Silk weavers in Bethnal Green and Spitalfields
Making History in Bethnal Green: different stories of nineteenth century silk weavers
This article written with Bruce Wheeler was based on careful – pre internet – research by Bruce Wheeler into the census returns of several streets in Bethnal Green in east London from 1841- 1891. This includes one where my silk weaving ancestors lived – Squirries Street – which I write about at greater length in London Stories. (This is the same street where Mosley would have his Bethnal Green headquarters in the 1930s.)We were interested in exploring the ways in which the conventional materials of family historians such as censuses could be used in a broader sense to gain a picture of an area. In contrast to the generally held view that the silk trade declined suddenly we found evidence of women and men continuing in the trade long after the period in which they were expected to do this. It was almost as if they didn’t know that they were no longer supposed to be weaving silk! We wrote that the argument made by Raphael Samuel some 25 years before about the value of such records was still true – and that this was still being ignored by academic historians. It was accepted for publication but the approach didn’t go down too well so was placed in a section of the journal with lower status than the main part of the journal…
People often leave comments or write to me to access a PDF of this article which, although part of History Workshop Journal, does not seem to be found in an accessible library.
It can also be useful to look at family history articles as I have edited them in various books, such as:
Martin Bashforth, Absent Fathers, Present Histories in Public History and Heritage Today. People and their Pasts. ed Paul Ashton & Hilda Kean, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012 , 2009 pp. 203 -222
Tim Brennan History, Family, History pp. 37 -50
and Sally J Morgan, My father’s photographs: the visual as public history pp. 19 – 36
both in Seeing History, eds. Hilda Kean, Paul Martin and Sally J Morgan, Francis Boutle Publishers, 2000.
I also recommend my London stories. Personal Lives, Public Histories (Rivers Oram Press, 2004 pp 229).
This book is usually available at Abe books. It contains much material about ordinary people in Bethnal Green and Spitalfields. It can also be of use in thinking about different ways of writing family history based on a range of items to hand. particularly those of relatives who seemed to have hoarded things!
The article on Making History will not necessarily give a reader the name of their own C19th relative but the footnotes can be useful in thinking of the range of material on the subject.
Email me if you would like a PDF for personal use and cannot access History Workshop Journal : firstname.lastname@example.org