Historical images inspire memories in Roehampton

Memories of life in swinging London’s music scene… Anecdotes about hiding, as a child, under promenade seating in a 1940s seaside resort… Being thrown into the Hyde Park Lido… These are just some of the reminiscences inspired by historical images which were recently shared with our Outreach team at Roehampton Library. We took a collection of images encompassing the theme of holidays and days out to Roehampton; we asked members of the public to choose an image from the display that inspired a memory. The results were both amusing and interesting, revealing aspects of ordinary people’s lives as well as snap-shots of social history.

Promoting The National Archives’ collection to new audiences is part of our remit: we were delighted to work with Dr Janice Fernandez, Library Manager at Roehampton, to share just a selection of our photographic records to a public audience at a local level. The images we selected included the INF 9, Dixon Scott Collection as well as COPY 1 and RAIL 1014, which are all relevant to the theme of holidays and leisure. We set up a display and asked participants to select an image that provoked a memory for them. As an incentive, we offered each participant a ‘reminiscence token’: a laminated copy of their chosen photograph accompanying a quoted memory and their name.

In choosing INF 9/408 (an image of Weymouth in Dorset), Babette remembered hiding from her sister and friends as a small child on Blackpool’s Promenade, and naming the flagpoles after friends so they never wandered too far from their parents.

Fred’s choice of  INF 14/146 inspired him to remember the optimism of early 1960s London and the vibrant music scene around Carnaby Street, together with his impression of the aggressive attitude of the local police towards club goers.

Joanna recalled the trauma of being thrown into the Hyde Park Lido in an effort to make her swim.

Adenika adores modern royalty and wanted to experience Ascot races.

Eddie remembered his teenage years, going to Lewis’s Department store in Liverpool to listen to American music, meet girls and experience using an escalator for the first time.

Our ‘Roehampton reminiscence’ experience contributes to the Wellbeing agenda promoted by the National Alliance for Museums and the All-Party parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing. Museums Change Lives, the vision for the sector, argues that improved wellbeing is a moral, ethical and economic imperative. Research has proven that participating in cultural- or heritage-based activities promotes good mental and physical health. A raft of case studies illustrate the benefits that activities involving stimulating memory make a difference. Moreover, funding bodies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England and the Royal Society for Public Health are continually looking for health and wellbeing benefits. Community engagement, social inclusion, and health and wellbeing gains are as important, as well as the presentation and preservation of history.

Earlier this year, The National Archives participated in Mental Health Awareness Week and highlighted a case study of the Change Minds programme from Norfolk. Our Outreach team hopes to mirror and build on projects such as this in the future, using our collections.

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