The title of today’s blog post comes from the first stanza of the poem Slough, by John Betjeman.
Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough!
It isn’t fit for humans now,
There isn’t grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!
One of the many legacies of the United Kingdom’s colonial past is the number of British-sounding place names to be found in various parts of the world. From Birmingham in Alabama to Canterbury in New Zealand, and from New York to New South Wales, these names reflect the English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish heritage of many of the people who settled in those places.
Even before the UK’s capital hosted this year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, the most famous British place name of all was undoubtedly London. For today’s blog post, I’ve decided to use a small selection of our maps to illustrate some of the world’s other Londons.
I wish this was my house but, sadly, it isn’t. It’s Forty Hall, a Grade I listed manor house now owned by the London Borough of Enfield. It was originally built in the early 17th century for Sir Nicholas Rainton, a leading haberdasher who later served as Lord Mayor of London. The house has been a museum since 1951 and recently re-opened following a complete renovation and refurbishment.
I thought it would be interesting to find something about Forty Hall among our records so I decided to look it up in the Valuation Office survey. This survey was carried out in the years leading up to the First World War to assess the base rate for a new property tax called increment value duty, which had been introduced under the Finance (1909-10) Act 1910. Although increment value duty proved controversial and the legislation was repealed in 1920, 1 the surviving records of the survey now have a second ‘life’ in the archives. They are now one of the most popular sources for house history and local history, and are often used by family historians and professional researchers too.
Collection Care is often about finding solutions to difficult problems and I addressed this theme in my last post when I talked about a project currently underway treating a particular series of photographs. Well, this problem-solving approach applies not only to our conservation treatments of the collection, but also to how we deal with things on a large scale – how we manage our collection.
One of the big questions we’ve grappled with as part of this project has been: what do we have? Oh, we know we have 11 million entries on Discovery, 13,000 series of records, etc. But to effectively manage the risks to our physical collection we need to know what types of materials we’re dealing with and how many of each we have. Tackling this question required extensive data gathering and some visual ingenuity.
Some colleagues and I recently visited the Mind the Map exhibition currently on at the London Transport Museum. This exhibition explores the role of transport maps in art and everyday life, and it inspired me to choose a set of maps related to the London Underground as the subject of this blog post. Continue reading »
Luxury is not a word that naturally springs to mind when we think about the Second World War, but last month I went to a fascinating lecture that connected these two topics. Design historian Neil Taylor’s talk, which formed part of the Archives for London seminar series, offered a thought-provoking insight into the place of luxury goods in the UK’s wartime economy.
I was struck by Neil’s observation that the black and white photographs of the period encourage us to think of the ‘home front’ as drab and grey, when the truth was rather more complicated. For many of the economic and social elite, life remained rather colourful. The onset of war actually opened up new luxury markets. (My favourite example was a crocodile-skin gas mask box!) In later years, rationing and the ‘make-do and mend’ spirit encouraged a brisk trade in high-quality second-hand furniture and clothing. A little luxury certainly helped to boost the morale of those who could afford it.
Although most wartime industry was given over to munitions or essential goods, a small trade in manufacturing and selling luxury items, such as silk scarves, continued throughout the war. Most of these were intended for the export market, particularly to the USA. The government encouraged this small-scale export of luxury items because it made wealthy Americans more likely to think of Britain and use their influence support its cause.
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