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)

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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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!

Visiting HMP Holloway

Roz Currie, Curator

Holloway Prison closed this summer -the last prisoner left on 17th June 2016. Until May it was the largest women’s prison in Britain, holding around 450 inmates.

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Entrance to Holloway Prison just before it closed in June 2016

The prison was established in 1852 on Camden Road in Holloway, Islington, housing prisoners on remand, convicted women prisoners and debtors. It became female-only in 1902. Many well-known people have been held at the prison during its history, writer Oscar Wilde, suffragettes fighting for the right to vote, the British wives of German men interned as enemy aliens during World War I and Second World War fascists, including Diana Mitford and Oswald Mosley. In 1955 Ruth Ellis, the last woman ever to be executed in the UK, was hanged at Holloway. In 2016, Sarah Reed, an inmate of Holloway, tragically died under suspicious circumstances.

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The original Victorian prison ‘Holloway Castle’ was an imposing building with turrets and castellations, its entrance flanked by huge griffins seated on pillars and holding keys in their claws. The prison was rebuilt in the 1970s to 1980s, making the prison more like a hospital with small corridors and privacy for the inmates.

As the prison was closing I was able to visit several times, first while prisoners were still there and later when they had all been moved to prisons outside London. I was not allowed to take pictures inside the prison and all electronic equipment had to be handed over in the gatehouse so I can’t show you any pictures for now.

Approaching the prison it is surrounded by blank brick walls with no obvious entrance. The reception is royal blue with a Holloway Griffin doormat. There are signs everywhere mainly to control keys leaving the building. All staff wear a belt and key-chain to which they attach their own bundle, and when going through the double air-lock to leave they have to show their empty key chain to the gate staff -an alarm sounds if they forget.

The staircases in the prison are wide and simple with jointed varnished wooden bannisters. Every door needs locking and unlocking, so by the time you’ve actually come into the main prison you’re behind at least 5 locked doors and feel like you might never get out.

The facilities at the prison include a beautiful wooden sports hall, swimming pool with a Holloway Griffin in blue tiles in its centre, an education department including a pottery studio and kiln around a central garden which was increasingly overgrown each time I visited, gardens and a henhouse and a chapel and smaller religious room used for other faiths.

The wings were much more cramped. I didn’t visit wings with prisoners still living there, so there was a strange air of dereliction with photos ripped off the walls, no bed linen or personal belongings. In each cell, whether a single, double or five-bed dorm (of which only four beds were ever used) was a sink or two and a toilet. Above the sink was a tiny plastic mirror 10cm a side. Each bed had a noticeboard above which was where inmates could put up their pictures, covered in drawings, bits of graffiti and toothpaste which had been used as glue. Association rooms in the wings had hairdryers and straightening tongs wired directly into the wall with the same tiny mirrors above.

We are hoping to be able to collect some objects from the prison to enter our museum collection and also to do projects working with ex-prisoners and staff of Holloway Prison to record the story before the place disappears forever. If you have any stories of the prison you would like to share please get in touch on roz.currie@islington.gov.uk.

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

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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. 

Flood at the Museum

Roz Currie, Curator

In May we came down into the museum to find water up to our ankles. Following very heavy rain, a deluge had raced down St John Street and come up through the basement floor of the museum.

We were very lucky that the flood was only a few inches deep. The first job was to remove as much water as possible with specialist hoovers. We also used dehumidifiers and fans to help reduce the humidity in the air and stop any mould starting to grow.

 

A lot of our objects are very sensitive to humidity. As you can see from this graph, our humidity was a lot higher than usual after the flood –it is normally about 50%, but went up to 65% at its peak.

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I took very sensitive objects off display and into the store for about a month. For example our Joe Orton book covers, which are stuck with glue, might have come apart in the damp so were packed away until normal humidity had returned.

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Hacked book cover

Floods are very bad things for museums to deal with –once objects get wet or mouldy it can be very hard to look after them. We were very lucky as no objects actually got wet. We have had one casualty which is a cast iron fireplace which has become rusty as a result of the humidity. I will be assessing it to do conservation work in the next few weeks.

Hello to Islington

What is Islington? Who is Islington? When did people start living here? Why did they live here? What interesting things have happened here? What interesting things are happening right now? Angel Live Webcam

As the new curator at Islington Museum (I’m Roz) it’s my mission to tell at least part of that story. Just over 10 years ago I lived on Pentonville Road as a student, but understanding the great health benefits of tomatoes as advertised by Indian Veg on Chapel Market (it used to be a £2.99 all you could eat buffet) maybe isn’t reflective of the borough as a whole.

We have a fascinating collection in the museum and local history centre…but so many questions to answer…

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Bust of Lenin

Why is he part of the Islington story?

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New River Waterpipe

Why is this made out of wood?

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Holloway Prison 1862

What was it like to be imprisoned at Holloway?

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Clerkenwell Explosion

What happened here?

So.. in this blog we’ll be exploring Islington -the place and its people -and how it is (and isn’t) represented in our collections. I’ll also be talking about our exhibitions and hopefully inviting different guest bloggers to tell us their stories of the borough.