Camden's Historians of the Future

Approaching ten years ago Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre began offering class visits to Camden primary schools in which teachers could bring in their pupils to work with local history resources relating to historical subjects they were studying. Over the years we built up the service until we were running, on average, one class visit per month. Then Covid hit and of course this aspect of our service became impossible for a period. I am pleased to say, however, that as life has returned to normality in recent times, we have been able to revive this offer to schools.  Currently we are in the middle of a period where we have five separate class visits over five consecutive weeks. Recently Eleanor Palmer School in Kentish Town brought in a class and have kindly given us consent to reproduce here some of the photographs they took of the session.

Showing charter pic    
© Eleanor Palmer School

My colleagues, Kate and Ingrid, have done brilliant work in publicising our offer to schools, arranging visits and preparing all the resources for the sessions. The schools which visit let us know in advance what area of history they are studying and Ingrid and Kate prepare a range of related resources for them to work with including books, photographs, maps, newspapers and illustrations. We mainly use facsimiles to prevent any damage by over-boisterous handling! 

We run the sessions on Fridays when we are closed to the general public. We rearrange our search room to create four large table areas. Each of the four tables is devoted to materials relating to one particular aspect of the area of study and has a list of questions for the pupils to consider.  
I give a short introduction to the session in which I show them one of our prize documents – a letters patent dating from around 1610 issued by King James I. I present it in its large flat box which is about three by three in dimensions and ask them what they think is inside. On one occasion one boy suggested “A pizza!” If only… 

Pupils looking at archives - one
 © Eleanor Palmer School

The pupils then start to work with the materials. The class is split in to four groups and each group has fifteen minutes on each table. I ring a bell when it is time to move tables. It is a pleasure to see how engaged most of the young people are during the visits and we have had some excellent feedback from schools. When schools wish to return we consider that proof they have found the sessions beneficial. The children get a particular thrill out of using the magnifying glasses and it has been known for the occasional dispute to arise over whose turn it is to use one. 

We have a display on in the Centre currently showcasing some of our children’s books collections – including precious first editions of the famous illustrator Kate Greenaway and the well-known writer, Eleanor Farjeon, both of whom lived locally. The exhibition is entitled “A Selection Box of Children’s Books” and for fun we added in the display cases – well away from the books I might add – some Quality Street chocolates. These have also attracted the notice of our young visitors!

Pupils looking at archives 2
© Eleanor Palmer School

I went to school in the sticks in Cumbria in a small village school which had only about 40 pupils in total. History education comprised watching a half hour tv programme once a week. I am pleased that our Centre is able, through these class visit sessions, to help bring history alive for the children of Camden.

picture of exhibition
Our exhibition on Camden-based children’s book authors and illustrators

Visitors from Across the Pond

Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre recently played host to a visit from students of New York University. The college has a campus based in Bedford Square in Bloomsbury. The wonderfully enthusiastic, Professor Susanna Horng, brought in 21 of her students of Liberal Studies to find out about our collections and researching in archives and to look at our current exhibition – “We Were Here” – which focusses on eight key figures in Camden’s Black history. Its curator, Emily Momoh, was on hand to answer questions from the students. It was a delight to have the students here and we are hoping that the tours will become a regular annual event. 

Photo of students

The students on their visit with Professor Susanna Horng (9th from left) Emily Momoh (10th from left) and Tudor Allen, Archivist at the Centre (far right) 

(© Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre)

Charles Freestone - A Painter's Family Visits

We recently had an interesting visit to the Centre from a woman called Pauline High and her daughter. After her mother’s death in 2010, Pauline came across an old photograph in an envelope of her grandfather and her mother each holding a painting, the largest depicting the Blitz over St Paul’s Cathedral. The paintings were by her grandfather, a commercial artist who traded under the name of Charles Freestone. The photograph was taken in 1941 by an Evening News photographer when Freestone was on his way to the Royal Academy to enter the paintings either in the Summer Exhibition or the Fireman Artists Exhibition held that year.

Picture of Pauline High
Pauline High and her daughter with Charles Freestone’s painting of Gray’s Inn library on fire after an air raid.

Pauline had recently developed a great interest and love for art history, and had become an amateur artist herself, so upon discovering the photograph she wanted to find out more and see if she could track down the paintings depicted. She contacted the Royal Academy Archives but they held no records about them. However they informed her that several of her grandfather’s paintings were in our collections here at Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre. 

We hold six of Freestone’s works – five oil paintings and one watercolour – and we were delighted to show these to Pauline and her daughter on their visit. The artist was an ARP warden in Holborn during the Second World War and the five oils all depict the aftermath of air raids in the Holborn area in the early years of the war including damage to buildings in Theobalds Road – where our Centre is based - and a fire in the library of Gray’s Inn, the Inn of Court located directly opposite to us. 

High Holborn by Freeman
Firemen putting out fire after air raid in High Holborn, 1940 by Charles Freestone © Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre

The watercolour is of St John the Evangelist Church, the beautiful church by John Loughborough Pearson, which once stood in Red Lion Square, where Charles Freestone once lived. The painting captures the church before it was sadly destroyed by wartime bombing. 

Picture of Red Lion Square by Freeman

Red Lion Square showing St John the Evangelist church, no date, by Charles Freestone
© Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre

Pauline tell us that to the see the paintings in person was “lovely and overwhelming, quite an emotional experience.”

Unfortunately, the current whereabouts of the St Paul’s painting remains a mystery.

A Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Evening in Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre

As part of Camden’s Black History Season, Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre held a special event on October 11th, an evening celebrating the great composer, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, who was born in the same street as the Centre is based in – Theobalds Road – in 1875. Hilary Burrage, Founder of the Samuel Coleridge Taylor Foundation introduced an evening of excerpts from his music performed by Foundation members, Richard Gordon-Smith on violin and Martin Anthony Burrage on keyboard with Richard providing a commentary, exploring the composer’s life, work and legacy. The evening included the presentation of a new portrait of Coleridge-Taylor to Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre. Councillor Sabrina Francis, Camden’s Cabinet Member for Young People and Culture, accepted the portrait on our behalf from the artist, Judith Booth. The portrait is currently on display in the Centre during our opening hours. 

Picture of Performance

Richard Gordon-Smith (left) and Martin Anthony Burrage (© Hazel Dunlop)

Picture of presentation

Judith Booth (left) and Councillor Sabrina Francis (© Hazel Dunlop)

Group Photograph

From left to right - Tudor Allen (Archivist at CLSAC), Hilary Burrage, Richard Gordon-Smith, Judith Booth, Councillor Sabrina Francis, Martin Anthony Burrage (© Hazel Dunlop)