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Different ways of publicising local history

photo by Karl Weiss
photo by Karl Weiss

Claire Weiss is an inspiration as a researcher of local history. She discovered she had raised a family in the house in which was born Zoe Hart Dyke, who created Britain’s first silk farm at the stunningly beautiful Lullingstone Castle. The outcome was the book ‘Unravelling the Yarn’, Zoë Hart Dyke née Bond: the Leyton Silk Road’ http://www.leytonhistorysociety.org.uk/other_publications.html

Now Claire is finding out about Lea Bridge Farm, completely forgotten under a new tower block development. Listen to this lively interview at East London Radio

https://elcast.podbean.com/

Lea Bridge Gardens historic photos linked to the allotment Sheds of today

There is a part of the E17 postal district which is in Leyton, and this includes the section of Hoe Street south of Boundary Road and a vegan coffee shop called Bodega 50.  Here was one of the two hundred displays in the E17 Art Trail for 2019.  Lucy Harrison, Waltham Forest History and Heritage Networker, photographed some of the many sheds people have erected on Waltham Forest allotments, a tribute to re-use of abandoned materials, and a celebration of the priceless result in individual homeliness and unforced companionship.  She also created four large format prints of photos of larger shacks, in ‘Lea Bridge Gardens’ either side of the Lea Bridge Road by Lea Bridge Station.  That informal development was perhaps begun from the displacement of poor families by the extension of the Great Eastern Railway from Bishopsgate to Liverpool Street, and it was probably swept away in the 1930s. 

Lucy made high definition video interviews of allotment holders, available at https://vimeo.com/315633883 She designed a top quality printed booklet to accompany the display.

So why should this be a lesson for local history societies ?  It shows the power of the visual arts to convey the cultural essence of the recent past, of echoed Afro-Caribbean rum shack culture, and of earlier London poor living and home-making without piped water, sewer connection, gas or electricity. 

Those of us enthusiastic about local history want to share our fascination with the past, including a past of the ordinary and the everyday.  We issue newsletters to society members, we publish booklets, we put text and images on a website, we ‘Tweet’ a bit, we post on Facebook.  But we are not, perhaps, winning enough recognition and reaching enough people.  We need to get access to the talent demonstrated throughout our local art trails, form alliances, and persuade the owners of cafes and other suitable locations that they will be enhanced by local history displays.

Bodega 50 has a relaxing feel despite the traffic outside, and sells excellent coffee and light meals.

David Boote

Video conveys meaning

Paul Greenleaf has made a remarkable video about the M11 Link Road (A12 Wanstead to Hackney Wick), which he screened upstairs in The Birds pub on Leytonstone High Road for the first weekend of the Leytonstone Arts Trail. It is full of visual ideas and a soundtrack that draws on the ‘Linked’ transmitters installed along the route (old website http://www.linkedm11.net/index2.html ). It is splendidly evocative of a controversial road building project and the desolation of the awkward unowned spaces created beside it. Some photos of Leyton & Leytonstone Historical Society’s Maureen Measure are also used. Further screenings are hoped for.

“The film marks 25 years since the A12, M11 link road protests ended and takes its name ‘I Will Become More Powerful Than You Can Possibly Imagine’ from the protestors’ slogan [borrowed from Star Wars’] on the last house to be demolished – 135 Fillebrook Road, Leytonstone” http://www.paulgreenleaf.co.uk

David Boote

Local history and the E17 Art Trail: Beryl Swain: The Need for Speed

The E17 Art Trail in 2019 must have had something for everyone, and it certainly had some things for the local history enthusiast.  Kirstin Sibley researched the display ‘Beryl Swain: The Need for Speed’ with huge enthusiasm, and her long list of thank-yous includes Jo Parker and Carol Tertullien of Waltham Forest Archives at Vestry House Museum.  The display at 1B Coppermill Lane had plenty of text, but not an excess of it, very comfortable to read as you stood at this shop window without a shop.  There were biker leathers from an era when they weren’t a global women’s fashion, and a rather thin-looking helmet.  A map located the two Walthamstow houses in which Beryl Swain lived.  Of her time as a competitor in 50 cc motor bike racing, there were of course photos and magnifications of newspaper and magazine coverage.  Rules for international motor bike racing were changed to exclude her as a woman.

Beryl’s marriage to Eddie Swain, the owner of a motorcycle repair business, ended in divorce, which may or may not be connected to Beryl ceasing to compete in UK bike races.  I needed to go to her obituary in ‘The Times’ to find out that Beryl moved to Woodford and later Epping, and was a departmental manager in Sainsbury supermarkets around this part of the London suburbs.  In her spare time she was a Women’s Institute branch secretary and an organiser of ‘meals on wheels’ for the elderly.  Beryl Swain appears from this as unremarkable and as attractive as she does in her bike racing photos.

This E17 Art Trail display designed by Rachel Gomes was an example for local historians.  It had an ideal venue.  The clearly printed text black on white helped those of us with aging sight.  Suspended panels gave just the right variation to back wall images.  The available artefacts and information were sufficient to make clear what a trailblazer Beryl Swain was, and how unfair the discrimination against her.

David Boote

Local history and the E17 Art Trail: Low Hall at 90 + Multi-Cultural Toys

At the junction of Low Hall Lane and Markhouse Road, Walthamstow was a pioneer children’s nursery, and this inspired Waltham Forest History and Heritage Networker Katherine Green to create a display for the E17 Art Trail.  She was able to use the railings along the entrance path to mount a panel succinctly summarising the historical significance of the nursery, and photos of its use from the opening in 1929.  Another panel explained how anyone could hear extracts of oral history interviews by dialling a phone number, for which no charge is made.  The audio was clear and the system very simple to use.  It will however cease to work after 30 June 2019.  The first recording, of Margaret Petchey, is an astonishing insight into life for a member of a large family with little money for anything other than necessities.  Katherine describes herself as a social documentary photographer, despite her familiarity with historic document and photograph archives and her skill at oral history.  http://www.katherinegreen.co.uk/low-hall-at-90/  The display survived some high wind and rain but could be seen in most daylight hours.

David Boote

Katherine’s contribution to the Art Trail linked well with that of another Waltham Forest History and Heritage Networker, Mary Clare Martin, who brought together some toys made decades ago around the world that reflect a range of cultures and also some of minimal national or religious culture.  Mary Clare Martin is Head of the Centre for the Study of Play and Recreation at the University of Greenwich and Co-Founding Director of The Children’s History Society.

David Boote

Local history and the E17 Art Trail: Aftermath 1919 – Art and Revolution

For just a week the Artists’ Studios in Lloyd Park contained an exhibition which had history at its centre.  A hundred years ago the Bolsheviks were defending the 1917 Revolution in Russia, and radical socialists were trying to bring about a similar revolution in Germany.  For many of us these events have a weak hold on our understanding and emotions, despite their drama and significance.  The artists who created ‘Aftermath 1919’ demonstrated stunning talent and an affinity for the revolutionaries that cut through hostile British culture and education.

David Boote


Volunteer Opportunities at The Pumphouse Museum

Fantastic volunteering opportunities have opened up at The Pumphouse Museum. Due to the proposed transformation of the museum’s site, the museum requires a number of Volunteers.

Volunteer Role: Front of House (4 positions available)

Schedule: Sundays 11.00am to 4.00pm (on a rota basis)

Duties include engaging with visitors and explaining about the historic building and the current collection on show.

Training will be given.

Other Volunteer Roles: General Volunteer (positions available)

How to Apply: Please email Mr Lindsay Collier MA  l.collier418@btinternet.com
with a general overview of yourself, please. Thank You


Featured network partner: Dr. James Lewis


Dr James Lewis, far right, filming a piece on the roof of Alexandra Palace for BBC TV .
Photo Credit: East London and West Essex Guardian

This week we’re delighted to welcome Dr. James Lewis to our network.

An expert on the industrial history of the Lea Valley, Dr. Lewis is a prolific author who is also available to give lectures on his specialist subject. If you’re interested in booking him for a speaking engagement, just send us a message and we’ll put you in touch with him.

Dr. Lewis’s passion for the heritage of the Lea Valley has also fueled his involvement with the Lea Valley Heritage Alliance which he has helped to set up and launch in recent years.


Welcome to the network!

We’re delighted to welcome these wonderful people and organisations (below) who have joined our network in recent weeks:

Katherine Green



Lucy Harrison



Muslim History Tours



Rendezvous Projects



Suntrap Forest Centre


Waltham Forest, Antigua & Barbuda and Dominica Twinning Asssociation



Walthamstow History


Walthamstow Memories