During lockdown, UOSH volunteer Tim Hughes finished cataloguing Woodberry Down Memories, a collection of oral histories recorded on the Woodberry Down estate in 1986 and 1987. In this post, he explores the context of the collection and shares some of his favourite clips…
Home to over 6,000 people, Woodberry Down Estate is situated in the London Borough of Hackney. In a picturesque setting, next to two reservoirs and alongside the New River, the four acres of large houses and gardens that preceded it were compulsorily purchased from the Church of England in 1935 by the newly elected Labour London County Council. The estate was planned with relatively low densities and large open spaces for working class Londoners, although war intervened and the first residents did not move in until 1948. By the time the project was completed in 1962, 57 blocks of flats had been erected on 64 acres of land. The health centre – a model for the new NHS – opened in 1952 and Woodberry Down School – the first purpose-built comprehensive in the country –opened in 1955.
In the 1980s the oral historian Joanna Bornat led an oral history project on the estate, working with a group of older residents as part of the Over 60s club. The project culminated in the community publication ‘Woodberry Down Memories -The history of an LCC Housing Estate’.
Bornat’s experience was captured in an interview and discussion published in Oral History Magazine Volume 39 Past and Present 2011:
“You said in ‘Woodberry Down Memories’ that it was a very diverse community. Is that diversity reflected in the oral history cohort that you managed to record?
JB. Yes it is. I mean, it wasn’t so much in the group who actually formed and met every week. There was one woman who came, an Afro Caribbean woman who would come but who would never speak, even when Grace (her fellow worker) was there. Grace went out and interviewed a couple of people who are in the book – Mr and Mrs Kalra. And Mr Shah, he was very much part of the group and very keen and he and his wife were stalwart members of the Over 60’s Club as well. And of course the group themselves, their histories were very ethnically diverse, you know, Sid Linder’s Jewish, Olga Adams Italian …”
Joanna describes the estate: “This was an exceptional piece of housing, social housing, it was well researched, well designed, [the LCC] spent a lot of money on it, people liked living there and you had everything you needed you know. It had a school, two schools, a doctor’s surgery, it had an old people’s home.”
As the Star newspaper headline put it in on 7 November 1953: ‘Woodberry Down Estate: London County Council’s Great Experiment’.
The tapes, held at Hackney Archives, have recently been digitised and catalogued at LMA as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project – resurfacing the voices of this resilient generation, one shaped by poverty, war, discrimination, prejudice and disadvantage. Listen below to discover a wonderful range of rich stories of working class people, brought together through the common experience of being allocated a flat by the authorities and together forming a new community.
Yet the interviews also reveal common experiences with current generations – preoccupation with family and relationships, the local area, schooling, dealing with people in authority and the rules we have to live by, and concern about the affordability of housing for their own children, who are priced out beyond their locality and roots.
There are so many personal stories to listen to, value, learn from, and enjoy. Here are a few brief excerpts:
Explore more photographs of Woodberry Down on the London Picture Archive, and read about Hannah’s experience of cataloguing the collection on placement here.
After attending the Archives for London talk ‘London Unspooled: Sounds from the Strongrooms’ at London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) back in May, I really wanted to learn more about sound archives and get involved in the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) project. I particularly wanted to get some hands-on experience with both digitising and cataloguing audio material. I got in touch with Kate at LMA and was thrilled when they agreed to have me for a week’s placement.
My hope for the placement was to come away with an understanding of the process of cataloguing and digitising audio material, as well as a more general understanding of what working with audio collections involved. Although I was going into the placement with no experience of working with audio archive collections, I had heard a lot about the UOSH project and have always been really interested in the digitisation of archive material.
My time at LMA was split between working with two very different collections: the Audio Arts collection and a small group of oral histories taken in a reminiscence group at the Woodberry Down Estate in Hackney.
I spent the first day working on the Audio Arts collection from the Tate Archive, which – being something of a Tate fan – I was really excited about. Audio Arts was a cassette-based magazine established in 1973 by William Furlong and Barry Barker. Over the next 35 years the magazine featured contributions from over nine hundred artists, including Tracey Emin, Andy Warhol and Joseph Beuys. For this collection, I catalogued some of the unedited tape reels and cassettes – including unpublished recordings – which involved recording any information on the tapes and their carriers. I also spent some time in the studio with Robin, the audio digitisation engineer.
My remaining time was spent cataloguing the Woodberry Down Estate oral history collection, newly arrived from Hackney Archives. This was post-digitisation cataloguing, which involved listening to the interviews, writing summaries of the recordings, checking the transcripts and recording timecodes at key points. One thing I underestimated about this task was how time consuming it would be to compile each interview summary. Thankfully the interviews were a pleasure to listen to, as the interviewees described their experiences of growing up in the East End around the time of the Second World War. I only managed to catalogue the first few sessions, which mainly covered the interviewees’ childhoods. Nevertheless, I was surprised at how quickly I became immersed in their stories and was fascinated by the first-hand accounts of family and home life in east London in the 1930s. The interviewees described their experiences of poverty, class discrimination, school and home life, war, rationing, first jobs and first dates in frank and honest detail.
Something that really resonated with me during my time at LMA was learning about the time pressure of digitising sound material compared to documentary archive material. I learnt that there are only around 15 years to save sound collections through digitisation, before many of them become unreadable. It would be an incredible shame if sound collections such as the ones I had the opportunity to work with became lost without ever being digitised.
What I enjoyed the most about listening to the audio material was that with the oral history accounts, you get a sense of immersion that you don’t necessarily get with manuscript archive material. I certainly felt privileged to be able to hear such personal memories about East London and think it’s amazing that thanks to the UOSH project these recordings will be digitised and easily accessible for all. The biggest thing that I have taken away from my time on placement is that it has given me a confidence in being able to work with sound archives in the future.
Blog post by Sarah Crompton, part of our fantastic volunteer team.
I am privileged to have the opportunity of volunteering at London Metropolitan Archives on Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH), a nationwide project aiming to digitally preserve audio archives in danger of being lost through degradation or because the technology for accessing it is becoming obsolete. As the owner of a well-preserved video recorder and cassette player for the playing of our family collection of school and recital recordings, skilled in the art of using a pencil to respool tapes that have disgorged themselves into the inner mechanisms of the machinery, I can understand the fragility of analogous methods and the concern that nationally important resources are stored by these means. A countdown of 15 years to digitise how much! I’ll be keeping my ancient technologies functioning just in case they are called upon…
I’m currently working on education resources produced by the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA), which was in operation between 1965 and 1990. Unlocking this particular part of our sound heritage is akin to unlocking a primary school teacher’s private resource cupboard: 1970’s and 80’s teacher packs of the type familiar from my own education, with workbooks supported by bespoke recordings of specially commissioned songs, stories and renditions of folktales. London teachers may remember the names of such series as ‘Make-a-Story’ for 5-8 year olds, and ‘Share-a-Story’ for 5-11 year olds. London pupils may remember listening to stories with titles such as ‘The Space Dragon’, or singing ‘Double Decker’, a song about the experience of riding on a bus. Past pupils would definitely be transported by just a few seconds of hearing those distinctive electronic sounds from ILEA’s Creating Music in Class.
Listening to these resources now, what is initially striking is the intention of the content to be as wholly inclusive as possible – to simply provide what was needed, for a huge range of needs. So far, I have encountered musical resources made to encourage self-sufficiency and independence in children with learning needs and storytelling resources remarkable in their striving to create a true community amongst children and young people brought together from diverse communities in the post-war years. The focus is very strongly on ‘cultural pluralism’ – understanding and appreciating the culture and experiences of children who were newly in the country, and on recognising the talent and skills of the individual child.
As I was musing on how LMA’s collection of schools resources might be corroborated by information on the strategy for their development, Kate (Catalogue Editor on the UOSH team) dived into the wider ILEA archive, particularly the resources and newsletters produced by the Learning Resources Branch. A 1980 Media Resources Advisory newsletter contains an article by Mike Hussey, Inspector for Multi-Ethnic Education and Community Relations, which defines ILEA’s objective of developing education in a multi-ethnic society and shows how the legislative backing of the 1976 Race Relations Act positively impacted the needs-serving of the entire population.The opening statement comments that this objective was part of the ‘long standing general duty of all authorities’ – perhaps hinting at opposition to a modern progressive approach?
One has a sense that the 1976 legislation provided much-welcomed support for ILEA’s plans and the green light for a huge programme of activity. Predating the ‘Share-a-Story’ and ‘Make-a-Story’ resources by just two years, it surely was a factor in ILEA’s confident investment in the large bank of resources now represented in the collections at LMA. Hussey’s article describes the multi-ethnic approach as rooted throughout all activities in the primary school curriculum, and we see represented in the story series the exact same messages reiterated in a statement from the ILEA sub-committee: ‘to live and work harmoniously’, ‘the strengths of cultural diversity’, ‘to meet appropriately and effectively the particular needs of all people having regard to their ethnic, cultural, linguistic or historical attachment’ in both the curriculum and the ‘hidden curriculum’.
The hard evidence of this inclusive approach contained in the schools resources shows how the Learning Resources Branch in its various incarnations produced a rich flow of curriculum material, books and resources based on London school experiences, gathered through the Media Resources Officer’s liaison with schools and the secondment of teachers to work with Learning Material editors. The stories from both these series I have worked with at the LMA are wonderfully even-handed in the way they distribute the actions of groups of primary school children irrespective of race and gender.
The accompanying teacher guide booklets in the ‘Share-a-Story’ series, for example, educate teachers to recognise that although a West Indian child’s first language might be English, they were on the receiving end of a range of different English accents and pronunciations – standardised, classroom language and creole variations with their distinct inflections. Teachers in England needed guidance to recognise that these children were using a heightened intelligence to negotiate their surroundings, adept at adjusting towhichever version of English was appropriate to whateversituation. Stories were especially written or culled from other cultures, involving characters like Anansi, a well-known figure from Caribbean folklore.
The integration message is also borne out in stories like ‘The Space Dragon’ where children were encouraged to be resourceful, to rely on one another and to appreciate cultural difference as an asset. In the story, a group of children are threatened by the appearance of a dragon until the child from a Chinese family acts as interpreter – as she opens communication with the dragon, the threat evaporates and the children celebrate a new friendship with a dragon-ride across the London skies. Bonding through a true celebration of both individuality and community cohesion.
At a time when the media and children’s book publishers are desperately trying to address the dearth of stories with BAME characters in lead roles and illustrations which do not accurately represent children from BAME backgrounds, look here for a wealth of stories with just those enterprising role models and accurate and celebratory pictorial representation. The voices, too: following the Caribbean story-telling tradition where the stories are told naturally in everyday language, these recordings were progressive for English schools in their use of the local and international accents that children would be hearing all around them. Clearly recognising that using English received pronunciation would be inappropriate, alienating and isolating for multi-ethnic audiences living in a local working-class environment, on the tapes from the ‘Share-a-Story’ series children would instead hear the ‘cockney’ voice of Bill Colville saying ‘I wish we could go ‘aht”. This was certainly not a commercially driven enterprise, but there is a feeling that ‘best practice’ was sourced in the very settings that ILEA sought to serve.
I am left with the feeling that children were lucky to be educated in London with this approach at the time – and wonder how this experience might compare with that of children in towns and cities with smaller minority ethnic populations and fewer resources to draw on. A couple of generations further on from the children in these stories, issues of intolerance for other cultures break regularly in the news. There are valuable lessons to be learnt from these resources, still, and surely a huge potential for reworking and reusing the content.
Throughout the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project our team will work closely with the British Library to support and develop training around the best way to work with analogue sound carriers such as vinyl, open reel and cassette.
In this first of three introductory shorts, we discuss the best way to handle and store vinyl records.
The vinyl collection you have spent years building and adding to is something you will want to look after. It tells a story of who you are and reminds you how important music is in your life.
Below are a few simple tips to keep that collection in good condition …
– always handle records by the outer edges and the labelled area only – never touch the playing surfaces with fingers or any other part of the hand
– once you have finished using the record, return it to its protective sleeve. If the sleeve is damaged, replace it with a new one
– avoid leaving your vinyl on the turntable when not in use, in particular with the stylus resting in the groove
– make use of the turntables’ cueing facility, never lowering the stylus onto or lifting the stylus off a record by hand
Once you’ve finished listening to a favourite musician or band, keeping the vinyl clean and stored properly is an important way to extend its playback life.
Below are a few simple tips to think about when putting your records away or into permanent storage …
– always check your record is free from dust and is unaffected by mould, insects or active corrosion before storing. Try to clean this dust or dirt from your vinyl before returning it to its sleeve.
– always store your records in sleeves. If there is an inner and outer sleeve, the openings of the two sleeves should be arranged at right angles, with the inner sleeve opening at the top.
– when placing your records on shelves, store them upright and without any significant pressure from the sides (but, enough to prevent sliding or warping).
– avoid stacking a single vinyl for any length of time in an upright position with the edge leaning against a vertical surface.
– and finally, never leave your records near a radiator or other source of heat (e.g. computer equipment); nor in direct sunlight
If you have any questions about your own collections or want to add anything to the advice above, please do so in our comments sections below.
We would love to hear not only about your collections, but your experience of handling and storing vinyl.
For over 50 years, field and sound recordists have captured different soundscapes to help develop our knowledge of local history – enabling researchers to identify change around language, technology and the environment. One such soundscape is the market place, and in particular the cries and general noise of this traditionally busy and crowded centre for local trade.
The end of an era
Included among the City of London Corporation archives are the sounds and voices of Billingsgate Fish Market. Formally established under Act of Parliament in 1699, it wasn’t until the mid to late Victorian period that work began on the design of a more purpose-built structure, first by City Architect James B. Bunning, and then later by Sir Horace Jones, who enlarged it twofold to incorporate Billingsgate Stairs and Wharf, and Darkhouse Lane. Opened in 1877, the fish market remained in this building before its relocated to the West India Docks in 1982.
Image: Exterior view of Billingsgate Fish Market, 1973 (COLLAGE 36135)
In January 1982, before the market moved, Capital Radio conducted a series of interviews with traders and porters. In the introduction, our host reflects on what will be lost once the building is vacated including the friendliness – and language – of the porters, as well as the powerful smell. So, who best to reminisce about its history than those who worked and bought produce from the market?
Memories of Old Billingsgate
One interviewee comments, for example, on how the younger traders lack the fish handling skills of his generation:
“… you get hold of a Salmon, you put your hand around the back of the Salmon, lift it and the same with a Hake, you put your fingers in the eyes, slide your hand along the body, lift it. You see them now, they get hold of fish, they just throw it and chuck it away …”
While another discusses the different buyers, from the West End to Walworth Road:
“… they’d have the fish on the stands by 5 in the morning when the market opened, it was bloody noisy then what with the clatter of the hooves and the wheels of the vans rumbling over the cobbles. After the West End buyers had bought the fancy fish for all the hotels, the costers from Kennington and Walworth came round and they bought loads of haddock which they smoked themselves at home overnight. They bought the fish for tuppence and sold it smoked on the street for about six pence or eight pence”
Image: Exterior view of Billingsgate Fish Market, 1973 (COLLAGE 36140)
Recording at Billingsgate Fish Market, it is not only the interviews themselves that provide insight to its history, but also the transient sounds and colloquial voices heard in the background. For instance, traders heard selling different types of fish, traffic echoing through the market from trucks or vans transporting goods, and the ‘chat’ used to sell produce:
“… what about the mackerel?”
“You’re not trying are you really?”
“Sir, here you are mackerel!”
“Where you going handsome?”
Although we have printed collections of market cries within our wider archives, sound recordings like these help us understand more about the pace and rhythm of the words spoken – a shame really that the process of ‘how to record sound’ wasn’t discovered until the 19th century!
*These recordings were digitised and catalogued as part of The British Library ‘Unlocking our Sound Heritage’ project – https://bit.ly/2Az6XkN, for which LMA is a regional hub.*
How saved sound heritage helped me discover the radical lives of Eric and Jessica Huntley
Eric and Jessica Huntley came to the UK from Guyana in the late 50s, part of the Windrush generation. They were pioneering political activists, involved in many grassroots campaigns for racial and social justice, both nationally and internationally. They are highly respected in the African-Caribbean community and beyond for their work in giving a voice to black people in the UK.
I’ve only recently discovered the legacy of Eric and Jessica through my placement at the London Metropolitan Archives, where the Huntley archives are stored. It was the LMA’s first major deposit from the African-Caribbean community, and it reveals the story of the changing cultural landscape in Britain since the 1950s.
Within the collection is a series of interviews that the Huntleys did with Professor Harry Goulbourne in 1992, recently digitised through a British Library-led project that the LMA are part of, called ‘Unlocking Our Sound Heritage’. The project is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and, over a period of five years, will preserve almost half a million rare sound recordings that are at risk of being lost, on formats that are physically degrading and gradually becoming obsolete. Through this, I’ve been able to access audio heritage that has helped me understand the importance of Jessica and Eric’s story.
Here’s one of my favourite clips that I’ve discovered from the interviews, which is of Jessica describing her first job in a shirt factory back in Guyana:
I love this story because its shows Jessica’s early revolutionary spirit in calling out injustice, even before she moved to the UK. Once they did, she and Eric went on to campaign about everything from housing discrimination to National Front attacks, and even helped organise the ‘Black People’s Day of Action’ march in 1981, which was the largest protest march of black Britons to take place in the UK. They maintained an international involvement in politics, continuing to demonstrate against government injustices in Guyana, the South African apartheid regime, and the incarceration of Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was on death row in Pennsylvania, USA.
Though not officially part of the Black Power movement, the Huntleys were influenced by its key figures. Here’s Jessica reflecting on Malcolm X’s visit to the UK in the 1960s:
A key part of the Huntley’s activism was through their publishing company and bookshop, Bogle-L’Ouverture, which they set up in 1968, originally in their front room. It was named in honour of two freedom fighters – Toussaint L’Ouverture and Paul Bogle – who were both figure heads in black resistance against the slave trade. It was one of the first black publishing houses in the UK, at a time when books by black authors were rare in mainstream bookshops. This was an important action to stop the voice of black history from being silenced. Once established, the bookshop became a venue for workshops, readings and lectures, and an important community hub. Some notable writers they printed were Linton Kwesi Johnson, the only black poet published by Penguin Modern Classics, and Sir Walter Rodney, after whom the bookshop was renamed following his assassination in 1980.
Eric and Jessica saw the importance of preserving history for community and education. They kept many records of British racism and black activism, and believed in the power of the written word to document the contribution of African-Caribbean people, as Jessica explains:
This belief in preserving heritage and passing down history led to the Huntleys depositing their archives with the LMA. They are managed by a charity called FHALMA (Friends of the Huntley Archives at LMA), who work to bring the material to life and expose it to wider audiences and new generations. One way they do this is by hosting an annual Huntley Conference at the LMA. This year’s conference marked 50 years of Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications. Attendees had the chance to record an audio memory of Jessica, who passed away in 2013, which will later be added to the sound archive. I had the opportunity to volunteer at the conference, helping record these memories – including this one from Eric himself, below. Having listened to so many of his archived interviews, it felt like a huge privilege to be recording one myself.
In June, the LMA and FHALMA are collaborating with arts and diversity organisation Culture& to host ‘The Memory Archives’, an event commemorating Windrush Day. The programme will use sound material, including that of the Huntley Archives, as a reminiscence tool for people living with dementia – particularly those from the African-Caribbean community. ‘The Memory Archives’ will take place at the London Metropolitan Archives on Saturday 22nd June – save the date and we hope to see you there!
Kirsty Kerr is an Archives and Digital Media Trainee at Culture& and a volunteer on the LMA’s ‘Unlocking Our Sound Heritage’ project.