, Naoroji’s position provoked further discussion of imperial citizenship in Britain. Naoroji also supported Home Rule for Ireland during this period, referring to the ‘ghostly persistence’ of Irish suffering in his public speeches. In these, Naoroji continued to represent himself as an imperial citizen. In the Pall Mall Gazette, he was described as holding his audience in his hands within the first five minutes of his speech at Holborn Town Hall in 1886. In 1901, he published Poverty and UnBritish Rule in India which is now regarded as a work which contributed to the founding of Indian nationalist economics.

Before his success in the 1892 election, Naoroji campaigned unsuccessfully as a Liberal party candidate in the staunchly Conservative area of Holborn. After losing his seat in Central Finsbury in 1895, Naoroji stood for election in Lambeth North in 1906 but was unsuccessful. He left England the following year to retire to India. Naoroji died at Versova in Bombay in 1917. Today there is a street named after Naoroji and a plaque at Finsbury Town Hall bearing his name.

EC1 Naoroji 04 (Medium)

Categories
Blog Post Collections

Sifting the Paperwork

Islington Museum’s paperwork is crucial in helping us understand what our objects are, where they are from and why they are interesting.

An old brick is just a brick…until you have a piece of paper that shows it is an original  tile from Sadlers Wells ‘Musick House’ in the 1680’s where people would come to take the waters, which cured dropsy, jaundice and scurvy. Come and visit us to discover the tiles and other intriguing objects from Islington’s past.

We have been working hard to look at our historic paperwork and bring it up to modern standards. In Sifting the Paperwork the people behind the work will give an insight into what we’re doing and will share the interesting snippets we find along the way.

Roz Currie, Curator

Categories
Collections Islington Burning Past Exhibitions

Islington’s Burning

London has had a turbulent and fiery history! It has been burned to the ground many times over in its 2000 year history and yet the London Fire Brigade (LFB) was only formed in 1866.

islington-burning-twitter-facebook-image

From the destruction of St. John’s Priory, Clerkenwell in 1381, the impact of the Great Fire of London, to the tragic blaze at Smithfield Market in the 1950s, ‘Islington Burning’ uncovers the story of fire fighting in the borough and commemorates 150 years since the founding of the LFB. The story is told through key objects from the London Fire Brigade Museum Collection, original material from Islington’s museum, archives and other collections from across the capital.

Here are 5 of the amazing objects on display in the exhibition:

  • The original Vestry Minute Book from St Mary’s Islington from the time of the Great Fire of London

img_4805

Islington escaped the Great Fire as the wind changed direction. However many of the 100,000 people made homeless travelled north and camped out in Moorfields and Bun Hill Fields. This vestry minute book of the time records money donated to those made destitute following the fire.

  • An insurance plate from 18 Highbury Terrace in Islington

img_4806

Many people were bankrupted by the Great Fire. Fire insurance started to fill a gap in the market and included fire insurance brigades who would put out fires in insured buildings to reduce costs. This plaque showed that X was insured so that the brigade would know a fire should be extinguished

  • An original smoke helmet from 1900 to allow firefighters to enter smoky buildings

img_4809

This was the first real attempt to ensure firefighters could breathe when in smoke-filled buildings. It would be connected via a rubber hose to a set of bellows that would be pumped by another firefighter to drive air into the helmet. A rope between the two firefighters was used to signal for more or less air, or if there was a problem. Firefighters could only go as far as the hose would allow and had to place their lives in the hands of the bellows-pumper.

  • A German incendiary bomb from World War II

img_4807

Incendiary bombs were designed to set buildings on fire. Over 500 were dropped on Islington during the war. The Fire Guards’ job was to put these bombs out as quickly as possible to prevent fires spreading and raging out of control.

  • A 2016 print out from Islington Fire Station for their next job

img_4808

Today there are two fire stations in Islington –Islington Fire Station on Upper Street and Holloway Fire Station on Hornsey Road. This print out giving orders for the mobilisation of Islington Fire Rescue Unit.

Come to see the exhibition to find out more!

Categories
Collections

Museum of London -Incoming!

Roz Currie, Curator

Over the summer we have been working with the Museum of London on their rationalisation project.  Following a review of the Social and Working History collections, 6000 objects were identified for disposal … and Islington Museum was one of the lucky recipients!

 During the 1970s and 1980s museums undertook ‘rescue collecting’. As traditional craft workshops were closing, many museums collected the whole contents, from all of the tools to the tea cups. The idea was to capture disappearing crafts and trades and recreate workshops in the museum. At the Museum of London many of these collections have never been displayed and so the rationalisation process identified duplicate and unusable items and then offered them to other museums.

I spent time at the Museum of London store in Hackney looking through boxes and boxes of exciting objects from the following places in Islington:

Oliver’s Watchcase Workshop which closed in 1971

briset-street-rowley-parkes

The Rowley Parkes building on Briset Street

  • Groome upholsterer and button manufacturer

We hope to do a lot more work with these collections –looking at the different tools, understanding how they were used, and exploring their local history so keep a look out for more information. And if you know anything about light industry in Islington please do get in touch with me at roz.currie@islington.gov.uk.

For more information about the Museum of London project see here. 

Categories
Blog Post Collections Education Imagine Islington

Inspired by UV light therapy goggles: Ella Phillips and Robert Blair Primary School

Panel 3 -Goggles

In 2016 artist Ella Phillips worked with teacher Emily Evans and Year 1 at Robert Blair Primary School on the exhibition Imagine Islington. Ella supported Emily to design and deliver a 5 workshop programme for the classroom, inspired by Islington Musuem’s UV light therapy googles.

Ella also worked alongside the pupils in their classroom to create her own new artwork inspired by the goggles and the pupils.

Why we chose the goggles:

‘The U.V goggles and some intriguing photographs of U.V treatment therapy, first made me curious about this object. As I continued my research, I discovered the connections between this object and the Finsbury Health Centre. Not only a leader in free healthcare, this centre was also an architecturally innovative space designed by Berthold Lubetkin. I decided that I would like to explore two areas inspired by the object: how can we reimagine/ re-design our environment? And, what are the effects of light & colour on mood? Bringing together art and science, I wanted the project to embrace the idea of experimentation. This meant repeating activities to discover our favourite results. The class loved the freedom offered by experimentation and enjoyed creating stories about their favourite colors.

Ella

Our Artwork

The class experimented with a wide range of techniques including creating colour, printing with UV and experimenting with colour and emotion. The final installation piece is the outcome of these explorations.

Light Therapy 

Each student painted a light bulb in their desired colours which have been used to create a light installation, transforming the space into a living painting. 

Ella

final artwork 1.JPG

Blue Window 

Children mixed coloured light using gels, created their own paints with natural materials and used sunlight to create x-rays of objects from their classroom. I have collaged their x-ray ‘cyanotypes’ onto acetate, so that they can act as windows/ frames through which to view the exhibition.

By placing objects onto light sensitive paper, the spaces in between them turn blue. These x-rays have been collaged and printed onto acetate. These windows, printed with translucent blue traces are suspended at various points around the exhibition space. As you move between them, the room shifts between shades of blue.

Ella

Ella Phillips_Blue Window, installation, acetate cyanotype prints, 2016.jpg

final work 2.jpg

unnamed

Categories
Blog Post Collections Education Imagine Islington

Installations inspired by Joe Orton’s Book Covers: Ella Phillips and Vittoria Primary School

Picture15.jpg

In 2016 artist Ella Phillips worked with teacher Helen Roberts and Year 4 at Vittoria Primary School on the exhibition Imagine Islington. Ella supported Helen to design and deliver a 5 workshop programme for the classroom, inspired by the Joe Orton book covers held by Islington Museum.

Ella also worked alongside the pupils in their classroom to create her own new artwork inspired by the book covers and the pupils.

Why we chose the book covers:

‘As an artist, I often work digitally and found the materiality of the objects appealing.

I was interested in how different places invoke certain behaviours and how Orton & Halliwell chose to subvert this within the library space. I wanted to create a connection between their history and contemporary culture, through playing with the idea of ‘hacking as a method of cutting and technological subversion. What does changing an image or text with your own ideas, say about ownership and personal agency? Collage offered an effective way to explore this, with children of all abilities able to make impacting images quickly.

Ella

 Our artwork:

Pupils created an installation, Library: Hacked:

Each student created ‘hacked’ text, book jacket covers and concertina books. These were put together alongside their ‘spliced portraits’ to create a topsy-turvy library.

Bringing together all of these elements, the class created a library installation with our own ridiculous rules to help you understand how to behave! Look around and you might see our spliced portraits, but nothing is as it seems in the ‘Library: Hacked’.

Ella

final work 1

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Ella created While Reading 

This installation was composed of a hand carved book, created from a hacked library text with a video nestled inside. From the book was a pair of headphones playing a video. Sense and nonsense, everybody is welcome!

Ella Phillips_While Reading, video installation, 2016

 

 unnamed