Blog Post

Erin’s Blog Post

Hi, I’m Erin! I am 14 and am participating in the bronze award for Duke of Edinburgh. This means for the past few months I have been volunteering at the museum and it has been amazing! I have had many new experiences and during this time I have participated in a number of tasks:

  • I first learnt how to handle objects in the collection and then I began a project looking into different badges in the collection and what they were trying to promote. Using this information, I created a display case with badges of my choosing. I also wrote the captions for them and realised the amount of hard work that went into designing a display case to maximise interest and enjoyment.
Erin’s display in the entrance to the Museum
  • After this was accessioning. I learnt how to use ADLIB which is an incredibly useful website.  I started to catalogue objects, writing about small details such as the material they were made of and if they had any obvious cracks. I also did this inside one of the museum’s accessioning registers. It had objects detailed back nearly fifty years which was fascinating to read.
  • Finally, I moved onto the learning side of the museum. At first it did not occur to me that it was such a vital part of the museum, however it soon became a very enjoyable topic. I learnt about accessibility and the needs that viewers may have. I also learnt more about the redevelopment and accessories that you could include to make the museum feel as welcoming as possible.

Overall, I have truly loved every part of this incredible opportunity and I am so excited to see the museum after its redevelopment!  I am so grateful for all of the people here as they were so welcoming and made it such a fun environment to be in.

International Women's Day 2021

Choosing to Challenge: Islington Women and Education

International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8 is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

The theme of IWD 2021 is ‘Choosing to Challenge’. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality, and can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.

We pay tribute to and celebrate inspirational Islington women who, over many centuries and across a variety of professions, have ‘Chosen to Challenge’. The contribution from Islington women in education has been immense. From Dame Alice Owen to Yvonne Conolly, each has accelerated women’s equality and helped towards creating a better and inclusive world.

[Part 2 of 5 of Choosing to Challenge: Islington’s Inspirational Women (1547-2021)]

Dame Alice Owen (1547-1613)


British (English) School; Dame Alice Owen (1547-1613)
(Image: Dame Alice Owen School)

Dame Alice Owen was the daughter of a rich Islington landowner, who inherited further wealth through the deaths of three husbands.

As a child, Dame Alice narrowly escaped death from an archer’s arrow and vowed to show her gratitude for her survival.

Her most lasting work was setting up a foundation in 1613 to provide almshouses for 10 poor women and a free school for 30 boys in Islington and Clerkenwell. The Dame Alice Owen Foundation continued after her death, establishing a girls’ school in 1886.

The Dame Alice Owen School is now a co-educational school in Hertfordshire and the foundation still supports educational projects in Islington.

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 – 1797)

Writer, teacher and advocate of women’s rights

Mary_Wollstonecraft_by_John_Opie_(c._1797) NPG
(Image: National Portrait Gallery)

Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the earliest advocates of women’s rights, lived for several years at Newington Green, Islington.

Although she had little formal education, Mary needed to earn a living and she established a school for girls at Newington Green in 1784. She wrote her first book, Thoughts on the education of Daughters (1786) based on this experience. She became known across Europe for her radical and controversial views on gender equality. Her best known work is A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792).

  • An Islington Heritage plaque to Mary Wollstonecraft can be seen outside Newington Green Primary School, and a  controversial sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft, by artist Maggi Hambling, went on display in Newington Green Open Space in November 2020.

Matilda Sharpe (1830 – 1916)

Teacher, philanthropist and painter

Matilda SharpeMatilda Sharpe was born at 38 Canonbury Place, Islington, the second of six children of Samuel Sharpe, a successful banker, Egyptologist and biblical scholar, and Sarah Sharpe, an artist of considerable talent. In 1840 the family moved to nearby 32 Highbury Place, where she was to reside until her death 56 years later.

Matilda devoted much of her life to education, starting at Newington Green Chapel Sunday School, where she taught painting and languages to working-class students. In 1885, with support from Robert Spears, a Unitarian minister, Matilda and her sister Emily established Channing School in Highgate. A school for the daughters of Unitarian ministers, their key aim was to educate girls. They wished Channing to provide the best education possible at the lowest possible cost, enabling its pupils to go on to university or any of the professions open to women. Today, Matilda and Emily Sharpe’s motto, ‘Never forget: life is expecting much of you and me’, is still very much advocated by the school.

Matilda was also a talented painter and she exhibited at the Royal Academy. One of her oil paintings, a portrait of her father dated 1868, is held at the National Portrait Gallery.  Matilda painted views from her house and her back garden, as well as Highbury Fields.  As a writer, she wrote four books of moral maxims and poetical comments on modern times, emphasizing her love of learning and travel, her dislike of smoking, alcohol, and fripperies, and her support for education for all.

Matilda died aged 86, her sister Emily having predeceased her.

  • View Matilda Sharpe’s paintings at ART UK

[This biography is an abridged version of  Matilda Sharpe (1830-1916) written by Evelyn Thomas  / Islington U3A Local History Group, 2018]

Yvonne Conolly (1939-2021)

Teacher and first Black female headteacher in the United Kingdom

Yvonne Conolly (Evening Standard)
(Image: Evening Standard)

Cecile Yvonne Conolly CBE was a Jamaican teacher, who became the United Kingdom’s first female black headteacher in 1969, aged just 29-years-old.

Yvonne arrived in the UK from Jamaica in August 1963, as part of the Windrush generation.  She had trained for three years as a primary school teacher in Jamaica before taking the decision to come to Britain on one of the many ships that brought over thousands of workers from the Caribbean. As a relief teacher, Yvonne was very aware that there were racial tensions in a number of schools where she taught. This was to become even more evident to her as her teaching career progressed. Yvonne was appointed teacher at the George Eliot School in Swiss Cottage, north London. In January 1969, and much to her surprise, she was offered a promotion to become headteacher at Ring Cross Primary School on Eden Grove in Holloway, Islington. At just 29-years of age, Yvonne was the country’s first black female headteacher.

After being appointed to this position, Yvonne received racist abuse and required a bodyguard to accompany her to work. Her appointment to the post attracted much attention from the British media, and she was subjected to repeated attacks in some national newspapers. Yvonne did not let the reaction to her headship prevent her from delivering an effective education service to the children of her school, and much of her experience at Ring Cross was to inform her later career. Carrying the responsibility of being the first-ever female black headteacher in the country, it was the reason she gave for setting up the Caribbean Teachers Association. Yvonne spent nine years as headteacher at Ring Cross and, in 1978, she left to take up a position as a member of the multi-ethnic inspectorate created by the ILEA (Inner London Education Authority). Yvonne formally retired in 2001, after 40-years-of service in education, but remained chair of the Caribbean Teachers’ Association.

Yvonne Conolly (Islington Tribute)
(Image: Islington Tribune)

In October 2020 she was honoured for her services to education with the Honorary Fellow of Education award from the Naz Legacy Foundation. HRH Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, who announced her award, said that she had “character and determination” which helped her break barriers for black educators.

In the Queen’s Birthday Honours the same year, Yvonne was made a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) for services to education. In receiving the award, she said: “I am delighted, and feel profoundly honoured to be receiving a CBE for the recognition of my work in education over many years. I am most grateful to my nominees and to the Honours Committee for this prestigious award which I am proud to share with my community.“

Yvonne died of  an incurable blood cancer she had been fighting for more than 10 years, on Wednesday, 27 January 2021, at the Whittington Hospital, Islington, aged 81 years.

[This biography is an abridged version of  Yvonne Conolly’s entry on Wikipedia, written and submitted by Islington Heritage Service in February 2021]

Choosing to Challenge: Islington’s Inspirational Women (1547-2021) 

Back to Choosing to Challenge: Islington’s Inspirational Women (1547-2021) main page

Compiled by the Friends of Islington Museum / Islington Heritage Service (March 2021)

Blog Post Education

Inspired by Peter Yates: St John Highbury Vale and Gillespie

Day and Night Winged Bulls: an exploration of community by pupils from St John Highbury Vale Church of England Primary School and Gillespie Primary Schoo

In spring 2016 artist Ella Medley-Whitfield and Islington Museum worked with pupils from year 4 at St John Highbury Vale Church of England Primary School and year 3 at Gillespie Primary School on an art project inspired by Day and Night, Winged Bulls by Peter Yates (1920-1982). It was a chance for pupils from different schools to make new friends, share ideas and be creative together.

I liked the opportunity to make friends with Gillespie by working with them.’ Zac

‘I think the children from Gillespie were nervous by we did well at getting to know each other.’ Eddie

‘I enjoyed talking to my partner about what it was like in his school.’ Benji L


‘If you look closely at the mural you can see: St Paul’s Cathedral, dolphins, a flying bull, and sword, a well and a path.’ Thalia

Yates REstored

Bevin Court is a grade II* listed housing scheme built by famous Modernist architect Berthold Lubetkin. Peter Yates was invited to paint a mural in the foyer reflecting the local area. He painted a bold abstract mural using themes from the Finsbury coat of arms. Since 2014 Islington Museum, with funding from  the Heritage Lottery Fund has been conserving and restoring this famous mural to its original splendour. Find out more about the mural and Bevin Court on the project website.


Working together, pupils from St John and Gillespie explored the mural, looking at the different symbols and discussing what they thought they meant. They were particularly fascinated by the image of the dolphin and St Paul’s cathedral. Pupils then began to think about their local area, the buildings, spaces and communities that are important to them. They debated what images they would choose to represent their schools, as well as their shared identity as part of the local community.

‘I worked very well Ahmed. I was good at drawing and he was good at cutting. We made a perfect team. I loved the idea of the art project with Gillespie.’ Krishna

‘We combined the St John’s and Gillespie symbols together to make our picture. We fitted in as many different flags as we could to show that everyone is equal no matter which city or country you are from.’ Poppy

 ‘If you look closely at our banner you can see that it has landmarks such as the Emirates Stadium. There are also symbols like the London Underground sign.’ Niamh

Pupils from the two schools were paired to create these collaborative images. Once they had agreed on their designs, they drew the images on to lino. Using lino cutters, they had the challenging task of then cutting out their designs. It took a lot of perseverance!

I was most proud of my partner because he tried really hard with the lino tool.’ Eliza

The lino cutters were very difficult to use because they hurt your hands but the hard work paid off because the prints look wonderful.’ Phoebe

‘I learned how to use a lino tool. It was fun although it was really difficult because the lino was so strong.’ Martha


Then the really fun bit happened, as pupils used printing ink to print their lino block on to fabric. Each pair printed two fabric artworks, one for the St John banner, and one for Gillespie. The fabric pieces were finally sewn together by pupils to create the two textile banner.

 ‘I found the printing challenging, but I love challenges!’ Eddie

‘I felt very proud when I saw my print because it looked excellent.’ Milo


The final banners were displayed at Islington Museum in June 2016, alongside photos of the project.

Look at the banner to explore what is important to our pupils. Join us in celebrating our shared identity as part of the same local community.


What we thought about the project:

‘I noticed that Gillespie call their teachers by their first name instead of their surname.’ Ruby

 ‘I really enjoyed working with Alice. It was fun to meet her.’ Cali

 ‘I enjoyed working with my new friend, Lucy. She had really good ideas.’ Thalia

 ‘I worked with Maya. She has loads of good ideas. It was good because they didn’t just talk to their friends, they let you join into their chats.’ Polly

 ‘I enjoyed working with my partner because he was really kind and we made friends really quickly.’ Benjy P

‘I am most proud of learning how to use lino because it is a fun skill. I also learned to sew!’ Benji L

 ‘I enjoyed using the lino cutters because I have never used them before.’ Precious

‘It was very funny when my partner Michael got yellow paint on his nose.’ Leyla

 ‘It was really funny when I got orange paint all over my face!’ Martha


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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.


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. 


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

final work 2.jpg


Learning Materials

Art ideas for the classroom

Museum collections can be fantastic starting points for art activities. Collections are full of beautiful, intriguing and unusual objects, artworks and archival documents. They can help your pupils get close to the past and investigate different material cultures. They can help you to explore different creative techniques, materials and styles. They can also inspire new discussions within the classroom and encourage pupils to re-interpret history, making it relevant to their interests and ambitions.

Below are a range of creative activities, inspired by our collections, for you to try in the classroom. We hope they will encourage you to look at the past differently, take creative risks and use new materials. Do get in touch if you’d like to visit to see any of the collection objects.

Halliwall Collage 021. Collage: Kenneth Halliwell

Use the work of local artist Kenneth Halliwell to explore collage, with a particular focus on combining human and architectural elements, and exploring colour and texture.

KS1 or KS2



Painting - no faces39

2. Mark making on giant paper

Experiment with pupils from Samuel Rhodes Secondary to use different and unusual drawing tools including paint, chalk, wheels, extended pencils, the body and music on a giant, collaborative artwork.

Great for EYFS, KS1 and SEN.


British Postal Museum36

3. Mail Art: printing stamps and image transfers

Copy pupils at Highbury Grove Secondary School, who were inspired by the works of historic and contemporary mail artists to i create their own mail art envelopes from home-made stamps and image transfers.

KS2 and KS3 predominately



iphone upload May 2016 14844. Water logs: art inspired by nature and water

Learn more about our 17th Century wooden water pipe and how Hugh Myddleton brought fresh water through the New River to Islington and London. Then replicate our successful printing project with Blessed Sacrament Primary, combining mark making, rain makers, rubbings, mono printing and collage.



Picture85. Joe Orton Book Cover Collages

Learn more about our famous, or infamous, collection of collage book covers. Then replicate our successful five lesson project with Vittoria Primary, combining literacy, design and technology, hacking, ICT, collage and splicing!

KS2 and KS3



IMG_35796. 53 Cross Street: Victorian art inspired by found objects

A Georgian house, a Victorian family home, a hidden gem filled with fragments of wallpaper, lost objects, hidden messages and secrets. 53 Cross Street is the ideal project to link to the Victorians or Georgians and let you imagination run riot. See how Montem Primary were inspired by this house and its stories to experiment with a wide range of creative activities. A whole term’s worth of experimental art with links to history, literacy and play.

EYFS and KS1



7. WWI Embroidered Postcards: sharing cultures, sharing lives

During the First World War, teenage Leonard Mansfield sent embroidered postcards from the Western Front to his mother and girlfriend back home in Islington. Moreland Primary used these postcards as the starting point to explore their own cultural heritage in this mono printing postcard project.

EYFS and KS1

01bf610c-3df2-4b4a-9e01-8f0215123ea68. Gas-Air machine: exploring bodies and the senses

The Gas-Air machine from the 1940s was used as virtually the only form of pain relief for women giving birth. Samuel Rhodes SEN School took this unlikely object as the inspiration for their sensory art project exploring their bodies and how they work.A unique, creative, discussion based and active project for exploring what our bodes look like, how they work and even what they sound like.

SEN, KS1 and KS2


If I was a Colour1

9. UV Light Therapy Goggles: art and light

In the early 20th century rickets was a very common disorder among children, caused by a lack of vitamin D from food and sunlight. UV light therapy was a new treatment used to help treat children. Inspired by the UV Light Therapy goggles Robert Blair Primary explored light and colour combining science and art in a range of creative experiments.

KS1 and KS2



10. Inspired by Peter Yates, an exploration of community

In spring 2016 artist Ella Medley-Whitfield worked with pupils from year 4 at St John Highbury Vale Church of England Primary School and year 3 at Gillespie Primary School on an art project inspired by Day and Night, Winged Bulls by Peter Yates (1920-1982). Pupils created a mono printed textile banner using lino.




Learning Materials

UV Light Therapy Goggles: art and light

In 2016 artist Ella Phillips worked with teacher Emily Evans and Year 1 from Robert Blair Primary School on the exhibition Imagine Islington.

UV light therapy goggles

In the early 20th century rickets was a very common disorder among children, caused by a lack of vitamin D from food and sunlight. Their bones would become soft and weak, leading to bent legs and spines. UV light therapy was a new treatment used to help treat children at ground breaking local health centres, including  the Finsbury Health Centre and Manor Gardens, Islington. Patients, as well as their watchful parents, would wear these goggles during the treatment to protect their eyes as direct UV light can be very dangerous.

Activity 1: Building Detectives

  • images of buildings by Berthold Lubetkin: penguin pool, gorilla house, Spa Green Estate, High Point, Bevin Court, Finsbury Health Centre
  1. Split the class into teams named after colours.  Place images of the different places around the classroom (each image is mounted on a coloured back responding to the team colours and numbered). The torches must find their images and mime the type of building to their team. The team must guess what place they are miming. Once they guess the next person can go to find building number 2, etc.
  2. Once a team has guessed all their buildings correctly they are the winner.
  3. As a class discuss the architecture of Berthold Lubetkin. We will be focusing on the Finsbury Health Centre. Think about the different ways in which it was unique in Islington and London at this time.
  4. n.b. Islington Museum has lots of information about Finsbury Heath Centre and Lubetkin.

Activity 2: Colour experiments

  • different coloured acetate
  • emotion words on cards (happy, sad, worried, calm, angry, confused, excited, tired, creative, adventurous, lonely, silly, scared, annoyed)
  • torches
  • coloured gel
  • mirrors
  1. Discuss how different people see different colours. We used a picture for this and got pupils to discuss what colours they thought were in the picture.
  2.  Split the group into pairs, each with a torch and some coloured gels. Get pupils to shine their torch through the different coloured gels and discuss how it made them feel. Ensure they experiment with different colour combinations.
  3. Then challenge the pairs to work out how to make white light (combining red, green and blue.)
  4. Hand the pairs a mirror. Can they reflect light using mirrors? Can they then make their light walk across the wall?
  5. Bring everyone back together. Discuss their experiments.
  1. As a group then move on to look at the relationship between colour and emotion. Discuss, how do you feel when it’s dark? How do you feel when the lights are on?
  2. Back in their pairs, try looking through the coloured plastic. How do different colours make you feel? Get pairs to experiment and then feed back as a class.
  3. Look at the coloured acetate in larger groups. Stick them to a window. Around the acetate stick any relevant emotion words next to the colours. Remember there are no right or wrong answers, it is all about discussion and justifying your answers.
  4. Encourage the groups to layer two coloured acetate on top of each other on the window. Would you change the corresponding emotion words?

Activity 3: Colour and pigment

  • Blueberries, turmeric, paprika, blackberries, charcoal, chalk, oil
  • Paint brushes and pots
  • 3.D glasses x 30
  • Large sheets of watercolour paper
  • Powder paint
  1. Set up tables, each with some blueberries, turmeric, paprika, blackberries, charcoal, chalk and oil.
  2. Pupils choose an ingredient and place it in a pot. Add a little oil and mix to create home-made pigments. Encourage each table to make a set of colours to use.
  3. Paint test patches or squares of pigment onto the watercolour paper on your table.
  4. Pupils then use their favourite colours to paint their 3D glasses.
  5. Pupils finally use the powder paint. They can experiment, predicting what colours they will create when they mix the powder paint with their pigments. Pupils should note down their predictions on their paper and then test their predictions, painting swatches of colour on to the paper. Can they create colour scales? Colour contrasts?

Activity 4: Sunlight photography

  • sun-photo paper
  • tissue paper
  • plastic bags
  • cling film
  • plastic straws
  • cardboard with marked frame area
  • clear acrylic
  • 6 x trays with cold water
  • pegs
  • washing line
  1. Remind pupils about the U.V treatment. Can you remember what the light was used for? Pupils are going to create their own sunlight x-rays in pairs.
  2. Spilt the class into 6 group, and each group into pairs. Each pair cuts different shapes out of tissue paper and plastic bags. Each pair also needs to collect different flat objects from the classroom or playground.
  3. Each pair needs to practise arranging the objects on the cardboard within the framed area, tying out different patterns and layouts.
  4. Each group in turn goes to the playground and arranges their objects in their chosen layout on the sun-photo paper. They then place the clear acrylic on top of their arrangement.
  5. Wait 5 minutes. Then remove the objects and submerge the sun-photo paper in a tray of cold water for 1 min.
  6. Hang the sun-photo paper up to dry on the washing line.

Activity 5: Interview a colour

  • paper
  • colour pens
  • Lubetkin buildings b&w images
  • scissors
  • glue
  • paint brushes
  • coloured ink/ watered down paint
  1. Split the class into pairs. One person in the pair chooses a colour and imagines they are that colour.
  2. Pupils introduce themselves as their colour character to their partner. What do you like doing? Where are you normally found? Where do you never go? Who are your friends? How do you make them feel? What games do you like to play? What’s your favourite part of the day?
  3. Swap over and let the other person have a turn.
  4. Can your colour characters have a conversation?
  5. Pupils then draw a picture of their character and cut it out.
  6. Pupils then need to create a background for their character by cutting out and collaging the lubetkin b&w images on to a new sheet of paper. Once they are happy with their collage pupils can use paintbrushes to add some colour with the ink/ paint. Encourage pupils to only choose 1 or 2 colours maximum. Remind them they are not colouring in the images but adding a colour wash to them, as though they were looking at their picture through a colour filter.

Activity 6: Mono printing

  • acrylic paint
  • paint trays
  • clear acetate
  • paint brushes
  • mark making tools: wheels, sticks, sponges
  • stencils of foods
  • cling film
  • paper
  • print rollers
  1.  Thought cloud with pupils what we need for a healthy life (healthy food, sun, water, time outdoors etc.) Link to the issue in the early 20th Century where children were growing up with a vitamin D deficiency, which the health centres tried to remedy with the UV treatment.
  2. Collect the mark making tools, cling film  and stencils. Discuss how each relates to something we need for a healthy lifestyle.
  3.  Dip the mark making tools in paint and use to create marks on the clear acetate.
  4. Once pupils are happy with their design on the acetate they can place the sheet of paper on top of their acetate. Use a print roller to ensure the paper is pressed down, to create a clean print.
  5. Peel the paper off to reveal the print.


Activity 7: Painting with light

  • light bulbs
  • glass paint
  • play dough
  • clear & coloured acetate
  • P.V.A glue
  • brushes
  1. Pupils are reminded of the colour character they became.
  2. Pupils paint a lightbulb in that colour. Use the playdough to stick the bulb in to stop it moving around.
  3. We used our lightbulbs to create a light installation.
  4. Pupils that are finished can choose a large clear strip of acetate, and cut it in to a window shape.
  5. They can then cut smaller pieces of coloured acetate and lay them on to their window. Once they are happy with the design, pupils can use PVA glue to stick down their design.

Painting Light Bulbs4.jpg

 Activity 8: Light boxes

  • shoe box
  • black paint
  • sharp pencils
  • straws
  • glow sticks
  • sellotape
  • camera
  1. Pupils work either individually or in pairs to paint their shoe boxes black.
  2. Pupils then pierce their box, using the sharp pencils to create holes.
  3. They can then thread the straws and glow sticks through the boxes to create a light installation.
  4. Photograph the installations, experimenting with still shots and moving shots.


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Want to know more:

Click here to find out more about the artworks created by Robert Blair Primary School and Ella Phillips as part of the Imagine Islington Project.




Learning Materials

Gas-Air machine: Ella Medley-Whitfield and Samuel Rhodes Primary Department

In 2016 artist Ella Medley-Whitfield  worked with teacher Kelly Waite and Zebra and Lion class at Samuel Rhodes Primary Department on the exhibition ‘Imagine Islington.

Why we chose the Gas-Air Machine:

‘I chose this object because I was working with an SEN school and thought a theme of health had potential to be sensory based and introspective.  I think that this is an important part of the children’s learning and development thinking about their own bodies and development and creatively responding to this idea. It gave us a lot of potential to creatively think about our bodies and senses.’


Our artwork:

Body Boxes 

Pupils created this installation piece, composed of a series of individual, interactive sculptural artworks. Each body box combines collage, sculpture, sound and sensory art.

‘The class have each created a backpack gallery, which is a representation of the inside of their body. The class described the inside of my body as a house for my child; we took this idea and asked the group to create houses for the inside of their bodies. Each box is filled with sculptures, paintings, illustrations, and are multi sensory for an audience to interact with. They have a combination of mediums used like sculptural collages intended for an audience to explore. They are presented as a large grid on the wall on hooks. Grids are a way of representing the idea that each of these students are unique and individual just as each of the children born from the air and gas box were.’


final work 3



‘I fell pregnant halfway through the project and this fed into my approach to the object, as its main purpose was to help women in labour. This became a large part of the project and something the children and myself could relate to.

The artwork I made in response to the object was an embroidered, enlarged line drawing of the children’s portraits of my un born child. I was fascinated by the idea that the Gas-Air Machine had helped deliver personalities into the world, but at the stage of birth these babies futures and prospects have not yet been decided. Nobody knows what the child will be like, or even what sex it is.

The pupils at Samuel Rhodes, when they found out I was pregnant, were immediately drawn to the game of guessing what my child would be like. It dawned on me that the children’s guesses were as good as anyone’s. I turned the game into an activity where the children acted as detectives, asking me questions about myself and my partner. With the information they gathered they drew portraits of my unborn child. It is these drawings I have enlarged and sewn onto a large piece of material. The action of sewing is homage to all the women that would have used the Gas-Air Machine in the past, I contemplated their lives as I engaged in this common activity associated with females at this point in history.

I have a cast of my pregnant stomach to work alongside the embroidered drawings. Both are portraits of my unborn child in 2016.’


final work 2

final work 1

What we thought of the project:

‘In my opinion, artists simple see so much that others do not. Our artist opened my mind to greater possibilities in Art. Pupils understood that Art is multifaceted, in the sense that it can involve smells, Hoovers, blow dryers, sewing, speaking, mixing, writing, touching and more. There was simple something for every pupil and I was impressed by their anticipation of each next step as the days progressed. I am am sure I will have less pupils shying away from the ‘Art’ word.

I expected to be ‘doing’ art, but I did not expect the project to cover so much curriculum ground We take a theme based, cross curricular approach across our school, so I was more encouraged to learn that writing, spoken word, history and design and technology were being met, fitting well into our way of learning. I had not thought about how much could come from scrutiny of a single object.’




Learning Materials

Gas-Air machine: exploring bodies and the senses

In 2016 artist Ella Medley-Whitfield worked with teacher Kelly Waite and Zebra and Lion class from Samuel Rhodes Primary Department on the exhibition Imagine Islington.

Gas-Air Machine

Dr Robert Minnitt developed his first Gas-Air machine in 1933. He was known as ‘the man who killed the agony of child birth’, providing pain relief for mothers during labour. The machine used nitrous oxide gas mixed with air and was designed to be used safely by midwives delivering babies at women’s homes. It was virtually the only form of pain relief for women giving birth until the 1970s.

‘I chose this object because I was working with an SEN school and thought a theme of health had potential to be sensory based and introspective.  I think that this is an important part of the children’s learning and development thinking about their own bodies and development and creatively responding to this idea. It gave us a lot of potential to creatively think about our bodies and senses.

Each of the students created a box as a representation of inside their own bodies. Together they become a collection of the children’s accounts to how they work.’


Activity 1: Making medicine 

  1. We spent a significant amount of time at the start just looking at, exploring and discussing the Gas-Air machine. We talked about what it was for, how it was designed and how it might work. We discussed the historical context and how the experience of childbirth was different in the past. We finished by linking it to the children’s experience of medicine and hospitals, discussing other machines and medicines that have been created to solve a particular condition. As well as the medicines the children hoped would be created in the future. We encourage discussion, debate, role play and performance.
  2. This led to a discussion of various home-made remedies used through history and today.
  3. We set out a range of different medical supplies for pupils to create their own medicine. These included vinegar, mustard, various fruits, vegetables and herbs, food colouring and water. Pupils had to select, cut, squeeze and measure ingredients into their bowl to create their own medicines.
  4. They then used funnels to transfer their medicines to their own medicine bottle.
  5. Pupils then designed a label explaining the purpose of their medicine and instructions for how it was to be applied.They also added barcodes, images, names and prices bringing in literacy and product design skills, giving a reason for each choice.


Activity 2: ‘Air’ Painting

  1. Inspired by the machine the pupils created their own ‘air’ paintings.
  2. We created a range of stations pupils rotated around. We placed paint in washing up liquid and blew bubbles. We placed paint diluted with water on paper and blew it, directing the movement by blowing through straws. We blew paint diluted with water around paper using a hairdryer. We even used an air pump and hoover to blow paint diluted with water.
  3. Throughout the activities we continually went back to thinking about breathing, the action of breathing, the sounds you made and how and why we breath.
  4. We finished by examining the different abstract marks, seeing if we could recognise the different techniques used and compare their success.

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Activity 3: Body box

  1. For our art installation we decided to create body boxes that explored the sounds, movement and purpose of the Gas-Air machine.
  2. Each pupil had a cardboard cereal packet sized box. The cut out the front panel.
  3. Pupils then covered the box in their ‘air’ paintings.
  4. Any gaps were filled in by the artist with acrylic plastic, but you could also use making or coloured tape to get clean edges.


Activity 4: Body diagrams

  1. Roll out a long roll of paper or wallpaper lining.
  2. We ensured we started this activity by making it very clear that there was no right answer, we wanted to see what the pupils thought and their own interpretations. This gave the group confidence in putting their ideas onto paper.
  3. Pupils lay down and drew around one another using marker pens.
  4. Pupils then labelled the different body parts and added drawings of how they worked.
  5. Throughout the activity we discussed our ideas in groups, creating imaginative descriptions that combined factual information with personal sensory experiences about how for example it felt to breathe, what noises you made and how your body changed.
  6. Each child chose their favourite diagram to add to their body box in a roll down strip.


Activity 5: Body noises

  1. We used sound cards, a special SEN resource,  but you could use any recording resource for this activity such as recording apps, cameras etc.
  2. We spent time discussing the noises our body makes for example when breathing, when eating, when streching etc.
  3. Pupils then recorded their favourite noises.
  4. This created a soundscape for our boxes.

Activity 6: sticky back plastic blood walls

  1. We spent some time discussing our blood and the role of blood during childbirth.
  2. There were a wide range of glitter, sequins and coloured cellophane to be cut up on the table.
  3. Each pupil got a piece of stick back plastic. The peeled off the cover to reveal the sticky side. They then created a design with the resources on this.
  4. Pupils then used pipettes to add drops of red ink or blood on to their design.
  5. With an adults help, they then placed acetated on top of their design, pressing down around the edges in particular so their design was sealed. You might want to add tape around the edges to be extra safe.
  6. You should be able to squeeze the blood through the design in a sensory experience.
  7. These blood wall were added to the back of our boxes.


Activity 7: casting body parts

  1. Pupils used lego bricks to build their interpretation of different body parts, using their diagrams and  making them 3D scultures. We then used clay to build up walls around the designs and poured plaster-of-paris into the moulds. Once dried we could break out the bricks, finding new accidental 3D shapes. We were left with sculptural representations of the childrens’ designs.
  2. A more child friendly version of this for a larger class would be to use fast drying clay or salt dough to make the models. These can then be painted.
  3. These again went inside our body boxes.

 Activity 8: blow pipe

  1. We used a plastic pipe and covered it in thermocratic paint. This clever paint once dry changes colour in response to heat, so when you hold it the heat of your hands should change its colour, leaving behind your hand print when you let go. You need to put the paint on thickly though.
  2. Once dry, we also collaboratively added coloured sticky back vinyl shapes to the pipe, which we cut out of the vinyl sheets, again exploring pattern.
  3. We all had a go at blowing the long pipe to make a sound.
  4. The blow pipe was added to the body box, it mirrored the oxygen tank on the Gas-Air machine.


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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Learning Materials

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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Learning Materials

53 Cross Street: Victorian art inspired by found objects

In 2016 artist Ella Medley-Whitfield worked with teacher Ed and Year 1 at Montem School on the exhibition Imagine Islington.

53 Cross Street

53 Cross Street (Martin King 1994) 01

53 Cross Street, Islington is a grade II-listed Georgian town house, built in 1785. Its first owner was Thomas Vernon, but many different people have lived there over the years including the Tiley family, who ran a metal engraving business in the back yard. During the 1990s, Martin King moved in and started to explore the house. By this point the house had been converted into bedsits.

Martin sought to investigate the history of the house, removing the layers of intervention to rediscover the house’s Georgian character. He removed fake walls, looked under floorboards and peeled off wallpaper, collecting the traces of those who had lived in the house before him. In the process he found hidden treasures, such as historic wallpaper fragments, pieces of clothing and adornment, old toys, bottles and WWII artefacts. He also found a hidden message behind some nailed-up shutters. Tucked inside a bloodstained and much-darned stocking was a piece of wood inscribed ‘George Shaw went to Aameica, March 1785’.

Martin took photographs of the process, revealing a house covered by a thick veil of dust and filled with the decaying memories of a forgotten time. Montem Primary School chose to work with three of the found objects, a Victorian child’s shoe, glasses and belt buckle, as well as exploring the wallpaper fragments and context of the found objects.

Activity 1: Detective game (Link to all three objects)

  1. Get everyone sitting in a circle. The pupils are to be detectives.
  2. Either give them verbal clues about the objects. Pupils have to use the clues to discuss in groups what they this the object is.
  3. Or give pupils visual clues about the objects, showing them different parts of it. Pupils have to use the clues to discuss in groups what they this the object is.
  4. Encourage debate, intrigue and curiosity.

 Activity 2: Chinese whispers (Link to all three objects)

  1. Get the group to sit in a circle. Show them one of the objects.
  2. Ask one child to make a story up about this found object. Pass the story around the circle in Chinese whispers.
  3. Have multiple stories going around the circle at the same time.
  4. Encourage imagination, expression and exploration of all the possible histories of the mystery object.

Activity 3: Find 53 Cross Street (Link to all three objects)

  1. Use google maps to find Cross Street. Where is it compared to your school? Who might have lived in the house.
  2. n.b. the museum has lots of information about the house, including photos of the interior and census records about who lived there if you want to use them.

Activity 3:  ‘In Someone Else’s Shoes’ (Link to shoe)

  1. Find a selection of shoes, all different sizes and types.
  2. The group sits in a circle and takes turns to pick out a pair of shoes. They need to imagine who the shoes might have belonged to. Encourage children to be as precise as possible, imagining the person’s name, age, job, where they lived, when they lived etc.
  3. Taking turns, each pupil puts on their chosen shoes. The rest of the group asks them questions about the person they had become.

Activity 4:  Super power shoe designing (Link to shoe)

  1. In smaller groups design a super power shoe. Get the children to think about the design, its purpose and what it will be made from. Encourage groups to use descriptive language.
  2. Encourage children to use different drawing materials. Montem used watercolour paper and watercolour pencils so they could experiment with smudging techniques.

Activity 5:  Clay shoes (Link to shoe)

  1. Get children to study the shape of the shoe, focusing initially on the sole. Children draw their own shoe soles, ensuring they are not too small. Cut out the sole template. Roll out some clay, place the sole template on top and use the tools to cut round it, creating a clay sole. Be careful the clay sole doesn’t stick to the table.
  2. Then children can start to build up the ‘shoe walls’ to create 3D shoes. Focus on creating the basic shape before adding any decoration.
  3. n.b. we use fast drying clay as it doesn’t need to go in a kiln. We worked on boards and used plastic clay tools.

Activity 6:  View master interpretation game (Link to all three objects)

  1. You’ll need a frame made out of card and some old images. Islington Museum has lots of images of people and buildings from Victorian Islington that you can use.
  2. The teacher describes what they can see through the view master.
  3. The children have to draw what they describe, interpreting what they think the teacher is looking at. Make sure they don’t see the image!
  4. Show the children the image you were describing. Talk about their different interpretations.
  5. Then switch and let one of the children be in charge with a new image.

Activity 7: Mark making through Victorian games (Link to shoe)

  1. You’ll need a collection of Victorian inspired mark making tools. We used skipping ropes, hoops and skittles. Also good are marbles and balls.
  2. Outside, perhaps in the playground, lay a giant sheet of paper. You might need children standing a each end to hold it down.
  3. The children take turns in groups to dip their mark making tools in paint and experiment with them to create marks on the paper. Dip the marbles, ball and hoops in paint and roll them on the paper. Dip the ropes in paint and play a Victorian skipping game with them on the paper. Dip the skittles and ball in paint and play skittles.
  4. As well as learning about Victorian childhood, you’ll encourage experimentation, teamwork, playful explorations and manual dexterity.




Activity 8: Wire glass making and fantasy film dipping (Link to glasses)

  1. You’ll need drawing wire, some pliers for the teacher to cut the wire, and cellophane or’ dip it fantasy film.’
  2. Explore the shape of the glasses
  3. Give each child some pieces of wire, show them how to bend it to create circles. Show them how to join the pieces of wire to create glasses. This is challenging but encourages fine motor skills, patience and structural skills.
  4. Once the glasses are finished you can dip the circles into fantasy film. When  it drys it will create a coloured plastic ‘glass.’ Our pupils found this a bit challenging, and the smell was a little toxic if you were doing it indoors. An alternative would be to attach  coloured cellophane instead to the wire to create coloured glasses.
  5. The children loved wearing the glasses for role play!

Activity 9: Mixing paint pigments (Link to wallpaper)

  1. This is messy so you may wish to do it outdoors. You’ll need powder paint, palettes, paintbrushes and water.
  2. Discuss how paints were made in the past. Link to the wallpaper fragments focusing particularly on the hand painted examples. Where would the artist have got the paint? How would they have mixed it up?
  3. Place some powder paint in the palettes. Show the children how to add water slowly, mixing to get the right consistency of paint.
  4. Then let them experiment.
  5. Keep the paints created for your own wallpaper art.

 Activity 9: Wall stencil making (Link to wallpaper)

  1. Have a look at the shapes and patterns on the wallpapers. Discuss that you think the different designs represent. Look for repeat patterns, how do you think they were created?
  2. Introduce the children to the idea of stencils.
  3. You’ll need card, pencils and scissors. Get the pupils to draw their own stecil design. Discuss what shapes make the best stencils. If appropriate, you could design stencils that explore symmetry.
  4. Pupils cut out their stencils. You can use your home-made paints to test them out on sugar paper. Remember to encourage children to create repeat patterns.

Activity 10: Mark making with school objects (Link to the shoe, wallpaper and Victorian childhood)

  1. Start by discussing the similarities and differences between school in Victorian times and today. You can use the Victorian child shoe as your starting point, imaging who might have worn it and what their life would have been like in Victorian Islington.
  2. Then create your own school inspired printed wallpaper. You could use both modern and historical school objects as printing tools. Ones that we found worked particularly well were rulers, building blocks (esp lego), marbles, sharpeners and the bottom of pencils.
  3. You’ll need paint trays, paint and sugar paper.

 Activity 11: Clay lost object making and painting (found objects)

  1. Introduce the idea of found objects inspiring art. There are many historic and contemporary artists that use found objects in their practice. You could explore the work of Picasso, Henry Moore or Damian Hirst.
  2. We’re going to make an installation art piece inspired by the Victorian found objects.
  3. You could either discuss with the class real objects they have lost or imagined lost objects. Encourage pupils to tell the stories of their lost objects. Describe the objects? How did they become lost? What do you think happened to them after they were lost?
  4. Use fast drying clay to build a small sculpture of the lost objects.
  5. Younger children will tend to create 2D pictures of their objects from the clay. Encourage them to build 3D by thinking about the 3D shape, holding the clay in their hands to work on it and continually rotating the clay to work on all sides.
  6. Once dry, the objects can be painted.
  7. Place them on a shelf or in a cabinet.
  8. You could extend this activity by creating labels for your objects. These could either be museum labels telling us the story of these lost objects or luggage labels asking for the object to be returned if it is found.  

Activity 11: Lost property memorial bricks (found objects)

  1. Introduce the idea of found objects inspiring art. There are many historic and contemporary artists that use found objects in their practice. You could explore the work of Picasso, Henry Moore or Damian Hirst.
  2. Explore the idea of 53 Cross Street as a memorial to all those who had lived there. It contains little fragments of their lives, hidden under the floorboards and on the walls, in the very bricks of the building.
  3. Montem explored their own school building and playground, looking for little momentos of their lives hidden there. They found small lost objects, clothes in the lost property and forgotten homework.
  4. They placed these objects carefully into brick moulds. They spent time cutting the pieces of cloth and paper into the right shapes, while discussing which objects they thought best represented their lives in the school building.
  5. The teacher then separately mixed and poured plaster-of-paris into the moulds. Please ensure you read the instructions before using the plaster, keep well away from children and wear appropriate safety material.
  6. Once set the plaster bricks can be taken out of the moulds. You should see glimpses of the objects hidden within peaking through the plaster.
  7. We used the bricks to build a wall installation.


 Want to know more:

Click here to find out more about the final artworks created by Montem Primary School and Ella Medley-Whitfield as part of the Imagine Islington Project.


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