Imagine Islington Islington Stories

Curating Imagine Islington

Roz Currie, Curator


During 2015 and 2016 Islington Museum worked on an Arts Council England project, ‘Imagine Islington‘, exploring objects from the museum collection. Three different artists and six primary school classes were inspired by six objects from our collection. The exhibition brings together the six objects and the artworks they inspired, created by the class and artist.

The whole project was experimental and playful -exploring the objects in different ways. We wanted the exhibition to reflect this and included the cast of a pregnant tummy to stroke, body noises to listen to, acetates to look through and rain sticks to play.

The objects chosen by the artists are below, click on the links to see the artworks:

  • A Wooden Water Pipe -This 17th-century water pipe was made from the trunk of an elm tree. It was used to carry water, provided by the New River Company, bringing water initially to houses and businesses in the City of London, and later to Islington.


  • Joe Orton Book Covers -Writer Joe Orton and his partner and mentor Kenneth Halliwell created ‘guerilla artwork’ using books from Islington Public Library Service. In 1962 they were each sentenced to six months in prison for causing ‘malicious damage’ to seventy two library books.
  • Objects found at 53 Cross Street -53 Cross Street, off Upper Street, was built in 1785.  The first owner was Thomas Vernon and many different people have since lived there. During the 1990s, Martin King moved in and started to explore the house, he collected the traces of those who had lived in the house before him and donated them to the museum.
  • WWI Embroidered Postcards -Leonard Mansfield sent silk embroidered postcards to his girlfriend, Margaret, from the trenches during the First World War. Silk cards were manufactured in France from 1900 onwards but became popular throughout the conflict as souvenirs for troops to send to family and friends.


  • Gas-Air Machine -Dr Robert Minnitt developed his first Gas-Air apparatus in 1933 and this refined version in the 1940s which was used until the 1970s. He was known as ‘the man who killed the agony of child birth’, providing pain relief for mothers during labour.
  • UV Light-Therapy Goggles -In the early-20th Century rickets was a very common disorder among children. It was caused by a lack of vitamin D from food and sunlight. UV light therapy was used to treat children in the Finsbury Health Centre. Children would wear these goggles to protect their eyes.


Imagine Islington Museum Blog

WWI Embroidered Postcards: Sharing cultures, sharing lives

In 2016 artist Sarah Pimenta worked with teacher Louise Murtagh and Year 1 at Moreland Primary School on the exhibition Imagine Islington.

Second World War embroidered postcards

Leonard Mansfield was only 18 when in 1916 he left his home in Islington for the Western Front where he was a signaller. Leonard was seriously injured in a gas attack on the 25th August 1918 but survived the war.

Leonard sent a number of silk embroidered postcards to his mother and girlfriend, Margaret from the trenches . Beautiful artworks in themselves, they contain embroidered images of French and British flags, flowers, insects and seasonal messages. They give us a unique insight into personal relationships transformed by war.

Panel 7 -Mansfield wedding

Silk cards were manufactured in France from 1900 onwards but became popular throughout the conflict as souvenirs for troops to send home to family and friends in Britain. The embroidery was made at home by French and Belgian women and was then sent to factories to be made into cards. Designs include flowers, patriotic messages and the badges of individual regiments.

Leonard survived his injuries, marrying Margaret in 1925. They lived in Islington for the rest of their lives.

Moreland Primary  chose to work with these objects to explore the idea of why people send postcards . They thought the idea that Margaret had kept the postcards from Leonard so safe for so many years was a lovely message about treasuring and valuing things given to us by those we love. The simple designs of the postcards depicting images from France and England was also an interesting point to start thinking about heritage and identity visually.


 Activity 1: My cultural heritage

  • pencils
  • paper
  1. Explore Leonard’s story with the class. Think about why we send postcards. Our class was very mulitcultural so we explored the idea of sending postcards across different cultures. We looked at how Leonard represented both his home culture and the French culture in which he was temporarily living in the designs and symbols on the postcards. We looked at how this linked into the idea of France and Britain being allies in the Second World War.
  2. Pupils spent time researching their own different cultures, looking for key symbols and colours that represented their perceived cultural identity.
  3. They then designed a postcard that combined these symbols, like a secret code that represented their cultural identity.

Activity 2: Mono printed postcards

  • A5 polytile
  • printing rollers
  • sharp pencils
  • A4 sugar paper
  • block printing ink
  1. We gave each pupil a postcard sized piece of polytile l. Using a pencil, pupils drew their postcard designs on to the polytile, filling the sheet. They needed to be careful to press hard enough into the polytile to make an indentation, but not too hard so that it pierced the polytile.
  2. Pupils put some printing ink on to the paint trays, rolling it with a printing roller until it was smooth.
  3. Pupils then used the printing roller to put ink on to their polytile, covering their design, remembering to not use too much ink.
  4. Pupils place the inked side of the polytile on to a piece of paper. They ran a clean printing roller over the back of the polytile, pressing it on to the paper. They then carefully peeled back the polytile to reveal the printed postcard design on the paper.

Activity 2: experimenting with mono printing

  • A5 polytile
  • printing rollers
  • tissue paper
  • glue
  • scissors
  • mark making tools such as stamps, bubble wrap, lego blocks etc.
  • A4 sugar paper
  • block printing ink
  1. We gave each pupil a piece of sugar paper on which to experiment with mark making techniques. Pupils used different tools dipped in ink to print onto their paper. They experiemented with pattern, shape and colour.
  2. Once dry, we also encouraged pupils to cut and glue a few strategically placed pieces of tissue paper onto their piece of paper on top of the mark making. You can again experiment with colour and shape.
  3. Once everything was dry, we then printed our polytiles again on to our sugar paper, following the instructions above.
  4. Layering techniques created interested explorations of colour.

Moreland was keen to develop its pupils literacy so we turned our artwork in to real postcards. Using Leonard’s text and format as inspiration pupils addressed and wrote their own postcards, sending them to family members.

Want to know more:

Click here to find out more about the artworks created by Blessed Sacrament RC Primary School and Sarah Pimenta as part of the Imagine Islington Project.

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