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Important writing on the miners’ strike – and what is history for?

2024 April 21

Robert Gildea What is History For?

Robert Gildea had been active as a professor of modern history in Oxford for many years often mentioning oral history when he spoke at our regular Saturday public history seminar at Ruskin College.Yet by 2023 his important new book arose called,The Backbone of the Nation: Mining Communities and the Great Strike of 1984 -5. And now in paperback. This includes many oral testimonies from miners and their families of those times – and well worth reading!Clearly the BBC must have positively engaged with this book and invited him to be the historian working with determination in the recent BBC1 programme Miners’ Strike: A Frontline Story. Here the story of fifteen men and women, including some oral accounts, returned older people (and younger people not alive then) to the years of 1984-5. If you missed the programme , do watch it!

However, Gildea’s latest book has just been published in 2024. It’s called What is History For? As he argues in the preface, although historians routinely think,“what is history?” but about what it is for, much less so. This suggests, he states, that history is not simply an academic subject,“ to be studied for its own sake.” Much of his discussion and emphasis records the way in which a history of the past has been re-written in other ways at different times.He carefully suggests that historians may sit in university libraries away from the cut and thrust of power, “but rarely do they escape the power implications of their work.” Yet in history-writing in other ways, new groups, who have been excluded from past histories such as workers or women or black minorities, have been reclaiming another past history.His is a strong argument, touching on a large range of former histories, as developed through the book. He concludes that “not everyone is able to write a memoir of such subtlety and scale about a generation.”Instead, he suggests public history which “holds that anyone and everyone can write a life story or fragment of it” is based “on the idea that all people are active agents in the creation of history”. As he concludes he suggests, “everyone is a historian.”

Do read this book’s viewpoint.It helps recognise the range of questions and personal answers we might use nowadays whether family histories, local histories, new plaques, attention to heritage, oral stories, past union and political campaigns and perhaps also note the role of public history in facilitating this stance…

A refurbished Tunbridge Wells Museum includes particular women – and supports certain animals

2024 March 1

A mortuary established by
Amelia Scott

Going to a newly changed museum isn’t always positive, even if objects are revised or created in other ways. However, the central museum in Tunbridge Wells has been revamped in many engaging ways. Thus the museum’s new title, Amelia Scott, has given attention to Amelia Scott, who has recently been described in the Oxford DNB by Anne Logan as “social reformer & women’s suffrage campaigner”. She had been a local vice president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, and a supporter of the Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage through local towns to London in 1913, as recorded in the museum’s photos.

As a councillor she explored the poor law, the development of a mortuary, in addition to the welfare of women and a soup kitchen for the unemployed.

A page from a suffrage diary

However, in addition to a few artefacts presenting Amelia there is another fascinating item. This was a sheet from a diary written by Olive Grace Walton, a local activist in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) while she was imprisoned in various prisons before the 1914 war. As shown in a suffrage book of 1913 she recorded that “Mrs Pankhurst’s trial has been put off until next week. 100 witnesses to be called”. Although Olive is not yet covered in the DNB she had previously been both on hunger strike and repressed with forcible feeding in April and June 1912 when locked up in Aylesbury prison.Let’s hope this information can also be included.

Upstairs , good arguments have even been presented towards many previously killed and displayed birds and animals which have been shown here since it opened in 1885 in earlier ways. Displays now attending the taxidermy collection “streamline”, prioritising local links.As the historical staff recognise, their broad exploration of modern conservation and natural history must survive. As earlier reported ,the newly interested heritage, culture and learning hub suggested “it will be rich with objects and will offer and imaginative programme to engage and inspire visitors.” Already this seems on track!

A plinth commemorating Lord Dowding not far from the museum

However, the extant nearby plinth to Air Chief Marshal Hugh, Caswall Tremenheere Dowding, recognises he was particularly decisive in aspects of the Second World War, but ignores his later supportive position on animals. Dowding used his later position in the House of Lords to speak against animal experimentation and the cruel ways in which animals were poisoned in the wild; indeed most of his speeches in the Lords were on animal welfare. After his death in 1970 the Lord Dowding Fund for Humane Research, to promote practical alternatives to animal experiments, was established in his name by the National Anti-Vivisection Society. He had lived, with his wife Muriel, in Calverley Park,Tunbridge Wells. Perhaps the new museum with its interesting engagement with people – and former animals – might also acknowledge the local resident’s own performance to support them?

Lollards and two animals in Amersham

2023 October 26

Describing the 6 men and 1 woman

Unveiled in 1931

In Old Amersham, Buckinghamshire, inside -and near – St Mary’s grade 1 listed church are rather unusual images. Since the C13th the Church of England existed here in different ways. But on a hill overlooking the church I recently discovered a memorial to the Amersham Martyrs, who were Lollards. Six men and one woman had been burnt at the stake nearby in the early 1500s. As followers of John Wycliffe they had campaigned for the Bible to be translated into English and read.  Their memorial now stands but it was not even erected until 1931 by the Protestant Alliance.

Rather different stone images have also been displayed in the local St Mary’s Church. In the south porch not humans but animals are presented. Placed here in the fifteenth century were two sculptural carvings, of a dog and a pig, which still exist. They were apparently forbidden from entering the church (!) though no stories seem to have been displayed about their construction, sculpture or comments of the time.

Pig displayed in south porch,St Mary’s

Also a dog in the south porch

           If anyone knows more about the pig and dog church issues  do let me know!














Hastings plaque to remind us of Robert Tressell

2023 June 28

Where Ron Noonan lived when writing The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

At the end of Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists the radical outsider, Barrington, is being transported in a train away from Owen, and his son Frankie, who were living in Milward Road in Hastings. From the window,“the train emerged into view, gathering speed as it came along the short stretch of straight way… they saw someone looking out of a carriage window waving a handkerchief, and they knew it was Barrington as they waved theirs in return…”

Now displayed on a house in Milward Road is a large plaque. The house is adjacent to the twitter steps (often occurring in Hastings up the steep hills ) and named Noonan’s steps (after Ron Noonan, the man and writer, often published as Robert Tressell).

The plaque, accurately dated as 2 June 1962, has been well recorded by the local writer F.C.Ball in his book, One of the Damned, published in 1973. As Ball clearly explained, in that year, the “TUC Annual Congress of Trades Councils in Hastings” took place.This included the ceremony for the plaque in Milward Road. It was placed there by the Hastings trades council and unveiled by Cller F.Watts, secretary of the Essex Federation of Trades Councils.

In years to come, in 1999, the first weekend event took place of the Robert Tressell festival. Another plaque to Tressell was then unveiled, outside a different place, by Michael Foster MP. He was the first Labour MP in the area from 1997 – 2010. (His presence is still unique as the only Labour MP in this now Conservative parliamentary town). When Foster won the new seat his words were drawn from Tressell, and then recorded in the Hastings Observer with his words , “Mugsborough finally has its first Labour M P.”

Dogs and Cats in another war : Sandy and Tom in Crimea 1856

2023 May 12

Recently, in St Leonards, a community arts groups explored “Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands,” including an arts exhibition artist Dr Jude Montague. She wrote, “I contributed from my own workshop on King’s Road with an exhibition that looked at the news reportage reaching the British Isles from Crimea in the 1850s, focusing on Roger Fenton’s famous war photograph, “The Valley of the Shadow of Death.” Thus she reproduced this as a “cyanotype” and exhibited it, with multiple layers, in a compound wall.She also played a version of the reading of Tennyson’s poem on The Charge of the Light Brigade, which invited people to meditate upon its landscape.But also displayed was a photocopy of Sandy, a dog from the Crimea, displayed in the Illustrated London News of 23 February 1856, in which I was interested, as he was different to the other Crimean animal images I knew.

Sandy with medal ,from the Crimea, as displayed in Illustrated London News

Sandy was then 7 years old who had travelled with the Lieutenant Lempriere in various countries, being described as a water dog. When his owner returned home to Britain, in poor health, Sandy also returned to Brompton Barracks, in Chatham, where he was presented with a medal. As the ILN article explains “The medal is not a real Crimean one, as dogs are not so decorated, however distinguished in the service.”

However, he was not the only Crimean animal recognised in England.In the winter of 1855 – 56 the painter John Dalbiac Luard had previously visited the Crimea, where his brother, Captain Richard Amherst Luard of the 77th (The East Middlesex) Regiment of Foot, was on active service. Dalbiac Luard’s oil painting, A Welcome Arrival, on display in the National Army Museum –

presents three officers in a rough bivouac. Behind them, fixed to the wall, are dozens of images. including those from the Illustrated London News including animals. But placed among the three men is a small table on which sat a tabby cat with a white chest. The presence of the cat seemed to signify that the bivouac had almost become a home.

The cat, then called Crimean Tom, was around eight years old and had been found in the city of Sevastopol after a year-long siege. He was understood to have led the British soldiers to a storeroom of Russian supplies, thereby helping to save the British and French soldiers from starvation. He was subsequently rescued from the city and duly brought to England by the officer William Gair. He died in London in 1856. According to the museum, albeit somewhat sceptically, Tom has now been preserved as a taxidermic figure. However , he did come after the Crimean war directly to the museum; rather, he was bought from Portobello Road market in the 1950s, by Lady Compton Mackenzie, who donated him to the museum.

At least such animal-human stories are now being publicly shown from much earlier times. Yet the researching and hosting of many animals, particularly ginger cats , from earthquakes and bombing in Syria , seems rarely  displayed.  However  the  sanctuary is online with great photographs in Ernesto’s Sanctuary for Cats in Syria.

read more…

A short obituary of historian Jorma Kalela

2023 February 25

Jorma Kalela’s paperback Making History

Sadly, Emeritus Professor Jorma Kalela , who was born in Finland in 1940, died late last year in Helsinki when he was 81 years old. Although I knew and personally talked much to him about history over several decades I do think his past experience should  be more remembered , particularly amongst many types of historians. He had studied political history in Helsinki and had worked as a researcher for the Finnish Academy 1971-1977 and 1990-1992 . He subsequently became a Professor of Contemporary History for many years at the University of Turku. Apart from links with Swedish and German colleagues he also spent many times in Britain. He was also a senior member of St. Anthony’s College, Oxford and a visiting professor at the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London.

Meetings took place in London and elsewhere. He would often stay in a friend’s house protecting her cat while she was away. We often emailed each other. As he wrote back to me about The great cat and dog massacre book, saying “Don’t remember any more how many years ago it was that I heard of your project for the first time!” He was often here to talk about public histories, and his discussion with Toby Butler on oral history. His English book, Making History. The historian and Uses of the Past came out in 2012 through Palgrave – and is still very worth reading. As he notes , from 1979 to 1986 he spent time in the Finnish paper and pulp industry, Paperilitto. This included more than 200 members of the union undertaking research including their own family histories. As he explained, through this engagement he also altered his personal understandings of the past particularly in politics. Kalela became clearly aware of the political position of his own grandfather Aimo Kaarlo Cajander, a former prime minister of Finland who died in January 1943.As he importantly argued in his Making History book “ History is an everyday matter, everyone really has a personal connection to the past, independent of historical enquiry.” His position has certainly influenced me when writing about various individuals’ views on local and family history in perspectives which have been rather different to those of academic historians.

Jorma Kalela speaking with Anna Davin on the conference chair

Paul Martin and I were pleased that Jorma agreed to let us publish an extract of his past history in our Public History Reader (Routledge 2013). As Paul Martin explained, in our consideration of the ways in which the past had taken on a heightened popular sense of importance in the present ,clearly questions were being raised about “Who is Making History” – as Jorma was importantly exploring.He often attend conferences and seminars over here and I was pleased that he agreed to give a presentation at the ninth – and last – public history conference in 2009 at the now destroyed Ruskin College, in Walton Street ,Oxford. Entitled Legacies and Futures: The History Workshop and Radical Education it included Anna Davin of History Workshop Journal, Marj Mayo and Ken Jones. As Jorma explained, he was thinking about new visions and practical examples.
Jorma’s clear interest in historical approaches did survive in recent years. Responding to an email about my own accident he explained the changes he received through a stroke.He wrote “To survive mentally in the hospital I had to execute two promises from the pre-stroke-time. It meant one article on the ethics of historical research and another on the opposition of historians towards secondary reflection on their own practice…”
I hope those of us who knew him and his engaging historical work will also continue to positively remember him


Animal images and wall quotes in Romney Marsh churches

2022 December 7

Art work outside the church in Fairfield

Post lockdown  art exhibitions at the  Romney Marshes were recently able to be visited . Irrespective of the art displayed, aspects of the formal interiors including fonts, walls and particular biblical quotes always create interest – at least to me.

St Thomas Becket, Fairfield

Aspects of the font in the church of St Augustine in Brookland, is fascinating. As Ann Roper has described, this was made by Norman or Flemish craftworkers of the C12.The signs of the zodiac, and months of the year, were explained.Clearly presented were animals such as a pig or horse or fish alongside humans.

Animal fonts in St Augustine , Brookland

It seemed to remind me of the figures of humans and animals I saw many years ago in the baptistery near the duomo in Parma in Italy’s Emilia Romagna . Those too were from the C12th – this time as small statues from the workshop of Antelami. Odd how different animal images bring back memories of decades ago…

Quote from Brookland church in 2015

Similarly the biblical quotes in St Thomas Becket, Fairfield, as described by David Cawley, still remain – and are included – in many Romney Marches churches.

Quote in St Thomas Becket, Fairfield

As a child I was formally instructed in Non-Conformist religion (as other historians also state they experienced and later critically reported.) I now find these phrases unusual.

Another old testament quote

(As a teenager, often late to school I wrote biblical quotes from the Cruden’s Concordance  on the class group’s door, which my grandfather had used for his street preaching against drink. Instead I briefly quoted “Woe to those who rise early”. Here I deleted the next phrase “ to tarry after strong drink” to instead emphasise lying in bed.  However , the protestant school teacher scribbled in opposition different biblical quotes asserting the need for attendance …. )

But in  recent months , despite online library work, I have yet to find the local explanations for these displays of specific quotes. I would welcome information on reading historical writing and sources about the reasons for their insertion .

Cats, Dogs and other people

2022 July 31

Local historic cats shown in a Hastings old town pub

Under Dr Alex Lockwood, through the funding of the Culture and Animals Foundation there are currently audio podcast talks from several animal historians on animal welfare changes over the last 200 years – and the need for far more protection of animals

I gave an audio response which was summarised as “ We spoke this summer about the development of human-animal relations in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the many acts of ordinary people against cruelty to animals, that were also taking place even as the great and good were bringing legislation in parliament.”

This is not quite what I was stressing in the podcast but rather the protection of DOMESTIC animals after the 1822 Act often led to new legal changes. This often occurred through working class or local residents protecting cats and dogs in courts. Often ordinary people would contact the police, or personally attempt to stop those killing animals; and then appearing in court, as witnesses against those cruel attackers. They would also demonstrate and protest against such hostility.

There seemed to have been neither BBC recognition of Martin’s Act in 1822  or even accounts in mainstream newspapers. It hardly implies that awareness of the need for more assistance to animals seems well known…

 Access audio podcast here –


Martin’s Act agreed July 1822 – who remembers it 200 years on?

2022 July 20

Shop in C19th London with various animals for sale

An historical event occurred on 22 July 1822 when Royal assent was given to a new act, often called Martin’s Act, under the name of MP Richard Martin. 200 years ago, for the first time in this country, it became an offence for any persons to wantonly and cruelly “beat, abuse or ill-treat any horse, mare, gelding, mule, ass, ox, cow, heifer, steer, sheep or other cattle.” Interestingly the actual wording from the legal Royal minutes simply states “ An Act to prevent the cruel and improper treatment of Cattle”.

In some ways this sounds good but earlier attempts had failed and still continued for some years after 1822 including bull baiting and cock fighting. It was also then realised that ordinary cats and dogs were not included within the new law. Thomas Fowell Buxton MP -and RSPCA supporter – stated the Act “had put an end to half the cruelty which formerly prevailed in the country”. The word “half” was relevant since, as he knew,“the instances of cruelty to animals were numerous” and was aware of “the sufferings of dogs and cats”.

Throughout the following years many attempts were carried out in courts by local people as witnesses or demonstrators trying to protect animals, such as cats. Although laws to protect domestic animals such as dogs and cats and even monkeys were passed in 1835 local people’s defence of animals was clearly frequently undertaken – as abuse still occurred.

Nearly 200 years on, animal cruelty has still happened. We were reminded in June when West Ham footballer Zouma was violent towards his two cats and only received 180 hours of community service – and his brother Youan 140 hours. Zouma received just a fine of under £9,000 in court . Pointedly, he had had 250K already removed by his West Ham football club which clearly stated that “we condemn in the strongest terms any form of animal abuse or cruelty” and “not in line with the values of the football club”- and gave the £250k to animal charities. At the time a woman had rejected going on a date with Youan ,the instagram snapper of the two Bengali cats, because of the brutality visually seen.Thus the images had been forwarded and legal action taken.

The positions taken by the West Ham employer and a woman supporter of cats were not simply unique views of contemporary times. Rather, people’s own acts defending animals- even when statutory laws had been agreed – have regularly occurred in this country particularly after the Martin’s Act was passed.

As a way of remembering the positive acts taken by ordinary people, particularly Londoners,I have been talking to the UK Centre for Animal Law (A-LAW) about people defending ordinary animals in the nineteenth century. These also relate to their conference this week on Animalaw: Visioncomments of the future, The Martin’s Act Bicentenary Anniversary Conference 2022.The  conference is talking about the need for legal changes nowadays to protect animals.

I have been recalling the past history of humans defending animals  (as well as those attacking them) which can be heard from the audio podcast over many weeks.

Such acts to protect animals were not just something new under contemporary and even pandemic times. Rather, cruelty towards animals had continued for centuries – although some humans protected them even many years ago, We still need to be aware of past positive treatment  towards animals – as well as continuing acts of cruelty.

A blue plaque for Agnes Dawson, teacher, trade unionist, LCC Labour councillor

2022 May 29

Blue Plaque recently unveiled in Newport, Essex

Decades ago I had researched and had published a book I called Deeds not Words. The Lives of Suffragette Teachers, arising from my earlier PhD on history and education. Then I was a school teacher at Quintin Kynaston, a progressive London school, and active in the local Westminster NUT. To be honest I had never been that interested in the suffrage movement, apart from Sylvia Pankhurst, but suddenly came across the way many women teachers activists organised in the NUT to try and get the union’s support for the vote. On one occasion I saw that 70 branches had all passed the same worded motion for the NUT conference. We could never had managed to get more than about 10 branches supporting the same wording even in the 1980s! It was that which interested me. In due course the PhD was passed without  amendments! But there was included a huge appendix of a biographical list of people I had researched in the NUT, NUWT, TLL . Even I realised that I would never have got a publisher interested in all of them but in future months with a focus on 4 women teachers ,namely, Theodora Bonwick, Agnes Dawson,Ethel Froud and Emily Phipps Pluto published.Later all four were included in the Oxford DNB which I had suggested along with many women who had protected animals such as Mary Tealby the founder of the Battersea Dogs’ Home.

I had noticed that in Swansea Emily Phipps had received a blue plaque; I had met a related relative of Ethel Froud in Australia involved in family history  at a 2014 Conference;Sarah Bonwick, the mother of Theodora, had now been  well analysed by Colin Cartwright in the Baptist Quarterly of 2021; and Agnes Dawson’s archival material had been deposited several years ago in the Bishopsgate Institute which I had positively seen but not returned to think about more.

Jill Mayer, great niece of Agnes and her own children /relatives

Suddenly just weeks ago I was invited to see Agnes Dawson’s blue plaque in Newport, near Thaxted in Essex, and went.Some of the politics I had written about seemed to have been noted. But, far more importantly. also present was one of Agnes’s great nieces, Jill. Not only did she recall and remember her aunt but also knew about visiting her house, ‘The Hut’ and noting where the allotment was and being invited in by the new owners.

The personal position towards a dead, famous, relative was important and far more engaging with comments often made by academic historians. This open attention to Agnes’s clear emotional, as well as political ,work towards children was striking – and clearly relevant. I am reminded of earlier positive thinking in a public history perspective that is generally not quite as important nowadays as it was just some years ago. Ordinary and local people are far more important than simply historical researchers….

Saying a few words about Agnes in Newport


Not just killing cats now – but people defending them centuries ago

2022 January 30

Cats – not simply adopted through Covid – living with people for over 8 years and to whom my last animal history was dedicated together with Sidney Trist …

In 2021, cruel maltreatment of cats during 2018 and 2019 was prosecuted. It had resulted in between sixteen and twenty three cats being killed or injured by one man – in Brighton. Successful action was not primarily taken by the local police. Rather, it was undertaken by local cat lovers, including a woman named Boudicca Rising, from a campaign group,who tried to catch a suspected killer. Further, a woman owner of a killed cat set up a CCTV system to capture on camera a fresh cat attack.And did this.

Thus Steve Bouquet, a security guard,was jailed for 5 years and 3 months in July 2021.  The judge Jeremy Gold QC  said, “It is important that everyone understands that cats are domestic pets but they are more than that. They are effectively family members…” These comments were not entirely different to words in the nineteenth century. A London alderman would state that a prisoner attacking cats “ deserved to be skinned alive for his barbarity” (1831) while radical activist Leigh Hunt described cats being liked and “the picture of comfort”(1834) in his London journal. Yet recently defined by BBC news and the press in January 2022, the cat killer died in Kent from thyroid cancer on January 6th.

Although the press generally covered protecting cats, there was no understanding that acts defending cats were not at all new! After Martin’s Act passed in July 1822, the first in this country to defend many animals, from the 1830s new laws to defend domestic animals emerged. The Pease’s Act of 1835 introduced laws to defend and protect cats and dogs, including dogs transporting animal food or cats killing rats in factories and homes – or both giving emotional support to people.

Court cases included police activity bringing men – and women – cat killers to magistrates’ court grew at that time. But – like now – it was primarily local people who took a stand. Obviously there were no cameras then but there were people who dragged killers to the police to arrest them, and then gave statements in court, ran demonstrations outside, and even physically threatened offenders.

This action to defend owned and stray cats and dogs was not new just to Brighton nor to the twenty first century but became part of animal protection by humans in this country nearly 200 years ago.

As I am writing in my current draft book on nineteenth century cats, the Martin’s Act of 1822 was indeed positive , but the acts taken by locals, like today, were those undertaken by ordinary people who supported cats – and personally defended them!

Statues of women AND animals – not women “instead of” animals

2021 October 24

In the Guardian on 21st October an article was entitled “London has more statues of animals than of named women” and it wrote critically that “The number of sculptures that feature animals, almost 100, is double that of named women.” While the material emerged from the London mayor’s office it apparently argued about the need “to champion diversity in the capital’s public spaces” which might be seen as displaying more statues or removing existing sculptures, particularly of animals.

Nowhere does the article state or recognise that many animal statues in London are either made by women sculptors or represent women alongside animals.

Thus the memorial in St John’s Wood churchyard in 1937 included a fox,stag, squirrel. horse, cat, dog and heron together with a bird bat and dedication to Alice Drakoules, treasurer of the Humanitarian League,and an early supporter of the League for the Prohibition of Cruel Sports.

Drakoules memorial

Birdbath memorial to Alice Drakoules in St John’s Wood churchyard

Further the statue in Regent’s Park entitled “Protecting the Defenceless” is not only of a shepherdess and a lamb but records the work of the novelist Gertrude Colmore (and Harold Baillie-Weaver) founders of the National Council for Animals’ Welfare.

colmore statue

C.L.Hartwell ‘s statue with shepherdess and lamb dedicated to Gertrude Colmore (and Harold Baillie Weaver) in Regent’s Park


Similarly the restored bird bath on the Chelsea Embankment near Cheyne Walk was not solely given to birds but to commemorate the work of Margaret Damer Dawson within the Women’s Police Service in the First World War.She was also active in the Animal Defence and Anti-Vivisection Society.

A festive Thomas Carlyle and the restored bird bath
Chelsea Embankment Christmas 2013

Sam, the often ignored in Queen Square, but it is not just Sam being remembered but Patricia Penn who lived with him nearby.

sam the cat

Sam the cat in Queen Square, Holborn

These are not the only animals recording people – including women – but there are, of course, many animals sculpted by women. These include: Humphrey by Carole Solway, sitting in Old Gloucester Street; Diane Gorvin’s statue, including a cat, near Dr Salter and his daughter in Bermondsey called Dr Salter’s Dream and stolen some years ago; or the new old brown dog statue, replacing the destroyed one of years before in Battersea and this time paid by the old GLC and undertaken by Nicola Hicks in Battersea Park.

Let’s hope these statues are not destroyed as the result of an ambiguous statement and article. I did not search over days for this information but looked again at some of the earlier articles I wrote on these issues. If you cannot access them and want to read about them please email me.

Traces and representations: animal pasts in London’s present, The London Journal (vol 36: 1) March 2011, 54-71

‘The newly restored bird bath memorial near the Thomas Carlyle statue on Chelsea Embankment’ The Chelsea Society Report 2014, pp.66 -69

An exploration of the sculptures of Greyfriars Bobby, Edinburgh, Scotland and the brown dog in Battersea, South London, England, Society and Animals Journal of Human- Animal Studies vol 11: 4, 2003, pp. 353 -373.

See my Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entries on Alice Drakoules  and Gertrude Colmore

Statues and memorials and public history articles

2021 June 26

George Bissell’s 1893 memorial in Old Calton, Edinburgh

After sending an article Making Public History: Statues and Memorials last year to the Public History Review it has finally been published and is free online. refers both to particular anti-racist and anti-slavery statues as well as progressive publications and action in schools. This includes the work of Martin Spafford, and others, who issued textbooks of Migration, Empire and the Historic Environment arising from changes agreed in the GCSE history curriculum from 2016 with the first exams in 2018.

As previously noted on this website, those interested in public history have recently pursued activities commemorating, say, a drowned black South African from a nearby southeastern channel (with remembrance in Hastings) or analysing the commemoration of African and Caribbean troops, also from the First World War, in London.

Currently out is North West Labour History Journal no 45, 2020-21, which contains former anti-slavery as well as contemporary articles.  Mine includes  Public history and the past : slavery memorials in Lancaster, previously published there in journal no 32, 2007 and slightly amended, noting that re-readings of contested pasts have existed for many years…

Sambo’s Grave in Sunderland Point near Lancaster, as supported positively over many years.

Animal-Human History – new paperback – £30

2021 January 7


Nick Brand’s image of elephant footprints in Amboseli

Our new paperback, by Philip Howell and me, is just out. It includes 23 articles, 30 visual images and the excellent cover photograph of Elephants Footprints, of the animal photographer, Nick Brandt..It questions to what extent animals are involved as agents in social processes, and explores the connection between artistic practice and quasi- historical features.It is not simply about the need for humans to defend animals but about the very existence of animals themselves that often been overlooked.

The hardback  was selling – or not – at the sum of £188 – even being sold in Abe Books  for over £200 even in Britain! I’m pleased to say that no new paperback is on sale there.

Instead in a range of suppliers the sum is within the £30 (Also available even cheaper in ebooks)

I realise that we cannot browse nowadays through books physically in libraries but they can be ordered and then available for collection to take home – even under tier 4.(At least it happens in East Sussex!) If you have online access this too can be purchased by the library as a kindle ebook.

Several reviews have supported and liked the book including:

“Kean and Howell have put together an extraordinary collection which will be a classic text not only for animal-human history in particular, but for human animal studies in general… as they are in this substantial, edifying Companion.” Wendy Woodward Animal Studies Journal 9:1, 2020.
“As a wide-ranging survey of where animal–human history has been, what it is now, and which tools and approaches can be used to expand its reach in the future, the Routledge Companion to Animal–Human History is itself a statement of the coming of age of the field. “ Nancy Cushing, Anthrozoos 33:3, 2020
“This self-conscious aim to offer essays that might introduce newcomers to the field makes this collection a truly important contribution to the fast-expanding field.… this collection shows in many fascinating ways just how we are going about attempting to address them” “ Erica Fudge, Society and Animals 27, 2019.
“… the Companion showcases not only animal-human history’s immense scope, but also the lively contradictions that abound within it. ..the political decision to include animals more explicitly in our historical writing and research is to be celebrated,. Ben Garlick, Journal of Historical Geography.66, 2019.

One of the many images in the book includes that of The Pikeman’s Dog Memorial by Charles Smith & Joan Walsh-Smith at Ballarat, near Melbourne. As noted earlier in this website the dog was there with the diggers in the C19th but has only just being acknowledged and memorialised in the C21st.


Children’s previous Xmas times?

2020 December 20


The first part of the poem on The Nutcracker – together with chocolate

During the current pandemic, attention is being paid to apparently “normal” interests in families at Christmas time. This doesn’t completely grip with my own thinking as an adult. But I recently recalled earlier times as a child. These came from  two earlier sorts of  writing from both my last year at Millfields primary school in Clapton and then the first year with my English exercise book at John Howard School. They were written around the age of 11 and  seemed to note different things in a somewhat Christmas setting. The first was a poem about a family trip to the Royal Festival Hall and The Nutcracker Suite.

The continuing poetry on The Nutcracker for my primary school

It seem I was  keenly interested in dance but then I focussed on trying to get to a weekly ballet class which finally I achieved, perhaps as a reward for passing the 11+? Yet after three years even I realised I wasn’t up to it and gave up.Not until decades later, when I took early retirement,  I finally returned to do ballet classes . So some generally positive times have now passed happily- until c-v – at the CIty Lit near Covent Garden, in beginners’ ballet classes of the wonderful Martin Wimpress. I even moved up into intermediate ballet class  but the pandemic has been impossible. Let’s hope this excellent teaching can continue in the college.

The second writing is a short piece from my first year at the local John Howard  girls’ grammar school with the teacher’s comment.

An untitled first part of a secondary school exercise book                                    

End of the short story and the teacher’s comment that seems to have interpreted it differently…

Perhaps I had thought  this might  relate to some people’s Xmas focus on buying turkeys and chickens? At first I wasn’t a vegetarian , only reaching it decades later and a vegan later still. I guessed I was critical of the position of dead animals and even noted their poor treatment then ; though it seems that the teacher read it in another way !

 Instead of such writing  no doubt an online ballet and vegan nut roast may be something positive in 2020….

Dog on the Tucker Box in Gundagai – and Marks & Spencer…

2020 December 10

Dog on the Tucker Box,
Gundagai, New South Wales, Australia

Sometimes it’s odd looking at statues in different ways. I tend to see them in open spaces or museums and often take photographs. Some years ago I did this in Gundagai, New South Wales,Australia. The statue was called ‘Dog on the Tucker Box’. it was not built about a real animal. It consisted of a small bronze statue of a solitary dog fixed to a stone base erected over a wishing pool. At the bottom was mounted a plaque with verse composed, and a plaque recording its unveiling in: 1932. Even though the dog never existed, it was well-known from at least the nineteenth century, through stories and poems,as :
But Nobby strained and broke his yoke,
And poked out the leader’s eye;
And the dog sat in the tucker box
Five miles from Gundagai.”

Yarri’s monument also in Gundagai

Although a recent article described the dog as ‘one of Australia’s most successful purpose-built tourist attractions’ it forgot to note the local commemorations to Yarri (and Jackey Jackey) . These Aboriginal men rescued c. forty nine white people from the massively swollen and dangerous waters of the Murrumbidgee River. In recent years a concrete bridge was named after him and a new monument was erected in North Gundagai cemetery since this had been ‘in the memory of Gundagai people for generations’

I’ve never previously seen a visual image of even the Dog on the Tucker Box in Britain until a few weeks ago. In Marks and Spencer sat bottles of white wine, pinot grigio and chardonnay, apparently from Paul Sapin, a French firm, but originally from Australia.As an Australian public historian advised me this did not appear on bottles sold over there…
How this is a focus on Gundagai seems beyond me since few Australians -and even fewer Brit tourists – went to the site even several years ago. Perhaps it’s just part of the pandemic situation in which we see things in rather different ways…

Dog on the Tucker Box – in Bexhill M&S 2020…

Two memorials in Edinburgh – and Hastings

2020 August 26

George Bissell’s 1893 memorial in Old Calton, Edinburgh

In 2012 on this website I drew attention to Alan Rice’s book Creating Memorials, Building Identities: The Politics of Memory in the Black Atlantic and related this to the memorial I had visited in Edinburgh’s Old Calton burial ground noting,”The images are of an interesting memorial by George Bissell in Old Calton burial ground, Edinburgh unveiled in 1893. Ostensibly it is in memory of 5 named Scottish-American soldiers who had fought in the American Civil War. However, on top is a statue of Abraham Lincoln and at the bottom a bronze life-sized figure of a slave promoting a more specific anti-slavery message…”
Recently it has been stated that this statue was ‘the only monument to the American Civil War outside the U.S. A statue of Abraham Lincoln standing over a freed slave’. Yet I have not recently seen a description of this past monument with its anti-slavery depiction.

Again in the past, even in Hastings in East Sussex, attention was drawn, not in 1893, but 2016 to the presence of one member of the South African Native Labour Corps on the SS Mendi troop ship. Corporal Jabez Ngozo died in the sea and was buried locally in 1917 decades ago in Hastings cemetery off the Ridge. Surrounded by the military dead of the First World War from all corners of the world, the only South African Native Labour Corps soldier was found in Hastings and buried here and likely to be the only man of colour in that plot. Nearly 617 fallen African black men who died on the SS Mendi ship have been commemorated in Southampton where their bodies were found nearby . The Mendi had sunk in the Solent on her final leg of the journey to Le Havre from Cape Town, via Nigeria.The Mendi sank on 21st February 2017. It sank as a result of a large cargo ship, colliding with her on a foggy night. The court of enquiry recorded it as an accident but the Master of the cargo ship had his licence suspended for a year for not stopping to assist the casualties.

Ngozo’s early stone grave with new South African flags

Ngozo’s grave had not been particularly emphasised or described until local historians, Dee Daly, Susannah Farley- Green and former Labour council mayor Mayor Bruce Dowling and Cllr Terri Dowling explained. The grave and the story of the Mendi was well known but by an accident of fate Cpl Ngozo’s grave had not been connected to the tragedy by South African historians. While visiting the South African National War Memorial in France at Delville Wood they directed attention to the curator  Thapedi Masanabo who immediately alerted his Ambassador in Paris who ensured that this lost soldier of the South African Labour Corps took his rightful place on the memorial which was being planned back in South Africa. As Dee Daly explains: “Two of our party that year were Hastings Borough Councillors and one of these was the Borough Mayor for 2015; their ability to highlight the importance of Corporal Ngozo in the  local press brought an understanding of the experience of the people of colour of the Great War to a wider population; most particularly the appalling and needless deaths of those who perished following the loss of the SS Mendi.”

In due course flags of the current South Africa appeared on Ngozo’s grave in Hastings. And Ngozo has now been included in the South African Grave commemoration in France and in South Africa.

Bruce Dowling and Terri Dowing, Hastings councillors, and Thapedi Masanabo, curator, at the South African National War Memorial

In Hastings, attention was clearly drawn to a burial over 100 years ago of a particular unknown man, Jabez Ngozo, and accounts then made of his background. In Edinburgh too notice was made of earlier Scottish soldiers in the American civil war alongside the presence of a statue of a black slave and still surviving two centuries later.

Some memorials have indeed been acknowledged, albeit not widely written about, in materials that are publicised centuries later than specific events. It is not the case that necessarily no history was present there or known about centuries -or even decades- ago. Rather, knowledge from the past needs to be given to the memories and materials and even statues that did – and do – exist. (As noted in “Statues and Histories from Past Decades”



London cats of the nineteenth century – and in the Willesden factory of 1966!

2020 July 28

Stories of cats – and often their visual images- occur in archives of the nineteenth century, particularly London. .In the Bank of England in the City of London around fifty cats were kept – to act as mousers- and a weekly sum was regularly allowed for their support. On one occasion in 1819 a principal clerk in one of the offices was bitten a couple of days before by one of the cats. Consequently “suspicion having subsequently arisen that the animal was mad” resulted in all the cats being destroyed (with the clerk having the bite excised).

Images occur of cats for sale in a range of shops including those also selling birds and dogs, as shown in The English Magazine of 1886.

A bird shop from Hugh Thomson, The English Magazine 1886

In the early accounts of London factories in the 1840s there are depictions of cats , including,just sitting in a sugar refinery.

1840s image of a cat in a London factory

Although accounts of animals, including cats, appeared in a range of radical accounts, such as those of the Chartists,or the later Justice press of the SDF, I have rarely come across progressive accounts during the twentieth century in factories. However in the Past Tense – which often includes materials about politics in London – I have come across “A series of guerilla strikes begin at the ENV Engineering Works, Willesden”. “E.N.V. was an early manufacturer of aircraft engines… ENV’s works in Willesden became a hotbed of rank and file union activity, which peaked in a series of strikes in 1966” closing in 1967.

Reference is made to the work of Joyce Rosser and Colin Barker who described activists stating “The obvious candidate for the post of convenor among the remaining stewards was the deputy convenor, Sid Wise, an ex-member of the Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist Party, and for a short time, with Gerry Healy, a member of the Socialist Outlook group. The Communist Party stewards, however, not wanting a Trotskyist convenor, proposed in his place Harry Ford.One of his jobs was the setting of traps round the factory to catch the numerous cats that infested the place, and workers went around releasing the cats. Harry Ford complained of ‘lack of cooperation.’ ”

I do not recall this being accounted for in many trade union activities. It seems rather than being killed – as happened at the Bank of England – the cats were being freely released into the factory – despite the apparent position of the leading CP convenor!

I’ve been looking at cats’ existence in the 1800s – no doubt the 1900s now also need to be explored…

Today in London striking history, 1966: A series of guerilla strikes begin at the ENV Engineering Works, Willesden

Statues and Histories from Past Decades

2020 June 10


The Gilt of Cain, Fen Court, London by Visocchi & Sissay

Much has been raised in recent days about statues, particularly in Bristol and London. Yet many of these arguments are not new topics but have been written about broadly and critical of dismissive approaches for many years.

Bristol. Madge Dresser, Honorary Professor at the University of the West of England in Bristol, has written both about the 1963 “colour bar dispute” since 1986 and books against slavery in Bristol and nearby country houses for many years. As she states on twitter “Efforts to rebrand Colston statue plaque to tell the whole truth about the man-have been stymied for years.” Then in Bristol Sally J Morgan, now Distinguished Professor of Fine Arts at Massey University Wellington, wrote particularly about the Edward Colston and also John Cabot statues in an article : “Memory and the merchants” over 20 years ago in 1998. She wrote, “In the English city of Bristol similar attempts at confiscation have occurred and can be traced to the city’s controlling mercantile class as represented by The Society of Merchant Venturers, established in the 16th century and still going strong, who have contrived to forget almost as much as they demand we remember…”

London. Madge Dresser also wrote 13 years ago “Set in Stone? Statues and Slavery in London”. This included the display in London’s Guildhall of the former mayor, William Beckford: “The evidence linking William Beckford (1709–70) to slavery is widely available and overwhelming. Beckford, twice Lord Mayor, was the free- spending son of a wealthy sugar planter and owed much of his position to his ownership of some 3,000 Africans enslaved on his numerous Jamaican plantations.” Similarly, John Siblon in his ““Monument Mania”? Public Space and the Black and Asian Presence in the London Landscape’ of 2009/12 included differently the black sailor with a musket at the Battle of Trafalgar at the bottom of Nelson’s Column. Clearly visible -but rarely noticed even in demonstrations in Trafalgar Square – Siblon argued for the need for further state representation in London. He later analysed the nature of the memory of “African and Caribbean Troops from Former British Colonies in London’s Imperial Spaces” . He stated 4 years ago, “During the First World War efforts were made to publicly acknowledge the service of Africans and Caribbeans but after the war the evidence points to their deliberate omission in the state-sponsored cultural memory of the war.” Elsewhere in London I wrote about “The Gilt of Cain,” a site-specific work in Fen Court, London, near the Lloyds building which combined material of the Scottish sculptor Michael Visocchi with the poetry of Lemn Sissay. Visually, the sculpture consists of variously sized cylindrical columns, resembling sugarcane – or possibly human figures. Alongside this is a structure representing a pulpit – or an auctioneer’s platform.The work was initiated by Black British Heritage, chaired by Ken Martindale, who was involved in community politics, including the Notting Hill Carnival for many years.

Lancaster. Professor Alan Rice ,advisor to the Slave Trade Arts Memorial Project (STAMP) for many years ago, has analysed and publicised “Captured Africans,” sculpted by Kevin Dalton-Johnson using stone, steel, and acrylic and located outside the former customs house on St. George’s Quay in Lancaster, once the fourth largest slave port in England.

Works to read about issues on black lives still exist and have existed for decades.In some ways reading about already analysed work can actually assist many in the current situation who seem not aware of historical and critical material. Some of the writers were postgraduate students in Public History at Ruskin College where a range of conferences and discussions took place. This course no longer exists but many relevant reading lists should still be read today including:

Captured Africans statue in Lancaster by Kevin Dalton-Johnson

Peter Fryer Staying Power. The History of Black People in Britain Pluto Press,1984.
Madge Dresser Slavery Obscured: The Social History of the Slave Trade in an English Provincial Port. 2001
Black and white on the buses : the 1963 colour bar dispute in Bristol Bristol : Bristol Broadsides, c1986.
Set in Stone? Statues and Slavery in London History Workshop Journal, Volume 64, Issue 1, Autumn 2007, Pages 162–199,
Sally Morgan Memory and the merchants: Commemoration and civic identity, International Journal of Heritage Studies, 4:2, 1998.
John Siblon Negotiating Hierarchy and Memory: African and Caribbean Troops from Former British Colonies in London’s Imperial Spaces, The London Journal, 41:3, 2016,299-312
“Monument Mania”? Public Space and the Black and Asian Presence in the London Landscape in People and their Pasts ed Ashton & Kean 2009 / 2012, pp.146 -162
Hilda Kean Where is Public History? (re Lancaster and London) A Companion to Public History ed David Dean, p.33-542018
Alan Rice, Creating Memorials, Building Identities. The Politics of Memory in the Black Atlantic, 2010.

Cats – as well as The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ kitten

2020 April 30

Albert and Tommy looking out for certain animals outside

As readers realise from my writing and comments, I am a Londoner born and bred. Part of my East End family came here in the late eighteenth century from Pomerania under the name of Sallnow. I wrote about them in my London Stories many years ago. But Hackney, as it was in both my childhood and adult life, started to change in various ways this century. By late 2014 I then moved to Hastings. The cats have seemed to like it better than Clapton but until the last number of weeks I have often considered moving back to London – apart from many regular visits.

Probably for the first time living here has seemed more pleasant! The sea too has been calm and watchable, though the seagulls are lacking in food. The cats seem to have watched animals just passing by rather than the usual awful cars. For me there has been time to focus more on writing. In different ways I have thought again about the presence here of Robert Tressell. From the upper window I can see one of his temporary homes – apart from the sea nearby (and the parking outside Morrisons…) The British socialist writer worked as a decorator and sign-writer while living in Hastings and St Leonards . He began writing his book The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists in 1906. The book has often been thought about in many ways.As Alan Sillitoe wrote “it is the book that won the ’45 election for Labour” as well as giving a statement that the book “…has as its theme the class war.” The politics in the book have been ignored by many people today including both new leaders in opposite groups. If the book has not been read in a while it might be challenging for the current themes.

And if you read it a while back perhaps look this time at the presence of the starving and wet black kitten rescued by the hero Frank Owen. On meeting Frank’s son the “little outcast began to purr.” He quickly went to sleep and continued to live there in the family. In this current time it’s almost good to see that cat litter, and certain brands of cat (or dog) food sell quickly . At least people are trying to look after the animals they live with. It’s not surprising that this emotional relationship seems more important than being supposed to acknowledge certain humans incapable of positively running the country.

Three animal statues

2020 February 20

Paddy’s memorial and dog drinking water, Wellington, New Zealand

I was asked to write an article five years ago on animal statues after speaking at a Geography (!) conference alongside many other speakers on animal papers. My article called “Remembering animals of the past and creating new sculptures of animal relationships with humans” has just come out in a book called Creating Heritage edited by people at the Geography conference who were very into heritage though, it seems, not particularly interested in animals. The book is published within a series formally described as “of an interdisciplinary social science forum for original,innovative and cutting edge research about… cultural heritage-based tourism.”

As you probably guess from bits on my website my article is nothing about this . The article focuses particularly on three animal statues I have previously discussed on this website, drawing on different times in Sydney, Australia and Wellington, New Zealand. The writing includes Trim situated behind Matthew Flinders in Sydney, Paddy the Wanderer outside the local museum near the former docks in Wellington,having lived with taxi-drivers, waterfront workers and ordinary sailors. Mrs Chippy, the cat, is sitting on the earlier grave of Harry McNeish, her human companion, in the Karori cemetery outside Wellington although she had been killed by Ernest Shackleton on the Endurance boat in 1915.

Mrs. Chippy’s statue by Chris Elliot. On Harry McNeish’s grave in Karoro cemetery, Wellington, New Zealand

On my website are various stories of these particular animals- and many others – to access: just click on the search up the top on the right using their names or cats /dogs etc.

In different ways I have considered how the animals themselves brought attention to humans who existed but were not necessarily praised in earlier time. Mrs Chippy gave commemoration to Harry McNeish who died in 1930, although she was only placed on his tomb in the cemetery in 2004. And Trim, the cat, was remembered only in 1996 behind the statue of the explorer Matthew Flinders who died in 1814 and whose own statue was erected in Sydney long ago in 1925 – without Trim being commemorated with him.

Routledge – like most of its recent books – is trying to get readers to spend £115 on just one book – even without a front cover visual photograph /image. (A bit like the Routledge Companion to Animal-Human History- edited by Philip Howell and me – that is now costed at £190 even despite the wonderful image of Nick Brandt on the front cover). Needless to say, even at Abe books Creating Heritage goes from £96 to £135 and Animal-Human History from £121 to £284, yes £284)

Just have a look at the nice animal statues here!

(Don’t worry I did refer to Flinders and Trim now also in London’s Euston station… which looks rather different to this cat!)

Trim the cat

Trim outside the Mitchell library Sydney,Australia

Remembering Raphael Samuel : Alison Light and A Radical Romance

2019 November 13

Historian Raphael Samuel died nearly 23 years ago (on December 9th 1996). We had worked together as historians at Ruskin College, where I was employed from 1993. I knew he was very ill and based in his Spitalfields home in London.

Oddly I recall that one day I was working in the then wonderful, dark , British Library in the British Museum. The place was not just a wonderful site for me but where I would have often seen Raphael rummaging away. I had not looked at a newspaper until I left early in the evening to then, distressingly, see an obituary of Raphael’s death – on just the previous day – already included on a large page.

Although I have often recalled him I had probably forgotten about when this sudden memory took place and now find it striking that his death occurred – before my own age now. Now I have only just recalled speaking at his memorial celebration in Conway Hall and also arguing for the re-naming of a Hall in the then Ruskin College with an engraved wooden memorial in his name, (When Raphael Samuel Hall was demolished – alongside Ruskin College itself – the wooden plaque went to the Bishopsgate Institute where it is proudly displayed – just some yards from Raphael and Alison’s former home.)

But I have started to recall this not through talking to anyone in particular but through reading A Radical Romance just officially launched and written by his wife, Alison Light. That this was only finally written and published now is striking. It is a wonderful book first involving Alison’s autobiographical experience revealing details of being a particular teenage young woman. (I could never manage to write about my life in that way.) Issues around Raphael’s life and his focus on writing comes to life but primarily it is a text written about the lives of Alison and Raphael together (irrespective of the rants of historical hysteria in certain times and places…)

While the book is so well written and engaging it has also reminded me of many things I had forgotten about working with Raphael so many years ago. I therefore include below, an image of a day out around Ironbridge where we went with some of our then History students at the end of year in 1994.

I ended up in tears finishing the book on a train into London, not because it was simply distressing but rather because it clearly captured so engagingly the explicit time in which Alison and Raphael lived. This is one of the most wonderful books I have read and would thoroughly engage people, particularly those who knew Raphael in various ways, as well as people thinking about their own memories and of lives of friends now ended. (A Radical Romance. A Memoir of Love,Grief and Consolation, (Fig Tree, an imprint of Penguin Books. Only just out but already cheaper than the hardback in Abe Books!)

Raphael, me, and various History students, Ironbridge 1994

80 years ago – start of the Second World War and thousands of deaths of pet animals…

2019 September 3

At the start of the war many dogs (and cats) were protected by the Animal Defence Society in London to stay in their Ferne premises during the war

During the Munich crisis in 1938 a year before the Second World War newspapers described blind panic- and certain people fleeing quickly from London. Some rushed with their pets to animal charities where some pets were killed at the RSPCA ,Battersea Dogs Home and The Our Dumb Friends League, (now the Blue Cross). The National Canine Defence League (The Dogs Trust) refused to do this. Animal charities realised what might happen in the future…

In the many months before September 1939 the RSPCA and vets advised the Home Office on “questions in connection with the protection of domestic and captive animals” . By August 1939 an umbrella organization was created in the form of the National Air Raid Precautions Animals’ Committee (NARPAC),and established through the ARP department of the Home Office by the Lord Privy Seal.It said:

“Those who are staying at home should not have their animals destroyed.Animals are in no greater danger than human beings, and the NARPAC plans . . . will ensure that if your animal is hurt it will be quickly treated, or put out of its pain if it is too badly hurt to be cured. Another very strong point against destroying animals is that they play an extremely important part in keeping down rats and mice in our cities.”

The government had not issued a diktat or emergency measures requiring animals to be killed. But many people did this , particularly in London, in the first week of war in September 1939. The press covered the mass slaughter of some 400,000 dogs and cats in London alone. This figure was later corroborated both by the RSPCA and Brigadier Clabby, of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps.

This slaughter of 400,000 animals was more than six times the number of civilian deaths on the Home Front caused by enemy bombing during the entire war in the whole country. Importantly no bombs had actually fallen that September 1939 and none would fall on London—or Britain—until April 1940.

September 1939 is now being recalled as a memorable 80 year old event. It should also be remembered for many lost lives of domestic animals. As Richard Overy recalled on The Great Cat and Dog Massacre cover “ this process offer[ed] a profound view of the way animals and humans interact.”

(Photographic images in my book show cats and dogs animals being protected – not destroyed)

Britten, animals, music and art – in Aldeburgh

2019 August 26

Ryan Gander recent sculpture in Snape Maltings

Recently visiting the Aldeburgh festival held at Snape Maltings in Suffolk was very interesting.For some years I’ve liked the work of Benjamin Britten including his post-war operas. But this was the first Britten and Pears’ Aldeburgh venue I attended. Art works in Snape Maltings also included the new work by Ryan Gander To Give Light (Northern Aspirational Charms) alongside works of Barbara Hepworth or Henry Moore there was exhibited much of the recent anti-war visual material of John Keane.

Barbara Hepworth’s earlier sculpture in Snape Maltings

I had known about Britten’s attitudes towards animals (such as his own dogs, for example, Clytie) . The recent concerts covered the use of W.H.Auden’s work on various animals resulting in Our Hunting Fathers in 1936 , with “all the rats that are hereabout” but also seen to encompass “a time of turmoil in Europe’”. Also heard was his music on the songs and proverbs from William Blake in 1965 which inevitably showed his attention to The Fly and “Tyger ! Tyger ! burning bright’”alongside the fascinating ‘London’ with its “mind-forg’d manacles”.

Sirens by Geoffrey Clarke in The Red House

Nearby I viewed the sculptures Britten and Pears acquired, such as the Sirens by Geoffrey Clarke initially made for the 1956 festival in their engaging home on the edge of Aldeburgh, The Red House. Indeed here, most helpfullly, I come across some research including animals , with Britten as a patron of the RSPCA in the 1960s.He was apparently invited to be a patron by Malcolm Sargent, (particularly important at the Proms at that time). With other patrons, including Noel Coward, Britten appeared on the RSPCA Autumn fair publicity particularly in 1963 – opened by Margaret Thatcher (!)

Given my attitude towards public history – as well as the study of animals – I have often been critical of presentation in museums. (One of the few I have written about positively is Sydney’s Hyde Park Barracks – complete with the recent accommodation of contemporary rats alongside the historical material from prisoners stolen by much older rats.)

hyde park rats

Rats’ nest and home in a cabinet in the Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney, 2010

However I would add The Red House to the scant range of museums I have recalled positively. It shows Britten and Pears’ books, bought sculptures and pictures, rooms where much music was created, extensive range of accessible material and short interesting exhibitions. On this occasion a relevant exhibition explored the positions of Britten and his friend and composer Michael Tippett during the Second World War when Tippett was imprisoned as a conscientious objector in Wormwood Scrubs .

Even a cat sculpture inside The Red House

Elderly Animals in Striking Photographs

2019 June 5

Petey , a 34 year old horse

A new unusual photographic book is well worth reading. This is Allowed to Grow Old. Portraits of Elderly Animals From Farm Sanctuaries taken by Isa Leshko.

Isa first met Petey a 34 year old Appaloosa horse and stated that when she reviewed the negatives from her afternoon with Petey, she realized she had stumbled across a way to examine her own grief and fear stemming from her old mother’s illness. She would then find other elderly animals to photograph.She photographed many animals ending their days in safe sanctuaries.


Babs, a donkey

 They include Babs , a donkey, who was a former rodeo animal used for roping practice and covered in rope burns. She suffered from many diseases that were then helped in Pasado’s Safe Haven in Sultan, Washington.

I have been interested previously in works dealing with the death and mourning of animals [having contributed to Animal Death – on pet cemeteries – or Mourning Animals – on dead animals in wartime-]. However the powerful images of elderly animals, often photographed by Isa as she laid next to them on the ground, is unusual. I have often looked at the older animals now living and surviving in the Hillside Animal Sanctuary in Norfolk being rescued from cruel circumstances but have yet to see such photographic images recorded in this way in Britain.

I would recommend this large  book published at £30 by the University of Chicago Press and already having received much support from writers such as Carol J.Adams, Marc Bekoff, Steve Wise ,J.M.Coetzee and Peter Singer.

Seeing the remains of the ‘Amsterdam’ ship of 1749

2019 April 26

Wreck of the Amsterdam boat of 1749

The wreck site of the ‘Amsterdam’ ship of 1749 lies outside Hastings near Bulverhythe on the walking route to Bexhill.

Nearby are elements of a prehistoric forest of 2000 BC and outcrops of cretaceous rocks of 135 million years old.

Normally it is difficult to see any of this even from the path adjacent to the beach because of the high water. But low spring tides have revealed these perspectives alongside contributions from volunteers at the Hastings Shipwreck museum.

Due to entering the English Channel under a severe gale the ‘Amsterdam’ ship struck the seabed so hard that her rudder was torn off. The wreck together with goods were buried within the sand.When some workers digged into the wreck in the late 1960s they found bronze cannons, clay pipes, personal possessions etc. As a result -unsurprisingly- archaeologists were horrified at the damage and sought its protection as an historic site.

You can walk over the Bridge Way from the Bexhill Road (that goes from Hastings to Bexhill) and view the area but will be unlikely to few the wrecked ship or the wooden fossils nearby unless there is a low tide. Though living in Hastings now for a few years I’ve only just managed to see it properly for the first time. I would recommend a visit.

(No stories of the existence of cats…)

An odd nineteenth century (or 1504) cat

2019 April 13

A cat’s head from Durer’s Adam & Eve engraved by Arthur Burgess

Recently I noted the presence of several animals – including cats – in London exhibitions and wondered about the curators’ choices .

I was not over impressed by a recent visit to a Ruskin bi-centennial exhibition, The Power of Seeing, at Two Temple Place on the Thames Embankment. Needless to say no comment was made on John Ruskin’s agreement to offer his name to the working class adult student College that would develop in Walton Street Oxford shortly after his death. (Ruskin college is no longer in that Oxford locality, next to Worcester College, being destroyed just a few years ago in this C21st.)

The exhibition displays images of birds including parrots, cockatoos,duck and an interesting peacock head by J M.W.Turner.But of particular interest was a nineteenth century head of a cat engraved by Arthur Burgess , in brush and ink over charcoal on “wove paper” from the Ashmolean museum in Oxford. Burgess was a wood engraver who asked Ruskin for illustration work. The enlarged drawing is from Durer’s Adam and Eve painting dating from 1504 including cat, a rat, hare or rabbit ,cow, goat, bird – and snake.

I have now dipped into my Durer book for 10/- given to me by a friend in December 1970 while I was studying Medieval Latin at the University of York. The book recalls the Adam and Eve images from Vienna and Pierpont Morgan library in New York . I have no memory of seeing the cat from that particular time but am interested in the engraving of Burgess now displayed. Clearly it was of interest in the nineteenth century but now also seems popular in a small new exhibition .

Cats and Dogs in the Second World War

2019 March 17

         Spratt’s dog gas mask

I am speaking this week at the Wigmore library in Gillingham, on what happened to animals, particularly in London, during the 1939 -45 war (see the events notice).  Positive individual animal stories that have passed down in families will be raised.

While I will probably pay attention to Winston Churchill’s personal relationship with cats, including the black Nelson in Downing Street and his ginger in Chartwell,   I will also refer to another Winston Churchill. This one was a Siamese cat born on Jersey in 1941 who was fed on limpets and managed to evade the Nazi troops since he scarcely left the house. Another family cat was called Hitler, because of a black patch under his nose. This cat was also taught ” to raise its right paw in some parody of a Hitler salute when it was given food”…

I intend to pass around some visual images of the time, though I don’t imagine circulating the Spratt’s advert for a dog gas mask (above). Though photographic images of dogs wearing masks do exist, unsurprisingly dog gas masks rarely seem to form part of a written or clearly passed down family story!


Ordinary cats in Britain in the 1800s

2019 February 25

Cats – as well as as dogs – started to be included in the Battersea Dogs’ Home – as noted in The Strand Magazine of the 1890s.

A couple of years ago a one-off conference was held in Paris with mostly english presentations under the title of “Becoming animal with the Victorians” apparently explaining that “creatures comforted human beings in the nineteenth-century, and became them, not only in the sense of enhancing and suiting them but also by virtue of that human-animal ability to grow together in trust and tenderness.”

I gave a conference paper – though it was certainly not primarily based on the ability of humans to grow together with animals in trust and tenderness. Rather, I had been thinking instead about the way cats were treated at the time and in particular the way there were records of cats being skinned often stated , as The Times reported, in “ sausage-making, cat-skinning, knackers’ yards,bone-boilers”. I was not as convinced as some writers who have suggested that improvements had been fully made and that humans had led the way positively.

Writing in the conclusion of the article I thought there was not a comprehensive analysis of the changing feline – human relationship at that time .  This also started to encourage me to think more thoroughly about looking more broadly at the behaviour of cats themselves at this time – and who they related to.

Thus I am now writing a further book for the University of Chicago Press. The last one there in 2017 and 2018 was The Great Cat and Dog Massacre . The Real Story of Word War 11’s Unknown Tragedy. That was about the human killing of cats and dogs – but it was also about much of the behaviour of cats and dogs involved in their emotional support for humans . I am now going back in the past to the 1800s and exploring the ordinary cats including those who were home based or stray and also those who were skinned . I am  looking too at ordinary people including those campaigning against cruelty to cats.The position of stray cats and those spending time in the ordinary homes of ordinary people did exist. These animals were not just Siamese and Angora cats living with upper class women – as has been previously suggested.

This article alongside others of interest, including Silvia Granata’s work on Victorian marine animals, is in the journal Cahiers victoriens et edouardiens which is available for free online. It is written in English as well as being translated into French:

Animals and cats in several recent London exhibitions

2019 January 31

Bonnard’s ‘The Bowl of Milk’ c.1919 with dark cat, tail erect, awaiting small bowl of milk…

Recent exhibitions in London have often displayed paintings in which animals have been portrayed – though scarcely their depiction is mentioned in nearby text. Thus Landseer’s images in the National Gallery room avoided Landseer’s written outspoken criticism of cruelty practices towards non-human animals , the cropping of dogs’ ears or the tying up of them for long periods of time. Also ignored was his position, by 1869, as a vice president of the RSPCA.

Even in the praised Mantegna / Bellini exhibition also at the National Gallery, which well displayed Mantegna’s painting of elephants, horses, birds, various rabbits, sheep accompanied by peasants, and a dog near a blind woman there was no description in the accompanying text of his stance towards animals (even though there was no such coverage within Bellini.)

The recent Edward Burne – Jones in Tate Britain has been popularised but only one cat is seen , looking at ‘Clara Van Bork 1560’ mainly because she is holding a nest of small birds in her hands which are being seen by the feline at her feet.

The latest well publicised exhibition of Pierre Bonnard is specifically described as ‘the colour of memory’ thus bearing less attention to the presence of some animals previously seen in Paris galleries. Significantly the first room, with worded description, photographs Bonnard with his distinctive dachshund dog though the dog is less seen in the 13 rooms. Two white cats in a ‘Dining room in the country’ and one dark cat anticipating ‘The Bowl of Milk’ with tail held high awaiting a small bowl of milk are less characterised than the plethora of female human bathroom projection (in which cats or dogs do not fear to venture!)

It’s almost as if some animals are finally recognised as existing in a painter’s work shown in galleries to bring in more people – yet most art historians seem to focus less explicitly on such animal presence…

Unimaginative cat exhibition at the British Library

2018 December 29

Real, individual, cats – rather different to the British Library approach…

The “Cats on the Page” exhibition now at the British Library is run by a curator of C20 material at the library, with obviously no particular academic person with interest in animals nor charities working on behalf of animals.

Attention towards cats themselves is scarcely applied. There seems to be only one publication prior to the nineteenth century and just “one earliest source “ of nursery rhymes in 1805 including “The cat and the pudding-bag string” with an additional “early work of cats” entitled “Old Dame Trot and her comical cat” of 1811.

The small nineteenth century copies did not include details of the scant engravers. The book of 1817 The pretty, playful, tortoise shell cat interestingly displayed the cat sitting in front of a fire, being stroked by a child with other children sitting nearby. An image was also shown of the same cat sitting on a nearby house roof.

However, no attention was given to the role of cats in the past – or even the twentieth century – and even no reference to the legal act – after the important Martin Act of 1822 – in 1834 that included action in support of domestic animals , including cats as had been discussed in parliament.

Unsurprisingly no cat – nor broadly animal charity – was asked to support the exhibition instead it was “generally supported” by Animal Friends Pet Insurance company covering payment for dogs, cats and horses. ( Nor were any large printed booklets available for people to see the small captions).

As I shall argue in a future 2019 website piece, anyone interested in animals in different ways would be better off seeing the Edwin Landseer’s free small exhibition at the National Gallery or even Gainsborough’s Family Album at the National Portrait Gallery. If nothing else they present C18th and C19th visual material based on real animals – rather than the British Library fictional material.

Finding a man and his horse in an archive?

2018 November 20

Holman and his horse in Hyde Park

Earlier on the website I have written about Laurance Holman and his horses particularly Mariana who he particularly enjoyed riding during the Second World War in London, particularly at Hyde Park and Regents Park.

I had come across his diaries in Camden Archives in Holborn to try and find details of people owning cats and dogs during the war. Although I had read several of those accounts including materials in the Imperial War Museum archive and also Bishopsgate Institute I had never previously found a diary documenting the relationship with a horse.

In the Spring of 2016  I spoke about this relationship at a very interesting conference in Kassel in Germany organised by Andre Krebber and Mieke Roscher. It focussed on animal biography with a range of presentations. A new book, Animal Biography, is now out on this broad topic . As Andre and Mieke argue ‘ biographical writing surfaces both as an approach to capture the individuality of animals as well as make animals visible as individuals.’ Thus the articles refer to animals rather than only human stances. It includes full accounts, for example, of Topsy the elephant killed in America; of Hachiko, the well known Japanese dog but discussed in very imaginative ways ; of German cats in feline autozoography in the early nineteenth century.

In my article I look both at a partial account of the horse Mariana but also at a partial account of the man’s life. I suggest that Holman’s emotional response to Mariana’s death is an important influence on his life, particularly as discussed in his diaries.I suggest that if we are interested in acknowledging the identity of individual animals, even those who were living during the Second World War, it also means recognising the traces and relationships that did exist between an animal – and a human.

Animal Biography is published by Palgrave Macmillan but published in Switzerland . The hardback currently costs £90. It seems as if so many publishers including Wiley, Routledge and Palgrave are all seeking ridiculous sums to ensure that the books are not generally seen or read. If you happen to have a connection with a few libraries – obviously public libraries no longer hardly stock any books – it would be good to read this new and interesting collection.

Pigeons remembered in the First – and Second – World Wars

2018 November 11

   A Lille close-up memorial some years ago
              Thanks to Lucy

Wartime pigeons have been remembered in different ways. After the First World War, in 1936 Lille had memorialised 20,000 serving and dying pigeons (as noted above and below)and in Brussels too a monument to the ‘pigeon soldier’ was created.

In the Second World War , as a result of Operation Columbia, an intelligence service run from April 1941 to September 1944, there were later monuments in Britain due to pigeons’ involvements in the Second World War.

Thus Mary of Exeter, a pigeon who arrived home from ­Europe with rips to her neck and the right of her breast, having been attacked by a hawk. She received seven stitches and survived.

Another pigeon, Winkie, played a crucial role in the rescue of a bomber crew stranded at sea. Winkie had been on the flight as well, and after the plane went down she escaped her container, wet and bedraggled, and made her way home—a flight of some 120 to 140 miles. Upon her arrival, the RAF was able to piece together from her ­condition the clues it needed to pinpoint the missing crew’s whereabouts; rescue aircraft found the men ­after a 15-­minute search.

Some 32 pigeons were honoured by the PDSA not just with Dickin medals but some with gravestones in the pets’ cemetery in Ilford near London including Mary and Winkie. (As previously noted, they have not issued gravestones to the hundreds of thousands cats and dogs killed by their owners at the start of the war and buried nearby.)

Memorialised  pigeons now even occur in the large Animals and War memorial in London’s Park Lane. In Devon Mary of Exeter is displayed with a blue plaque together with her owner. As the BBC has explained, this was the first in Exeter ‘to honour a partnership between an animal and its owner.’ Even the Worthing public park in East Sussex developed a stone memorial in 1951, encouraged by members of The People’s Theatre in London, ‘In memory of warrior birds who gave their lives on active service 1939 – 45 and for the use and pleasure of living birds.’

Unlike pet budgerigars, pigeons were allowed to be fed. As I discussed in The Great Cat and Dog Massacre, the government specifically decided to suspend the import of bird seed aimed at budgerigars , because of the U-boat attack on food conveys in the Atlantic. This led to the killing of many pet budgerigars unable to survive on rough food such as dandelions.

The Royal Pigeon Racing Association has supported wartime pigeons with which the Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy were all involved. The Association also shows that ‘humble pigeons’ also became ‘heroes.’

         A recent Lille image
           Thanks to David

Art for Animals – another very interesting book!

2018 November 5

New book from Keri Cronin

Keri Cronin has just issued a new book. It is filled with over 50 images but the book is not simply about art and visual images . Rather it shows how reformers in animal welfare and animal rights, including anti-vivisectionists, understood in the late nineteenth and early C20th how certain images actually worked for animals.

She considers how people, who engaged with visual culture, brought their own experiences, understandings and ideas to the intended meaning of the pictures. As she shows, the connection between looking at art and then initiating a subsequent kindness to animals became a central component of these campaigns.

In addition to the book being very well documented the images are extremely well covered. Many of the images are displayed from a wide range of archives and publications in different countries. Even in Britain few have been seen in this way. Importantly the writing isn’t about visual images or art as such but more importantly how these forms came across as ideas for animals. As Keri explains, “looking at pictures was seen as a morally improving activity.”

Although just out this year, her publisher, Penn State University Press, is agreeing to bring out a paperback in the next few months. So do please consider ordering it.


Animal-Human history

2018 October 26

Nick Brandt’s Elephant Footprints, Amboseli,2012

In recent years there has been a growth,particularly in academic works, about animals. Yet this becomes somewhat confusing with some people, for example, emphasising humans rather than animals.

This book edited with Philip Howell includes over 20 articles from a range of contributors and 30 illustrations. Here we are discussing an approach that focuses on the role of animals alongside the physical presences of animals and the function of historical or heritage works. In my own article I have considered the role of the dog at the Australian Eureka stockade in 1854 who saw the killing of various diggers. His master was killed.The dog jumped after his master’s corpse, lying on his breast and repeatedly howling.

The military attack on diggers became a key development in Australian democracy and identity, with all diggers acquitted having defended themselves from attack. It has become a key item for historians. Yet historians have not been particularly interested in the dog despite the accounts of his attitude towards his dead master recorded in nineteenth century archives. Only recently in 2014 the ‘Pikeman’s Dog’ has become a sculpture outside the local museum at Ballarat (near Melbourne).

Other animal-human articles here also focus on the role of particular animals in the past and present history in a range of countries.

I am pleased to include the image from Nick Brandt on the cover. Brandt has written that for between 10 and 20 years he has driven through countless areas (in Africa) where there had once been abundant animal life and which ‘now has been relentlessly wiped up.’ His most recent exhibition on the oppression of animals opens in Spring 2019 in a range of places, including London.

Unfortunately the cost of the 500 page hardbook is not offered to readers easily! But if you are linked to a library with funds – or belong to a journal reviewing books – then it would be worth thinking about this! (There is an ebook more realistically priced though I’m not sure how one can read the wider range of articles in this form.)




Where is Public History?

2018 October 14

A Companion to Public History by David Dean

I’ve just received a new collected book edited by David Dean called  A Companion to Public History and published by Wiley.

This was written a few years ago with over thirty people interested in Public History. Unlike some of the other contributors I wanted to write more critically about the idea of it being ‘what is public history?’ That seemed a rather definitive – and static – response. Hence my article is called ‘Where is Public History?’ ‘Where’ seemed to to be a rather different response. I was trying to think critically about the ways in which people engage with the past and the processes by which this can become accessible and relevant to contemporary life.

Some of my images include the two words written by Italian prisoners of war in Motto in Cumbria . Corso Vittorio is a reminder of the number of avenues made in Italy after Victor Emmanuel 11, the first king after unification in 1861.The prisoners of war were making a direct reference to their home in another country. Nowadays the two words  remain in the local garden centre…

Corso Vittorio by Italians in Cumbria in the
 Second World War

Rather then see public history as only an activity of academic historians I have been more interested in ordinary people’s history-making. Yesterday I went to the annual classic motorbike gathering in Hastings where people presented their usually old – and very engaging – motorbikes made in a different time particularly in the creation of such motorbikes in Britain. People chatted and discussed the different motorbikes with many others coming to the event.

Such interests also often take place online in ‘Motorcycle Racing Nostalgia’ . A key feature of the former bike racers and keen enthusiasts is to understand what you know and also how.Thus information can be offered through ‘being there’ as a rider or spectator and by looking at the old programmes, newspaper cuttings,or photographs. There are often competitions of sorts, sometimes called WWW (Who? Where? When?). Apart from the past of racing and the motorcycle industry , a broader context of another historical past experience can be created. An engaging and dynamic activity rather than a static approach to a form of history might be another way of creating new histories.

It’s far too expensive to buy unless you are into ebooks but I hope you can get to read my article and those of the others if the book actually becomes available in a relevant library! 


Snooks, the dog, and Benjamin Britten – and his two daschunds

2018 September 23


Snooks the Aldeburgh dog

Snooks sitting on a memorial – to his owners who were doctors

I recently looked again at Snooks, the dog, sculpted at Aldeburgh. He had been previously stolen in 2003 and replaced in 2012. He is still popular in contrast to the sculpture of Maggi Hambling’s 12 foot high scallop, mostly brown, shell memorial to Benjamin Britten (see below.) The shell is apparently inscribed with words from Britten’s opera, Peter Grimes, ” I hear those voices that will not be drowned.”

There has been much controversy between Hambling and local people who have been opposed to the shell’s location. Thus people’s attention was drawn instead to the statue of Snooks, who is not simply commemorated as such but was sculpted to memorialise the two local doctors, Dr Robin P.Macheson and Dr Nora Macheson, his wife.

I find it somewhat difficult to understand the arguments between the different forces. If nothing else, Britten who lived nearby in Aldeburgh had two daschunds himself together with his partner Peter Pears. An image of Britten holding one of his daschund dogs, Clytie, exists in the photograph taken of the both of them by Yousuf Korsh in 1954 and contained in the National Portrait Gallery.

Apart from his many operas, Britten’s symphonic cycle for voice and orchestra , to a text devised by Auden, was written initially in 1936 and entitled Our Hunting Fathers.The text included human relations to animals as pests, pet and quarry.The writing included reference to deliverance from a plague of rats, lament for a pet monkey, hawking for a partridge. I was pleased to hear this unusual voice material in the Barbican a few years ago.

Perhaps both the local residents -into one specific dog – and Maggi Hambling might have thought more closely about Britten and his dogs – and his interest in composing such music about British animals. I wonder whether now a sculpture of two daschunds might actually be recreated in Aldeburgh?


The mostly brown Britten shell – very many yards away from Snooks

Ossuary with skulls and bones in Hythe, Kent

2018 August 9

In the ossuary – adjacent to St Leonard’s church in Hythe, south Kent  on the edge of Romney Marsh – there is ,as described, the largest and best-preserved collection of ancient human skulls and bones in Britain. In the 4 bays there are 1,022 skulls together with a single stack of bones. Overall these are estimated to be the remains of some 4,000 people. The church volunteers have currently contacted the University of Canterbury to ascertain the rationale for the skulls.Previous accounts thought of Danes killed in a battle, men fallen in the Battle of Hastings of 1066, victims of the Black Death and Anglo-Saxons killed in battle.These ideas have recently been rejected. Allegedly the skulls are deemed to be a higher proportion of females than males and of nearly 10% of juveniles.

The material now suggests that these were residents from the Hythe area who died over a long period and had been buried in the churchyard and that the earliest of the remains were dug up in the C13th when the church was extended eastwards over their previous graves.

However, a few weeks ago the ossuary was broken into at night time and around 22 skulls were stolen. They have yet to be found. Even so this is a most unusual site in Britain and looks very different to those I have seen in the past in Europe.

The way former children still remember animals in the war

2018 July 9

A rescued London dog and her puppies (State Library of Victoria, Australia)

As part of my conference talk at King’s College recently I referred to some aspects of my book The Great Cat and Dog Massacre. I referred to many people who , in recent years, had discussed their relationships with animals in the war at the time they were children.  Brian Sewell, the late but well known dog lover, had written about his first relationship with a dog, Prince, a Labrador. Sewell had described how his stepfather, Robert, killed Prince as the family evacuated from Whitstable on the outbreak of war:
“Robert shot him and left his body on the beach for the tide to sweep away.Packed among the suitcases in the car I saw Prince led toward the sea and heard the shot. I did not cry, as I would now, but a cold, hard, vengeful aversion lodged in my memory. ”

It was Brian rather than Robert who had had a close relationship with the dog and his adult sentiments combined with those of the child in remembering the event. The stepfather was not being called up to fight, and the evacuation of Whitstable was not suggested at this time.

In different vein Penny Green has written differently about her father passing on stories of the time:

“My father then twelve years old, and my Grandmother, encountered a queue of people standing on the pavement carrying pets of all kinds. … she told him that pets were being killed so they would not suffer if bombs started falling. In the line was a woman carrying a beautiful ginger cat. My Father was upset and Gran tried to hurry him along. To cut the story short, Dad and Gran returned home with the ginger cat, renamed him Charlie, and kept him throughout the Blitz! Charlie lived to a good age despite the efforts of the Luftwaffe.”

This family story does give us different insights into the Second World War animal massacre. First, it is a story passed down through generations but primarily through someone who was a child at the time. Thus the explanation for other people killing animals is one given to a child and it is this story- as well as the cat himself – that is passed on.

Although I looked at state National Archives material or reports in a range of animal charities or those of vets or accounts of National Air Raid Precautions Animals’ Committee I was also drawn to oral accounts.Interestingly many people I spoke to – or read – had been children. They  had remembered such events but it was only decades later that they have even written about it.  These people are now adults but previously they were children. Thus some of the harshness of wartime life was hidden from them – including the killing of pets. However, as children were often protected from such issues not all may have remembered what did happen severely to family pets. This is covered in the book.

Have a read of their accounts in my paperback The Great Cat and Dog Massacre:    


The dogs that didn’t bark in the Blitz

2018 June 30

Rest Centre of dogs and humans, East End, September 1940

Philip Howell (together with me) has just had out a new article in the Journal of Historical Geography vol 61 (2018) pp.44-52. It draws on the material of Mass-Observation to investigate the complexities of the emotional dynamic of the home front during the war. Thus the affect and emotion between people and individual companion animals were transmitted and amplified. 

As I noted in my latest Great Cat & Dog Massacre book, we have argued here that British pet owners would typically rather struggle on and perhaps suffer with their companion animals, rather than have them summarily killed. (Although 400,000 cats and dogs were killed in the first week of war, this was related to the deaths of c.26% of animals in London.)

As we have concluded at the end of the article , even under the terrible conditions of the Blitz, dogs and other animals suffered alongside their owners, with anxiety and terror transmitted between pets and people. Both also provided each other with emotional support at a time of greatest stress. Mass Observation and the wartime state acknowledged this.

Over the years, apart from various books, I have written articles in many academic journals including History Workshop Journal, Public Historian, Women’s History Review, International Journal of Heritage Studies, Australian Cultural History Journal, Society and Animals, Anthrozoos etc. However, this is the first time I have contributed, thanks to Philip Howell, to a specific geographical journal.  I suspect I’m still remembering my earlier school experience of writing geography and now being pleased that previous images – carried out with bright coloured pencils – are not at all on this topic in these modern times!

Paddy the Wanderer – in New Zealand

2018 June 21

Paddy’s memorial and dog drinking water

Paddy the Wanderer was described as ‘Wellington’s most celebrated dog’ in north New Zealand when he died in July 1939. He was later memorialised in December 1945 on his place on the waterfront. Although Paddy has become a memorialisation he is not only seen visually on Wellington’s seafront but now is adjacent to the academy of Fine Arts.

He had travelled on coastal ships and had become an air passenger from Wellington to ‘the Wairarapa in 1935.’ Earlier than this he had been fitted with a new collar on licence day having been taken to the city council offices on the luggage grid of a cab. Paddy was described as acting as an assistant watchman in the wharves and looking after himself when crossing the road once pedestrians crossed it.

According to the press his early death had the respect of ‘innumerable friends’ that included sailors, taxi-drivers and waterfront workers.Yet his death at the age of thirteen did not occur primarily with any veterinary treatment but through him dying in a wharf of ‘old age, sickness and cold.’

Taxi men did not wish to give Paddy burial at sea believing that his soul would not rest ‘among the sharks and congers of Davy Jones’s locker’. Instead he was not buried in any form of cemetery but was left in the Queen’s wharf shed in its incinerator albeit being conveyed there in a coffin.

However, money was collected for a memorial which the harbour board agreed to erect. The memorial, created with a drinking fountain, was erected by the end of 1945 . Although the memorial was temporarily removed from the waterfront it was re-instated in October 1996.

As the director of Museum of Wellington City and Sea , Ken Scadden, commented this century, ‘It’s quite a remarkable story, the fact that Wellington had a seafaring dog’.This seems a far stronger statement than the earlier incinerator and the former neglect of Paddy in the past…

The death and lives of domestic animals in Britain during WW2

2018 June 9

A dog with his owner resting in Southwark Centre

Following on from aspects of my book The Great Cat and Dog Massacre I am speaking alongside others at the Animal History Conference at King’s College, London, from 28 – 29th June.

I will explore examples of the different experiences of animals at the start of the war. This includes discussing the initial treatment of companion animals, including two dogs, a cat and a rabbit and see how they were dealt with either negatively or positively in various ways. I will also consider the experience of children and the different ways in which their animal companions were treated.

For once I’m not going to use visual images on my computer. I realise  that many people are , quite understandably, not interested in looking at the images of stricken animals. None will be shown. (Even in my book, dying cats and dogs and birds and rabbits are not within images. One above, which is in the book,is where a dog is being clearly associated with his owner.)

Book online through the Animal History Group Summer Conference at eventbrite


Cats dying – and living – during the Second World War

2018 May 27

The new paperback – as covered in The Cat

I recently wrote an article from my book, The Great Cat and Dog Massacre, for  Cats Protection of which I am a member. It’s used some good images and format. I  have included information about the killing of some cats but also that many people were highly sympathetic towards their cats. I noted that civil servants explained that cats were consuming at least 18,000,000 gallons of milk a year.Nonetheless they argued that it was ‘quite impracticable’ to attempt to criticise an owner sharing milk with their cat. Adverts from cat food tins did continue. If you are into cats and are a member of Cats Protection have a look at the summer magazine of The Cat.

(The editors also mention the new paperback of The Great Cat and Dog Massacre …)


Mrs. Chippy , the cat, killed by Ernest Shackleton

2018 April 30

Mrs. Chippy’s statue by Chris Elliot. On Harry McNeish’s grave in Karori cemetery, Wellington, New Zealand

Mrs Chippy, the cat, belonged to her owner, Harry McNeish, a carpenter who worked for Ernest Shackleton on the Endurance ship . Shackleton had killed the cat and sled dogs after the Endurance ship was crushed by ice in the Weddell Sea.

On sailing to the uninhabited Elephant Island on three lifeboats Shackleton set out to South Georgia in a single lifeboat containing only Harry McNeish and five men, with McNeish ensuring the success of the lifeboat with his carpentry skills. Shackleton had threatened to shoot McNeish for arguing that sailors no longer had to take orders because their contract lapsed when the Endurance was crushed and sank in November 1915.

Before his death in 1930 McNeish was visited and stated over and over again, ‘Shackleton killed my cat.’ McNeish’s grave in Karori cemetery, Wellington in New Zealand was originally unmarked and only received details of his original name from the New Zealand Antarctic Society who erected his headstone in 1957.

The cat, Mrs Chippy, was only commemorated on the statue made by Chris Elliot in 2004 and commissioned by the New Zealand Antarctic Society. This modern statue followed her former death in 1915. The family of McNeish had only lobbied the British government to try to get him honoured and awarded the Polar Medal in 1997 – which was turned down.

There are also no words whatsoever about the statue of Mrs Chippy lying at the bottom of the grave. It is , however, this cat, rather than the body of a dead male carpenter, which is often visited by those attending the cemetery and then present the cat with flowers.

Animal statues in Sydney

2018 April 23


Trim the cat

Trim outside the Mitchell library Sydney

I am looking again at some of my images of animal statues that exist in Sydney. The animal – human images seem significant. I am reminded particularly of Trim.  In the early 1970s Australian writers found the writing of Captain Matthew Flinders , the explorer of southern Australia, on his ship based cat, Trim, in the National Maritime archive in Greenwich, London. As described by Flinders, Trim, a totally black cat, albeit with four white feet and a white star on his chest, was ‘the best and most illustrious of his race, the most affectionate of friends, faithful of servants, and best of creatures’.

Trim was described as weighing between ten and twelve pounds. His daily life included running after balls,taking food from the table of ‘almost every officer’ and, pleasantly, from their own mouths! He died, when in exile. Trim was created by John Cornwell in 1996 and placed outside the empty window of Mitchell library behind Flinders . (This is surely more interesting than the recent reproduction placed in London’s Euston station and usually ignored by nearby passengers…)

I am also reminded of  Henry Lawson and a dog in The Domain near the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney. It was finished by George Lambert and unveiled in 1931, some years after the writer’s death. Lawson’s memorial fund asked for a ‘work of art’. The memorial presents the company of a swagman and a dog, who could be images in several of Lawson’s bush stories. Although Lawson was usually living in the Sydney area the memorial fund wanted him to be described as an ‘Australian of the bush and not of the city.’ Yet a hat was rejected so that his long hair would be better modelled. No details were created about the dog’s appearance…

Henry Lawson and a dog in The Domain, Sydney

My new paperback book: The Great Cat and Dog Massacre

2018 April 1

The new paperback -as bright on the cover as the hardback. There are still many cats and dogs – and budgies.

Last year my book, The Great Cat and Dog Massacre , was issued by the University of Chicago Press. It’s about the forgotten tragedies of at least 400,000 cats and dogs being killed by some of their owners in Britain at the start of the Second World War in September 1939. Although the war is often described as a ‘People’s War ‘ the actual circumstances around animals are  virtually forgotten .

I worked on new research from animal charities, state archives, diaries and family stories to bring a different story to light. Much had been reported in 2017 in various newspapers and magazines both in the USA, Britain (and even Der Spiegel and The Week). It was also reported online and has been shown on the University of Chicago Press website.

The publishers have now kindly brought out the book in paperback from Easter 2018 so it is much cheaper and still has lots of visual images. I still like the image from the RSPCA arguing that ‘some dogs’ would have a wad of cotton wool in their ears to prevent noise.  As the RSPCA image also adds ‘ Few cats will tolerate anything of the kind.’

I am pleased that the back cover includes the previous comment of Richard Overy, author of The Bombing War:Europe 1939 -1945, and says ‘ This is a remarkably rich and detailed history , not only reconstructing the unknown story of the animal massacre, but in the process offering a profound view of the way animals and humans interact.’

In the index are the specific names of 52 dogs and 36 cats within the book that I have included. It seems somewhat unusual in forms of historical books!

The paperback now costs less than £13 or $25 (depending on where you live).

Clapton Square ‘zeitgeist’ and murder mile

2018 March 22
London stories cover

On the train to Margate

The Sunday Times recently decided that Clapton Square ‘embodies the zeitgeist’. It referred to the Lower Clapton Road former name of ‘murder mile’ which made me think back to the writing in my book London Stories .

Writing in London Stories I noted that much of the Non-Conformist past had gone including the former Mother’s Hospital. My words were :
’The road that was formerly marked out by religion is now refigured through violent death: the murder of the owner of the sub-post office, arson above the laundrette, the killing of the owner of the Asian supermarket next to the former Mothers’ hospital, and numerous drug related shootings near Clapton Pond’.

I had probably forgotten to include the elderly woman’s death outside the main door to Cavendish Mansions which had never been fully investigated. As the book came out before the riots I had not written about the burning of cars parked outside houses in Clapton Square nor the terrible destruction in nearby Clarence Road.

While my childhood was experienced  inside the Round Chapel and local schools such as Millfields and John Howard, it was entirely different to recent descriptions. The Sunday Times has written of the Clapton Square ‘middle-class dream circa 2018’. Thinking about how I had lived my past, and former recent life in the area, was certainly a very different way of living. That the newspaper has placed Clapton second and Bermondsey first (yes first!) in the whole of London reveals an entirely different way of understanding an historical past!

A new anti-vivisection book – do read!

2018 February 26

A cover image of Anti-vivisection

I have recently read with much interest a new book Anti-vivisection and the Profession of Medicine in Britain by Alan W.H.Bates in the animal ethics series published by Palgrave. It came out last year at the reasonable hardcover cost of £20.

Although the book is organised in discrete chapters and particular bibliographies (rather than a collective bibliography and broad source file) it interestingly covers the topic over a range of issues leading from the nineteenth century to the post-second world war period. Other than simply referring to activists such as Frances Power Cobbe it draws upon interesting people including Lewis Gompertz of the SPCA and Josiah Oldfield. Oldfield was not only a lawyer but a fruitarian and vegetarianist. Good discussion covers both the national and Battersea anti vivisection hospitals, the former being described as ‘ quite possibly the world’s first anti-vivisection hospital’ . The unusual Oriolet Vegetarian Hospital was also set up in Loughton.

The impact of anti vivisection upon people’s lives is covered far more interestingly than conventional approaches to the topic. There is good discussion of the Research Defence Society’s hostile approach to the thousands of people campaigning against dog petitions to parliament in the 1920s. There is also interesting discussion of the ambiguous approach of the London and District Anti-Vivisection Society in the 1930s and 40s.

I have previously read much of the archival material discussed and am pleased that this detailed work of the time is used clearly and carefully for new discussion. Even if you have already read my article on ‘ The smooth cool men of science: the Feminist and Socialist response vivisection’ in History Workshop Journal vol 40, October 1995 do turn your attention to this new book.

The work is well written, accessible and engaging. Please consider purchasing the book of around two hundred pages to get to a wide range of ideas on this important topic.


Animal – human histories in a history book?

2018 February 14

       New book this February

I’ve just received a new book from Bloomsbury Press containing an article I have written on animal-human histories. The overall topic is called New Directions in Social and Cultural History. The collection is arguing that new areas are developing within this nature of history. So several are new topics such as markets and culture, visual and material culture, subjectivity,and environmental history. Although the editors have not written individual articles on interesting aspects of their own research they argue that the 1980s saw a challenge to the orthodoxies of social history and its methods. The book is thus aimed at students and ‘scholars of social and cultural history and historiography’.

I was trying to focus on the examples of animals engaging in experience, agency and representation and then discussed the importance nowadays of writing animal-focused history. I suggested that irrespective of an individual historian’s particular interest (or not) in non-human animal histories, this topic is one that deserves to be taken on board by the wider historical community.

I found the additional articles engaging and raising ideas albeit some are now being undertaken somewhat differently to former decades…

It seems well worth reading around current debates in history and is available online, being issued for the first time this February ( 2018 ), at less than £20.



Bees, the Victory Column, and Anselmo Fox

2018 January 25

Anselmo Fox’s fascinating work

During November  2016 I visited the Animal Lovers – for a visual as well as talked Berlin-based project – of artists and historical commentators who embarked on information  for emancipated human – animal relationships. It questioned to what extent animals were involved as agents in social processes. (I talked about animal statues in London). The visual material and writings discussed at the conference were also included in their publication, Animal Lovers,  printed by NGBK.

The animals’ were explored in the relationship between artistic work and quasi-historical features. Displayed in the shop area were fascinating images particularly from 2011 – 2016 . Here the Berlin artist Anselmo Fox photographed ‘The Victory Column’ of 1873 (located at the Groser Stern (Great Star) central square in Berlin’s Tiergarten park ).

It showed bees flying in and out of the damaged parts of the statue’s relief. It has become a flawed allegory for war, destruction and a nationalistic delusion. Importantly the bees were also photographed as they moved  – and they covered the general surface of the original column.

Perhaps I am wrong, but have yet to find similar visual images that are actually displayed from a British memorial – and over here!


Matchworkers’ strike: threat to a leader’s grave NOW!

2018 January 6

Matchworkers’ image


Samantha Johnson is attempting to stop the pauper’s grave existing at Manor Park cemetery in east London. Samantha is a great grand – daughter of Sarah Dearman , nee Chapman , her great – grandmother.

Sarah Chapman was one of the leaders of the 1888 Matchgirls’ strike committee. Her pauper’s grave was only found by Samantha in early 2017, with no appropriate marking nor proper headstone. However, Manor Park is seeking to reclaim the land and to mound over the grave so that they can re-use the space. Apparently the cemetery has offered a plaque elsewhere in the cemetery but Samantha and other descendants are arguing that Chapman deserves to be remembered at the exact location of her grave.

The Change website is seeking an increase in numbers now! I’ve signed and hope other viewers of this site can go to the change website:

Just out :”The Oxford Handbook of Public History”

2017 December 10

Front page of the Oxford Handbook of Public History

I’ve just received a copy of the new Oxford Handbook of Public History that has been pleasingly edited by James Gardner. It contains a large range of 28 articles from an international group of public historians. My article is called “Public History as a Social Form of Knowledge”. Unsurprisingly I refer to the positive work of the late Raphael Samuel as well as the activity of other creators of historical knowledge including those making family history.  I am rather surprised that only 3 other articles tackle the same late historian. 

I am delighted, however, to observe the unseen visual image on the front cover. According to my website reading it was  named the House-Monument of the Bulgarian Communist Party, better known as the “Buzludzha Monument.” It has apparently been attracting explorers from around the world since the mid-1990s. I discovered that its location in the middle of the Shipka Pass witnessed a series of famous battles between Bulgarian rebels and the Ottoman Empire in 1868. The OUP stated that the site – and cover – had been photographed  by Renato Seiji Kawaski. Unfortunately, I have yet to come across any analysis  anywhere in the book sounding that the printer has more priority than those writing in the book!

The book is published at the Oxford University Press in America  – thus very different in format to, say,  the outstanding Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, published a few years ago. I am pleased though that the book is dedicated to Jannelle Warren-Findlay, public historian from the Arizona State University, and a former president of the National Council on Public History, who sadly died in 2015.


A short printable version of The Great Cat and Dog Massacre

2017 November 27

An odd war version of the dog use of Admin

Yesterday , 26 November, Spitalfields Life included a short account from me of The Great Cat and Day Massacre. It included some of my visual images from the book including those taken from the nearby Bishopsgate Institute. Many of the comments were from people  who lived as children during the war and described – as I have found on so many occasions – accounts of their own animal’s life or at times death – during the war.

You can read the version from

I always find it a very good contribution to read The Gentle Author’s account that is sent out free to readers on a daily basis.

‘Hippy’ and Sir Nevile Henderson in the war…

2017 November 20

Hippy and Nevile sit inside!

When war was declared  Sir Nevile Henderson British Ambassador in Germany returned home . In the Daily Mirror of the 9th September 1939 Hippy, his tiny dog called a Dachsbracke was returning home held by a member of staff.

For propaganda purposes Hippy  was portrayed as a daschund, rather than part of a new breed of tracking dog developed in Southern Austria in the late nineteenth century. Hippy was taken into quarantine in West Hackwood for six months .

When Henderson collected him in March 1940 he described the dog’s state: “His resilience and buoyancy were not there.” Unfortunately Hippy died shortly after from jaundice with Henderson expressing upon his life that “None can ever take his place and I can hardly conceive of another life unless Hippy be waiting there to share it with me.” Within a short timescale Henderson wrote his book Hippy. In memoriam The Story of  a Dog and he himself died in 1942.

Undertaking his account in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Peter Neville  described Henderson as a controversial figure not least because of not repenting his own support of appeasement and because of his “eccentric” study of Hippy.

Nevertheless Henderson recently occurs in Robert Harris’ new book Munich – with no reference to Hippy –  whereas oddly Henderson has been described in the text by Chamberlain to the Cabinet as “the commonest little dog you ever saw.”  

At least Henderson and Hippy get discussed in The Great Cat and Dog Massacre but in my account I am more keen on comparing them with Ribbentrop as German ambassador in Britain and his own exploited Chow dog, Baerchen…

Shirley Williams, a puppy, and the war

2017 November 12

The Great Cat and Dog Massacre cover

As I explained in The Great Cat and Dog Massacre Shirley Williams, the latest Liberal Democratic now recently withdrawn from the House of Lords, had written about animals in her own autobiography, Climbing the Bookshelves. This includes how, as a teenager in the war in 1944, she had “notched up a resentment” towards her pacifist mother, Vera Brittain. Although her little fox terrier was highly bred and expensive the little dog had panicked whenever there was an air raid. Shirley had begged, pleaded and shouted but her mother put the “terrified puppy” to sleep.

I bumped into Shirley Williams recently in a congested way where we were standing back from London traffic and I mentioned my book to her. Interestingly then and there she remembered the account of over 70 years ago as an incident she was clearly likely to recall ! As I wrote to her of my book she recalled how it was that wartime animals were in a much overlooked subject.

I have also discovered when finding the stories of now older people that many have recalled how in their childhood wartime they had remembered the deaths of their animal friends. As one had written to me decades later “…my little brother and I crept into my Granddad’s shed, strictly against the rules, and saw [the canary]Joey’s Cage hanging empty amongst my granddad’s raffia he tied his plants up with. We didn’t ask.”

As I note in The Great Cat and Dog Massacre many people have remembered their old times with animals. As one woman has described “ My Daddy gave me The photo book of pretty pets for Christmas 1940 when I was six. I still have it… The quality of my life has been enhanced by animals.”

For details of memories of people today who recall their animals’ treatment during the Second World War see my latest book.


The Great Cat and Dog Massacre is out now!

2017 November 9

The Blue Cross – and other charities – helped saving animals hurt during wartime.

The sad tragedies of what happened to people during the Second World War are well known but too often the deaths of their own cats and dogs are frequently forgotten. At the start of the war in September 1939 there was much activity. Children were evacuated to the countryside, blackout curtains were made and even flower beds were starting to be dug up to create vegetable patches.

Yet what also occurred was different to the thousands of cats and dogs existing throughout the land. Politician Sir Robert Gower , who was also the president of the RSPCA , would argue that at the hands of people themselves nearly 750,000 pet animals were killed. Later the RSPCA and Brigadier Clabby, then author to the official history of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, could declare that a figure of 400,000 , representing around 26% of cats and dogs in London alone, were killed. Such deaths were more than six times the number of people’s deaths on the Home Front caused by enemy bombing during the entire war in the whole country.

These acts of killing were undertaken by people early in September 1939 taking their pet animals to vets and animal charities – for death.

Over the war years , as I  refer to in my book and then later here, the government did much to ensure the status of dogs and cats. And many , many people looked after their own cats and dogs.

My latest book  on The Great Cat and Dog Massacre. The Real Story of World War 11’s Unknown Tragedy has been published and the University of Chicago Press is covering the positive reviews from Britain and America in their adverts, though seem reluctant to advertise the positive review from Der Spiegel! You can buy the book direct from the press as well as in Amazon.


The dog at the Eureka Stockade

2016 November 2

screenshot-eurekaI have recently finished a revised draft of a chapter for the book I am editing with Philip Howell for Routledge on animal-human histories. It includes discussion of a restored statue of a dog I came across in Ballarat when I was last in Australia in December 2014. I had known about the importance of the town in early mining days and the stand taken by the diggers against the authorities.The workers were obliged to pay taxes to dig – rather than on what was found – and had no political representation.Breaking point was reached in early December 1854 and it was resolved to resist physically oppressive state forces.  A barricade (or stockade) was erected around the workers’ camp and was defended by diggers against attacks by the military.  As a result 30 diggers were either killed outright or later died of their wounds. Although some of the leaders were brought to court for treason there was found to be no case to answer and all were acquitted.

This event has taken on mythic qualities and is highly contested and debated both by socialist and conservative historians.However, despite the plethora of academic articles re-interpreting this event for the present there has, to date, been scant acknowledgment or analysis by such experts of the presence of a small terrier dog at the stockade even though his existence was recorded at the time. A contemporary account acknowledged as credible by many historians notes: A little terrier sat on the breast of the man I spoke of, and kept up a continuous howl: it was removed , but always returned to the same spot ; and when his master’s body was huddled, with the other corpses, into the cart, the little dog jumped in after him, and lying again on his dead master’s breast, began howling again.

However, public historians have acknowledged the dog’s presence – hence the statue that I photographed a couple of days before its unveiling on the 150th anniversary at the museum on the site of the Eureka stockade.  The role of the dog is important in showing the strength of the animal-human relationship even in moments of crisis. It also helps raise questions about the way in which other animals have been ignored in the past but recently brought to light especially in situations of warfare.

Public History Group – Saturday 22 October – Jordan James on Islington adventure playground

2016 October 13

Play:Past, Present, and in Perpetuity

Join the Public History Discussion Group for a talk by Jordan James, Play Heritage Worker, on the two-year Heritage Lottery Fund project which explored, uncovered, and re-told the story of the adventure playground movement in Islington.

We meet at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL 31-34 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PY  at 11 am for tea and coffee in  room 619  followed at 11:30 by the talk in room 612.

All welcome – no need to book.

Animal Lovers in Berlin – exhibition and symposium

2016 October 10
Lin May Saeed, The Liberation of Animals from their Cages XVII, 2015

Lin May Saeed, The Liberation of Animals from their Cages XVII, 2015 – on show at Animal Lovers

A new exhibition, Animal Lovers, is about to open at the ngbk in Oranienstrasse in Berlin and I am delighted to have been asked to contribute to the symposium during the show as part of the occasion. The organisers’ summary argues that:

The exhibition ANIMAL LOVERS proposes that we not see animals as “the other” or as a projection surface for our own desires, preferences or fears, but rather that we see them as individuals with abilities and rights. The exhibited artworks give impetus for a new understanding of the relationship between humans and animals and encourage that we regard animals as our equals. Human-animal relationships are constructed by society and therefore modifiable. The selected works deal critically with existing inequalities; they expose contradictions and clichés in the daily and medialised treatment of animals. The invited artists encounter the animals as individuals and explore the possibility of artistic collaborations. The exhibition shows architecture that allows both humans and animals to find their bearings in the habitat of the other and scenarios in which this is miraculously already the case.

I am giving a short presentation on Saturday November 5th within the symposium that runs from 2 -8 on animal pasts and representation in London today. It will look at aspects of the landscape specifically formed by the animal -human relationship as well as public representations. I am speaking alongside Kim Stallwood and others in an english language slot from 6 -8.

Not for the first time do I question the value of being in the ‘top’ latin class rather than the ‘lower’ german class at school and the categorisation of languages in that way… though if the german teaching was anything like the french it might not have made much difference…

The cat man of Aleppo and Nina Duchess of Hamilton

2016 October 7
Nina Duchess of Hamilton, seated right. and other members of the Animal Defence Society preparing to evacuate dogsd from London to Ferne

Nina Duchess of Hamilton, seated right. and other members of the Animal Defence Society preparing to evacuate dogs from London to Ferne

Mohammad Alaa Jaleel  looks after more than a hundred stray cats either abandoned or left with him when their human carer givers  have fled from Aleppo during the war in Syria. Much of the publicity seems to suggest that this is strange. (In the same way that the media thought it strange that refugees would bring their dogs with them to safety.

However, in the course of research for my forthcoming  book The Great Cat and Dog Massacre I came across many examples of people who took in companion animals during the war. Thus people would bring  biscuits, Oxo cubes, dog meat, and kitchen scraps to Buster Lloyd-Jones to help him look after his wartime “evacuation sanctuary” of around 200 cats and dogs, and monkeys, goats, two donkeys, and a horse.

Nina, Duchess of Hamilton, took in Londoners’ animals to her sanctuary at Ferne, then near Salisbury.  Nina described the animals she evacuated as  ‘infinitely precious to their owners, who are in very poor circumstances; sometimes it is their only friend, and whether they have children or not of their own, these animals are like children to them.’

In Bolton Mr. Bernard of the Lido cinema organized 900 homes for evacuated animals. The Tail-Waggers Club that had so enthusiastically signed up nearly half a million of the nation’s dogs in the early 1930s was “inundated” with letters from people offering good homes to unwanted dogs. This included Miss Barnett of North London, who was a feline rather than a canine enthusiast. She had found a home for 22 evacuated cats and issued each of them a free collar and identity discs that made them, slightly oddly, members of the Tail-Waggers Club.

Latest update on ‘Not 1066 and all that’

2016 September 28

queen-victoria-and-bullet-holeTo prepare for the event on October 8th we have been trying to elaborate on our approach to history on the day – the emphasis being on how we have made history and ways of sharing this so that others can pursue their own interests rather than a conventional attention to ‘subject matter’ per se.

Local historians will describe the way their own projects came to light. They include Ann Kramer who discusses a project uncovering women’s pasts and then through writings and artwork presenting a pop-up exhibition at Hastings Museum while the Halton and Ore history group explain the relationship between their enthusiasm for their locality and their own memories. Radiator Arts bring the past into the present with their work on John Hancox the Hastings Hermit and their recent work with homeless people today in Hastings and St Leonards in equally creative ways.

Others bring their personal experience to bear on the relationship between local, national and personal histories. Thus Paula Radice explains about her own research on Quaker history, ‘Never before have the lives of “ordinary” people In the past been so accessible, and so able to show that all lives are, as Quakers would say, “unique, precious…”’ In similar vein John Siblon describes, ‘After my father died, I discovered in his papers, that my grandfather was a member of the British West Indies Regiment during the First World War who served in France and Italy. The memorial and monumental landscape that was created after the war does not appear to tell his story or those of colonial servicemen in general.’

We are particularly pleased that William Eiduks and Len Clarke, co-organisers of the Early Pestalozzi Children Project will talk about their aim of recovering the lost story of the children who came to this Sedlescombe community, north of Hastings, between 1959 and 1965.William and Len are two of the original resident children and will talk about how two novices, with nothing other than a passion for their story, came to undertake this oral history research project and how they are approaching it.

Rest assured that the interactive day – that includes puppet making or using family photographs – will not discuss Queen Victoria (or any other dead royal even William the Conqueror). I include the photo taken by fellow organiser Dee Daly of the statue of Queen Victoria in Warrior Square in St Leonard’s as the bullet hole damage might be of interest!

The day is free but booking is essential through eventbrite.


Rocco – another long surviving cat in the Italian earthquake

2016 September 18
Cat being rescued in WW2 (from State Library, Victoria, Australia H98 106/597)

Cat being rescued in WW2 (from State Library, Victoria, Australia H98 106/597)

I am sure that many people – apart from Pietro’s carers – were delighted to see that this much loved cat was rescued some 15 -16 days after the Italian earthquake.

But I am not altogether surprised based on my research for the Great Cat and Dog Massacre book. A particular story I record is of the mother of the cat Bob who lived at Cullen’s grocery stores in north west London. On one night in 1944 the area faced massive bombardment and huge fires.Cullens was hit. In due course the demolition men promised to keep an eye out for the cat as they went through the wreckage. And so, a fortnight after the bomb, the cat was found and taken away to another branch of the store. She was, diarist Gwladys Cox reported, very thin but seemed none the worse. Although some animal charities feared that rescue workers would not search for companion animals, in practice there were many examples of people conscientiously and at risk to themselves rescuing beloved pets. (Only in those days the firefighters etc did not possess the tiny air masks that many use today to save cats and dogs.)

Breaking news – another cat – Rocco – was found  on Sunday 25th September in Rio di San Lorenzo 32 days after the earthquake having spent 4 weeks without food or water. Altogether some 200 non human animals were rescued.

Not 1066 and all that – radical histories in Hastings and St Leonards

2016 September 13

screenshot-not-1066This Autumn sees a variety of events in Hastings and environs that commemorate the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. However,there are many other histories that are not covered by 1066. This event is a rather different idea from the standard idea of history being about dates and kings and queens. The emphasis is on ordinary lives . It does not emphasise history made for people but celebrates various histories that we have created for ourselves and want to share to show how it can be done!

The event will be a showcase for a variety of histories including family, local, religious, LGBT, or women’s histories.It will feature presentations of recent projects including women’s work on the lives of their ancestors, alternative histories of gravestones in the local cemetery, homelessness past and present,religious pasts in Hastings, individual soldiers in the 1914 -18 war. The emphasis is on people presenting their work and showing us how it was done to encourage us to have a go for ourselves ! The sessions will be interactive and there will also be introductions on starting your own community, street or personal history project by bringing into the present events that are not necessarily part of official local histories.

We hope that this day will be an impetus to future local work demonstrating that we the people can and do make our own histories.

All very welcome.

(There is a permanent ramped access to the entrance and accessible toilet facilities).


Saturday 8 October 9.30 for 10 – 5


St. Matthew’s Church Centre,London Road, St. Leonards-on-Sea,TN37 6PD (At junction of London Road and Bohemia Road )


St Leonard’s Warrior Square railway station (15 minute walk or bus up London Road)

Buses 20,20A, 21, 21A,22 , 22A,23,23A24,99,100,101,349. (nearest stop ASDA)



Registration is free because we want everyone to be able to afford to come. You must register in advance and places are limited so book before 30 September at the latest. Entry cannot be guaranteed. You must register through eventbrite.


Registration includes tea and coffee and biscuits. Please bring your own packed lunch or obtain from various cafes nearby.



Silk weavers – and red boots – on BBC4 yet again

2016 September 7
spitalfields from roof

Looking down on Christchurch, Spitalfields and the streets occupied by silk weavers from a modern office block roof

Until my neighbour told me she had seen me on BBC4 last night – and liked my red boots – I hadn’t realised that there was another showing of  Hidden Histories :Britain’s Oldest Family Businesses: Toye the Medal Maker. On one level I suppose it is gratifying that a programme about silk weavers in east London is on the box again and I am a small part of it. But on another level it is quite worrying. This is now, according to the BBC website, the 7th showing of this film first broadcast in January 2014. I realise that the budget for history programmes has been drastically cut – and that during the recent Olympics there was nothing to watch on BBC4 except sport – but this surely gives an indication of where the BBC is going. Excluding the news last night and this every single programme on BBC4 was a repeat.

Just now, in September 2018, a friend has seen the same programme on BBC. Glad that the red boots still look good!

If  I haven’t put you off and you haven’t seen it before (or even if you have, of course!) you can catch it through BBC iplayer for the next 29 days.

The Great and Cat Dog Massacre index and cyberspace

2016 September 6

cover cat and dog massacreI have just finished three weeks intensive work on the proofs and index of The Great Cat and Dog Massacre. Since the focus of the book is non-human animals and their role in  challenging popular perceptions of the Home Front I wanted to ensure that this focus continued into the index. So, apart from a list of the known great and the good such as Winston Churchill also listed is Nelson the black cat who comforted him.

Once when Rab Butler the pioneer of the important 1944 Education Act, came into Churchill’s room and, as was often the case, found him in bed. Churchill was smoking a Corona cigar, and there was the Nelson curled up on his feet. Churchill started the conversation by claiming, “This cat does more for the war effort than you do!”  Apart from acting as a type of foot warmer, the cat may well have been providing Churchill with the same sort of emotional and moral support that British citizens widely enjoyed. Of course, the cat too was being warmed and enjoying a particular wartime relationship that was also being experienced throughout the land.

Thus Nelson, alongside 30 other named cats, some 60 named dogs, and budgerigars, guinea pigs and a rabbit named Minnie all appear in the index reflecting their role in the war – and in the book.

Although the book isn’t due out until March I am pleased that it is already on the University of Chicago Press website for $35 and even on Amazon though of course you wouldn’t buy it there especially as it is the same price c£26 for a cloth cover with c. 30 images… The photos on the cover are taken from inside the book. The image of the dog just sitting and being in a rest centre is my favourite. Although animals were indeed rescued by civil defence staff and animal charity workers they did, of course, also play their own part in rescuing humans.


Hastings Speaks – making history in the present

2016 August 31

Snapshot Hastings SpeaksIn 1937 for the first time Mass Observation asked people to write diaries on May 12th. This annual diary making has continued. This year in Hastings the creative group Hastings Speaks attempted a similar initiative. This seemed to attract the popular imagination since  people submitted  81 formal diary entries, 41 written postcard diaries, (plus another 67 picture postcard diaries), 6 psycho-geographic day entries including a video diary, twitter and Instagram entries,. There were also  over 500 written diary entries from primary schools.

Hastings Speaks is attempting to use the diaries in various creative ways to encourage people to value  everyday lives in the present – and for posterity!I have been asked to make a short contribution at the event on Wednesday 28th September at 7pm in the Albion pub in George Street on the value of diaries for historians. I am delighted to be involved since diaries are such valuable material for the writing of history. I am minded of my work on the diaries of Laurance Holman whose main observation on the ending of the war in 1945 was that the Duke of Bedford had closed up the gardens in Bedford square – as they had been before the war…

The event is free but you must book through this eventbrite link. There will also be an edited collection on sale.

Colin O’Brien – sad loss

2016 August 22

cover Public History Reader websiteI am very sad to report that the wonderful photographer of London, Colin O’Brien, died unexpectedly last week. I got to know him a little after I first saw his work at a local exhibition in Hackney and soon one of his iconic images had pride of place on my sitting room wall.

I was delighted that Colin allowed us to use another of his images, see above,  for the Public History Reader. He said it was only his second book cover – the first being for Alfie in the 1960s! Not only did he graciously allow us to use this but even came to the launch where he engaged everyone with his enthusiasm – and memory of taking the image.

I have previously commented favourably on his images of traveller children in Hackney and also his retrospective collection.(He even replied to my query about his knowledge of animals in London in the late 1940s!)

The ‘gentle author’ of Spitalfields Life reported his death today. I understand that there will be a memorial event in the Autumn. His work will be missed – but so will this generous man.

Cats in nineteenth century England

2016 August 11

cats' home revised

I have just sent off a draft of an article on the changing feline-human relationship in Victorian England for a publication arising from the ‘Becoming Animal with the Victorians conference’ that I spoke at in Paris several months ago.

I have analysed some fairly conventional non-fiction materials such as Hansard or court reports in the Times or occupations listed in  Post Office directories to explore the way in which the relationship between cats and people changes. In particular I have considered the growing ‘ownership’ of cats particularly amongst working people, as noted by the growth in the number of cat’s meat sellers.

I have also explored many of the advice manuals for looking after cats that were not written by vets who at that time knew (and cared) little about companion animals. Rather because they were compiled by people who lived with cats attention was paid to social and emotional feline characteristics, not just bodily functions.Interestingly such works emphasised the need for humans to be trained thus creating in the cat ‘strong affection and friendly signs for everyone’.

It was not until the 1890s that specific homes were established for cats such as the one illustrated here. (Sorry the reproduction is so poor.)

The fox, the avocado and the previously white curtains

2016 August 2
tags: ,

Fox in Hastings

When I was awoken the other morning at 6am I assumed that the normally easy going cats had had a major falling out so intense was the noise. On coming downstairs they all seemed to be in one bit but the scullery was devastated- washing powder and conditioner thrown everywhere, fridge socket (together with socket) pulled from the wall, ripening peaches squashed – and the unripe avocado had disappeared.

On opening the curtains in the front room I found the remains of avocado flesh smeared along the bottom of the previously brilliant white thick curtains… However it was not until I walked back upstairs and realised someone was watching me that I found the real culprit. Snucked onto a high  shelf was tucked a fox, a larger version, I surmise, of the cub we had previously ‘rescued’ in the garden. At least she didn’t have mange – perhaps a diet of avocado helps…

Unwittingly I had locked her in the previous night. I assume she had gone when I went out later that morning to see Keri Cronin about  the project she is running on women around the globe who are changing the world for animals,called the Unbound Project. On my return some 9 hours later I discovered my latest mistake of  (further) unwitting incarceration. The scullery was again devastated . My clever cats showed me where the fox was now hiding – in their own favourite spot behind the sofa. Eventually through the smell of cooking food, enticing her out with cat food, open windows and dimmed lights she finally left.

I still don’t see why some people are frightened of foxes and while I am pleased I took her photo I nevertheless wish she had brazenly strolled out of the house on the previous evening! Clearly the Hastings foxes don’t have the inner city swagger of their fellow creatures I was used to in Hackney.

Mourning Animals – new book

2016 July 29

Mourning Animals cover

I have finally received my copy of Mourning Animals. Rituals and Practices Surrounding Animal Death edited by Margo DeMello in which I have a chapter entitled ‘Britain at War. Remembering and Forgetting the Animal Dead of the Second World War.’ Needless to say it includes some material that will be in my book on the cat and dog massacre. In particular it discusses the Dunkirk evacuation in May 1940 and notes the way in which the presence of dogs has been written out of the popular memory of this event.

There is a wide range of  interesting and readable chapters including photographic essays.

I would usually share a PDF of my chapter on this website but the publisher has refused to give these to authors:“We do not distribute PDFs. Even with enthusiastic promises from authors to be careful, it inevitably leads to unlawful distribution and occasionally leads to online piracy—the bane of all publishers.”  So, for my scholarship and photographs I merely have received one copy of the book. This seems a short-sighted action since surely giving individual authors discrete copies would result in a wider readership – and purchase of the book itself… To buy a copy please go through this link.

Brecht’s The Solution and Public History

2016 July 21
For all who suffered

Banner of East Hetton NUM at the Durham Miners’ Gala a few years ago

In the politically unsettled time of the last few weeks it has been difficult to get down to concentrated work. However, I have recently finished revisions and picture captions for my article on ‘Where is Public History?’ for a collection being edited by David Dean that I mentioned some time ago here. Part of the article discusses Brecht’s Questions from a Worker who Reads in which I suggest that in the writing of history the questions one asks are just as important as ‘the answers’.

However, his poem written about the workers’ uprising in East Berlin in 1953 – and which was only published several years afterwards- is probably more relevant for the times in which we live today. In case younger readers – and the Labour Party NEC – don’t know the poem I reproduce it here:

The Solution

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

Destroyed Ruskin student archives and online debate on the nature of history

2016 June 30
noah ablett

Early Ruskin staff and students

I have just finished preparing a paper for the Radical Histories conference this weekend on the destruction of the student historic archives at Ruskin College in 2012. This is the first time I have spoken at length in public about the topic although there is material on this website and on History Workshop Online and New Ruskin Archives . Depending on how you look at it  the timing is apposite for talking about political moments and defeats.

The paper explores the way in which the student archives stood in as a signifier of the loss of a respected institution in central Oxford and changes in its ‘ethos’.In discussing the role of archives within the petition drawn up to oppose their destruction we saw a drawing together of family and academic historians, autodidacts, archivists, former students and staff who expressed their views on the importance of archives in the creation of history.

Perhaps it’s the first online petition to quote from Walter Benjamin and Jacques Derrida in support! There were some odd juxtapositions: ‘How dare you spit on their graves! Those archives are a primary source.’ But it was also a personally felt issue for many who used the language of emotional distress and anger ‘ barbaric’, ‘gratuitous vandalism’, ‘utterly shocking’,’absolutely wicked’. A depressing task revisiting this particular defeat.
I believe  registration is still open and you can pay on the day.

Idris Davies and the slanderous tongues of famous cities

2016 June 28

Idris Davies


I have long liked the poetry of Idris Davies and many years ago bought a poster of a stanza of his famous poem ‘Gwalia Deserta’. I walk past it every day and think it can be read as a comment on political moments other than the betrayal of the miners after the TUC compromise in 1926. ‘The great dream and the swift disaster…’

Stray dogs, Camberley Kate and misleading captions

2016 May 24
From an image by Evelyn Hofer at the Barbican exhibition Strange and Familiar.

From an image by Evelyn Hofer at the Barbican exhibition Strange and Familiar.

My attention was drawn to this image captioned “Stray Dogs” at the excellent Strange and Familiar photography exhibition currently at the Barbican as it was hung near an image of Club Row animal market where reputedly unsold dogs were taken away by the “man with the knife” for sale to vivisectors. At first I read the caption on the cart “stray dogs” ominously. It was only when I looked more closely that I noticed Camberley in the background and realised that this was an image of “Camberley Kate “, as Katherine Ward was known, about whom Kim Smallwood has written so effectively in his book Growl.

This was no vivisector but a kindly woman who took in abandoned dogs and cared for them from her meagre state pension. She took them into town on her little cart to raise funds. She was profiled in the Illustrated London News in the 1960s.  It would seem that this image by the German photographer Evelyn Hofer also dates from that time.

The exhibition’s subtitle was “Britain as Revealed by International Photographers”. It would have been helpful if more attention had been paid to being clear about the nature of such revelations!

The Great Cat and Dog Massacre – copy edits finished!

2016 May 22

dog and horse at Animals in War Memorial

I have recently finished and sent off  the copy edits for my book on the cat and dog massacre of the Second World War. The book that I have been working on for some years finally has a title: The Great Cat and Dog Massacre.The Real Story of World War Two’s Unknown Tragedy.  Clearly the slaughter of 400,000 cats and dogs in London in September 1939, previously summarised here, plays a key role in the work but so does the emerging closer relationship between companion animals and their human keepers in the rest of the war.

The University of Chicago Press has said, however, that it will not appear until Spring 2017 which seems a great way off and a far longer wait than is usual with British publishers.

I am pleased that the book will contain some thirty images – most of which I had not seen before researching for this work.They include the photograph above of the back of the Animals in War memorial which I have previously written about here.

Over the next few months I will be starting to organise speaking about the book in various venues so please contact me if you would like me to come and speak at your event next year.

British Library : where are the books?

2016 April 21
Books in my study: they are also needed in public libraries!

Books (and the usual mess) in my study: they are also needed in public libraries!

When I first obtained a British Library tickets decades ago – while researching at the University of York – to analyse  manuscripts in different Middle English dialects of Richard Maidstone’s Seven Penitential Psalms my usually deflating father was impressed. He would not be allowed a ticket, he said, as he didn’t have my qualifications – it was a privilege that I had apparently earned. Certainly in those days it was seen as a library of “last resort” that would definitely have obscure works but one was obliged to look at less prestigious places first before applying. But times change.

While researching for the  general introduction to the Routledge Handbook on Animal-Human History that I am editing with Philip Howell  I tried to order in the British Library a book on animals in the C19th published by Routledge in January 2015 costing £90.It was not there. When I complained I was told that the Universities of Aberdeen, Oxford and Sheffield had copies.(Not terribly helpful if you live on the south coast of England. And university libraries are not obliged to stock all books in copyright. ) Allegedly it had not been  deposited – and the library was not going to pursue this. I was also told “to consider purchasing a copy.” I have not “chosen” to do this. I have neither the funds nor the inclination: I expect the national legal deposit library to fulfil its statutory obligations. (But then I also think that other state institutions like the NHS should be financially maintained to deliver a proper service.)

Yes the British Library provides free wi fi for the hundreds of young people who gather outside the reading room doors recreating a sleazy internet caff . And yes there are restaurants  if you can find a seat amongst the teenagers hanging out there.But the British Library  was not created primarily to be  a warm community centre but a library. And as my C 14th Carmelite friar confessor of John of Gaunt would have known, liber still means book and we still need them in libraries- both locally and nationally.

WEA Education and Democracy conference: what knowledge? what democracy?

2016 April 17

Why not trust the ToriesI am delighted to have been asked to be one of the speakers at the forthcoming WEA conference , WEA Education and Democracy Flyer Final ,in Tonbridge on Saturday 14 May questioning the nature of both education and democracy. Inter alia I am going to refer to the idea of knowledge and democracy during the Second World War and how this has changed.

In his popular pamphlet Why not Trust the Tories? Nye Bevan finished the work with an appeal to the spirit of the Levellers and Thomas Rainsborough’s intervention at the Putney Debates “one of the most memorable debates in British History”, particularly:

“The poorest he that is in England has a life to live as well as the greatest he”.

Importantly, Bevan assumed that this historical event would have been known to his readers. I doubt if Jeremy Corbyn would ever think of making such a reference for fear of his audience not having a clue about the English Revolution – or that there had ever been one.

One of the reasons the readership of 1944 may have known this history was the work of the Directorate of Army Education with its weekly classes entitled The British Way and Purpose. While clearly devised to develop morale, the classes did encourage debate around what sort of democracy was needed after the war. The opening pages arguing that “Democracy must take the offensive” demonstrate the way in which debate has shifted so drastically in recent years:

“We we must defend the positions which our fathers (sic) won-civil and religious liberty, free speech, the right to combine,local democracy,Parliamentary institutions,and our great legacy of social legislation, we must also take the offensive.Democracy…is a dynamic idea.”

The Right to Combine! Local Democracy! Civil Liberties! And this from the Army…

From social construction of knowledge to the personal destruction of student historic archives at Ruskin College, Oxford

2016 March 31

Samuel tributes again

I am giving a talk on the destruction of the student archives at Ruskin College in 2012. Although accounts of this have been given in the press and online including  on the newruskinarchives website  this is the first time the topic has been discussed at an academic conference.The talk explores the nature of the response to the destruction and the coming together of “academic”,”family”and “personal” pasts in this project. The talk argues that it is an ironic example of the philosophy that Raphael Samuel developed in his pedagogy at Ruskin College and beyond.

The talk will be given at this July conference: Radical Histories/Histories of Radicalism conference and festival.The organisers, the Raphael Samuel History Centre ,write:

 “To commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the death of the socialist historian Raphael  Samuel, along with the fortieth anniversary of the journal he helped to found, History Workshop Journal. A weekend of discussion, celebration and debate bringing together activists, community historians, students, teachers, writers, artists, practitioners of history, from inside and outside universities.Talks, films, screenings, theatre, song, dance, walks and talks; stands, exhibitions, caucuses, debates.

The conference takes place over three days, Friday 1st to Sunday 3rd July, at Queen Mary University of London, with a pre-conference day event at Birkbeck. Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Rd, London E1. Chargeable, registration essential.  Fee: Full price £50, Unwaged £25, Day rate £20, Unwaged £10. ” Book through this link.

Perhaps my memory of caucuses is rather different to the mood apparently envisaged by the organisers…

Public lecture: A Magnificent Obsession? A historian’s search for a man (and his horse) in the archive

2016 March 31
Tiny wartime diaries

Tiny wartime diaries

As an honorary senior research associate at UCL I have been invited to give a public lecture on the following:

Imagine: a series of apparently unread London diaries from the 1940s “found” in a local archive without accession records; an almost anonymous author; war, gossip, back biting, and accounts of riding horses – Mariana and Trump – daily in Hyde Park.

Why wouldn’t any cultural historian be engaged?

I will explore what this diary research was really about: the diaries ? the horses? the historian and a particular “moment” of reading?

Wednesday 11 May 6pm prompt at the Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS), Wilkins Building, UCL,Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT. (It is in the main building of UCL in Gower Street near Euston Square tube.)

All welcome – please circulate!

Animal Biographies International Conference Update

2016 March 14
Conference joint organiser Mieke Roscher

Conference joint organiser Mieke Roscher

Just back from the very interesting conference organised by Mieke Roscher and Andre Krebber at the University of Kassel in Germany. The animal content of the six panels included a focus on the lives of : bison, pigeons, elephants, horses, dogs, chimpanzees and rabbits. The discussion explored the challenges involved in writing biography and the extent to which the subjectivity of animals could be grasped.Although the discussion was around ideas of biography it was also actually about nonhuman animals as living beings – a by no means given at all Animal Studies conferences…

Aaron Skabelund prepares to discuss Hatchiko, the famour Japanese Akita dog

Aaron Skabelund prepares to discuss Hatchiko, the famous Japanese Akita dog

Through careful direction by the organisers debate moved forward and the final commentary by Gesine Kruger demonstrated, if nothing else, that discussion had taken place and ideas had started to develop over the three days of the conference.

I hope that the projected written collection does materialise since there was much material that would be of interest to a wider audience.

Thorsten Fogen and Kim Stallwood on individual animals

Thorsten Fogen and Kim Stallwood on individual animals

Public History Group: Walk 19 March Bombs in Bloomsbury

2016 March 4
WWII bomb shrapnel repair on the front of the UCL Grant Museum of Zoology Image: Gabriel Moshenska

WWII bomb shrapnel repair on the front of the UCL Grant Museum of Zoology Image: Gabriel Moshenska

Dr Gabriel Moshenska, lecturer in Public Archaeology at UCL Institute of Archaeology will lead a walking tour around Bloomsbury.

This walking tour (c.90 minutes) surveys the unusually long and varied history of explosions in the Bloomsbury area of Central London from the late 19th through to the early 21st century. The tour focuses on the traces that these bombs have left behind: in the fabric of buildings; in memorials; in memories; and in the absences and gaps that they leave behind. In the tour and in discussions we will consider the effects of bombs in shaping urban life, British politics, architecture and memorial landscapes.

The tour can easily be made fully wheelchair friendly if required.

In the event of bad weather there will be a PowerPoint-assisted lecture instead on the same topic, with coffee in Institute of Archaeology room 609, and talk at 11:30 in room 612.

Meet at 11 on the steps of Institute of Archaeology, University College London 31-34 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PY.

Further details from UCL website.

Milk puddings and Edwardian childhood

2016 February 16

Wilson How we Learn to EatI used to think when I was presented with milk puddings for Saturday lunch that this was done because it was “good for me”. However, I never much liked them. For me macaroni and rice were the ingredients of sweet puddings (rather than ingredients of wonderful Italian savoury dishes.) Tapioca or “frog spawn” was horrible and semolina even with a dollop of jam in the middle was not something to look forward to. The macaroni or rice usually had an unpleasant brown burnt surface caused by the sprinkling of nutmeg – much like the vile congealed top to Bird’s custard (It was not until I was an adult and discovered Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson that I realised that “real” custard was actually made from eggs…)

However, having just read Bee Wilson’s First Bite. How We Learn to Eat I have noted that this post-war “dish” was probably a comfort food that my parents – both born well before 1920 – had enjoyed as children (and probably thought I would too.) I was also interested to learn that despite the best endeavours of pioneering Labour councils such as Bradford to feed Edwardian children with tasty vegetables and milk puddings children invariably refused to eat the food. Drawing analogies with ubiquitous junk food today Wilson says that many children preferred just to eat bread and dripping and had to be coaxed with small bites into eating  a better diet.

While not primarily a history book this engaging read is fascinating about the changing approaches to diet and reasons for obesity (and malnutrition) in Britain and the US.It also acted as a memory trigger in unexpected ways!

Cat’s meat, horse meat and Paris

2016 February 12

cat and cat lady pet cem

This is an image of one of the official cat ladies (and cat) at the animal cemetery in Paris  taken on an earlier visit. I was in Paris again last week speaking at the interesting “Becoming Animal with the Victorians” conference.Talking about aspects of the feline-human relationship in Victorian Britain I discussed some of the extant materials including Hansard, newspaper court reports, and manuals for living with cats.

I looked at the shifting ownership of cats as beings on whom ordinary people were prepared to spend money in the form of daily “cat’s meat” – really the corpses of overworked horses who had ended their days in knackers’ yards. It appears that cat’s meat was sold in portions of about 85 grams which apparently sufficed for a day. (This is the size of one Whiskas sachet…)

In London alone, officially recognised cat’s meat sellers rose from 7 in 1869 to 93 (of whom 19 were women) by 1900.A cat became a being on whom one spent money. This indicates a change at least in the number of humans who owned a cat, albeit as a servant or mouse eradicator. A certain relationship of reciprocation, an exchange of duties, was implied in the financial relationship.

Cats were also officially employed by the state including the Home Office, British Museum and the Money Order Office where 3 female cats were placed on probation but kept on as they had “performed their duties efficiently.”

Public History Group 13 February : Commemorating Anti-Racism

2016 February 2
James Baldwin outside the C.L.R. James library in Dalston Lane. courtesy of Hackney libraries

James Baldwin outside the C.L.R. James library in Dalston Lane. courtesy of Hackney libraries

Christian Hogsbjerg, University College London, Institute of the Americas, co-editor of Celebrating C.L.R. James in Hackney, London, Redwords (2015) will give a talk entitled, “Commemorating Anti-Racism:The origins of the C.L.R. James Library in Dalston, Hackney”.

In March 1985, Hackney Council renamed its Dalston Library after the black Trinidadian intellectual C.L.R. James as part of its Anti-Racist Year. This talk will explore the history of campaigning and struggle behind this decision and why this symbolic victory deserves to be remembered thirty years on.

We meet at 11 am (coffee) Room 609, with the seminar starting promptly at 11:30 in  Room 612 Institute of Archaeology, University College London 31-34 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PY

All welcome – just turn up!

Further details here.

Animal Biographies Conference , University of Kassel 9 -11 March

2016 February 1

Kassel schloss

I am pleased to return to the University of Kassel -having spoken there in the Autumn- for an international  conference “Animal Biographies:Recovering Selfhood through Interdisciplinary Narration”. This time I am talking about the possibilities of being able to write about two horses Mariana and Trump who bore Laurance Holman on their backs in Hyde Park in the 1940s. Some Animal Studies scholars argue that it is impossible to write about the history of animal experience since all we are doing is using human authored texts. I think it is less clear cut than this and see parallels with debates in women’s and labour history in the past. If it is possible to write about the lives of working people who left no records then arguably it is worth pursuing similar lines of thought in relation to animals.

The conference organised by the dynamic Animal-Human-Society centre at the University of Kassel has many interesting topics including pigeon fancying, parrots, taxidermy, bison, Polish hounds,Topsy the elephant and animal biographies in social media.

It is free (British universities please note) but places are limited. So book now via their website.

Handbook for Animal-Human History

2016 January 17
From Pets and how to keep them by Frank Finn 1907

From Pets and how to keep them by Frank Finn 1907

I have been working with Philip Howell for some months on finalising contributors for this Handbook for Animal -Human History we have been contracted to edit for Routledge. It is designed as a guide for a historian of animal-human relations. Although there have been arguments on the nature of animal-human history, to date little has been written on the historiography of writing about animals.We hope the Handbook will act as a way into debates in animal-human history and the broader field of animal studies.

Significantly, but not surprisingly, most of the 20 or so contributors do not work in History departments but are based  in Life Sciences, Anthropology, Geography, Visual Arts,Veterinary Studies, Literature or Museums.

It looks to be an exciting project and I am looking forward to the exchange of ideas and approaches.

Becoming Animal with the Victorians conference 4-5 February, Paris

2016 January 10
Entrance to the still operational animal cemetery in Paris

Entrance to the still operational animal cemetery in Paris

I am delighted to be speaking at the forthcoming conference at the University Paris Diderot on “The changing feline-human relationship in nineteenth century Britain.” I will be arguing that the relationship between cats and humans did change in different ways. Although some have argued that we cannot get beyond human written materials to understand animal experience I want to argue that the very range of materials that exists can give insights that go beyond human representation of animals. Amongst other things I have recently become interested in “cat’s meat men and women” in the nineteenth century and will include some discussion of the reason for the growth in this trade.

For further details of the conference and how to register click here.

Public History Group 16 January: Archiving the unlawful

2016 January 10


Dr Richard Espley , the British, Irish and Post Colonial Literatures and Languages Research Librarian at the Senate House Library,University of London, will give a talk entitled “Archiving the unlawful:collecting, but concealing  suppressed material in a University library”.  This talk will explore the collection, and concealment, by an anonymous member of Library staff during the First World War of illegal anti-war propaganda. As well as pursuing the identity and motivations of this figure, we will also consider the responsibility of libraries to preserve marginal ideas.

We meet from 11 for coffee with the session starting promptly at 11.30 in the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, 31 -34 Gordon Square, London, WC1 0PY. Further details can be found at the UCL website by clicking here.

All welcome !

Animals in war book finally submitted

2016 January 5

cat rescue state of victoria

Recently I sent off the final version of the manuscript of my book The Cat and Dog Massacre in World War Two. The Changing Animal-Human Relationship on the British Home Front 1939-45. (I am sure the final title will go through various changes  before the book finally appears late in 2016 from University of Chicago Press.But in summary that’s what the book is about.)

I am now collating various images for the book. The one above of a wartime cat rescue is from the State Library of Victoria in Australia that contains several images of animals being rescued by ARP wardens, animal charities and NARPAC. Such benign practice was widespread and it is good that there are so many visual images to back up the written word. At the start of the war the Cats Protection League had feared that cats would be ignored. It’s good to know that on this occasion they were proved to be too pessimistic.

Public History Group: Re-enactments of the past for historians of the future

2015 November 12

Dr Annebella Pollen will give a talk on Kibbo Kift and re-enactments of the past for historians of the future at the next session on Saturday 28 November at UCL Archaeology Department  in London’s Gordon Square at 11.30.

The Kindred of the Kibbo Kift was established in 1920 as an all-ages co-educational alternative to the scouts. For just over a decade, the group developed a distinctive theory and practice of camping, handicraft and world peace in the hope of creating a new world. While they are best remembered now for their dramatic costumes and as the ground from which the Woodcraft Folk sprang, Kibbo Kift hoped never to be forgotten. This talk examines the Kindred’s enthusiasm for historical forms and styles, the extensive future-focused records they produced, and the ways in which their histories have been crafted and contested since their demise.

Dr Annebella Pollen is Principal Lecturer and AHRC Research Fellow in the History of Art and Design at the University of Brighton. You may have seen her work recently discussed in the Guardian.

  • Tea/coffee & biscuits will be available from 11am in the Staff and Research Student Common Room (Room 609). The session will start at 11.30am promptly. All welcome!

Further details from the UCL link

New article published on the Dog and Cat Massacre

2015 November 6

Snapshot nazis eat dogs

I am pleased that my article on the Dog and Cat Massacre of September 1939 has just been published in the European Review of History. This was a special edition on dogs edited by Neil Pemberton and Julie-Marie Strange. Some of the material prefigures my book on animals on the Home Front that the University of Chicago Press will be publishing.

Please download the article through this page.

Kassel University and war propaganda about dogs

2015 October 29
2 of Joseph Beuys' 7,000 trees in Kassel

2 of Joseph Beuys’ 7,000 trees in Kassel

I’m just back from running a seminar and giving a public lecture at the Animal Human Research Centre in Kassel in Germany. In talking about the animal-human relationship during the war I looked at the impact of Nazi propaganda about animals on the policies advocated by British civil servants. My colleague in Kassel , Professor Mieke Roscher, who runs the centre is working on archival material around animals in the war. However,my emphasis is rather upon British perceptions of Nazi treatment of animals – whether this was true or not. Thus civil servants discussed the mass killing of dogs in Germany in June 1940 with the explanation that their corpses would provide much needed glycerine and fertilisers.

Although the British state discussed rationing food for companion animals and restricting ownership ultimately this did not happen. Rather British propaganda encouraged dog owners to remain supportive of the war because of the threat to pets if the Nazis were victorious. Both British humans and animals, it was argued, would be starving. The notion of the British as a nation of animal lovers  was also employed in such a propaganda war.

Interestingly,  propaganda about Nazi treatment of animals and the state’s propaganda about the alleged British treatment did help real animals in Britain to survive.

From Dig Where You Stand to Dancing Where We Dig

2015 October 16

dig where you stand

From Dig Where You Stand to Dancing Where We Dig: a critical approach to participatory history practices

The first public history group session of the 2015 -16 academic year is on Saturday 24 October with Astrid von Rosen (Gothenburg) & Andrew Flinn (London).

In 1978 the Swedish author and activist Sven Lindqvist published Gräv där du står (Dig Where You Stand (DWYS)). Inspired by the understanding that ‘History is dangerous. History is important because the results of history are still with us’, Lindqvist’s book was a detailed and practical manual to Do-It-Yourself historical research aimed at workers because ‘Factory History could and should be written from a fresh point of view – by workers investigating their own workplaces’. Lindqvist’s writing and talks chimed with many history and cultural production movements of the time such as History Workshop and the oral history movement and resulted in many DWYS groups and initiatives being set up in Sweden, Germany and the UK. Taking Lindqvist’s work and other similar initiatives of that time as an inspiration and a model our talk will briefly outline the history and principles of the DWYS movement, the significance of participatory history-making and archiving; and most importantly will describe our ongoing collaborative work towards producing a critical re-imagined Dig Where You/We Stand approach, Dancing Where We Dig grounded in the interstices and contact zones between creative, artistic, activist and academic approaches to archiving, public history and knowledge-production.

6th floor, Institute of Archaeology, University College London, 31-34 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PY.

We meet for coffee around 11 and the session starts promptly at 11.30 and finishes by lunchtime.

All welcome – just turn up!

Refugees, Freud and animals

2015 October 7
Freud with earlier Chows in Austria. (Image from Freud museum)

Freud with earlier Chows in Austria. (Image from Freud museum)

The United High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) recently wrote about a Husky puppy  called Rose who had travelled from Syria to Greece with her human carer, Aslan Al Hakim.’We’ve seen many like him carrying their animals with them on the long journey from Syria, across the Mediterranean Sea and through Europe,’ the UNHCR wrote.  ‘When forced to flee home because of war, many people would never dream of leaving their pets behind’

This is no new phenomenon. For example,when Freud, who had lived with Chow dogs for many years, finally managed to leave Austria in June 1938, he boarded the Orient Express together with his current Chow Lun who at Dover – in keeping with the law at the time – was taken to a quarantine kennel at London’s Ladbroke Grove. Freud visited Lun frequently. Sadly by time she was out of quarantine his jawbone cancer was so advanced that the skin became gangrenous and the smell was so strong that the dog cowered on the far side of the sick room.

Freud was not the only Jewish refugee to flee with a companion animal.The National Canine Defence League (now Dogs Trust) had established a special fund to pay for the quarantine of dogs of refugees from Europe. Dogs included Marjko a three year old St Bernard from Vienna. The League commented in May 1939, ‘We have never encountered such heart-reading grief about the fate of dogs, nor have we ever seen so much tearful joy when we promise to see that the dogs rejoin their exiled owners the the quarantine of six months.’

Some of the recent online comments on the story of Rose and Aslan as covered in the Independent suggested that love of companion animals was peculiarly British – and thus the story of the Syrian refugees could not be genuine…Surely it  shows not only the way in which animal and human identity is blurred but the commonalities between living beings of different cultures ?

Purple Poppies

2015 September 23
Wreathes and signs of remembrance at the Animals in War memorial

Wreathes and signs of remembrance at the Animals in War memorial

For some years wreathes of  artificial purple poppies  or metallic badges have been sold in the lead up to Remembrance Sunday to commemorate the animal victims of war. The main organisation promoting this has been Animal Aid. However Animal Aid has decided to stop selling and promoting the purple poppy because the “media” has seen animals as “valiant servants of people in violent conflict. This is precisely the opposite message to that which we intended.” The organisation has concluded that the dominant narrative of animals as heroes who have died for humans is apparently too culturally embedded to be eroded.

This seems somewhat defeatist. After all, the anti-war white poppy instituted by the Women’s Co-Operative Guild in the 1930s while not being widely accepted is nevertheless acknowledged as a alternative to the dominant red poppy – hence media questions to Jeremy Corbyn about what sort of wreath he will lay at the Cenotaph.

I cannot help but think that by giving up on building an alternative to dominant views Animal Aid has missed an opportunity to express the importance of remembering the unwarranted deaths of animals in human warfare.

Scientists, Historians and Cats

2015 September 13

Tommy posing

I’m currently drafting a chapter for a collection edited by Lucy Noakes, Rohan McWilliam and Andrew Wood on New Directions in Social and Cultural History. My chapter is focusing on developments in animal-human history and I have been looking at the value of scientific thinking to historical writing. For example in discussing emotional relationships between certain animals and humans scientists have recently found that there is a ‘self perpetuating oxytocin-mediated positive loop in human-dog relationships that is similar to that of human mother-infant relations.’ The hormone thus helps deepen the inter-species bond.

But scientific thinking is generally empiricist in its approach and ignores the value of historical context. An example of the value of historical thinking might be found by observing Tommy posing in the fence, a common occurence. Tommy, like his brother, is a moggie with traces of various breeds in his genetic make-up. But his somewhat laid back ‘floppiness’ is not only due to his individual temperament but to traces of Ragdoll – a breed that did not come to Britain until 1981. His appearance and preferred method of sleeping with his legs in the air is neither ‘natural’ nor timeless but situated in a historical time, after specific human intervention. That he feels sufficiently relaxed to be sitting in the garden sun rather than hiding (for fear of human attack) or desperately looking for mice or birds to eat (rather than awaiting the inevitable Sheba with Dreamies treats) is also of a particular social context. I am well aware that philosophers such as Montaigne and Derrida have used their cats to think with but this is surely also open to historians.

Treo, dogs and war

2015 August 20

treo cover

With the dearth of secondhand bookshops I often find myself drawn to remaindered shops. As is often the case when visiting Sandpiper in Brighton’s North Laines I discovered a lovely book in the back room £1 section. This fascinating read explores the relationship between Dave Heyhoe and his sniffer dog Treo and the role that this relationship played in detecting unexploded bombs in Afghanistan.

The same features of training initiated by Colonel Edwin Richardson during the 1914 -18 war are present today. Richardson believed that working with animals required a special gift in the instructor, particularly choosing men who were fond of dogs and thus who would be able to relate productively towards dogs. The building of a relationship was key. Dogs needed to be trained. More importantly so did handlers working with them. Significantly Richardson’s book on the topic emphasised understanding rather than control as seen in its title: British War Dogs, Their Training and Psychology. So effective was his approach that it was also used in the 1939 – 45 war and beyond.

Dave Heyhoe  clearly experienced similar approaches in training  to those advocated by Richardson. By way of contrast Heyhoe  noted that US dogs were routinely kept on a leash since they were trained to both find arms and explosives but also to chase, bring down and hold a suspect. British training differentiated between the two tasks with dogs being encouraged to follow their own nose and intuition being off lead while searching for IEDs. That way Treo was “free to achieve his best”. While some of the book is, unsurprisingly, anthropomorphic in tone it is interesting that the British soldiers and Taliban alike seemed to acknowledge the specific canine skills of Treo. The dog was feared (or respected) because of his own capacities and skills.

I believe the hardbook was reduced as there is now a paperback. I would highly recommend this as a good read for dog lovers and open-minded Animal Studies scholars alike.(Spoiler alert:neither Treo nor Dave die in Afghanistan.)

Different forms of commemoration in Hastings

2015 August 7

dogs and priestanimal blessing


Hastings is a town that loves invented tradition. The May day Jack in the Green, I have previously discussed here, is a case in point. The current carnival week prides itself on repeating earlier commemorations such as the bike race up a steep hill in memory of the late Jimmy Read, a fisherman killed in the hurricane winds of 1987, or the annual blessing of animals in All Saints church. In a ceremony conducted by Brother Aelred, an Anglican Cistercian monk, he acknowledged that animals were an integral part of human lives and shaped human personalities. Significantly he referred to animals not only as pets but as companion animals. He specifically remembered those who had died in the previous year and urged the humans present to treat animals with compassion. Animals, mainly dogs, but also a cat and tortoise, were individually blessed.

close up floating

More solemnly, the Hastings against War group organised a commemoration of the war dead in the 70 years since the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Imitating the ceremonies that take place annually in Hiroshima, 70 coloured paper lanterns were launched across the lake in Alexandra Park at dusk.

snapshot floating in darksnapshot lanterns

Animals in War manuscript submitted

2015 July 29
Close up of the frieze on the Animals in War Memorial in Park Lane

Close up of the frieze on the Animals in War Memorial in Park Lane

Having gratefully received comments from various friends and colleagues I have now re-written the entire first (sic) draft of my book on the animal-human relationship on the Home Front in Britain during the Second World War. I think that the argument is now much sharper and the changing relationship between humans and companion animals during the war, due to shared material circumstances, is foregrounded more sharply.

Inevitably much of the content of the  introduction has now been included in the conclusion. This includes discussion of the Animals in War memorial that I have written about elsewhere but which continues to interest me because of  the absences in text and imagery. The sculpted frieze implies that war is something that almost happens in “a far away country between people of whom we know nothing”. Certainly there is no reference to animals who continue to be experimented upon at Porton Down nor, of course, to the thousands of companion animals killed by the “allies” in the first week of September.

I have now sent off the totally re-written second (sic) draft to my publisher, the University of Chicago Press, and await feedback with interest.

Historical Geographers’ International Conference

2015 July 13
Four types of animal depicted in Edinburgh Castle

Four types of animal depicted in Edinburgh Castle

I am just back from the International Conference of Historical Geographers where I presented a paper on public history, heritage and the memorialisation of non-human animals in warfare. It included discussion of animal representations in the Scottish national war memorial in Edinburgh Castle. It has taken me a while to realise that I was engaged with many issues that interest such scholars: contested space, landscape, the past outside archives etc. My approach is just as likely to include wandering around a graveyard or driving around a locality as sitting in an archive – or in front of a computer.

At school I chose geography for O level rather than history. For history all you had to do was copy from the blackboard (tedious) but you also had to do this with neat handwriting (preposterous). Not that geography didn’t have its drawbacks. I am still rather stuck in the idea of geography as doing diagonal shadings – in pastels (rather than my forthright offerings)– of a farmer’s fields. I remember being told off for my vertical lines in red though I am sure I am not the only person reading Norwegian noir to be delighted to realise I actually know I am reading about U shaped fjords – a mainstay of such earlier “knowledge”.

It was pleasing to see at the conference that maps and mapping are still in fashion though coloured shading seems to have had its day.

Colin O’Brien’s wonderful new book : London Life

2015 June 30

Snapshot Colin O'Brien Cover

I  recently attended the launch of Colin O’Brien’s new book. This well produced hardback covering Colin’s photographic life in London over the decades is a fascinating collection. Although I had seen some of the images before, the book includes explanatory text. This  is not about shutter speeds or time for developing chemicals but the people included in the photographs. I am sure that Colin did not go round London seeking out the “last of” but the sometime nostalgic quality is derived from the mostly ordinary everyday activities that are not normally caught on camera and have disappeared from the landscape.Why bother photographing a street without cars since it seems to be “always there”? Why capture the horse of the rag and bone man in Lower Clapton Road , a one time everyday occurrence? Because Colin did capture the ordinary and quotidian life in London we now have a wonderful record of past times that barely feature in our memories.

I was privileged to be able to use Colin’s image on the cover of the Public History Reader.I also noted here his earlier book on travellers’ children in London Fields. If you do not know his work already I would strongly encourage you to buy this very reasonably priced book (£25) as a fascinating introduction.

Remembering suffrage feminists and miners – but forgetting the Pentonville 5

2015 June 7
Poster at Copenhagen airport. Why the apparent dog looks like a duck is beyond me...

Poster at Copenhagen airport. Why the apparent dog looks like a duck is beyond me…

Last week I was very pleased to be invited to speak to a group of Public History and Memory Studies Phd students at Roskilde University in Copenhagen. I was referring to some of my earlier work on the practice of groups such as suffrage feminists and labour movement activists in making their own histories.

Such history-making, of course, is not just of the present. I argued that the collection of material culture by suffrage feminists before the 1914 -18 war helped them be remembered in the future as did their media-focussed action. Like the striking miners in the 1984 -5 strike the suffrage feminists, rightly, saw their actions as far-reaching. They were, they declared, “making history” and were wary of being “written out of history” once the vote was finally won in 1928. It is obvious that the miners’ strike is remembered for the consequences – the massive labour movement defeat and the closure of the British coal industry. But it is also remembered because of the ephemera made and collected at the time: decorated plates, ornaments made of coal, tea towels with slogans, pamphlet and collections of writing and, of course, photographs and visual media.Their physical existence helps the striking miners be remembered.

By way of contrast in the summer of 1972 dockers resisted closure of the London docks. Their shop steward leaders refused to stop picketing a container depot and were imprisoned but the so-called Pentonville 5 were quickly released due to mass strike action and loopholes found within days in the law. Even the TUC called for a future general strike.  However, this important event in labour history is barely remembered today. The images and material culture that must exist seem not to have been centrally kept and collected.  A pity,the event surely needs to be better known.

Ending – or concluding – a draft of Animals on the Home Front

2015 May 26
Remembering certain animals at the National Memorial Arboretum

Remembering certain animals at the National Memorial Arboretum

I have now finished the first (sic) draft of my book on the cat and dog and massacre at the start of the 1939 -45 war and the subsequent changing human – animal relationship on the Home Front . I always find it difficult writing a conclusion because, of course, nothing is ever settled or finished in the writing of history. However, if the chapter is simply called an ending it can sound a bit pretentious if one is trying to write for a wider audience than just academia.

Another issue is whether the conclusion should end with 1945 or, more accurately, with 2015 since the book is obviously written now and IS about now. By that I mean interests and themes are very much of the C21st rather than the 1940s. Social and cultural history had yet to come into its own and the idea of thinking that animals could be active agents in the making of history would have been unfathomable at that time.

I had originally thought of ending the book with the absence of the massacre in the war memorials that commemorate animals killed in war. (The one at the National Memorial Arboretum is only for those officially working in Civil Defence.)  But, as is often the case, that topic went into the introduction.

 I have now sent off the draft to various kind friends and colleagues who have agreed to give me some feedback while I work on putting the footnotes and bibliography into the format required by the University of Chicago Press. This is not difficult but very tedious especially if you are short-sighted and cannot easily differentiate between a full stop or a comma …

New book: At Home and Astray – The Domestic Dog in Victorian Britain

2015 May 26
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Snapshot howell

I recently finished reading Philip Howell’s fascinating book on dogs in Victorian Britain. I had previously enjoyed his various articles around pet cemeteries, or Flush the dog stolen on several occasions from Elizabeth Barrett Browning. This engaging book, however, is not a collection of disparate essays instead the earlier material has been refashioned into a lively and engaging read.

His provocative first page sets the tone of the book where Howell notes that despite the rhetoric of Britain supposedly being a “nation of animal lovers” the “humane” treatment of animals in Britain was seen as honoured more in the breach than the observance.

Howell’s discussion of the Battersea Dogs Home is fascinating. He analyses the different treatment of stray dogs depending upon their “value” and sees the institution as providing a service for the state by registering dogs practically for nothing. He concludes that by the late 1800s dogs had become politically countable and their owners similarly accountable to the state via mundane mechanisms such as the dog licence.

As a historical geographer Howell is particular engaged with idea of space, writing of the “entwined geographies of human and nonhuman worlds.” However, although the book is theoretically informed it is above all readable. This is not a mere monograph trotted out to comply with the constraints of the university funding regime. True I did stick post-it notes on various pages I wanted to remember but I did read it in bed. For me this is one of the highest praises I can give to a book. It currently is only available in hardback. I hope that the University of Virginia Press prints a paperback version soon since it deserves a wide readership: not only of dog lovers but of those interested in the broad cultural history of Britain.

Emotion in the wartime animal – human relationship

2015 May 9
tags: ,
Sidney and morals

Sidney and morals

I have just finished drafting the penultimate chapter of my book on the cat and dog massacre and animals on the Home Front in the Second World War. Finished does not mean “finished”, of course. There is still much to do overall on the book but at least there is something reasonably coherent (I hope) to play around with. In this chapter I have explored the nature of the emotional animal-human relationship during the war.

The idea of sharing of emotion across species in some ways takes us back to the work of Jeremy Bentham over 200 years ago. His well-known epithet, “The question is not, can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But, can they can suffer?” devalued human speech that emphasised the differentiation between humans and animals in order to stress cross species commonality through “feeling”. Charles Darwin famously acknowledged the emotional lives of animals that scientists such as Marc Bekoff are at last researching. Bekoff has argued that, “We form close relationships with our pets not only because of our own emotional needs but also because of our recognition of theirs.” John Bradshaw, now known through TV programmes on cats and dogs, has suggested that both cats and dogs have a relationship with a human keeper that is “fundamentally affectionate”.

One war diarist described the emotional and empathetic support of her dog : “To me he is more than an animal: he has kindness, understanding and intelligence and not only knows all that is said but often reads my mind to an uncanny degree.” Unlike her human partner who seemed unable to understand his wife, the dog could apparently do this. Instead of dismissing this as simply a product of an imaginative human mind  I have tried to consider other possibilities that value the dog – and the woman – alike.

(I am aware that the image is ahistorical but liked the idea of Sidney sitting next to Mark Rowlands’ book on animals and morals. Taking photos of cats is a good writing avoidance tactic – more pleasurable than doing house cleaning, another such device …)


Public History Group 16th May

2015 May 8
River Severn - photo by Linda Shapiro

River Severn – photo by Linda Shapiro

The River Severn: Alternative Journeys – Linda Shapiro


Following a river from source to estuary is the obvious way to do it, isn’t it? My photographic study of the River Severn suggests that this linear view of the landscape has an impact upon how it is viewed by those familiar with it. This in turn determines what is and what is not deemed to be important in the past. I use my own collection of photographs in an exploration of salmon fishing, and in an exhibition in Bewdley to discuss this.

After a career in medicine, Linda found that Public History gave her quite an alternative view on life. She completed her MA at Ruskin College where she used her interest in the River Severn to explore wider issues. Her enthusiasm for the river continues unabated, but she’s pouring her present energies into an investigation of Victorian Dewsbury.

Room 612
Institute of Archaeology, 31-34 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PY

Come along for tea/coffee at 11am which will be served in the Staff Common Room Room on the 6th floor- lift and stairs to all floors

Talk starts promptly at 11.30am

Spitalfields Nippers: Sometimes simple ideas are the best…

2015 April 19

new spitalfields nippers

I had seen some of the images in this lovely book before. I remember copying a reproduction of a girl holding a baby with a cat in the background windowsill in Anna Davin’s Growing up Poor. At that time I noted, as is my wont, that the cat was not discussed and I thought at some point I would do something with this. But time rolls on…

Although Spitalfields Nippers is ostensibly simply reproductions of photos taken of children in Spitalfields c. 1900 by Horace Warner the editing makes it much more than this. The clearly present companion animals in the photographs are noted in the introduction and help structure the organization of the images.

Also, what might have been clichéd images of anonymous street urchins are changed into moments in the lives of named humans.The photographer did name, as far as he could, the subject of the photographs.The editor’s fairly simple search of census returns and marriage and death certificates have created narratives of lives that go beyond the moment of the still image. These children who seem to live on into the present through their images that cross time are, of course, all long dead. Particularly poignant is the brief narrative of Tommy Nail pictured playing in a cart who was conscripted and died, like so many of his peers,in the 1914-18 war.Yet again, as I explored in London Stories, the much maligned approach of family and local historians, has provided additional layers of meaning.

Failed attempts to regulate dogs in the Second World War

2015 April 14
tags: , ,
Dog looking backwards at the Animals in War memorial in London's Park Lane

Dog looking backwards at the Animals in War memorial in London’s Park Lane

I have just finished a further chapter on my book on the cat and dog massacre and the changing animal human relationship during the 1939 – 45 war. Here I have been looking at the attempts of the state to restrict dog ownership. The government was extremely wary of compulsion since this would smack of imitating Nazi behaviour…

The records in the National Archives are illuminating. Civil servants noted that,“Public opinion would be extremely sensitive about any drastic step to reduce the number of dogs”. One civil servant who had lived in Berlin in the 1930s suggested following the “progressive” dog taxation policy of that city, namely, £5 for the first dog, £6 for the second and £12 for the third. But this was rejected: the British were less law abiding than Germans – and would give the second dog to a neighbour… The various suggestions were finally all rejected. The senior civil servant pragmatically concluded that heavy increases in dog tax would “entail a great deal of work and still greater unpopularity and in the end have achieved no real saving.” The Minister concurred: “The steps we take cannot always be logical.. We have to take into account psychological factors.” It would depress public morale: would it assist the war effort? Concurring with the sentiments of a Mass Observation survey of a year before, the politician answered his own question: “I think not”.

Public History Group 25th April

2015 April 14

Negotiating control in the construction of the mental health recovery archive

Dr Anna Sexton from University College London

The penultimate session for the public history group in this academic year will focus on archives. The mental health recovery archive  can be accessed here. It contains personal testimony and expressions of identity from four contributors who have lived experience of mental health recovery. In this talk Anna Sexton  will share her experiences of being the archivist and PhD researcher who instigated the project with reflections on what she  perceived to be the challenges of sharing authority and developing reciprocity in the construction of the archive.

As usual, all welcome. We meet for coffee at 11 and start promptly at 11.30 in the Institute of Archaeology, UCL , 31-34 Gordon Square, WC1H 0PY

For further details click here.

C.L.R. James Hackney library and pamphlet

2015 April 5

Snapshot  cover james

Christian Hogsbjerg, a C.L.R. James scholar, who had seen some of my political papers in the Bishopsgate Institute recently contacted me. He had been taken aback that a local council could have named a library (in Dalston in Hackney) after a black marxist anti imperialist : this was scarcely his experience of councils in the last  30 years and asked to interview me.

His pamphlet on the naming of the library (and the saving of the name some decades on!) written with Gaverne Bennett was launched in the library. Various activists from the 1980s who had contributed to the pamphlet were there to discuss how the library had been so named. For some the context was simply around anti-racism; for others it was the broader local politics of the time: campaigns against rate-capping, supporting the miners, providing apprenticeships and keeping building contracts in-house, declaring the borough to be a nuclear-free zone.

Every generation constructs a history it deems relevant for its present. Clearly the current local state has no wish to remember its radical past. Whether the story recounted that local councillors thought that the library had been named after a former councillor, thereby showing a lack of literacy as well as political knowledge could not be confirmed.There are few commemorative traces of that time in Hackney: a recently restored peace mural, flats named after Nelson Mandela and a council building after Maurice Bishop and plaques to the direct labour training project.

This pamphlet goes some way to bringing into the present that forgotten time.

Budgerigars in the Second World War

2015 March 27
Family bird sharing the Anderson shelter

Family bird sharing the Anderson shelter

In writing my book on animals in the war I have recently drafted a section about budgies, canaries and parrots. I have yet to find any story of companion birds being killed in the first week of the war. Accounts of the killing of birds, including several groups in aviaries, date to later in the war. The stories are essentially the same: lack of imported bird seed causing birds to be humanely killed rather than starved. There are tales of a black market in bird seed and, more improbably, soldiers on leave from fighting Rommel in north Africa bringing home seed in their kitbags. In all such accounts the inability to provide certain seed, such as millet, seen to be an essential component of the diet, is given as an explanation for the birds’ deaths.

Substitutes for “normal” food  (which  had worked for cats and dogs) were generally regarded as inapplicable for caged birds. Ironically recent advice from the PDSA has advised the restriction of millet and the promotion of fresh fruit and vegetables including root vegetables, such as grated carrot and pumpkin washed free of chemicals.   The  British Small Animal Veterinary Association has cautioned against high fat seeds such as sunflower and noted the value of a pulse diet for psittacine birds. Such specialist veterinarians in the twenty first century have acknowledged the lack of scientifically controlled studies on such birds to ascertain appropriate nutrition today. Arguably food grown (for humans) in allotments and gardens may well have been able to support caged birds, albeit not fulfilling all nutritional requirements – if people had realised this.

RSPCA – Portillo’s State Secrets Banned

2015 March 27
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1838 propaganda against the ill treatment of animals at London's Smithfield market

1838 propaganda against the ill treatment of animals at London’s Smithfield market

On April 1st at 6.30 pm I am appearing on the new BBC2 series presented by Michael Portillo called Portillo’s State Secrets: Banned which draws on material from the National Archives to present different aspects of supposedly hidden history. I was interviewed amidst the cats waiting to be re-homed at the Potters Bar RSPCA  talking about the origins of the organisation in nineteenth century London.

There are 3 sections to each programme – the others on April 1st are Scientology and John Lennon ! I have no idea how it has been cut or whether it is worth watching but at least it is a good thing that animals are acknowledged to be a part of the nation’s history.

There’s a website with clips as well, of course, the opportunity to watch the programme after it has been broadcast.

Public History Group Saturday 21 March

2015 March 16
Memorials at Sambo's Grave, Sunderland Point (photo Alan RIce)

Memorials at Sambo’s Grave, Sunderland Point (photo Alan Rice)

I am delighted that Alan Rice is coming to speak this Saturday to the Public History group. His talk ‘Making public forgotten black histories 1750-2014: From ghostly hands to children’s memorials on slave graves’ draws both upon his extensive research and writing but also his engaged practice in Lancaster, the fourth largest (former) slave port in Britain.

We included an extract from his most recent book in the Public History Reader. The book Creating Memorials. Building Identities is well worth reading in its entirety.

Further details of the seminar are available through this link

Public History Group Saturday 21 February

2015 February 19

Voicing the stories of the excluded: Albanian families’ identity and history making in Athens, Greece

Eleni will draw in her talk from ethnographic/participatory work with five Albanian families in Athens, Greece. By sharing lives with participants for a period of over a year across multiple settings, she will be showing how individuals’ identities inform memory selection and history making, i.e. what it is to be remembered (or forgotten) and what it is to be passed down (or not) to the future generation.

Eleni Vomvyla holds a PhD in Cultural Heritage (UCL Institute of Archaeology) and has worked as a Research Associate at the Institute. She has been awarded a Beacon Bursary and a Small Grants Scheme from the UCL European Institute. Eleni is currently undertaking an internship as an evaluator in the Natural History Museum, London.

Place: Room 612
UCL Institute of Archaeology, 31-34 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PY

Time: Come along for coffee at 11am which will be served in the Staff Common Room on the 6th floor – lift (and stairs) to all floors. Talk starts promptly at 11.30am

Further details can be found on the UCL website here

Whose voice in the writing of history?

2015 February 4

Snapshot Richard SumnerI have drafted some 40,000 words of my book on animals on the Home Front on the Second World War. Quantity and quality, of course, are not synonymous… There have already been major re-structurings to try and get the ‘voice’ right. When I was speaking on the topic at one university seminar last year I was introduced as working on a monograph. I corrected the chair: it was a book. To my mind a monograph implies something few people read and that is written for the REF – or whatever funding mechanism is in place – rather than being an attempt to convey ideas to particular audiences in interesting ways. I do want people to read it! It is always important for me that my argument comes through and is not lost in a pile of ‘interesting facts’. I also try to make clear how I have interpreted particular material – even if I do not always use the supposedly personal I.

I was shocked in a recent class to have students tell me that they had been discouraged from using their own voice in their essays. I do not understand how students – or writers in general – can gain in confidence if they are not encouraged to develop their own voice. Fortunately there are many examples of confident historical writing. The latest book by Paul Ashton and Anna Clark Australian History Now is a collection of very readable accounts by a number of Australian historians explaining their own work and how they have shifted their approaches over the years. These explicitly biographical approaches would prove really valuable to students of history in any country – provided their university libraries would agree to buying a book outside the narrow range of university core courses…

I have been particularly engaged by recent works from two former MA Public History students. Richard J. Sumner’s The Road to Joseph’s Stone. A Journey through Time and Memory plays around skilfully with the idea of ecstatic time which, Sumner explains ‘happens when we delve into our memory bank to revisit events. Because of the passing of linear (clock) time we bring fresh thought, opinion and judgement – new history.’ Award winning poet Anna Robinson has recently issued her second fascinating collection Into the Woods with the prestigious Enitharmon Press. Her fine ear for the language of London and a deep knowledge of the city’s past is evident in her poems. She makes us think again about what we thought we already knew.

Perhaps my favourite recent book is the latest work by Carolyn Steedman An Everyday Life of the English Working Class. Introducing the reader to her approach to analysing the diaries of Joseph Woolley, a working man from Nottinghamshire in the early nineteenth century, Steedman explains her approach and her shifting sympathies ‘ Transcription makes you read very thoroughly indeed … But I never could have looked forward to an evening with Joseph Woolley down the Coach and Horses’. With her engaging and witty style she introduces the reader to a highly sophisticated approach to writing about working class lives in the C21st.

All of these works are produced by confident writers. The passive voice, the third person, almost anonymised prose that could have been written by a computer programme do not dominate these books. As a publisher recently wrote to me ‘I hope you keep telling your students to write like writers’. I do – but I also continue to learn from others including writers such as Anna and Richard.

Public History Group Saturday 24 January 2015

2015 January 16

The first session of 2015 is:

Love they neighbour: inter-neighbour relations and the syntax of complaint in early 20th century London.

‘In researching the history of my flat-a one-bedroomed former tenement designed by Octavia Hill in 1903-I stumbled upon some letters of complaint in an archive. The letters revealed the main concerns and antagonisms between the neighbours in the early 20th century.’

Anna Robinson University of East London

Anna Robinson is a Public History graduate from Ruskin College, Oxford and a published poet. She was 2014 Poet-in-Residence on Lower Marsh Market. Anna is author of Into the Woods (Enitharmon Press 2014) and The Finders of London which was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Poetry Prize in 2011. Anna also edited the Lambeth Pamphlet History Series for Lambeth Archives, is poetry editor for Not Shut Up Magazine and founding editor for The Long Poem Magazine.

Place: Room 612
UCL Institute of Archaeology, 31-34 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PY

Time: Come along for coffee at 11am which will be served in the Staff Common Room on the 6th floor – lift (and stairs) to all floors. Talk starts promptly at 11.30am

For Anna’s website clink on this link

Hidden histories on BBC4 again

2015 January 11

If you missed the BBC4 programmes last year about Britain’s oldest businesses they are now being repeated.

The programme on Monday 12 January is about the Toye business – silk weavers and regalia and medal makers – and will then be available via BBC iplayer.

It includes me talking about Spitalfields silk weavers in the nineteenth century.

‘Spirited: Australia’s Horse Story’ exhibition in Canberra

2014 December 10
Free and wild horses

Free and wild horses

I was privileged to be given a tour of the fascinating exhibition ‘Spirited Australia’s Horse Story’ at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra by co-curator Martha Sear. The exhibition tackles the difficult task of trying to show the role of horses in the development of Australia with a focus upon horses rather than people’s perception of them.

Visitors first see – and hear – film of horses in the wild. There are various sculptured depiction of horses illustrating their size and playing with ideas of absence and presence.

presence and absence

Presence and absence

Horses are seen as active protagonists in the development of Australia. Campaigns against the cruelty of the horse racing industry are covered – as are the products of horse corpses after death.

Campaign against poor treatment of race horses

Campaign against poor treatment of race horses

The curator tried, without success, to convince the editors that ‘who’ rather than ‘which’ should describe the equine protagonists – but failed. Nevertheless this is an engaging exhibition and well worth a visit.

Playing with different ideas of power

Playing with different ideas of power

Families, Places and Pasts: Whose history? And who decides?

2014 November 8

Snapshot colonial armidaleI am delighted to have been invited to give the 2014 John Ferry memorial lecture at the University of New England in Armidale in New South Wales on Wednesday 26 November at 6pm in A3 in the Arts Building, Armidale NSW 2351.

I have read Ferry’s Colonial Armidale with interest and have used it to think through my lecture. As I have said in the blurb, there is never just one history constructed for all time: histories are constantly contested and disputed. I am going to explore the different ways in which we all make histories from our varying past experiences. Because people have left traces in the landscape and in the stories that we pass down in families we can, if we choose, make histories from these fragments for the present.

I am drawing on a range of examples that include words written in wet concrete in a pow camp in the 1940s, words scratched on a church window in the Western Highlands in the 1840s, the range of histories constructed in the New South Wales pioneer town of Gundagai and poems and paintings.

Physical end of Ruskin College, Walton Street,Oxford

2014 November 2
Walton Street facade

Walton Street facade

When Ruskin College’s Walton street site was sold to Exeter College a few years ago there were various stories doing the rounds that the early twentieth century building including Raphael Samuel Hall – the focus of so many iconic political and historical events – would remain.

But the building has been physically erased – echoing the fate of most of the student records and – it turns out – all the student dissertations written before 2000.

Only the facade remains. I can imagine that not a few alumni are turning in their graves…


(Thanks to Bill Whitehead for this photo. More can be found at newruskinarchives)

Finding a man and his horse in the archives? Exploring an historian’s dream

2014 November 1

Rotten Row horse

While I am in Australia later this month I will be giving various talks. This one is in Sydney at UTS Shopfront meeting room, Level 16, Building 1 (The Tower),15 Broadway, Ultimo, NSW 2006.

This talk is about engaging with the diaries of a man I knew nothing about other than through his diaries from 1937-1950. Every day he rode his horse in London, including during the Second World War, and wrote about riding, his relationship with his horse, his advertising business, food, sculpting, the progress of the war and much more. So how might an historian approach such material? And what do the diaries tell us? And about who?

It is on Monday 24 November 5 – 6.30

It is free but you need to reserve a place in advance by emailing Paul[dot]Ashton[at]uts[dot]edu[dot]au.

Home Front – article on animals, diaries and the Home Front

2014 October 31

cover home frontA new book edited by Maggie Andrews and Janis Lomas has just been published by Palgrave Macmillan at £19.99 for the paperback but can be bought at £14 for s short time. Entitled The Home Front. Images, Myths and Forgotten Experiences since 1914 it covers a range of topics related to both the 1914 -198 and 1939 – 45 wars. The collection arises from a successful women’s history network conference organised by Maggie Andrews at the National Memorial Arboretum in 2012 that I previously mentioned here.

I look at the way in which certain animals are described within various diaries suggesting that such diaries may be a useful starting point for acknowledging the as yet largely unspoken role of non-human animals at the time.

Links to the Palgrave Macmillan page can be found via this link. If you order before 31 December 2014 with Palgrave direct use the code PM14THIRTY to buy it for £14.

Remembering and forgetting the animal dead of the Second World War

2014 October 24
Individual memorial in PDSA cemetery

Individual memorial in PDSA cemetery

I have just sent off an article for a new book, Mourning Animals, edited by Margo DeMello to be published next year by Michigan State University Press. The book develops some of the themes recently explored in Animal Death. The article considers why some animals from the Second World War on the Home Front are publicly memorialised and why others are not.

One example I consider is the PDSA animal cemetery on the outskirts of East London in Ilford in which location it opened in 1928 an animals’ sanatorium, the first of its kind in Europe. In 1943, with the support of the War Office, it instituted a ‘Dickin Medal’ (named after the founder Maria Dickin) described as the animals’ Victoria Cross awarded ‘on an exceptional basis to animals displaying conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty in saving human life during military conflict.’ (Such medals are still being awarded today, for example to Theo, an English Springer Spaniel, who died in Afghanistan.) A few years ago Heritage Lottery Funding of £50K was obtained to restore memorials in the cemetery to individual animals, mainly dogs, who had been awarded a DM for acts during the 39 -45 war such as rescuing people from bombed buildings.

But the exhibition at the cemetery fails to mention that in the same site are buried thousands of animals’ remains deposited there in September 1939 – as a result of people having their companion animals killed. As recorded in its Annual Report of 1945, as other animal societies and veterinary surgeons were:

‘unable to cope with the burial of these poor Animals [the PDSA offered] the use of a meadow in the grounds of our sanatorium. Then, our real difficulties began, for, as far as can be estimated, we buried half a million Animals.’

Although the PDSA grounds might well be defined as a ‘site of memory’ only certain, individual, animals, whose exploits are narrativised to fit within the notion of a ‘good’ war are actually remembered. The hundreds of thousands of companion animals who died before any bombing (by the ‘enemy’) are not remembered in the this place of memory.

PDSA cemetery

Entrance to the PDSA cemetery
October 2014

Public History Group 1st November:“A pile of my history, found in my parents’ attic”

2014 October 12

The first session of the 2014-15 academic year takes place on Saturday 1st November:

“A pile of my history, found in my parents’ attic”: The everyday histories and archives of popular music heritage.

In this paper we ask: what kind of music heritage – what kind of histories – are constructed in museums and in non-institutional spaces, on and offline?  How useful is it to describe this kind of activity in relation to ideas of mainstream and margin? What does it mean to describe popular collecting activities in relation to amateur and professional in relation to the idea of the Archive at all?  For instance, how do those engaging in these practices describe them and what is it that they do when they ‘do’ heritage?


Paul Long, Professor of Media & Cultural History, Associate Director Birmingham Centre for Media & Cultural Research, Birmingham City University.

Current research project is as communities work package lead in Cultural intermediation and the creative economy. (see ).

at The Institute of Archaeology, University College London, 31-34 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PY.

Nearest tube stations are Euston Square (Circle, Hammersmith and City & Metropolitan lines), Euston (Victoria, Northern lines and the Overground) and Warren Street (Victoria and Northern lines). There is disabled badge-holder’s parking immediately outside the front door of the Institute.

Follow the link below for a map of the Institute and public transport guide

Come along for coffee at 11 am which will be served in the Student Common Room on the 6th floor (lifts and stairs to all floors from the lobby).

The session will start promptly at 11.30 am in Room 209 on the 2nd floor. 

All welcome – just turn up !

Stumble Blocks and Public History

2014 September 16
Stumble blocks in central Vienna, November 2012

Stumble blocks in central Vienna, November 2012

I have been preparing for the new course on Public History that I am teaching at the University of Greenwich as part of the new MA in History. I will be emphasising Public History as a process and thinking about the different ways in which people learn about (as well as construct) particular pasts. Inevitably memorialisation in the landscape will come into this.

An interesting example are the ‘stumble blocks’ I have seen in Germany and Austria. Here the pedestrian ‘comes across’ a discredited part of a nation’s past  – an idea initiated and developed by the artist Gunter Demnig. His work both highlights and individualises the victims of Nazi oppression. Echoing some of the ideas of psycho-geographers, coming upon unexpected details from the past in contemporary wanderings, over 43,500 stumble blocks (Stolpersteine), small bronze plaques on small concrete blocks, can be found embedded in pavements in many European countries. By the end of 2013 they were present in more than 1000 locations. They are of a standard form and include brief details of the individual names of people who had lived nearby with dates of birth and of either deportation or murder at the hands of the Nazis.

While the work is an artistic representation it was made possible through the research of historians (including family historians) and, of course, the very existence of those who had died but lived in a particular locality. Since the blocks are within pavements and not normally indicated on nearby walls it is inevitable that pedestrians walk upon such memorials (in a way they would be unlikely to walk on, say, a gravestone within a church without making a conscious choice.) The pedestrian may then have a choice – if the ground beneath her feet is noticed as she stumbles – whether to stop and read the name or to pass on. As indicated in the image here, since the stumble stones are indeed part of quotidian life they may also attract rubbish and cigarette butts. It has been suggested that the very walking over ‘ keep[s] the memories alive by inadvertently rubbing the rust off the metal and bringing back the shine.’ Moreover, to read the inscriptions one needs to bend over ‘which may be interpreted as bowing to the victims in tribute.’

Animal Worlds at Manchester Met

2014 September 7
tags: ,

8980_Vegan Fair A3 poster_screen2

I am delighted to be a part of the ‘Animal Worlds: Companions, Captives,Commodities’  Humanities in Public events at Manchester Metropolitan University in the first weeks of October.The various free and public events include vegan cookery demos, film shows, discussions and presentations on various dates. On 6th October Kim Stallwood will be talking about his book Growl, previously reviewed here.

On 20th October , amongst others, Gervase Phillips will be discussing the role of horses and mules in the 1914 -18 war.

Although free public discussion on animal rights, history or welfare is not unique in universities it is great to see public lectures being organised alongside sessions on activism.

I am going to be talking at 5.30 pm on Monday 13th October about the shifting animal-human relationship on the British Home Front during the 1939 – 45 War and how the treatment of animals disrupts our understanding of the ‘People’s War’.  (There will be no images of dead animals or humans.) You need to book for this free event through Eventbrite by clicking here.



Adrian Jones, veterinary surgeon, sculptor – and Hyde Park, London

2014 August 31
Adrian Jones' Cavalry Memorial Hyde Park

Adrian Jones’ Cavalry Memorial Hyde Park

I have just been finalising the walk I am leading for participants at the World Veterinary History conference next month at London’s Imperial College (after I have delivered a keynote presentation on the changing animal-human relationship during the Second World War and the role of veterinary surgeons in this process.) The walk will take place in Hyde Park but instead of including the pet cemetery or horse stables as I have visited on earlier occasions (I am assuming that vets know what horses look like!) I want to visit the Cavalry Memorial sculpted by Adrian Jones. He was a sculptor of animals, particularly horses and is probably best known for the Quadriga on top of the Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner. However, his first profession was veterinary surgeon and he studied at the Royal Veterinary College in London before serving in the army as a veterinary officer. Vets – or Londoners with ailing animals  seeking specialist attention – will have seen his monumental bronze Duncan’s Horses at the Royal Veterinary College at Potters Bar.

Close up of the Carabiniers memorial by Adrian Jones on the Chelsea Embankment

Close up of the Carabiniers memorial by Adrian Jones on the Chelsea Embankment

His memorial on the Chelsea Embankment is dedicated to the officers, non – commissioned officers and ranks of the sixth dragoon guards during the South African wars. The images are of horses carrying officers. In this class – defined memorial significantly ‘men’ as opposed to ‘officers’ are recalled. Although the role of horses is clearly captured on the frieze implicitly, by the absence of words, their value is even lower than that of soldiers serving in the ranks.

The Cavalry Memorial of 1924 in Hyde Park was not without controversy because of its siting (originally by Stanhope Gate). As Sir Lionel Earle, permanent secretary at the Office of Works wrote, ‘I have been inundated with requests from various regiments for sites for memorials in the parks …In my opinion the Parks should be kept free of statues except those of the highest artistic merit and beauty and of a sylvan character as statues like Peter Pan or fine fountains or allegorical subjects. I am convinced that the public would not stand sites being alienated from the public parks for war memorials’. He clearly did not succeed in his aims.

Part of the frieze by Rayner Hoff in the war memorial in Hyde Park -  in Sydney

Part of the frieze by Rayner Hoff in the war memorial in Hyde Park – in Sydney

Although Jones’ memorials do depict horses’ role in war we do not see images of dead or dying horses (or dead or dying men for that matter). This is rather different from the frieze found in Sydney’s memorial in its own Hyde Park by Rayner Hoff.

 Jones’  sculpture is only one of the many memorials in Hyde Park that merit attention. Others include the pet cemetery and the nearby Animals in War memorial.

Animals and war book – University of Chicago Press

2014 August 5
Nina, Duchess of Hamilton and Brandon, with a vulpine companion. Nina was responsible for evacuating hundreds of cats and dogs to her Ferne sanctuary in Summer 1939

Nina, Duchess of Hamilton and Brandon, with a vulpine companion. Nina was responsible for evacuating hundreds of cats and dogs to her Ferne sanctuary in Summer 1939

I have recently signed a contract with the University of Chicago Press to write a book on the cat and dog massacre in 1939 and the subsequent animal-human relationship during the Second World War  on the Home Front in Britain.

There is a huge amount of material about non-human animals in published (and unpublished) diaries, memoirs and even official accounts of the war that has been overlooked. Home Guard accounts, for example,  noted the plight of animals. In a valedictory publication in June 1945 the Poplar chief warden reflected: ‘Perhaps the most pitiful sight of this nightly scene of devastation was the behaviour of stray dogs and cats…’

Animals were widely observed during the war: the owls coming into central London during the blackout; birds singing in Green Park; the Siamese cat draped round his human companion’s neck in Holland Park; a rabbit found running around Piccadilly Circus – a lost regimental mascot…

 Yet today much of this is unknown in the public domain, though it still features in family stories and memories.

I will be placing updates and extracts from the draft chapters here. I am always interested in hearing family stories /memories of people’s relationships with companion animals during the war – or suggestions for things to read –  so please do contact me.

Elizabeth Blackwell, Hastings, and poetry

2014 July 30
Plaque to Elizabeth Blackwell in Exmouth Place, Hastings

Plaque to Elizabeth Blackwell in Exmouth Place, Hastings

Although Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman doctor registered to practice in Britain in 1859 (having qualified in the States) she is relatively unknown. Like Frances Hoggan, the first Welsh woman to so qualify, she was a committed anti-vivisectionist.

The plaque on her former house in Exmouth Place, Hastings has been hidden for some months by scaffolding: though scant attention seems to have been paid to its condition during other restoration work.

The quote is from ‘ Epilogue’ by Robert Browning. Note the insertion of ‘her’ rather than his. Lines from nineteenth century poets were often adapted by feminists. Thus ‘He who would be free, himself must strike the blow!’ from Byron’s ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’ was transformed on suffrage banners to ‘Who would be free themselves must strike the blow’. Most famously the epithet of the WSPU ‘Deeds not Words’ is taken from Shelley’s ‘Mask of Anarchy’ written after the Peterloo Massacre. It is better known for the last verse:

 ‘ Rise like Lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you –

Ye are many- they are few’


The article I wrote some years ago for the Women’s History Review on the way that suffrage feminists created their own histories discusses this use of poetry in more detail.

Lord Dowding:humanitarian, anti-vivisectionist and resident of Tunbridge Wells

2014 July 18



Dowding’s memorial in Calverly Park, Tunbridge Wells

Bored sitting in Sunday traffic queues on returning from my regular pilgrimage to the Big Yellow Storage in Tunbridge Wells (why do so many people apparently want to shop in Asda ??) I noticed that I was stuck in Dowding Way. I had forgotten that Lord Dowding -who played such a key role in Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain- had lived locally in Calverley Park.

I had come across him, not primarily through my work on the Second World War, but because of my research for the entry on his second wife, Muriel, in the Oxford DNB. He was a spiritualist before they met and then together they campaigned for animals. Both Dowdings were active anti-vivisectionists. Hugh used his position in the House of Lords to speak against animal experimentation and against the cruel ways in which animals were poisoned in the wild; most of his speeches in the Lords were on animal welfare. Hugh Dowding acted as president of Beauty without Cruelty and as patron of the International Association against Painful Experiments. Three years after his death the Lord Dowding Fund for Humane Research, to promote practical alternatives to animal experiments, was established by the NAVS, as was the annual World Day for Laboratory Animals, on his birthday, 24 April.

Despite being overlooked for the most prestigious establishment honours, Dowding was elected president of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association and regularly attended its reunions, at which, his Oxford DNB biographer recalls, he was regarded as a revered icon.

I was delighted to just come across a memorial to him in Calverley Park. Although his wartime achievements  are remembered so too is his work for animals, though for this he is called a ‘humanitarian’ alongside ‘commander’ and ‘strategist’. I wonder if the extent of his support for animals is known locally?

And, I also sometimes wonder whether I am one of the only people who actually looks at memorials in the public landscape. I suspect that I have noticed much recently partly since I am in exile in a village on the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells and, like Tom Waits, see myself almost travelling abroad, ‘bearing in mind my transient location’ though probably having less fun in so doing …




Growl book launch

2014 July 15


Kim Stallwood at launch at St Leonards Moose cafe

Kim Stallwood at launch in St Leonard’s Moose cafe

I recently attended the launch of Kim Stallwood’s new book Growl  in a vegan café in St Leonards. I had read an earlier draft and had commented on the combination of historical and philosophical thinking together with personal experience. Re-reading enabled me to focus on some aspects previously overlooked.

Brian May’s foreword refers to the book as similar to Bunyan’s Pilgrim Progress – which is the classic form for protestant autobiography. I don’t think this is an accurate analogy. Although Growl  is about personal experience it is not a simplistic ‘coming through’ narrative. Indeed it carefully debunks the idea that real change in the position of non-human animals can occur simply by individuals altering  their lifestyle: ‘Human nature is capricious whereas institutionalised regulations and laws are entrenched expressions of a society’s values.’

Of course, there is not a constant forward movement to treat animals with respect (witness the debate around the badger cull, for instance). However, in discussing the introduction of the Hunting Act Stallwood notes that the law empowered hunt opponents to shape public policy and had the effect of turning hunt proponents into law-breakers themselves: up to 2012 there had been 285 convictions under the Act.

Finally, the book is not just about humans. Throughout the narrative various animals are present including those with whom Kim has shared his life. For those who sometimes get tired of attending Animal Studies conferences where there is not a trace of the non-human in some contributions this is a refreshing change!

This accessible and readable account can be bought through the publishers, Lantern Books. It is also available in the UK from Deep Books at £15.99 – or order through your local tax paying bookshop.

Snapshot Growl cover



Margaret Damer Dawson and the Chelsea Embankment bird bath memorial

2014 June 24


A festive Thomas Carlyle and the restored bird bath Chelsea Embankment  Christmas 2013

A festive Thomas Carlyle and the restored bird bath
Chelsea Embankment Christmas 2013

The Chelsea Society has recently published an article they asked me to write on the newly restored memorial to Margaret Mary Damer Dawson on the Chelsea Embankment.

I first came across the remains of a memorial to Margaret Mary Damer Dawson on the Chelsea Embankment near Cheyne Walk several years ago. More accurately, I had read about the memorial and went searching for it. In its neglected state it hardly merited attention and even the metal rod on top of the base had been removed in later years.

The restored memorial is to be welcomed not least because it could have totally disappeared. The helpful council officer who replied to my initial query was not even aware of the former birdbath when responding to my questions  about its loss. Sadly, this would not have been the first memorial to be ‘lost’ in London: the theft of Diane Gorvin’s Dr Salter’s Dream from Bermondsey’s Cherry Garden Pier being perhaps the most famous recent example.

The bird bath memorial is a fitting tribute to someone who was active in the Animal Defence and Anti Vivisection Society (as well as a founder of the Women’s Police Service during the First World War.)

Click here to download the article. Click here to go to the Chelsea Society website for more articles on the area and details of the society’s campaigns to preserve local heritage.

Where is Public History?

2014 June 1
corso vittorio

Corso Vittorio- a reminder of a pow camp in a Whitehaven garden centre….

I have just sent off a chapter entitled ‘Where is Public History?’  that I was commissioned to write for a Companion Handbook to Public History edited by David Dean for Wiley Press. Originally I was asked to write a chapter called ‘What is Public History?’ but thought that  ‘what’ implies a definitive and static response. I don’t see public history in this way. Having rigid definitions do not take an inquisitive reader further in thinking critically about ways in which people engage with the past and the processes by which this can become accessible and relevant to contemporary life.  ‘Where’, I suggest, offers a more expansive journey through a range of ideas.  ‘Where’ implies place in a broad sense rather than a definition more appropriate for a  dictionary style approach.

I looked, for example, at traces of past lives in the landscape including words I found some years ago in the concrete floor of a garden centre near Whitehaven, namely the words  ‘ Corso Vittorio’.  This had been the site of the Moota camp 103 which held Italian and then German prisoners of war during the Second World War. The buildings had long gone but Corso Vittorio remains, a reminder of the number of avenues named in Italy after Victor Emmanuel 11, the first king after unification in 1861. The wording made in the concrete was a direct reference to home in another country. Because these traces (and other ephemera) exist, local historians, including Gloria Edwards, could write about this hitherto unknown past and also mount a new exhibition in 2005 to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War entitled ‘Cockermouth at War’.

This emphasis on the importance of seeing things in the present landscape was brought home forcefully by the fascinating talk by Dr Ruth Richardson at the public history group – now meeting in the archaeology/heritage department of UCL – on Saturday May 31st. Her terrier-like activities in the archive combined with walking through the streets near Tottenham Court Road had enabled her to make imaginative connections between Charles Dickens, the local workhouse building and Oliver Twist. The book on the topic is now available in paperback. More importantly, this knowledge has been used to try and preserve the workhouse as a site of historic importance and to stop its destruction.

Firefighters, civil defence and animals

2014 May 29



Wells memorial

Blitz, the national firefighters’ memorial near St Paul’s cathedral

In my recent lecture at Birkbeck as part of the Raphael Samuel History Centre series on London at War I talked about aspects of the changing animal-human relationship during the war. Contemporary accounts, including those of civil defence workers and firefighters, often refer to non-human animals. It is unsurprising that the civil defence work of animals has been acknowledged at the National Memorial Arboretum, as I have previously mentioned here.

In The official story of the civil defence of Britain published during the war a firefighter in the East India docks observed ‘Occasionally we would glance up and then we would see a strange sight. For a flock of pigeons kept circling round overhead almost all night. They seemed lost, as if they couldn’t understand the unnatural dawn. It looked like sunrise all around us. The pigeons seemed white in the glare, bird of peace making a strange contrast with the scene below.’ War was  not only experienced by humans but a range of animals.

Cyril Demarne, a firefighter who had campaigned for the memorial near St Paul’s, recalled rescuing companion animals. On one occasion he recalled a dog in East Ham partly buried near his human companion: ‘ he seemed bereft of sound and we heard not a whimper. I reached over the remains of the table and rubbed his ear… I found his collar and freed him. I don’t know if dogs cry, but two tracks, washed by tears coursing down his cheeks, reminded me of a tearful child with a grimy face.’ I will be drawing upon such quasi-official accounts as well as diaries and memories in writing about the changing human –animal relationship during the war.

Jack in the Green, Levellers’ Day – and Suffragette Morris dancers

2014 May 6



All female morris dancers deliberately dressed in WSPU colours - Hastings

Female morris dancers deliberately dressed in WSPU colours Hastings

I recently attended the Jack in the Green May festival in Hastings replete with Morris dancers, drummers, bands and puppets parading through the streets of the old town.  The official website recounts that  a festival with this name had existed until the end of the nineteenth century. As it honestly states ‘The custom was revived in Hastings by Mad Jacks Morris Dancers in 1983. We do not say we are following exactly what happened, this is a custom for now, not a fossil.’

Musicians Anarcho-Syndicalist  goth style in Hastings

Musicians Anarcho-Syndicalist goth style in Hastings

Looking at what appeared to be anarcho-syndicalist goth musicians and a female troop of (traditionally male) Morris dancers dressed in the colours of the WSPU I was reminded in some ways of Levellers’ day, held annually in Burford, Oxfordshire (Cameron is the local MP) on May 17. As I have analysed elsewhere, the festival commemorates a political defeat of the radical Levellers during the English Civil War more than three hundred and sixty  years ago. Leveller leaders had led mutinies in the Army during the civil war and had been arrested and imprisoned: Burford was seen as a final stand. The Burford mutiny followed on from the defeat of radical ideas at the Putney debates in 1647.There had been previous mutinies when men who refused to volunteer for service in Ireland were demobilized without payment of arrears. However, on previous occasions the generals had not executed mutineers. According to Christopher Hill, here the defeat of ‘the more extreme radical’ activists, resulted in a ‘total rout’. On May 17th 1649 Cornet Thompson and Corporals Church and Perkins were executed in Burford churchyard.

Annually in May, in the local church, garden and streets, people from outside the town construct a different character to the conservative norm, marching around the town with banners, hearing radical speeches and placing wreathes in the churchyard – and watching Morris dancers.

Wreathes at a former Levellers' day

Wreathes at a former Levellers’ day

Levellers’ day originated from the Workers’ Education Association (WEA) Oxford Industrial Branch, the motto of which was ‘Knowledge is Power’ and set up in 1972 with the aim of taking the movement back to its ‘working class labour movement roots’. In 1975, a Levellers’ sub committee was established and organised a wreath laying that year  attended by 80 people including local trade unionists. As an industrial branch member remarked, “those soldier delegates – the “agitators”- were the first shop stewards!”

The narrative of the 1970s Levellers was seen as part of a commemoration of people ‘hidden from history’, the phrase often used by contemporary radical historians. Until the organisation of Levellers’ day the scratched name on the Burford font ‘Anthony Sedley prisoner 1649’ had been ‘the only inscription to commemorate the last stand of the Levellers’.

Often addressed by supporter Tony Benn, speakers in 2014 will include Frances O’Grady of the TUC  – and entertainment from Cry Havoc Morris dancers and Vale Islanders folk dancers. I would have thought that the suffragette dancers and anarcho-syndicalist musicians would not be out of place here either…


Former Levellers day Morris dancers

Former Levellers’ day Morris dancers








Public history group in Bloomsbury with Ruth Richardson on Dickens, the workhouse, the campaign

2014 April 23
Gordon Square

A spring view of Gordon Square from the sixth floor of the Institute of Archaeology

Having been told that the public history group was no longer welcomed at the Bishopsgate Institute it has taken a while to find another location. I am delighted that staff in UCL Institute of Archaeology are now involved with others in the group in organising events. They have offered us a new venue. It’s in the Institute in the heart of Bloomsbury at 31-4 Gordon Square on the sixth floor (with lifts.) The view above was taken last spring from that location and gives another perspective on  Bloomsbury.

 The first session will be on Saturday 31 May. The speaker is Dr Ruth Richardson on Dickens & the Workhouse.

 Author of Dickens & the Workhouse: Oliver Twist & the London Poor, The Making of Mr. Gray’s Anatomy and Death, Dissection & the Destitute  Ruth will talk about her involvement in a campaign on the streets of London the research processes for which led her to a discovery that was to have a major impact on public history.

As she explains, ‘In 2010 the Outpatients’ block at the Middlesex Hospital was threatened with demolition. The main Hospital had already been reduced to a field-size area of rubble. Local people called on me to help because I had written about a Victorian doctor who had worked in the building when it had been the Strand Union Workhouse. We had 5 weeks to save the building from the bulldozers. Listing had been rejected by the Minister, and there seemed no hope.  But fiction came to the rescue, and the building is still standing.

 This talk will tell the story of the Workhouse and its eventual listing, and after the talk we can take a walk to see it and its setting.’

We meet at 11 for coffee with the session starting promptly at 11.30

Click here for a map of the Institute and public transport guide

I will be posting details of future events from Autumn 2014 here.  As always, suggestions very welcome.

Animals and Humans on the London Home Front 1939 -45: exploring diaries and letters

2014 April 20
cat and humans

feline and human animals sheltering together

The Raphael Samuel history centre is running a series of events on the theme of ‘London and War’ during May. I have been invited to speak on animals and humans on the London Home Front with a focus on exploring diaries and letters. This will take place on Wednesday 28 May from 6 to 7.30 in Birkbeck’s Keynes Library at 46 Gordon Square.

Although the Home Front continues to fascinate Londoners today, relatively little is known about the lives of domestic non-human animals at this time, even though much material exists.‘Protagonists’  I consider will include Bob and Muff,  two very different cats, Gyp a Bethnal Green dog, and horses Mariana and Trump who frequented Hyde Park.

I will be analysing the work of their human diarists / biographers  acknowledging the framework described by Walter Benjamin as follows: ‘A chronicler who recites events without distinguishing between major and minor ones acts in accordance with the following truth: nothing that had ever happened should be regarded as lost for history’. To date much of the lives of animals has been ‘lost for history’ even though material exists. I hope to show that ignoring animal lives not only devalues animal experience but also detracts from our understanding of the way in which humans lived in London during the Second World War.

Further details are on the Raphael Samuel History Centre website.The talk is free but you must book by emailing Dr Katy Pettit who administers the centre:

Please note that it is at Birkbeck but at their Keynes library which is at 46 Gordon Square (near Euston tube)

Educating Londoners – free study day /conference Friday 9 May

2014 April 11

Snapshot  Ralph Vaughan WilliamsI am pleased to be invited to speak at the free conference / workshop organised by the archivist sat the Institute of Education alongside the London Metropolitan Archives. I have spent many hours in both archives. I was one of the first researchers to be allowed to read the wonderful archive of the National Union of Women Teachers at the Institute of Education before it was properly catalogued – hence references in my Deeds not Words  such as  ‘file in orange folder in the tea chest’.

My talk is called ‘Remembering the 11+ : what’s in (and what isn’t in ) the archive.’ I am going to be discussing the research for the article I wrote with Brenda Kirsch on finding the mark book and a class anthology owned by our former primary school teacher when we sat the 11+. The pretentious poem above was included in that collection : while the teacher chose to keep it  I think I might well have destroyed it decades ago if it had been in my possession then …

I will also be considering what is and isn’t in archives: very few specimens of this once widespread and notorious 11 + exam exist in public archives. The exam was  so commonplace that they were not collected – yet even today the exam still looms large in the collective memory of the nation.

I will also be thinking about the material we have in our own archives (inspired by re-finding my old school reports dumped in the attic) and why some material is kept – and others destroyed –in archives.

(Other speakers include Ken Jones both a professor of education and former strike leader / general secretary of Barking & Dagenham NUT speaking about teacher trades unionism in London in the 1970s.)

The full programme can be found here:  EducatingLondonersProgramme The event is free but you need to book in advance via eventbrite here.

Mary Richardson and the Rokeby Venus – ‘Venus in View’: BBC radio 4 March 13, 2014

2014 March 6
46 St James's street, Hastings where Mary RIchardson died in 1961

46 St James’s road, Hastings where Mary RIchardson died in 1961

I have recently been interviewed for a radio 4 programme on the centenary of the slashing of the Velasquez painting ‘The toilet of Venus’ , known as the Rokeby Venus, in London’s National Gallery.

The perpetrator was suffragette Mary Richardson who attacked the controversial painting to gain publicity for the plight of Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the WSPU, who was imprisoned and on hunger strike in Holloway prison, saying, ‘You can get another picture but you cannot get a life, as they are killing Mrs Pankhurst’ (The Times, 11 March 1914). For Mary Richardson, the most beautiful woman in art was of little significance compared with the life of Mrs Pankhurst, ‘the most beautiful character in modern history’. This action both secured her fame and eighteen months with hard labour. It also led to many museums closing their doors to unaccompanied women although other galleries including the National Portrait Gallery and the Birmingham Art Gallery would have paintings slashed by other suffrage feminists.

Although,as I have discussed elsewhere, Mary Richardson has received some public attention more for her repeated hunger strikes than her membership of the British Union of Fascists, she is yet to receive a plaque on the site of her death in Hastings in 1961.

Plaque to Murial Matters in Pelham Crescent

Plaque to Muriel Matters in Pelham Crescent

Muriel Matters Porter, the suffrage feminist and educationalist, who famously flew in an airship over the Thames, distributing leaflets over the Houses of Parliament, also lived in Hastings. Muriel had lived there from 1924 until her death in 1969, standing unsuccessfully as a Labour MP in the town in 1924. The plaque on her home in Pelham Crescent near the newly restored arts centre, St Mary in the Castle, is somewhat esoteric. Muriel Matters and Helen Fox had chained themselves to the grill of the Ladies Gallery of the House of Commons in 1908 and thus ‘spoke’ some 20 years before all women received the vote.

The radio programme will be broadcast at 11.30 am on radio 4 on Thursday March 13th and can then be heard via the radio 4 website.

Reading the biography of Wilfred Risdon : Black Shirt and Smoking Beagles by J L Risdon

2014 February 16

Snapshot  Risdon coverWilfred Risdon’s life embraced many key moments of political activism in Britain during the twentieth century.

 Giving up his early job in bookbinding to volunteer in the Army during the 1914 -18 war, on his return he became at miner in South Wales and was active in the militant South Wales Miners’ Federation. Subsequently an organiser in the West Midlands for the Independent Labour Party, he came into contact with Oswald Mosley and, in due course like many other ILPers including John Beckett the former MP, he joined the British Union of Fascists.  Wilfred’s organisational capabilities ensured his employment as a BUF organiser and, for a short time, internment under regulation 18B. On release he gained employment first in the London and Provincial Anti-Vivisection Society and then the National Anti-Vivisection Society as general secretary until his death in 1967.

Yet this interesting man is not included within the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (though Muriel Dowding, animal rights campaigner in the BUAV and John Beckett are) nor is he in the Dictionary of Labour Biography. This extensively researched book by Risdon’s nephew aims to redress Wilfred’s omission from such histories. Jon Risdon became interested in family history many years ago but never actually met his uncle although their chronologies could have facilitated this. Although some of the photographs are gleaned from family archives for the most part the material used is from public archives. What Jon Risdon has attempted is an engaging micro-history of political organisations through the lens of his uncle’s life. And his attempt has been very successful. His very detailed and careful reading of material related to the ILP, BUF and NAVS gives us new insights into the working of these organisations. While the capriciousness of Mosley, sacking people on a whim, is fairly well known,  Jon Risdon’s approach that focuses on the narrative of one individual, albeit always in an informed context, makes us understand more clearly how the BUF operated.

This book shows us that individuals change their views in relation to external circumstances: defining a person through narrow criteria is not necessarily productive or illuminating. As I have argued elsewhere, (and against the orthodoxy of  some scholars of British fascism)  although many in the London and Provincial Anti Vivisection Society were fascist in their politics they were also committed opponents of vivisection. It was not simply a ‘front organisation’ for the BUF. This biography develops our understanding of such anti – vivisection organisations.

 The book is extensively footnoted enabling the reader to follow up their particular interests. In the introduction Jon asks that the book ‘ should be read with an open mind, conscious of the fact that just because an orthodoxy is widespread or commonly accepted does not make it right (or wrong for that matter); and reprehensible clichés though they might be: truth is the first casualty of war, and history is written by the victors.’ Any open-minded reader with an interest in a range of political activity in the twentieth century would find much to think about in this book. The subject  deserves to be more widely known – and understood. I first heard about this project when Jon spoke about it at an early public history conference I organised at Ruskin College. I am very pleased it has finally seen the light of day!

Unfortunately, it was obliged to be privately published. It can be obtained from the author or ordered through bookshops.  This 700 page book was initially available in print at £15 plus postage . I  had encouraged people to buy it or get their library to purchase a copy. ISBN 978 -0-9927431-0-9.

I am pleased to be advised by Jon that it can now be purchased for just £5 in a PDF form from Wilfred Books website direct.

BBC 4 22 January: Hidden Histories. Britain’s Oldest Family Businesses – Toye the regalia and medal maker

2014 January 22


another image of Princelet Street

Former weavers’ houses in Princelet Street, Spitalfields

I have just been watching this BBC4 programme in which I was filmed talking about silk weavers in Spitalfields and Bethnal Green in the nineteenth century. The Toye family moved into specialised work:  the Keans moved from silk weaving into the furniture trade (as did many thousand of other such families). It was interesting to discover that one of the Toyes died in the Hackney workhouse where my grandfather worked as an engineer a couple of decades later, as I  analysed in London Stories. The programme also included discussion of suffrage regalia in the Museum of London that was worn by ‘general’ Flora Drummond and which had apparently been offered to the suffrage movement by the Toye firm.

You can watch the programme through this link on iplayer for the next 14 days. (I  personally liked the close up shot of my red vegetarian shoes – but, unsurprisingly, this is not a key part of the programme!)

Visiting Hyde Park animal cemetery January 2014

2014 January 18
cemetery January 2014

Overview of Hyde Park animal  cemetery

Recently I was able to organise a small group visit to the usually closed Hyde Park animal cemetery. I have previously written here about the early years of the cemetery; and also published an article comparing the cemetery with others of a similar period in New York and Paris.

snapshot witt

 I had only previously visited the cemetery once so have partly formed an image of the place based on early twentieth century articles in Animals’ Guardian or The Strand magazine or Our Animal Brothers. It would seem that over the years the layout of the cemetery has changed: and that some gravestones have been relocated or the words erased through age.

Snapshot  dollyEarlier articles often emphasised long verses including those of a quasi-religious nature. This time I tended to notice the statements that talked about the impact of the companion animal on the human and named the human. Most statements were anonymous or just included the initials of the human but some were more ‘public’ such as the homage to Topsy, the ‘faithful friend’ of J.C.H.Flood, barrister at law.

Snapshot  topsyAlthough most of the graves are those of dogs I was pleased to find some of rabbits and cats, including, that of Peter though remained unconvinced that ‘ dear monkey’ was necessarily a monkey rather than the given name of a dog.

Snapshot Peter the cat

I recently read in the National Archives that the cemetery  had been nearly destroyed in the 1939 – 45 war to provide space for the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign. The civil servant confirmed a few owners were still alive and visited occasionally, adding ‘ Of course many of the owners were influential people who no doubt would be very difficult to deal with if the graves were removed’. He concluded ‘ On the whole, I think we had better leave this cemetery alone for the present’. I am pleased it does exist – and if visits are not common at least at this time of year one can peak through the railings on the Bayswater Road and see the graves.

 rabbit snapshotjpg

‘Exploring the human and non-human animal relationship’ at Critical Heritage Studies conference

2014 January 15


A canine visitor to the Hyde Park animal cemetery

A canine visitor to the Hyde Park animal cemetery

The strand of papers I proposed for the Association of Critical Heritage Studies conference in Canberra in December 2014 has been accepted.

The theme is on ‘Exploring the human and non-human animal relationship’. The strand includes presentations on inter-species relationships at the National Museum of Australia; commemorating the wartime roles of animals in Canadian history and the impact of animalistic war trophies on British remembrance. Other speakers to date are Chelsea Medlock, Martha Sear, Kaitlin Wainwright, and Kirsten Wehner.

I intend to present a paper on ‘ Writing in or /and ignoring animals ? A changing animal-human relationship in critical heritage ?’ I am  hoping  to develop and bring together aspects of research in Public History as well as Animal Studies through analysis of the phenomenon of animal memorialisation – and recent challenges to this.

Individual proposals on this broad theme are welcomed and can still be submitted until June 2014 through the link above.

Reading unpublished diaries

2014 January 5
Holman diary

One of the tiny wartime diaries of Laurance Holman

I am pleased to have been invited by the new student society at Ruskin College, Ruskin History Society, to speak  about some of my current research on Thursday January 23 at 5 in the new college building in Headington. I have called it: ‘Laurance, Mariana and Hilda: an exploration of reading archived diaries from 1937 – 50 of London advertising business man , Laurance Holman, (and his horse Mariana).’

I have previously written on the website about the unpublished diaries of Laurance Holman I  found in Camden archives in London. They include specific details of food prices, leisure activities, overdraft and contracts and daily rides on his horse Mariana either in Hyde or Regent’s Park or through the streets to view bomb damage. No other details initially existed of the man. Thus the diary became both a key source for ‘factual’ details of the man’s life and of his reflections on his own daily experience.

All historians are necessarily selective in choosing particular topics or approaches. However, a sense of closeness between researcher and subject can be facilitated not only by perceived common circumstances such as age or geographical location, but also by the shared genre of the diary form. His diary writing performed apparently similar functions to my own diary recordings in the recent past. I spoke about this topic at last year’s unofficial histories conference in Manchester. However, since then my research has continued. It has included valuable insights from a former colleague of Laurance … This presentation explores the way in which personal experience can initiate different insights into the processes of history – making.

All are welcome to attend.


Animal Protection worldwide

2013 December 30
brown dog again

The new old brown dog in Battersea Park, pictured 28 December with Christmas foliage.
BUAV and NAVS, C19th organisations against vivisection, were also behind the late C20th re-make.

The compendium that Andrew Linzey has been editing for many, many years has finally appeared. Entitled The Global Guide to Animal Protection and published by University of Illinois Press it costs less than £20. This is a lengthy collection of articles covering ‘free-living’, companion and aquatic animals and issues of concern internationally both around welfare and rights for non-human animals. Many of the pieces discuss acts of cruelty towards animals and campaigns against this but there are also more mundane items on caring for particular types of animals or vegan cookery. Contributors include leaders of campaigning charities such as Jan Creamer, Libby Anderson, Philip Limbery and Joyce D’Silva as well as a wide range of philosophers, theologians and animal studies researchers.

My short essay is on the history of animal protection in Britain. While arguing that such a tradition in Britain is a long one, I also note that organisations created in the nineteenth century such as the RSPCA, Dogs Trust, British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection and the Blue Cross are still, unfortunately, needed today.

I am pleased to have contributed to the book though find it slightly odd to be in a collection prefaced by words from Desmond Tutu. His statement that ‘we [humans] are the most exalted species in creation’ and that ‘God’s creation is entrusted to our care and under our creation’ reads more like the moralising tracts of nineteenth century animal welfare campaigners than a call for radical change in the twenty first century. Nevertheless I hope the book will be a useful addition to basic animal welfare / rights texts for school, college and university libraries.

Lady Rhondda: Turning the Tide

2013 December 19

Snapshot turning the tide.

I have always had a soft spot for Lady Rhondda who I ‘encountered’ many years ago while researching  politics between the wars. In my work on suffrage feminists of the 20s and 30s I was interested in exploring the ways in which former suffrage activists thought about their lives after the vote was partially won in 1918. There were debates amongst feminists at the time about how to define that period. Was this a period of progress? Did it now mean that other reforms would follow? Or, more pessimistically, was it a time of political downturn and retrenchment? Certainly many of the National Union of Women Teachers activists I have written about were no naïve optimists and many former militant suffragettes were well aware of the need to write their own histories before they were written out of the past.

So I ‘encountered’ Margaret Haig Thomas as someone who wrote her own autobiography This was my World – and analysed this configuration. I tended to identify with her aims as an‘ old feminist’, as someone who was seen by some to be out of time but nevertheless committed, principled and resolute.

This new book by Angela V . John offers many new insights into the life of Viscountess Rhondda, not least emphasising her welsh identity. And it is a history re-written for the new times. While work on such women in the past has concentrated on suffrage activism or sexuality this carefully written book also introduces us to Margaret as “The Queen of Commerce”. John carefully weaves different aspects of Rhondda’s life on a thematic – rather than a chronological – basis. Without any attempt at over-theorisation Angela John presents us with an illuminating and thoughtful account of the life of someone many feminist historians thought they knew.

This book, however, made me think a-new both about  Lady Rhondda but also about the way in which history is written and re-written. I doubt if Angela John would have written the book in this way 30 years ago – but then I doubt if I would have read this book then…

Apart from having  thorough footnotes, fulsome praise for other writers and a range of photographs the book is also easy to read; what I call a ‘bed book’, that is, a book to read late at night without feeling the need to scribble notes. (I also discovered that Margaret was into cats and used to sit on a particular chair at night to warm the chair for her moggy!)

London Review Bookshop have now stocked it after I told them that Hatchards in Piccadilly had advised me to go to Waterstones – in Cardiff – to get a copy(!)

Cat images and the Bristol Cats Survey

2013 December 8
night cats

Two cats: both asleep…

I have previously discussed on this website various aspects of the changing feline-human relationship. I was pleased to receive a Xmas card from the Bristol Cats survey, an innovative  and ethical project designed to include human cat keepers as surrogate researchers in a longitudinal analysis of cat behaviour. (A sort of 7 up for cats…) At their request I – and I assume many other humans- had submitted images of the cats who choose to live with them for possible inclusion on the Xmas card. The image I chose was one previously included on this site (and now reproduced above). And the photo was chosen!

But, of course, I was not alone. Many, many others had also taken photos of their cats: nowadays that is what benign cat owners do. The too frequent posters of lost cats displayed on lamp posts and trees indicate, if nothing else, that cats are routinely the subject of visual images. I am particularly pleased about the choice of image because in the past I have been castigated by a museum professional, who having asked me to put forward a proposal for an exhibition on ‘pets’ and their changing relationship with humans was horrified to catch a glimpse of the selfsame two ‘real’ cats on my laptop screen saver. To depict anything as everyday as real cats rather than ‘artistic representations’ was decidedly not on: needless to say, my proposal was rejected…

New ruskin archives launched

2013 November 28

Early Ruskin students including George Harvey who is recorded in the newruskinarchives

A new public history website, newruskinarchives, has been launched to record and crowd – source historical information about former students of Ruskin college, Oxford  since 1899.


A year ago there was much anger about the destruction of the student archives at Ruskin College undertaken by the principal Audrey Mullender. Thousands of signatures to a petition, letters and emails and a lobby of the governors could not restore what had already been trashed.


But in the spirit of the old wobbly song’ Don’t mourn, organise!’ a group of us with, it is hoped, hundreds of others are attempting to collect information in a database form about the lives of former students.


Of course, it will not be possible to ‘recreate’ the destroyed material. But it is important to acknowledge the experiences of people treated so shabbily. It is also important to ensure that this philistine and totally unnecessary action is not forgotten.


Please visit the newruskinarchives and consider submitting information on someone you know or who you have read about who was a former student at Ruskin.

Swansea plaque for Emily Phipps

2013 November 24

Plaque to Emily Phipps in Orchard Street, Swansea.
Thanks to Avril Rolph for the photo

This week a plaque was finally erected on the site of the school where feminist campaigner Emily Phipps was headteacher. An English woman, she worked for many years in Swansea in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

A short summary of aspects of her life was included on BBC news for South West Wales  webpage that does not do her justice. Emily was not only a feminist and headteacher and suffrage campaigner but also a leading trade unionist. A one time executive member of the National Union of Teachers in 1915  she became disillusioned over the union’s failure to support the vote for women or to campaign appropriately  for equal pay. She campaigned for a women – only union, the National Union of Women Teachers, in which she played a leading role, as president, editor, executive member and eventually, barrister.

I wrote about her in my book Deeds not Words and lobbied for her inclusion in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and then contributed her entry. She was one of my ‘favourite’ suffragette teachers not primarily because of her achievements but because of her apparent bad temper particularly towards those members of the NUWT she thought were insufficiently active!

It’s good that Avril Rolph and the Women’s Archive of Wales were able to convince Swansea council that Emily was worth remembering publicly.

BBC4 Timeshift: the importance of looking

2013 November 17
regents park elehant

Walking an elephant through Regent’s Park, November 1983

I was interviewed earlier in the year for a BBC 4 programme on zoos and the changing animal-human relationship. The film will be broadcast this week. Unfortunately, my contribution was cut from the final edit because of an apparent shift in emphasis.

However, you can catch me speaking on the Timeshift website accompanying the programme entitled ‘The importance of looking’ .  My view is in contrast to the position of John Berger who has argued that public zoos came into existence at a time when animals started to disappear from everyday life. As I explored in Animal Rights, this was not the case. Animals continued to play significant roles in the domestic life of city dwellers both as objects of affection and as the mainstay of the transportation (and food) system. (They were also seen in their thousands being driven through city streets on their way to markets and to slaughter. This sight was an impetus both for the ‘Martin’s Act’ of 1822 and for the closure of Smithfield market as a venue for live animals.) What changed was that certain animals outside those in individual human ownership became objects of the gaze.


The Gilt of Cain : remembering and forgetting slavery

2013 October 25
fen court

The Gilt of Cain in Fen Court

Yesterday I led a guided walk for a group of students around Spitalfields and the City of London looking both at aspects of the area’s connections with the silk trade  and traces of different pasts in the landscape. One stop was the artwork in Fen Court, ‘The Gilt of Cain’ (sic) by Lemn Sissay and Michael Visocchi.

It was the first memorial for the victims of the slave trade erected  with the support of the City of London Corporation in 2007 . However, the memorial that juxtaposes the language of city traders with both sugar cane and the platform used at a slave auction – or possibly a pulpit in which abolition was preached – is not in the Guildhall or outside a financial institution. It is erected in the former graveyard of the church now joined to the parish in which John Newton, former slaver and then abolitionist, worked for many years and this specific positioning is drawn out on the accompanying plaque (if one reads). While such a radical work is to be welcomed in the City one notices that the statue of William Beckford, twice Lord Mayor of London, still stands inside the Guildhall without reference to his ownership of slaves on his Jamaican plantations…

For further discussion of anti-slavery memorials see John Siblon’s article in  Public History and Heritage Today. People and their Pasts and an extract from Alan Rice’s work in  the Public History Reader.

Hyde Park walk and cattle troughs

2013 October 13
cattle trough hyde park

Commemorative trough near the Household Cavalry barracks
Thanks to Denise Pakeman for the photo

Yesterday’s animal history walk around Hyde Park raised nearly £150 for the wonderful Hillside animal sanctuary.

During the walk we looked at two different horse troughs erected by the Metropolitan Cattle Trough and Drinking Fountain Association, whose work I discussed in Animal Rights.  One near the busy West Carriage Drive (and opposite the new Serpentine gallery) was erected in 1907 after a request from George Rogers, a cab driver, concerned about the need of working cab horses for fresh drinking water.

Another, on the Knightsbridge side of the park near the Household Cavalry barracks, was originally located on the Victoria Embankment and moved here in 1985. This now has a primarily commemorative function recording the horses killed and injured in the IRA bomb of 1982. Four soldiers and seven horses were killed (and others injured including, most famously, the horse Sefton).It is unusual, however, for animals to be privileged in this way. The nearby 1924 Cavalry memorial by Adrian Jones, for instance, depicts many horses visually but in the text refers solely to the different regiments of the empire who fought in the 1914 -18 war.

Kim Stallwood, animal advocate and author of the forthcoming book GROWL, was on the walk and recorded me speaking at the Animals in War memorial. The sound quality isn’t that great – but it is on a traffic island in Park Lane! I have also written about the memorial on other pages on this website.

Filming about Spitalfields’ weavers for BBC4

2013 October 9
weavers Spitalfields

Idealised image of Spitalfields silk weavers – as I analyse in London Stories

I spent this morning being filmed walking around Spitalfields and Bethnal Green for a new BBC film about the oldest businesses in England, this one being about the firm of Toye,Kenning and Spencer that specialises in regalia. The Toye family – like the Keans – worked as silk weavers in Bethnal Green. In order to survive with the mid-nineteenth century downturn in trade my family turned to furniture making. Some of the Toyes managed to survive by specialising in high quality goods.

I have previously written about silk weavers in an article analysing the census returns in depth and in London Stories.

If nothing else, today’s early morning outing confirmed my view that detailed analysis of street by street census returns gives a far richer impression of an area than broad brush generalisations. Like the weavers who lived in the streets off Bethnal Green Road – who continued to weave even though history books tell us that the trade was no more – in the Old Ford area the Toyes also continued in this line of work.

As late as 1935, there are accounts of a few weavers remaining in Alma Road, near Victoria Park.

Who once lived in my house? Geffrye museum exhibition

2013 October 1

geffrye exhibition

I have recently attended the launch of ‘Who once lived in my house?’ at the Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch. This museum, previously promoting the former furniture trade in Shoreditch, has been collaborating with the imaginative geography department at Queen Mary, University of London. I have been pleased to be an adviser to the project called ‘Living with the Past at Home’. The main researcher, Caron Lipman, also spoke about this project at the public history group and at the recent public history conference in Preston.

The small, interesting, (and free) exhibition is a case study of several people’s engagement with the past in their own homes. The particular emphasis is on humans who previously lived in the house (rather than with the architecture as such) though I am pleased that in at least one example cats buried in a garden are also highlighted.

Leeches, Erskine and a snoozing cat

2013 September 16
Cat in pub

A snoozing cat – Tom Paine – in the Seven Stars.
Thanks to Joanne Bristol for this image

The recent walk on Animal Pasts from Barbican to Russell Square raised over £60 for the Hillside Animal Sanctuary.

I was pleased to include information on Lincoln’s Inn trained Lord Erskine, one of the radical reformers promoting animal issues in the early 1800s. He attempted to pass legislation against bull baiting and legislation against cruelty to animals condemning, ‘the most disgusting cruelties practised upon beasts of carriage and burden’. Although he was not successful he helped pave the way for Richard Martin and his significant Act of 1822.

I had known for some time that Erskine kept many animals as companions including dogs, a macaw and a couple of leeches. I only realised when reading the fascinating new book by Neil Pemberton and Robert Kirk, Leech, that he was not unique. Indeed elaborate containers up to two feet high were made to give them a ‘good home’.

Although the Horse Hospital was closed and we couldn’t easily see the ramps the horses would have used, we did manage to see a live cat playing dead (and other taxidermised animals) in the window of the Seven Stars pub at the back of the Royal Courts of Justice. (He’s apparently called Tom Paine – whose human ‘predecessor’, incidentally, Erskine had defended in absentia.)

There are still a few places on the next fund-raising animal pasts walk on October 12th in Hyde Park. Email me to reserve a place.

Snoozing cat

Close up of snoozing cat
Thanks to Judy Greenway for this image

Public History conference : Whose history is it anyway?

2013 September 6
Badbea stones

Natural stones and flowers or traces of human histories in the landscape?

I am just back from speaking at the very interesting conference ‘Whose history is it anyway?: Public History in Perspective’ organised by Andy Gritt and Keith Vernon at the University of Central Lancashire, where a new MA in Public History has recently been approved. I drew upon Brecht’s wonderful poem ‘Questions from a worker whilst reading’ to think about the materials for the writing of history including material culture, and structures in the landscape. I had used the poem when writing London Stories as a framework for questioning the nature of conventional history. I concluded that book (and my talk yesterday) by drawing on Brecht’s words:

So many reports

So many questions

Brecht had suggested that answers to the worker’s questions were given by silence, by what wasn’t said. The experiences of those apparently without a literate voice had been marked in the landscape. Because cities had been built etc then other histories could be written.

A poignant example of such potential histories in the landscape can be found at Badbea in eastern Scotland about five miles north of Helmsdale, which I came across a few years ago. It is a very remote abandoned village and the grass leading to the cliffs is very steep.

The rocks with the flowers above might be seen as pleasant natural  features. More likely, these are some of the remains of the houses of the tenants evicted in the Highland Clearances before they subsequently emigrated to New Zealand (as the nearby memorial explains). Surely these stones are  as eloquent as contemporary writing about the plight of tenants in the early 1800s?

Highland Clearances memorial

Memorial at Badbea to the Highlanders who then migrated to New Zealand

(I can highly recommend David Craig’s wonderful oral history of the descendants of people forcibly removed from their land : On the Crofters’ Trail. In search of the Clearance Highlanders – reprinted by Berlinn.)

War on the Home Front: the animal-human relationship

2013 September 4
WRAF Bridlington

 My late aunt Lily Mankelow and comrades in the WRAF : conventional images of women on the Home Front

I’ve just sent off my chapter for the book, The British Home Front: Images, Myths and Memories, edited by Maggie Andrews, Jane Gledhill and Janis  Lomas that arises from the conference organised by the Midland Women’s History Network last year at the National Memorial Arboretum. Realising the paucity of research dealing with popular myths of the Second World War the book aims to bring together topics that have been neglected in popular representations of the Home Front .

Developing the paper I gave at the conference last year,  my chapter is called ‘The Home Front as a ‘moment’ for animals (and humans): the animal-human relationship in contemporary diaries and personal accounts’. I draw attention to the way in which material that discussed domestic animals in routinely ignored. For example, the Mass Observation diary of Nella Last, a ‘housewife’ living in Barrow-in-Furness has received much critical attention since its publication in 1981 and has even been adapted as a television film by Victoria Wood. But Nella’s relationship with Mr Murphy her cat and Sol her dog that is there throughout even in the published editions have been resolutely ignored in analysis. This was also over-looked in the film. Nella, not only discusses Mr Murphy and Sol extensively, but also comments on the treatment of animals by neighbours and relatives.  She even pleads – successfully – to save the life of Tiger Tim, the ‘entire’ canteen tom cat who other women want to kill because he smelt:  ‘Will one more smell make any difference to the general odour of mice, mouldy bread, a room with practically no ventilation, gas stoves, dirty sinks and lavatory?’

For Nella Last the value of Sol, the dog, lies in providing empathetic support: “To me he is more than an animal: he has kindness, understanding and intelligence and not only knows all that is said but often reads my mind to an uncanny degree. He knows when I am sad and dim and lies with his head on my foot, or follows me closely as if to say, “I cannot help you, but please understand I love you and will stand by”.’

Instead of dismissing this as simply a product of an imaginative anthropomorphic mind we might consider the position of animal ethologist Marc Bekoff. He has argued that if animals did not show their feelings then it would be unlikely people would bond with them, ‘We form close relationships with our pets not only because of our own emotional needs but also because of our recognition of theirs’. This characterisation of the relationship between humans and ‘pets’ is also found in the work of anthrozoologist John Bradshaw who has suggested that both cats and dogs have a relationship with a human keeper that is ‘fundamentally affectionate’.

I have spent much of the last few weeks reading his engaging new book, Cat Sense. The Feline Enigma Revealed ,while watching the cats who choose to live with me. They have, in turn, almost changed from companions to objects of the critical gaze whose behaviour I now observe almost anthropologically with primer in hand… (and yes, I am sure that they are gazing at me too…)

cats at night

Felines as object of the photographic gaze (and yes the one on the right really is asleep)


World veterinary history conference September 2014

2013 August 29

I have been invited to  give a keynote  presentation at next year’s world veterinary history conference in London on September 10 -13 alongside Professor Donald Frederick Smith.I intend talking about my ongoing research on the animal-human relationship on the Home Front in the 1939 -45 war.  The organisers  have issued a call for papers via their conference website.

Traces of lives: verbal resistance

2013 August 22
bethnal green

extract from Bethnal Green rough examination book

I’ve been working on my keynote presentation for the forthcoming public history conference at the University of Central Lancashire in September. It’s an opportunity to discuss a number of examples of people making their own histories and the traces of material that exist in the present.

One of such traces will be a few lines I came across several years ago in the London Metropolitan Archives. These were from a nineteenth century rough examination book of the workhouse in Bethnal Green. Essentially people were asked a number of questions to ascertain their eligibility for poor relief. Then, as now, the authorities were anxious to ensure that a claimant had a connection to that particular area through residency – and the paying of rent of a certain level. They were often questioned about apprenticeships since these were legal undertakings that provided information on residency.  Although such records do not exist in all localities they can be invaluable for family historians.

Some might interpret the information almost as a potted autobiography. However, the person seeking support is never in control of the questions. He or she is merely required to respond to the questions asked and give (the right) answers. The questions are not stated as such but are implicit in the claimant’s response. While such a narrative might give glimpses of ordinary people’s lives it is not a narrative of their own making.

But the short narrative of Charlotte Moss, a single woman aged 60, is rather different. The examiner records her resistance, ‘Shant answer any more questions!’ before recording his own feelings on the matter ‘Great Impertinence!’

She probably didn’t get assistance but her resistance is surely a tonic to us all across the centuries.

Public history and social knowledge – and red light bulbs

2013 August 2

I have just sent off to Jim Gardner my draft for a chapter in the Oxford Handbook of Public History he is editing. The book will apparently contain newly commissioned pieces on: the changing public history landscape, public history practice and issues and challenges.

My chapter discusses public history as a social form of knowledge – exploring different examples and issues to those discussed in my previous publications. Amongst other things I discuss the ways in which people bring their own experiences and memories to a museum visit.

I was not the only child who was fascinated by a display in the old Museum of London, when it was housed in Kensington Gardens . There was a rather crude display of the Great Fire of London: essentially flickering red lights against a silhouette of black buildings. When the museum, now based in the City of London, was recently refurbishing its later galleries, staff were at pains to ensure that this particular display was retained, not because anyone thought it was conveying knowledge of the 1666 fire as such but because it signified to many Londoners their previous experience of a visit to the museum and appropriating understanding for themselves. Cathy Ross, Director of Collections and Learning, has recently explained that the model actually dates to c. 1915 and, before the latest digital revamp, confirms that, ‘it relied on a dark room, an audio commentary and some red light bulbs.’ As she has explained, ‘Evaluations have consistently shown that the Great Fire model is one of the things that people really remember, so we would be mad to take it out.’

To visitors this is a reminder of childhood visits: the  ‘information’ about the Great Fire has been re-fashioned over the years by visitors into a memory of their own experience. Whether this is experience of a museum visit as such, or of childhood, or of a past that is no more but of which only traces remain through the flickering of red light bulbs across the years is not possible to disentangle. However it is certainly an example of the way in which, even in conventional public history settings, people bring their own emotions to a visit.

October walk: Animal Pasts in Hyde Park

2013 July 29

Remains of wreathes on the Animals in War memorial in Park Lane, December 2012

From Lancaster Gate around parts of the park and its nearby environs ending near Marble Arch tube

Hyde Park is not just a site of human demonstrations and concerts. It is a space in which animals have also lived, died and been remembered and not only at the Animals in War memorial in Park Lane. This walk of c. two and a half hours will offer a different way of seeing this part of London.

Companion animals welcome.

 Saturday 12  October

2pm meet outside Lancaster Gate tube, Lancaster Gate, W2 3NA

I am organising this walk as a fund raiser for the Hillside Animal Sanctuary that offers a home for life to animals rescued from the farming industry. Hillside also campaigns for animals in need, especially those routinely abused in factory farming.

You must register in advance so I can advise you of any last minute changes etc – by emailing me through the website – hilda[at]hildakean[dot]com

Please bring a cheque made out to Hillside Animal Sanctuary – suggested minimum donation £8

September Walk: Animal Pasts in London today

2013 July 29
noli irrititare

Found in Holborn…

This is a walk from Smithfield to Russell Square

Alongside our human ancestors, animals have created the physical and cultural landscape of London as it exists today. In this walk of c. two and a half hours we will be looking at traces left by cattle, horses, dogs and cats – and their human companions. Skirting the city this walk will offer a different way of seeing London.

 Companion animals welcome!

 Saturday 14 September

2pm prompt meet outside Barbican tube, Aldersgate, EC1A 4JQ

I am organising this walk as a fund raiser for the Hillside Animal Sanctuary that offers a home for life to animals rescued from the farming industry. Hillside also campaigns for animals in need, especially those routinely abused in factory farming.

You must register in advance so I can advise you of any last minute changes etc – by emailing me through the website – hilda[at]hildakean[dot]com

Please bring a cheque made out to Hillside Animal Sanctuary – suggested minimum donation £8

New article published on historic ‘pet’ cemeteries

2013 July 26

My article ‘ Human and animal space in historic “pet” cemeteries in London, New York and Paris ‘ that I have discussed previously has just been published in the book Animal Death edited by Jay Johnson and Fiona Probyn-Rapsey. The collection contains 17 articles covering a wide range of different types of animals and places. It is published by the Sydney University Press at 30 Aus dollars.

To download a copy of my article for free go to this page.


Colin O’Brien’s latest book : Travellers’ Children in London Fields

2013 July 14

colin o brien's bookI recently attended the launch of Colin O’Brien’s new collection Travellers’ Children in London Fields. I have liked Colin’s work for many years and was delighted when he let us use one of his images for the cover of our Public History Reader published a few months ago.

The venue for his book launch was chosen deliberately. Nowadays the railway arches near London Fields station host fashionable cafes and bakers instead of the small workshops for workers in wood I knew when I used to deliver the Xmas post there decades ago.

This now fashionable area was once host to an unofficial site for travellers whom Colin got to know and photograph. Despite the best attempts of Hackney councillors in the 1980s to establish a centrally – based, well-equipped, permanent site this did not prove possible. Today the area has changed beyond recognition. Colin took us to the factory wall against which he photographed the children – one of the few traces of that particular 1980s past still existing in the now trendy, ‘edgy’ area. His comments on the location and the shoot are available on youtube.

The book is beautifully produced  by Spitalfield Life Books – and at a reasonable price. The black and white images are striking and evocative of a world that – in so many ways – no longer exists.

Cyril Howard and his / my mother’s and my blanket

2013 July 1

blanketIn the Public History Reader I returned to some of the ideas previously explored in London Stories about the range of materials for the writing of history. At the end of London Stories I listed some of the ephemera I had kept from earlier lives such as shoulder flashes from a Home Guard uniform or two late nineteenth century male fob watches.

During a recent attempt to de-clutter I came across a blanket not seen for ages. I had used it as a child – but so had others before. My mother (Winnie Mankelow of the name tag) had taken it to guide camp in the 1930s in Essex. I suspect that it wasn’t new then either since it also resembles blankets used in the 1914 – 18 war.

I don’t think I had noticed before another name tag – that of Cyril Howard – and speculate whether he too had used this nearly a century ago. In the midst of discussions at state level about how to commemorate the Great War details of individuals’ experiences can tend to get overlooked. Ephemera such as this blanket create potentially different histories of wartime lives.

If you can shed any light on Cyril Howard – or if you are a relative who would like the blanket do let me know.

Unofficial Histories Conference : Laurance Holman’s diaries

2013 June 19

There is a wide range of commemoration in Manchester…

Just back from another very successful unofficial histories conference efficiently organized by Rebecca Andrew, Fiona Cosson, Catherine Feely and Ian Gwinn with the support of the Centre for Regional and Local History at Manchester Metropolitan University and its director Melanie Tebbutt. There was a broad range of engaging and thought – provoking papers not least one by Adam Gutteridge who spoke about the possibilities for emancipatory public history. In particular he discussed approaches to public history that transformed people from, say, consumers of museum displays to creators of their own histories. He concluded that power resides in the making of histories. Apart from papers and presentations there were a number of differently themed walks around ‘radical ‘ Manchester.

I spoke about my engagement with the diaries of Laurance Holman I have previously discussed here alongside Alison Twells who is exploring different forms of history-writing that might be responsive to the diaries of her late great aunt.

I  discussed the role of the form of diaries in creating meaning. Fairly obviously dates are a key feature in diary writing. The genre, the form, is itself one that is frameworked by time: there are discrete spaces into which to put events of the day and, in some instances, a space for end of week comments.  There is an assumption that things do happen within the timescale of 24 hours sufficiently important to be recorded. The form of divided time also invites a comment on a routine such as, in the case of Laurance Holman, the time of going to bed or specific time spent on horse riding that would not necessarily be contained in an autobiography.

diary holman

One of Holman’s small wartime diaries in Camden Archives

Time was reflected in other ways in the form of the diaries themselves used by Holman. Due to paper rationing the wartime diaries were very small, Letts type diaries, with just a few lines of space for writing per day. Because of the smallness the entries are themselves summations and reflections that have clearly involved sifting and selection before the reader gets to see them. However, once the war ends the size of the dairies – usually ones containing Punch cartoons – changes. (Laurance Holman would have known many of the cartoonists through his advertising work and membership of the London Sketch Club.) There is a full page for every day (and no space for summary comments at the end of the week.) His writing changes because of the physical format of the diary from a summation of the entire day at the end of it to  contemporaneous accounts of activities.

Having taken a year to read the diaries from 1937 to 1950 I am now thinking about how to take forward this work in different pieces of writing. The comments of participants at the conference were useful in thinking this through. I will also continue my research into the life of Laurance Holman and his widow (and second wife) Wendy Munro Holman and welcome further information on them.

Another sort of animal cemetery

2013 June 9



Animal graves at HIllside Animal Sanctuary , Frettenham, near Norwich

I have just sent off the proofs for my forthcoming article on various animal cemeteries that will be published in the book Animal Death.

Perhaps one of the most interesting developments in commemorating animal death is the burial ground that exists at the (original) Hillside Animal Sanctuary just outside Norwich. The sanctuary does not only take in and look after thousands of abandoned ‘farm’ animals and horse and donkeys but also undertakes investigations into animal cruelty particularly in farming. As the Sanctuary states on its website ‘Although at Hillside we have given sanctuary to 750 horses, ponies and donkeys, most of our residents have been rescued from the farming industry’. (It routinely exposes atrocious conditions even in farms given RSPCA approval.) Animals are not killed but live out their days safely. They are then buried in a small graveyard in the centre of the sanctuary adjacent to the fields where cows graze. The graves are simple, but large, and adorned with wooden simple crosses.

What is striking about the Hillside example is that the type of animal usually killed in a slaughterhouse and whose corpse is eaten is taking on the status of a companion animal or human being very visibly in a cemetery form.

Graffiti on ‘Animals in War’ Memorial Park Lane

2013 May 27


choiceThe ‘Animals in War ‘ Memorial is not in a conventional site for war memorials.  Although near to Hyde Park – which includes Adrian Jones’ cavalry memorial  clearly depicting horses from the First World War and, of course, the memorial to those who died in the London bombings of July 2005 – it is not actually in the park.  It is on a traffic island in the middle of busy Park Lane at the junction of Upper Brook Street, leading to Grosvenor Square and the American embassy: it is more of a route for cars and buses than pedestrians. Nor is it the only memorial to animals in war in London: the frieze on the RSPCA clinic in Kilburn, as shown in the rotating images on this site, commemorated animals in war some 70 years earlier.

The memorial unveiled in November 2004 by the Princess Royal was an attempt to incorporate animals explicitly and positively within British history and heritage through depicting only animals in the memorial. No human figure is present. The memorial attracted wide support from various animal focussed organisations including the Battersea Dogs’ Home, RSPCA, PDSA, and the Blue Cross, and individuals such as novelist Jilly Cooper and Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles. Sculpted by David Backhouse in Portland stone with bronze animal figures, it cost £1.4 million.

The memorial attracted controversy even before the recent graffiti. Writing in the Guardian in October 2006 George Monbiot was scathing about the words on the memorial that include  ‘They had no choice’. He wrote , ‘Nor did the civilians killed in Iraq, the millions of women raped over the centuries by soldiers, or the colonial subjects who died of famine or disease in British concentration camps. You would scour this country in vain for a monument to any of them.’

While it is the case that memorials to the Iraqi or Afghanistani civilian dead in recent wars do not exist (in Britain) and that this omission should be rectified,  it does not follow that  because of the absence of such public memorials of human deaths, the deaths of animals should not be acknowledged. Others have suggested that by arguing  that animals had no choice the memorial overlooked humans conscripted in war – or dead civilians who also had no choice.

But if the memorial was only saying that animals had no choice and were merely victims of human exploitation  it would be difficult to understand why anyone would seek to eradicate these sentiments physically with red paint. However, the text on the memorial is contradictory: the words do not commemorate all animals killed in war but those who died for ‘human freedom’ in support of ‘British and allied forces’ across time. Animals are thus portrayed both as victims but also as almost conscious agents in support of particular governments’ policies of warfare. While condemning the recent graffiti (and that on the nearby Bomber Command memorial in Piccadilly) at least it would seem that whoever carried this out had read all the text on the memorial and understood its explicit and all encompassing support for the ‘British cause’.

Further details of my two recent articles analysing animals and war memorials can be found on these pages. Lest we Forget,the book in which one article appears, can currently be bought at a reduced rate.

Animal Death cover

2013 May 27

cover deathI have just received a copy of the image to be used for the cover of the forthcoming collection Animal Death edited by Fiona Probyn-Rapsey and Jay Johnston. The image is taken from a Sidney Nolan painting of 1953, Carcass. The book includes my chapter comparing the animal cemeteries in Hyde Park London, Asnieres in Paris, and Hartsdale outside New York.

The book is due to be launched on 8 July during the Australian Animals Study Group conference in Sydney.

History on Television

2013 May 9

cover history on television

I have just sent off a positive review of a new book, History on Television, by Ann Gray and Erin Bell to the Public Historian. The book discusses, analyses and categorises a range of history programmes on mainly British television channels. The most interesting part of the book is the range of behind – the – scenes interviews with programme schedulers revealing their control over what audiences are permitted to see. As one commissioner explains  ‘our classic history channel viewers today we call Roy who is 55 years old, we pretty much know what Roy likes, he likes military history… they don’t call us the Hitler channel for nothing…’

It is both personally re-assuring but also deeply depressing that as Gray and Bell argue, ‘clever and intellectual women pose a “threat” to the “natural” order of femininity and masculinity and especially in the very public arena of television’. Their argument is strengthened through extensive interviews with historians. As one female historian explained, ‘David Attenborough was given to me as an example on which I should model myself, and I think they were always terribly worried that I would appear too academic; and they were very anxious that I should appear extremely enthusiastic. Which is fine because I’m quite good at seeming enthusiastic because I am feeling enthusiastic. But I think they wanted a kind of naïve enthusiasm… On the one hand they seemed to want someone who was an expert to present it, but they wanted you to present yourself as a non-expert.’

This book should have a wide readership on public history, heritage and historiography courses. It would also be good reading for certain programmers as a way of challenging their conservative approaches to what and who ‘the public’ should be allowed to see on their television screens…

Third course: thinking and writing family histories imaginatively

2013 May 5
tom's sampler

Material for writing family history
A sampler by an ancestor of Tom Marshall

This is the third of three courses I am teaching during the summer school at the City Lit in Covent Garden this July and August. I have taught similar family history courses before at the London Metropolitan Archives,  Bishopsgate Institute and Ruskin College but this week-long course means that there will be more time for trying out different ways of writing.

This  course will focus on new ways of thinking about – and using – material. We will be exploring in imaginative ways conventional material such as maps, certificates and census returns. However, we will also be analysing the role of photos, objects, memories and family stories. We will analyse the approach of different writers as a way of thinking about what is possible – and what will work for you. The focus is on using your own material and sharing ideas.

The full cost is £134 but there are concessions including a senior fee of £76. I cannot take bookings – though am happy to answer queries about the content. Please click here on City Lit to enrol.


Second new course: A history of animals in Britain c. 1900-2000

2013 May 5
whitbread former stables

The former Whitbread stables at the Barbican, 2012

This is the second of  three courses I am teaching during the summer school at the City Lit in Covent Garden this July and August. This second  course on animals , that runs on the weekend of 17 and 18 August, is about how we think about animals in twentieth-century Britain: too often animals have been written out of conventional history. The course aims to think about the role they have played in recent British society.

This interactive class will include a number of topics such as :

Why were campaigns against vivisection so important in the first years of the twentieth century?
How did the Second World War change attitudes towards animals on the Home Front?
Why are there public statues of animals? Are they about animals or humans or both?

The full cost is £54 but there are concessions including a senior fee of £30. I cannot take bookings – though am happy to answer queries about the content. Please click here on City Lit to enrol.


New course: A history of animals in Britain c.1800 -1900

2013 May 5

Sir Walter Scott and Maida, Scott Memorial, Princes Street, Edinburgh, 2012
One of the many versions of the C19th sculpture by John Steell

I am teaching three courses during the summer school at the City Lit in Covent Garden this July and August. The first on the weekend of 27 and 28 July is about how we think about animals in nineteenth century Britain. Although animals have played an important part in the development of modern society their role is often ignored and simply incorporated into existing historical frameworks.

This interactive class will include a number of topics such as :

How did looking at animals influence the way that humans treated them?

Greyfriars Bobby – why was he very much a dog of the nineteenth century?

Can we see traces of the impact of former animals in the landscape today?

It will also explore whether we can have histories of animals – or are they inevitably just about people and people’s perceptions.

The full cost is £54 but there are concessions including a senior fee of £30. I cannot take bookings – though am happy to answer queries about the content. Please click here on City Lit to enrol.


Zoos and the changing animal-human relationship: BBC 4 film

2013 April 27
tags: ,
regents park elehant

Walking an elephant through Regent’s Park, November 1983

This week I was filmed for a forthcoming BBC 4 film discussing the way in which zoos have changed over the last couple of centuries and what this tells us about the animal-human relationship.

As I discussed in Animal Rights the zoological gardens in London’s Regent’s Park were established to perform a moral and educative role. Placed in a fixed place rather than in the wild or in a travelling display animals could be observed at leisure. Gazing was the only human activity required: animals routinely hunted for sport or used as food now became unobtainable by their very siting, capable of being observed but not attacked by humans.

John Berger argued that public zoos came into existence at a period in which animals started to disappear from everyday life. This is not the case, for animals continued to play significant roles in the domestic life of city dwellers both as objects of affection and as the mainstay of the transportation system. (They were also seen in their thousands being driven through city streets on their way to markets and to slaughter.) What changed was that certain animals outside those in individual human ownership became objects of the gaze.

The filming took place in the hothouse gardens of the Avery Hill site of the University of Greenwich, a pleasant, if slightly odd ,location since it houses no animals (other than temporarily the human ones filming on location). The film is due to be shown some time in the summer.

penguin pool

1930’s Modernist ramps for penguins in London zoo,designed by Lubetkin and Drake,taken January 1982

The joys and tribulations of the researcher: London Sketch Club and the British Library

2013 April 14


frieze LSC

Frieze depicting friends and colleagues of Laurance Holman, London Sketch Club
April 2013

As part of my research arising from the diaries of advertising agency manager Laurance Holman I have recently visited the interesting archive of the London Sketch Club, of which Laurance was a member for over 20 years. Meeting weekly to undertake life drawing or to complete a sketch on a given theme this was a lively haunt for a range of artists including Punch and newspaper cartoonists and those undertaking government propaganda during both World Wars. By correlating information from his diaries with records such as the visitors’ book it is possible to explore different ways of researching lives in which personal material becomes an impetus for wider social contexts.Such research activity is invariably pleasurable.

Visiting the British Library is a less happy experience. Even before Easter readers were being advised not to attend – due to overcrowding by students  cramming for their finals. An official leaflet advised ‘ You may find that alternative local libraries have more space available’ apparently oblivious to recent closures and lack of books in council libraries. Many readers use the British Library for its earlier purpose – reading books unavailable elsewhere,  a location of ‘last resort’ – rather than as a place to hang out and send text messages. Yet no longer can it even be relied upon for such book provision. Despite the statement of the former chief executive when I last complained on the matter that ‘The only UK imprints that are lent through the Library’s document supply service are items purchased for loan’ too often books are not available as they are on loan to other libraries – and the British Library has bought only one copy, precisely for loan purposes .Given the absurd prices of hardback academic books it is not feasible for individuals to buy them – but the British Library can no longer be relied upon to stock every book printed in Britain. The new chief executive Roly Keating recently stated in the Guardian that in the BL ‘you can palpably feel the creativity rising up out of the reading rooms and the café’. I suppose that it one way of describing a social place for sending texts, listening to personal music through headphones in the rare books room or hanging out in the coffee bar doing facebook. But for those of us keen on reading, research and note-taking it can be a source of irritation and frustration.


Stairway to Heaven memorial, Anderson shelters – and animals

2013 April 8
flowers stairway

Flowers and wreathes at Stairway to Heaven memorial gathering March 2013

The recent 70th anniversary  of the Bethnal Green tube disaster drew attention to the lack of adequate communal shelter provision during the Second World War. The ‘Stairway to Heaven’ memorial once finished will commemorate those who lost their lives.

But despite the popular image of wartime Londoners as a mass of humanity sheltering in the tube, only 4% of London’s population did this and less than half ever used communal shelters. Many used Anderson shelters in their back gardens. I recently had the opportunity to visit an Anderson shelter still standing in a south London garden replete with some of the original bunks. Obviously far less grand than the Bethnal Green memorial it is a different reminder of that time. While such shelters were commonplace they are now rare and, as such, become interesting heritage items.

Anderson shelter

Anderson shelter in south London, March 2013

I have become interested in their use because of stories I have come across of people sheltering in them with their companion animals. People were officially not permitted to take dogs into communal shelters probably because of concerns about hygiene, although as the Animals’ Defender, the journal of the National Anti-Vivisection Society, reported in October 1940, ‘Dogs are still not officially admitted to public shelters, though a humane-minded marshal will employ his blind eye’. People often stayed with their animals rather than abandoning them during a raid. Jack, a terrier living near Swansea in South Wales, could hear the planes before the sirens went off, alerting the whole family, who then hid under the stairs. Realizing the small space the dog manoeuvred himself in backwards and last, thus ensuring he would be first out. Jack was never wrong in his predictions of raids. Even in the Dorchester hotel, the Turkish bath acted as an underground shelter for wealthy humans and their canine companions.

One man explained to the Mass Observation researchers his relationship with his dog: ‘I’ve had this old fellow six years, I wouldn’t think of life without him … I don’t like shelters because of my asthma so I never go to one, so he’s not alone ever’. The man was not alone: nor, of course, was the dog.

Cats also joined their humans in these shelters. Mr Murphy (a cat) and Sol (a dog)  would often beat Mass Observation diarist, Nella Last, to her shelter. Cats’ acute hearing and reaction to danger from above by running meant that in saving themselves they were also alerting humans. Their adaptation to the effects of war  benefitted themselves – and humans.

I am exploring such accounts further in an article I am writing for a book entitled The Home Front in Britain: Images, Myths and Forgotten Experiences edited by Maggie Andrews and Janis Lomas.

names bethnal green

Names of the dead on the yet to be finished Stairway to Heaven memorial, Bethnal Green, March 2013

Paul Martin: Public History is Kids’ Stuff!

2013 March 23
story Island

Still promoting  ‘Our Island Story’ – first published in 1905

Guest contribution from Paul Martin  joint editor of the Public History Reader:

‘Thanks to everyone who attended the Public History Reader book launch on 9th March. I am sorry that health reasons kept me from attending, but thanks to Hilda for some space on her website  I can at least summarise what I would have said.

I wanted to position the Reader in relation to the recent proposals for change in the school history curriculum by Michael Gove, see for example David Priestland’s piece in The Guardian and that of Richard Evans in the Financial Times.

Education secretary Gove, with input from the usual academic suspects  (see, for example, this BBC news item ) has decided that critical thinking and an empathetic approach to the past should be replaced by a Dickensian focus on ‘facts’. ‘National heroes’ and a patriotic vision of the past will be the order of the day and so merrily back to the 1950s and rote learning we shall be expected to trot.

Not to overstate the case, but the Public History Reader in this context I believe becomes something of a weapon of resistance. Alan Rice’s extract on slave memorials in Lancaster for instance, is a testament to what happens when the inconveniences of the imperial past are ignored and later return for justice and acknowledgement. Raphael Samuel’s premise, permeating the Reader, namely  that ‘if history was thought of as an activity rather than a profession, then the number of its practitioners would be legion.’ (p.11)  can also be adapted for schools. For if history was  understood to be a lived experience and hence ‘within’ every one of us, then school children as well as adults would perceive of it as something over which they had some ownership and definition of meaning.  We would see ourselves as descended from such experience, rather than – as Gove and company would have our children believe – seeing history as an anonymously authored body of pre-ordained and transmitted uncontestable facts.

Of course, Gove is hardly unique amongst Tory regressives in this respect. John Major suggested that  May Day might be replaced with ‘Trafalgar Day’ and that a National Museum of British History should be supported to tell the kind of historical narrative that Gove is now re-presenting. Neither thankfully came to pass. To what extent Gove’s proposals are a pro-active attempt to toughen up a national focus in the history curriculum for the Tories in the wake of UKIP’s success at the Eastleigh by-election is also worth bearing in mind.

The dead end that such anti-thinking runs into is grimly demonstrated by the authors of the Reader extract on Guatamala (pp.129-146) where a ‘victors’ history’ is all that is permitted. Rather like the events of WWII as transmitted to Japanese school children, which positioned Japan as the victim nation rather than the aggressor in school text books, a generation of our children would be turned off of history through distrust of the ‘facts’ (and what they avoided discussing) or through sheer indifference.

The Public History Reader then, has much to offer as a counter-offensive to Gove’s simplistic rhetoric. Though over two decades old and adult centered, the basic model used by Rosenzweig & Thelen (pp.30-55) might be easily adapted in schools for eliciting what the past means for school children or ways in which they might consider the past in the present.  Sherry Turkle (pp.157-172) and Dean and Williams (pp.224-232) both present ways in which adults relate material and visual culture to historical meaning through contemporary practice, which can easily be transcribed for a school based project or line of critical understanding of the past on the present.

Essentially, I propose the Public History Reader is a manual for a variety of practical and critical reposts to Gove and co’s top-end down transmission model of a selective and largely uncritical imperial past for schools. Although Mary Seacole has been included, it is seemingly one of the few concessions, or perhaps a sop, to an otherwise entirely Whigish idea of Britain’s past.  Over a hundred years of  history teaching in institutions such as Ruskin College, The National Council of Labour Colleges, Coleg Harlech , Northern College, the Workers Educational Association and elsewhere has enlightened  adult learners of the sanitised version of history they received as a given as school children and empowered them accordingly. We do not want the current generation of school children to have to learn the same hard way later on as well.

It seems to me more important than ever that a ‘talking head’ version of history (singular), should wither away as inclusive histories (plural) become how we understand our relationship with the past and why and how it continues to inform and populate the present. That agendas almost always underlie how and which ‘bits’ of the past are resurrected and reshaped, and indeed written as history thus rendering the past malleable rather than solid, is crucial for all our understanding of what the past is. This fluidity, inclusiveness and rich diversity of the past is the essence of how the ossified version of Gove’s ‘British History’ can be swept away. Public history in general as Samuel’s model of historical practice asserts, gives us all, at any age, a sense of ownership, belonging and a stake in the past and the Public History Reader, I believe, emulates this.’

Paul Martin

Laurance Holman’s diaries and his horse Mariana

2013 March 16
bedford Square

11 Bedford Square – confusingly in Montague Place – where Laurance Holman lived and worked

I have just heard that my proposal for a paper on the diaries of Laurance Holman has been accepted for the Unofficial Histories conference being held in Manchester in June.

Originally from Stockton on Tees, via Blackpool, Laurance, an advertising businessman, artist and one time vice – president of the London Sketch Club, lived and worked in London for many years before his death in 1950. His flat and business was in Bedford Square, at the back of the British Museum.His unpublished diaries, particularly for the war period, are fascinating. They include daily entries specifying meals, prices, leisure activities,overdraft and business contracts. However, my main interest has been in the accounts of his daily rides with his horse Mariana through Hyde and Regent’s Park or through the streets of central London to view bomb damage. As he notes on Thursday 19 September 1940: ‘Last night was the worst “Blitz” so far: went 11 to 1 for a ride around the damage: saw John Lewis, D.H.Evans, Selfridges but not Peter Robinsons: last night my “M.G” was within 100 yds of a house demolished in Woburn Sq and “Mariana” was about the same distance from a crater made in Wimpole Street’.

His relationship with the horses he rides, Mariana and then Trump, changes over the years. My attitude too, towards Holman, has developed since my first reading of the diaries, as I will also explore in the conference paper.


Whose history is it anyway ? Public history in perspective conference 5 – 6 September 2013

2013 March 11

According to its website,’This conference will explore issues of public engagement in history, the role of professionals in mediating knowledge of history, the role of institutions in interpreting and communicating knowledge and perspectives, and the role that society and the public have in preserving, mediating, creating and communicating their own histories. It is also concerned to explore issues of policy and funding for history research, education, conservation and dissemination.’

Speakers include Tristram Hunt and me. Amongst other things I will be talking about the way in which recent campaigns to save archives highlight different ideas of the past and who decides what is history.


Book launch Public History Reader

2013 March 9

Book launch at the Bishopsgate Institute 9 March 2013

I am just back from the very successful launch of the Public History Reader (edited with Paul Martin). It was great to see so many people including several who had given permission for extracts from their own work to be used in the book,namely, novelist Lawrence Scott and his work with the sugar cane workers in Golconda in Trinidad, historian Jorma Kalela and his writing about his projects with the paper workers’ union in Finland and artist Rhiannon Williams whose paper patchwork made from cut up volumes of Proust took longer to create than his written words !It was particularly good to welcome photographer of people and London, Colin O’Brien, whose image of Italian boys in Clerkenwell graces the cover.

There was lively discussion and exchange of ideas around history as a social construction of knowledge and the processes by which the past becomes history.

Unfortunately illness prevented Paul Martin from attending but he will be writing up the remarks he would have made for a future page of this website.

You can buy the Reader by going to the Routledge website . It has also been ordered by the London Review Bookshop

Summer children, educational failure and the 11+ (again)

2013 March 8

It was in the press today that ‘new’ research from the Institute of Education had ‘discovered’ that summer born primary school children are placed in lower streams that is  ‘detrimental for social mobility’. This is hardly news. As Brenda Kirsch and I discussed in our article ‘A nation’s moment and a teacher’s mark book’ the achievement of summer children – such as ourselves – was a factor in the campaign against the 11+ over 40 years ago.

The  11+ was a key moment in the lives of the nation’s children – and their parents and teachers. In the 1950s and 60s, places in free grammar schools, as created by the 1944 Education Act, were an object of desire for middle and working class parents alike. Their children competed for a restricted supply of places, which, like the examination itself, were regionally determined, therefore, ‘The likelihood of a working class boy receiving a selective education in the middle fifties & sixties was very little different from that of his parents’ generation thirty years earlier’. From the early 1950s the testing system for admission into grammar schools – the 11+ – had been criticised as inefficient and unfair, since it implied both fixed notions of intelligence & that testing accurately measured this.

The specific mark book from our former primary school teacher we have acquired contains children’s marks for regular tests taken both before and after the important exam taken in the Spring. It includes the marks for weekly tests in ‘mental’, ‘free expression’, ‘mechanical’, ‘verbal reasoning’, ‘spelling’,‘arithmetic tests’ – and so called ‘problems’. (An example of a ‘problem’ is: ‘A lady gets four pints of milk every weekday & five pints on a Sunday. How much milk (in gallons, etc) does she get in the month of March if the first of March is a Saturday?’).

At the start of the year the teacher had noted the children’s reading ages, though significantly not their chronological ages & near the end of the year the schools to which they were accepted (implicitly indicating whether the children had passed the 11+ – or not). Of the 38 registered in Hackney  school at the start of the year 21 obtained a grammar school place.

 Both in the form of knowledge required to pass the exam and in the format of the recording of this acquisition the mark book is of a particular moment. Girls’ names are listed separately from boys; no attention is paid to a child’s age or particular learning problems. We had both remembered that we were at the bottom of the class; indeed this was reinforced physically, with children being obliged to move seats or rows into different fixed desks as a result of the regular tests. We were inevitably placed in the bottom row and near where the teacher might see us; we weren’t, we knew, the favoured ones. We were also absent from the privileged position of class prefect, dinner, stock, library or stairs monitors. Neither of us even acquired the status of ‘reserve dinner monitor’ which the mark book records(!).  We did not win academic prizes, though it seems Brenda won recognition for her ‘character’; and probably the failure to see the blackboard, through our short-sightedness, helped account for our low marks in arithmetic and ‘mechanical’: ‘free expression’ at which we did well did not require the ability to read distances.

Being born in August and July we were nearly a year younger than the vast majority of the class. Our reading ages – presumably at the September of that final year of primary school when we were just over 10 years old – were recorded as 12 years and 3 or 4 months respectively; only 11 children out of the 38 had lower reading ages.  Our comparative ‘youthfulness’ compared to our peer groups was a part of our identity that we have often chosen to note. But our poor showing as summer born children was not simply a personal failure.

The difficulties of so-called ‘summer children’ was raised by those campaigning against the 11+ and streaming in the primary school. The selection exam was becoming highly competitive and simultaneously its unreliability was becoming increasingly apparent. An effect had been the streamlining of junior and even infants schools with the top stream being pressed forward with the examination in view. One of the results of constant grading and classification of children was the impact on those born from May to August who were, as a national survey conducted by Brian Jackson concluded in 1965, be more likely to be in the C stream. Autumn born children may have had up to 50% more schooling than the Summer children at the time when it came to grade them in preparation for streamed classes as A,B, or C.

Despite – or because of – our schooling, we did in fact both pass the 11+ and proceeded to grammar and higher education. However, as an educator of adult students for many years I am all too conscious of those who did not. The research published in 1965 helped in the campaign to finally abolish the 11+. If the current research can bring out change in the forms of assessment for children, including those born in the Summer, then it is to be welcomed.

Replacing the Salter (and cat) statue in Bermondsey

2013 February 26
wanted poster

Campaigning posters Christmas Day, 2011

We were probably not the only people walking along Cherry Garden Pier on Christmas Day 2011 to see with horror the posters appealing for the return of the statue of Dr Alfred Salter, the ILP MP for Bermondsey in the 1920s, that had been stolen, probably for scrap metal.

The statue of his daughter Joyce and the family cat had also been removed for safe-keeping by Southwark council.

 I had been interested in the work for various reasons. As I discussed in an article in the London Journal, the sculpture by Diane Gorvin had been there since 2003 having been commissioned by the LDDC in 1990-1. The sculpture depicted Salter in old age remembering his long dead daughter Joyce who had attended the local school and had caught scarlet fever on three occasions, the last fatally.

Although I had read about the Salters in several works I had not come across any discussion of the cat. While the child looked of another age, because of her dress, the cat acted as an image ‘across time’, bringing the past into the present. The viewer was surely intended to relate positively to the set of representations partly because we believed we could read the cat. Also the inclusion of the cat in this triad of linked sculptures detracted from modern fears of older men looking at children…

salter overview

Former sculpture with 3 statues: Alfred, Joyce and cat in Bermondsey alongside the river Thames 

Despite the rather romantic book by Fenner Brockway, Bermondsey Story : the life of  Alfred Salter , describing him ‘ beautifying’ Bermondsey I am not sure the extent to which the Salters were widely remembered before being employed by Peter Tatchell in his unsuccessful  local campaign to be Labour MP in the early 1980s. Tatchell’s not unreasonable suggestion that his form of radical community politics echoed those of Salter some decades before fell on deaf ears both locally within the electorate – and nationally within the Labour Party.

I am very pleased to know that there is a campaign by some concerned Bermondsey residents to replace the statues – and that artist Diane Gorvin is also designing a statue of Ada to be included in the new ‘ensemble’. The campaign is currently appealing for funds. I hope that it will be successful.

‘Pet’ cemetery in Asnieres,Paris: human-animal space

2013 February 23

Anonymous human and faithful Douchka, Asnieres

I have just finished revising the article I have been working on discussing human-animal space in various ‘pet’ cemeteries including Hyde Park in London, Hartsdale outside New York and the Cimitiere des Chiens in Asnieres-sur-Seine in Paris. This is for a book on Animal Death  edited by Fiona  Probyn-Rapsey and Jay Johnston to be published by the University of Sydney Press later this year.

The Cimitiere des Chiens still functions in Asnieres-sur-Seine, just outside the city of Paris on the left bank side of the Seine beyond the Clichy bridge. When it was founded in 1899 by Georges Harmois and Marguerite Durand the cemetery was on land occupied by rag and bone men (‘chiffonniers’). Outside the city this  was a place set apart from the everyday where humans could mourn animals. In recent decades the cemetery has expanded onto adjacent land. It also is a place for living animals. Feral cats are regularly fed within the cemetery by named people who are regulated by the A.D.C.C. (Association de Defense du Cimitiere de Chiens et Autres Animaux).

Animal cemeteries are places of overlapping, if not competing, geographies in which human and animal are blurred in various ways. Certainly in some sense one can define such animal cemeteries as animal places, since they contain the corpses or cremated remains of animals. But these corporeal remains are never seen. All that is visible are human words and iconography and sometimes a photo of the animal when alive or an engraved representation in stone.

To an interested visitor – rather than a former companion – the physicality of the animal is, in some ways, less important that the way in which the animal is described, usually by an individual or couple of humans. Human emotions towards a dead animal are dominant but as many of the inscriptions suggest, such sentiment is reflective of a relationship crossing species boundaries.There are narratives that  describe an individual’s behaviour or characteristics, or even, in a few instances, the prizes won by pedigree cats or dogs such as ‘Ici Reposent les Premiers Komondors de Bergers Hongrois Celebres Champions Nationaux Internationaux et Mondiale’.

Across time the dominant sentiments are of the value the human has derived from the relationship such as Bebe ‘ Toi, notre chien, plus humain qu’ un humain…’. In many instances the animal death provides the human with an opportunity to talk about their own condition that has been ameliorated by the now dead animal. Thus the early gravestone to Douchka ‘compagne fidele dans mes jours de triste et de solitude 1894 – 1907’ and ‘A notre petit Marquis si fidele mort le 24 Juillet 1923 a l’age de 9 ans notre seul ami’. This continues in the recent past for example in the epitaph to a small black dog: ‘Sophie mon bebe nous avons eu 17 ans d’amour toi et tes petites soeurs vous avez remplace l’enfant que je n’ai pas eu. J t’aime a jamais. Ta petite Mere’.

Strikingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, there is the  constant feature of  positive and emotional engagement. While fashions in memorial stones or the language of loss may shift, an underpinning sentiment does cross time.  The human expressing emotion  often addresses  the dead but deemed receptive animal. Morris, Knight and Lesley have noted, ‘That pet owners believe more in animal emotion is likely due to the extent to which they have engaged socially with their own animals’. This understanding continues after the animal’s death.

Clearly such epitaphs illustrate human emotion towards the dead animal; but they do more than that. The cemetery itself has certain conventions: not least that those visiting will be sympathetic to the idea of remembering animal companions. It is a space that provides a safe location for humans to convey their positive emotion towards this particular animal-human relationship. Such emotion may more generally be subject to ridicule or derision. Companion animals – other than pedigrees who have genealogical breed charts that record the names of their parents and grandparents etc. – routinely have only one given name. The assumption is that they are looked after within a particular family and that if a surname is needed at all it will be that of the humans.  Although the names of pet animals are always stated, the names of the humans are not. Indeed it is quite unusual to have a full name. Thus human sentiments can be expressed anonymously in a quasi-public place. The sentiments expressed can be quite revealing about the condition of the human. As in the examples suggested above, it can include declaring oneself to be friendless apart from animal companionship. The ‘animal space’ in fact permits the most personal of human statements of their own condition and past emotional state.

Adrian Franklin has argued that in recognising the needs of others and possibilities of mutuality the ‘animal-human relation is not one characterized simply by strong sentiments, but also unconsciously challenging and dissolving the human-animal boundary itself.’ While such dissolving may be found in the emotional engagement expressed in animal cemeteries in some way there are also sharp divisions: the human is still living and thus able to express emotion or hopes for the future, while the dead animal, obviously, is not. However, the sight of feral cats wandering through Asnieres and being fed amongst the graves also reinforces the cemetery as a place of safety for animals.

tabby washing

One of the feral cats who live in Asnieres

Images of different pasts in Belfast 2013

2013 February 21

 I was recently a guest speaker of the Friends of the Somme (mid Ulster branch), talking about different ways in which animals have been remembered in war. I subsequently spent some time looking at murals and memorials of different communities in  Belfast. As these images indicate, the past is ever present in the everyday landscape in particular striking ways.


Milltown cemetery,Falls Road


h block

Milltown memorial



Bobby Sands mural, Falls Road

workers party

Workers Party memorial near Falls Road

paddy power
A ubiquitous Paddy Power but with a distinctive plaque (off the Falls Road)


The following two murals are from the Shankill Road:




Lutyens’ Thiepval memorial on the Somme



These three images below are from Sandy Row showing a new mural and explanation of its creation:

mural old

Removed mural

king billy

New mural of King Billy

Sandy Row explanation




Part of the campaign to keep particular aspects of the past:




Regular Saturday demonstration to keep the union flag flying over City Hall



Sentiments that seem to cross a Nationalist / Loyalist divide:


Mural in the Smithfield area of central Belfast


Unofficial Histories Conference June 15 – 16 2013

2013 February 11

After a successful first conference in London last year, the second conference is being organised in Manchester this June. According to the conference website, ‘It aims  to bring together those who wish to consider historical engagements and understandings that take place within, on the edges of, or outside “official” sites that produce and transmit historical knowledge and ideas’.

The Saturday has a range of workshop speakers  including me on my research on the dairies of Laurance Holman. Sunday includes a range of historical walks around Manchester.

Starts 9 on Saturday and finishes 3.30 on Sunday. To register for the weekend at the very reasonable price of £20 go here.




Shrapnel, bat guano and public history

2013 February 1

Shrapnel found in Hackney back garden

Now that Paul Martin and I have just finished revising (for the fourth time) the proofs of our forthcoming Public History Reader I have had some time to at least think about pressing domestic matters such as tidying up the garden. I had known for a while that the unusual L shaped garden effectively appropriating the top part of next door’s space was due to the impact of a Second World War bomb destroying the nineteenth century walls. My father’s own stories of serving in the local Home Guard and fire watching from the roof of the LEB , now the Strand building, nearby were one type of war narrative, as I described in London Stories. However the material culture evident in our own house and garden: the re-pointing at the back of the house and now the finding of shrapnel from some 70 years ago revisited in sharp ways the way the past lives with us in the present.

Part of the Public History Reader explores the possibilities for material for the writing of history that is not confined to ‘book learning’. One example we discuss is that of Dwight Pitcaithley who has described the way in which he became a public historian in the United States National Parks Service. One of his first assignments was analysing the remains of machines for processing bat guano in a cave with a 180-foot vertical drop into which he was obliged to drop. This unusual location for historical materials forced him to ‘recognise that historians could find research material almost anywhere’.

Of course material can be found in archival records – if they have not been chucked away – but the everyday landscape can also provide another sort of starting point for engaging with the past in the present.

‘Physical Resistance’ and Public History

2013 January 26

cover hannYesterday I went to the launch at Brighton University of a new book by the late Dave Hann, Physical resistance. A hundred years of anti-fascism. The well-attended event reflected in form the narrative of the book with people reading accounts of their own anti -fascist campaigning. This included stories of parents’ activism in the Spanish Civil War or against Mosley in London after the war. Others told their own narratives from the 1970s or later. As I discuss in the forthcoming Public History Reader, Physical Resistance is a book written from inside a political movement by an activist. Although based on extensive reading the bulk of the book is centred on oral interviews of anti-fascist campaigners who were willing to talk to the activist author.

This form in which extensive interviews shape the narrative – as much as the account by the author – can be read as an excellent example of history writing that ‘shares authority.’ Too often this idea of sharing authority simply means an interviewee checking a transcript of an interview for accuracy. However, in this work there is a collective thread running through the book. It also goes against conventional academic history by looking at anti-fascism over 100 years rather than as discrete moments. By so doing threads of activism – and people’s lives – cross the decades showing continuity of opposition and also, of course, a fascist presence that has not gone away.

In Physical Resistance a reader is offered a history that values experience creating a particular form of historical knowledge, described by historian Raphael Samuel as unofficial knowledge. He argued that ‘history is not the prerogative of the historian… It is, rather, a social form of knowledge; the work in a given instance, of a thousand different hands…’

Writing in the introduction Dave’s partner, Louise Purbrick, explains ‘ He was a self-taught historian. If I was a romantic, I would be tempted to call Dave Hann one of the last of the autodidacts.’ Whether this definition is romantic or not, this is a well-written engaging book enhanced by a moving and reflective introduction.  Louise writes, ‘ When Dave Hann died on 29 September 2009, he left £30 in the bank and a manuscript of over 100,000 words… Dave’s manuscript was, and is, a far more substantial inheritance than any amount of money, large or small.’ I am sure that many future readers will agree.

louise purbrick

Dr Louise Purbrick of the University of Brighton at the launch

Routledge history authors of the month

2013 January 25

Routledge, the publishers of our forthcoming book (edited with Paul Martin), The Public History Reader, has featured us as authors of the month – even though the launch is not until March.

Part of the book analyses materials for the writing of history both inside and outside archives. The campaign against the destruction of archival material at Ruskin College Oxford, where Paul and I successfully ran the first MA in Public History in Britain for many years, has highlighted the value of such records.

As we discuss in the book, archives themselves are socially constructed. Dorothy Sheridan, the former archivist of the Mass Observation Archive in Sussex has argued that any archive involves a ‘complex triangular relationship between three agents’: those who provide the resources for the archive to exist, those whose stories are held within the archive and those who use it. Each agent, she continues, has a political and social influence and a differing level of both cultural and economic power. Not everything is collected: archivists (whoever they might be) choose what to collect and what to ignore. Certainly some have seen possibilities for ‘radical public history’ in the creation of community archives as ‘a space in which the archive can become a significant tool for discovery, education and empowerment’.

We wrote the section discussing the value of archives before there was any hint of the shredding of historic student records at Ruskin (or the closure of the Women’s Library in Aldgate). I suppose that this makes such discussion topical and draws attention to the remaining Ruskin student material (the fate of which is still to be decided).  Of course, saving the records would be preferable to writing about their destruction. Not for the first time  am I reminded of the campaigning slogan (drawn from Shelley) of the suffrage feminist WSPU: Deeds not Words…

New paperback edition of People and their Pasts out now

2013 January 15
primary school Hackney

The authors – and others – of one of the essays in another time…

The paperback edition of People and their Pasts with a new title of Public History and Heritage Today. People and their Pasts is now out. It includes a new introduction.

Find out more details of the paperback by clicking on this link.

Find our more about the article I wrote for the book with Brenda Kirsch on the ‘moment’ of the 11+ and our reflections on some of  the material culture of our primary school by clicking on this link.


New article published on a wartime advert for dog vitamins

2012 December 22
great dane chruchill

Churchill meeting a Great Dane, Tailwagger, October 1940

My article ‘Nervous dogs need admin, son!’ has just been published in Antennae 23,winter edition pp. 61-3. As previously discussed, it is about an advert in The Tail-Wagger.

Click here to go to the page that gives information on the new  article.

Hyde Park ‘pet’ cemetery

2012 December 13
hyde park

Glimpses through the winter bushes of the headstones in Hyde Park ‘pet’ cemetery

I have recently been working on an article for a book arising from the conference organised in Sydney earlier this year on animal death. The article compares three ‘pet’ cemeteries: Hyde Park in London, Hartsdale outside New York, and the Cimitiere des Chiens in Asnieres – sur –Seine in Paris. Dating back to the late nineteenth century, these are the oldest ones in their respective countries.

The Hyde Park Dog Cemetery as it was originally called (it also admitted the corpses of three small monkeys, and two cats) was established in 1880 in the part of the huge park that lies adjacent to Kensington Gardens (and opposite Lancaster Gate). Although accounts vary as to the origins of the cemetery – either initiated by the Duke of Connaught or through a favour of the gatekeeper to friends who lived nearby – it is evident that the cemetery was not run for profit but as a philanthropic gesture towards grieving animal owners. The acreage was small being situated within the garden of Mr Winbridge the gatekeeper at the Victoria Lodge. Within a few years there was no further space and by 1902, when it contained some three hundred graves , the cemetery was permanently closed. Public cemeteries for animals reflected the form of the commemoration found in contemporary human cemeteries. Thus funerals were conducted, that included attendance by former canine friends. Headstones were laid out in little rows and carried epitaphs, for example, as quoted on the headstone of ‘Betty’:

And when at length my own life’s work is o’er,

I hope to find her waiting as of yore,

Eager, expectant, glad to meet me at the door’.

One of my favourites is the headstone remembering Balu and Fritz and the tantalising traces of a tragic narrative.

Hyde Park balu

Remembering Balu and Fritz – and the ‘cruel Swiss’

The cemetery is rarely open to the public but if you walk along Bayswater Road in the winter months as I did last week, in preparation for another animal themed guided walk, you can glimpse some of the graves through the bare trees.

Horse memorial in Hampstead Garden Suburb

2012 December 5


purple cross

Purple cross horse memorial Melbourne

As readers of this website know I seek out memorials to animals. Those to horses of the First World War are widespread. They include the Melbourne memorial near the Shrine of Remembrance erected by the Purple Cross, a small charity less well known than the Blue Cross and RSPCA which also ministered to horses’ welfare at the time.


plaque st judes

Memorial plaque St Jude’s

I recently re-visited St Jude-on-the-Hill in Hampstead Garden Suburb that hosts a memorial plaque to horses from 1926. Originally it accompanied a bronze statue of a horse standing alone sculpted by Charles Lutyens, the father of the architect of the church, Edwin, that was sadly stolen. A bronze relief of 1970 by Rosemary Proctor creates a different representation perhaps suggesting an antagonistic animal-human relationship.


horse memorial

Replacement bronze relief

I explore the meanings of animal war memorials in a chapter in a new book by Ryan Hediger that has just been published.

Ruskin Archive – lobby of governors

2012 December 1



On November 30 many people braved the elements to lobby the governing executive of Ruskin College reiterating the demand to stop shredding historical student records.The supporters were representative of the 7,800 people who had signed the petition, and written to governors and the principal, Audrey Mullender. Banners and placards included those from Unite the union, Kensington and Chelsea trades council, and one saying Save Ruskin from Clare Audrey in the Community.

Unite demo

Speakers included Oxford university historian Jane Caplan, Professor of Modern European History and Director of the European Studies Centre at St Antony’s College; Dr Anna Davin, one of the founders of the History Workshop Movement; Dr Toby Butler, former student and editor of History Workshop Online; Dr Annie Skinner, former student and president of the Ruskin Students’ Union, the records of which have been destroyed; Stefan Dickers, library and archives manager at the Bishopsgate Institute. Although the Bishopsgate had offered to take any unwanted material this had been turned down.



Toby Butler speaking at lobby

Toby Butler presented the petition to governors and urged them to stop further destruction and to establish a committee including external archival experts and historians to establish policy on archive retention. He explained that authority to save the archives had been received from a leading  expert in Britain, Nick Kingsley , Head of Archives Sector Development & Secretary of the Historical Manuscripts Commission at the National Archive. Last week Nick had confirmed ‘it would have been acceptable to retain these records indefinitely for historical purpose’. This advice had been rejected by principal Audrey Mullender, ‘Nick Kingsley is not a lawyer and, sadly, he is wrong.’


Supporters – former students – laid a wreath in memory of the achievements of Ruskin students whose records have been shredded.

The governors agreed to establish a committee. Whether they agreed to stop further destruction and to go along with experts in the field, former students, staff, historians, archivists, novelists, family, local historians, trade unions etc remains to be seen.

Updates to follow.

Knowing and not knowing what will be historical

2012 November 5
students and records

Some of the former History students of 1993-4 whose records have been shredded with the late Raphael Samuel whose records are safe in the Bishopsgate Institute

Apart from the fairly obvious divides of philistinism and vandalism vs. culture and conservation that distinguishes those who wish to save traces of the past and those – such as the management of Ruskin College – who destroy material as irrelevant, there are other very sharp contrasts in ways of seeing the world.

The petition to date – to be presented to the Ruskin college governors later this month – contains more than 7,500 signatures well above the initial target of 5,000. From the ways they define themselves and their interests the signatories are broad in scope including novelists, MPs, trade union activists, university professors, archivists, librarians, family and local historians, former students and staff and many who choose to be anonymous which in itself is somewhat telling given the nature of some of the comments…

Some refer specifically to their anger at the loss of material about the lives of their ancestors who studied at Ruskin,’My father was one of the early Ruskin graduates. He attended through a Worker’s Educational Association scholarship, after having started as an apprentice welder in the Chatham shipyards. He graduated and went on to be selected for a social work post at Toynbee Hall. WW2 intervened (he joined the RAF). I cannot conceive, as a historian myself, that such destruction is justified…’ As another argued,‘These records are irreplaceable, they show the lives of our ancestors. They give meaning to their lives and show what they went through and what became of them’. Some talk about the nature of labour and working class history,‘The records and voices of working class people matter as much today as they ever have’ says one  Others encompass the archives of Ruskin within the national heritage, ‘I see little difference between archive destruction and book burning. I find it difficult to understand why this can happen in a civilized nation.’ Some relate the archives to their own lives and experiences, for example as former students at the college, ‘Bishopsgate would be the best place: as the late Raph Samuel’s archives are kept there. He taught and loved Ruskin. I was lucky to be at Ruskin 1995/96 . I can’t believe the vandalism of such important archives’. As one movingly describes, ‘My father was lucky enough to gain a scholarship to Ruskin, from the NUM after WWII. His studies there are a large part of the reason why I am not now a miner. Or at least an ex miner. These records are of international importance.’

Two features are striking. The first is the international scope of responses from five continents and dozens of countries: this is not just an incident happening in a very small and unimportant college in a small, albeit iconic, city. The second is the nature of historical awareness. Although some are very keen to declare that the already destroyed material (and hopefully the remainder to be saved if the governors can be convinced) is of intrinsic value to historians today others are less definitive in their approach. The latter cohort realises that although the material for writing history can remain – provide it isn’t shredded and dumped in landfill, of course – how it might be used by future historians cannot be decided by the current generation of historians. For example, I am not at all sure that even labour and feminists historians of the 1960s, who were themselves pioneers in writing about new and hitherto neglected subject matter, would have foreseen the growth in interest over the past lives of non-human animals. Those of us who research the past (and present) animal-human relationship are able to do this because of material such as diaries that exist in which animals feature although they were not necessarily the only focus of that genre. This awareness of being unable to control the future but seeing the need to preserve the present and past for those who come afterwards is a different way of seeing the nature of time and the process of history-making. It is quite distinct from an approach that focuses upon a personal ‘legacy’ by seeking to control the past. As one signatory put it ‘As a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and former museum director, I find the decision to destroy these records unbelievable and quite irresponsible when an appropriate repository for them is seemingly available. I would urge the principal and governors to show some humility and recognise that they may have got this one wrong.’

Clearly the 7,500 people who are concerned about the remaining Ruskin student archives realise that the present in all its vagaries needs to be preserved for others to create the histories they need in the future. As one argues, ‘What an incredibly short-sighted act. If the destruction goes ahead future generations will wonder at how little we cared for our own history.’

Angela Burdett-Coutts and Victoria Park

2012 October 30
coutts fountain

Recently restored Angela Burdett-Coutts’ fountain in Victoria Park, East London

Victoria Park in East London has recently received a makeover. Particularly striking is the renovated drinking fountain erected  at the behest of Baroness Burdett-Coutts in 1862, though sadly it no longer supplies water. It provided a place for both humans and dogs to drink clean water under the aegis of the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association which, as I have discussed elsewhere on this website, was particularly prominent in providing troughs for cattle and horses.

If Angela Burdett-Coutts is known at all today it is probably because of her wealth rather than her philanthropy towards people and animals. Responsible for the flats near the Columbia Road flower market and a failed attempt nearby to provide fresh food direct from producers at reasonable prices her work with animals is often forgotten. However, she was a leading member of the RSPCA, an enthusiastic keeper of goats on her Holly Farm (the site of which is in Highgate), and a campaigner for better working conditions for horses and donkeys. As I discuss in Animal Rights she regularly presented prizes for costermongers and donkeys alike at the Whit Monday cart-horse parade held in Regent’s Park. Prizes such as sacks of crushed oats were awarded for the oldest donkey in the show in the best condition or the donkey owned the longest by one person. She was given the freedom of the city of Edinburgh for her campaigning work there with horses – and also paid for the statue of Greyfriars Bobby.

The new self- guided Memoryscape walk by a downloadable app created by imaginative historian and editor of History Workshop Online Toby Butler and soundwalk artist Lewis Gibson will hopefully introduce newcomers to these different aspects of Victoria Park including the restored statues of the dogs of Alcibiades and the lake. The re-introduction of pleasure boats and fountains that work, however, seem to have resulted in fewer birds choosing to sojourn in its environs…

alciabides dog

Restored – and yet to be vandalised again – dog of Alcibiades statue in Victoria Park

When is an archive not an archive?

2012 October 19
banner 20 October

Banner on TUC demonstration 20 October 2012

As historians realise, archives can take many forms: institutional records, government censuses, personal letters. As I discussed in the introduction to London Stories my confrontation with my late parents’ own archive included:  minutes of meetings, notebooks from evening classes, running orders for concert parties, quizzes for church clubs, scores of oratarios, book prizes for school attendance, gadgets still in their boxes from the Ideal Home exhibition in the 1940s, used stamps and even a tin of custard cream biscuits in a royal wedding tin from 1981 given away free by the milkman and preserved untouched for the best part of twenty years… Much of the rest of the book is an exploration of what a historian (and daughter) might do with such stuff of ordinary people’s lives. To some this sort of material is an archive: to others stuff to be chucked.

The reason that so many thousands of people have already signed the petition to keep the remainder of the historic student records at Ruskin College is because of the testimony of such material to working lives . It is also  because of the signatories’ understanding of the potential value of such material in different ways both now and in the future. One signatory has reminded us of Derrida’s comment that ‘The archive: if we want to know what this will have meant, we will only know tomorrow’. The book Dust by another signatory, social and cultural historian, Carolyn Steedman, on the nature of archives and historians’ relationship with them was a keynote text for successive cohorts of Ruskin undergraduate and postgraduate history students…

Taken as a whole the integrity of the material in Ruskin College as an archive of working class history no longer exists. Sadly, this process of destruction and dispersal has not finished.  It was finally confirmed this morning  (Friday 19 October) that, thankfully, some of the historic student records from the 1950s do still survive. Although legal advice has been taken by Ruskin College management  – and section 33 of the Data Protection Act allows for the retention of personal data for historical research – there have yet to be any guarantees that any of the remaining material will be saved.

Continue to exert pressure on the college authorities – and join with 4,000 other signatories to the petition to prevent further destruction.

Link to page  with  summary of the records destroyed or dispersed.

demo placard

Placard on TUC demonstration 20 October 2012

Ruskin College and the Museum of London: different archives, different approaches

2012 October 11
noah ablett

Early Ruskin staff and students: note Noah Ablett, joint author of The Miners’ Next Step in the back row

The Museum of London is home to a magnificent collection of material from the suffrage campaign. As I have discussed elsewhere, it was given to the museum, by the Suffragette Fellowship. The organisation’s main aim was to ensure that the collection ‘shall not be scattered’ so that the history of the movement, as a movement, could be maintained. The curator responsible for accepting the collection in the early 1950s was not a twentieth century historian but by background, a medievalist. Although it was not his own area of research he recognised the value of the collection and warmly accepted it. Today in the re-vamped galleries the collection space is larger than before – and still very popular.

That it exists at all is due to various factors: the initial suffrage campaign; the Suffragette Fellowship collecting material centrally; the offer made by Winifred Mayo; the acceptance of the collection by Mr Grimes; current curatorial staff at the Museum and, by no means least, the enthusiasm of visitors.

This is an exemplary instance of the way in which public history is created through the process of many hands.

By way of contrast, the recent actions at Ruskin College tell a different story. Former students from working class backgrounds applied, passed through the college and went back into society; former staff at the college recognised their major achievements and kept details of them for posterity including, in some instances, press cuttings about their future lives, details of union sponsorship and tutor comments; others later decided this was not important and destroyed this archive full of fascinating material meaning that future historians and descendants could not see or use it.

Alongside this explicit eradication went the dispersal of other material which, when taken collectively, presented a particular, radical, history. Archives previously registered on the National Register of archives as being at Ruskin were transferred. Many are now safe in the Oxfordshire Record archive. Other material and ephemera have also been divested to other institutions and individuals. This includes the painting of Bernard Shaw that used to adorn the former staffroom, the plaque to Charles Bowerman, former president of the TUC, the anti-apartheid mural in the Kitson block, the painting of Raphael Samuel…

Some institutions that have received major funding may be capable of scanning every scrap of paper in a file – although no scanning can preserve the smell, the touch, of original paper, the crumpled corners, even cigarette ash or rusty paperclips that can conjure up an almost tangible connection with another age. However, with the help of the Bodleian Library and the Royal Archives, for instance, the handwritten personal diaries of Queen Victoria have recently been made publicly available online. But Ruskin College does not have that sort of money. And this is not what has happened in the labour movement college.

It has been confirmed that student records have been destroyed. It is claimed that recent records have been ‘digitised’ – not scanned – with bare bones of details of name, course taken and dates so that alumni may apparently interact with each other. (This ignores, of course, that the dead cannot speak to each other…)

Gone are the files which gave details to family researchers and academics alike on where former students came from, their previous educational and work background, their trade union activities, who sponsored them and their subsequent achievements and relationship with the college and staff.

Gone is the ‘stuff’ that John Prescott referred to, in discussing his own college file: “I was amazed how detailed they were. Every little scrap had been retained, from bills to private reports on my progress. I hadn’t known how hard Ruskin had worked on my behalf to get me there.” (Oxford Mail 13 June 2008)

The curator who accepted the suffrage material culture into the Museum of London had no idea that this would be so popular in decades to come – but he did realise that he couldn’t predict the future so it was prudent and professionally responsible to preserve the fragments from the past that were offered as some one, some time might find them useful – and so they have.

The collective experience of the militant suffrage movement can still be engaged with by visitors: why has that been denied to those interested in radical history and the amazing past of Ruskin College, Oxford? Why can people read the personal diaries of Queen Victoria but be denied the subject matter of ordinary lives? Thousands of people to date including Sir Brian Harrison, former editor of the Oxford new DNB; Mr John Hendy QC, Alan Bennett, Dr. Carl Chinn, Prof. Stephen Howe,  Harry Barnes, former MP and  former Ruskin student;  Dr Nick Mansfield former director of the People’s History Museum; Dr Eve Setch History publisher at Routledge; Professor Alison Light (widow of Raphael Samuel); Professor Jonathan Rose author of The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes; Stewart Maclennan, chair of the Scottish Labour History Society; Professor Geoff Whitty, former director of the Institute of Education; Professor Pat Thane, co-founder of History and Policy; Alice Kessler-Harris former President, Organization of American Historians; Dr Andrew Foster, Chair of the Public History Committee of the Historical Association; Professor Geoff Eley, Chair of the History Department at the University of Michigan; Dr. Serge Noiret, Chair of the International Federation for Public History, Italy; Dorothy Sheridan, former archivist of the Mass Observation archive; Dr. Roger Fieldhouse, joint author of A History of Modern British Adult Education, concerned historians and archivists worldwide and of course – but perhaps not unsurprisingly – many, many former Ruskin students, staff and administrators  have signed the petition or written letters and emails against this destruction. However, Ruskin management has yet to understand why its actions have been  wrong.

 The college management has yet to give any guarantee that the remaining historic student files will be saved. Pressure is still needed.

Sign the petition

Write to the governors

Background articles and comments at History Workshop Online   New pieces have been added by David Horsfield, librarian 1972 – 2004 on the nature of the destroyed student files There is also an article by Denise Pakeman recent graduate on her experience of seeing other material destroyed

may day 1968

Anti-racism demonstration  including Ruskin students May 1968



Recent human and canine London walk

2012 October 3


red lion court

Don’t irritate the lions in Red Lion Court

Last weekend humans and one canine, a delightful Corgi, passed a couple of hours in the Autumn sun looking at London in a different way.  With a focus on animal pasts in London’s landscape today, our walk went from the Barbican via Smithfield ending at the cab drivers stand in Russell Square. We looked at real and fictional animals and statues, art works, buildings, fountains,road surfaces and even a rare double level stables in the Horse Hospital. Due to time we by-passed the intriguing quote above in the courtyard of the chambers of David Etherington in Red Lion Court (off Fleet Street).

One of the walkers, Kim Stallwood, animal rights author and campaigner, has described the walk on his own website . This includes clips of different stopping points. 3 clips can also be accessed on you tube. The first is on Smithfield ; the second clip is taken at the statue of Hodge the cat ; the third is  about the saga of Humphrey, another cat, and his move from Queen Square into a nearby playground.

I am now working on additional animal walks that will include one with a focus on Battersea Park and another around Hyde Park and its environs.


Whose archive? Whose history? The Women’s Library and Ruskin College, Oxford

2012 October 1
demo 22 september

Demo outside the Women’s Library 22 September

I have recently been involved in the campaign to save the Women’s Library currently housed in a purpose built library and exhibition space in London’s East End. As I have written elsewhere, the library was initiated by the London Society for Women’s Service with two objects:‘to provide a good working library on social, political and economic subjects for its members and to preserve the history of the women’s movement in which the members themselves had played an honourable part’. Former librarian, David Doughan, described it as ‘ the largest and most comprehensive source of information on women in the UK, if not the world.’ The decision of the governors of London Metropolitan University to transfer the collection and, under TUPE, the staff to the LSE has been seen by some as positive. Yet while it is clearly good that the collection is not being trashed, the fact that it is leaving its purpose – designed building achieved through a Heritage Lottery Funded bid is not positive. Rather than being a walk-in facility in one of the poorest boroughs in Britain its transfer to an elite university that has so far declined to also take the exhibition space is to be lamented. The whole character of the place will potentially change from a site of activism connecting tangibly with the world outside to one of introspection  practised by academics.

close up deeds not words

Using the past in the present:modifying the Hammersmith WSPU banner to save the Women’s Library

However, this is not the only progressive archive under threat. Ruskin College, Oxford, the labour movement institution founded in  Oxford in 1899, has recently sold its  building in central Oxford to Exeter College and has moved to the outskirts of the city to Headington. Fortunately one of its collections relating to the History Workshop Movement has already transferred to the Bishopsgate Institute in London. The Bishopsgate volunteered to take any material that Ruskin did not want. Reject material includes the MA dissertations undertaken in the last 15 years by students on the pioneering Public History course but other, older material has a much less  secure future.

Unique material has already been trashed. This includes records of some of the trade union students who attended Ruskin in its first decades. These were activists, sponsored by their unions, who usually went back into the trade union and labour movement as leaders. Such archival matter is like gold dust to labour and social historians –  and, of course, to former students’ descendants – enabling a better understanding of the political and cultural life of working class people in the twentieth century.

However, the college principal, Audrey Mullender, has decided that such material should be destroyed. Most of the files, she says, are ‘extremely thin and boring’ and do not provide ‘a complete record’. This indicates a complete lack of understanding about the nature of archives – and why historians find them fascinating.What is extremely boring to one individual is often fascinating to a historian re-visiting the material in decades to come. In New Zealand, for example, one short sighted official destroyed nineteenth century census records thinking they would be of no interest whereas, of course, these are items of fascination to family historians. Even within state records one never receives full records – the 1861 census, for example, has huge gaps. Archives never contain ‘complete’ records. Choices are always made by depositers and archivists. There is no ‘objective’ position. This is one of the reasons that historians find archives tantalising and absorbing.

There is a fundamental misunderstanding too about the status of personal material such as that contained in former student applications. Routinely readers in archives are forbidden from accessing personal archives for some period of time, currently usually 70 years. Archives have the facilities and rationale for ensuring that records are preserved: colleges do not automatically have the space especially when a new supposedly purpose built library has less storage space than the library it is replacing… Audrey Mullender has been informed that an institution donating to an archive can have control over access and that a receiving institution can have the knowledge that in the future such materials can be accessed.

To date some unique and rare material has been taken away from the old college and has already been specifically  destroyed. Some apparently still remains – awaiting the same fate.

 Women’s and labour history are being pushed back into the margins from which they emerged after a long fight in the 1960s and 1970s.One is reminded – yet again – of the prescient writing  of Walter Benjamin , namely, that  ‘every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably.’ He also writes of the role of the historian to fan the spark of hope in the past and  that such a historian is one who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if the enemy wins…

Sign the petition  on Care2 site now to stop further archive destruction at Ruskin College, Oxford.

A longer article discussing the destruction of the Ruskin archive is now available at History Workshop Online

15th year of the Public History Group

2012 September 21


suffragette plaque

Memorial by the Suffragette Fellowship – leading public historians of the suffrage movement – near Caxton Hall, Westminster

I have just been finalising the programme for the group and realised that it has been running for 15 years. The group originated from the first graduates of the MA in Public History at Ruskin College, Oxford who wanted to continue meeting and sharing ideas. Since then it has developed and grown. Over the years dozens and dozens of people have presented work – and hundreds have attended on a Saturday morning.

Since Autumn 2011 we have been fortunate to meet at the wonderful Bishopsgate Institute opposite Liverpool St station. In the coming  year we have six sessions encompassing the Great Diary Project – now at the Bishopsgate – and as discussed on BBC radio 4 earlier this summer; a new exhibition on the life of Florence Hancock in Wiltshire; a new book on anti-fascism by an insider in the movement; the role of labour history museums today; people’s histories of the former inhabitants of their houses and a new public history collection.

As always all events are free and open to all. Ideas for future sessions welcome!

See the events section for details of specific events

Animals at the start of the war – Saturday Live BBC radio 4

2012 September 1
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image nina duchhess

Nina, Duchess of Hamilton and Brandon  – with Polly and Molly – who evacuated animals in the Second World War

I am just back from discussing the cat and dog massacre on Saturday Live on BBC radio 4. This weekend some 73 years ago on Sunday 3rd September 1939 saw the outbreak of the Second World War. Some 650,000 school children were successfully evacuated from London – and some 400,000 ‘pet’ cats and dogs were killed by their ‘owners’. This was more than six times the number of civilian deaths on the Home Front caused by enemy bombing during the whole six years of the war in the entire country. No bombs had fallen: none would fall on London – or Britain – until April 1940.

This was not a government decision. People themselves chose to have their own animals killed by animal welfare charities or by vets.

Not all animals were killed: there were  an estimated 2 million companion animals in London alone. The majority survived this massacre. Most people took the advice of the National Air Raids Precautions Animals Committee (NARPAC) and the veterinary profession and kept their animals. Some who were called up for war service gave animals to friends or evacuated them to the animal sanctuary in Ferne, near Salisbury established by Nina, Duchess of Hamilton and Brandon, who was the president of what is now the Edinburgh – based animal campaigning charity, Onekind. At the time there was vocal opposition to this killing by people interested in animal welfare.

I have found many moving accounts of humans’ relationships with animals during the war including those in diaries and family stories. Although the killing at the start of the war separated out animals from humans, the experience of living together during the war brought them closer.

I have various articles , writing projects  and talks about this in the pipeline. Please do contact me if you are willing to share family stories about animals during the war.

Animals in War memorial Canberra

2012 August 25


horse head

Close up of the Animals in War memorial, Australian War Memorial, Canberra 2009

I have just sent off the proofs for my article on animals and war memorials shortly to be published in a book I have previously mentioned, namely,  Animals and War edited by Ryan Hediger. The article considers various forms of commemoration including water troughs, memorials in Portland stone, friezes and statues in different countries including Australia.  One of the memorials analysed is the new ‘Animals in War’ memorial by artist Steven Mark Holland unveiled in May 2009, outside the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.  There are two parts : the  most visual part  is a sculpture consisting of a partly destroyed bronze horse’s head previously part of an Australian memorial to the Desert Mounted Corps in Port Said in Egypt, destroyed during the Suez Crisis.  The damaged  face of a horse explicitly refers to animal death, but by using the remnants of a representation of a horse that had itself been destroyed in warfare, it also attempts to raise questions about animal death in war without resorting to sentimentality. The sculpture thus is commemorating a particular moment – of destruction – in contrast to representations featuring animals going about their ‘duties.’ Its very re-creation is antithetical to a conventional genre of memorialisation.

The destroyed Desert Mounted Corps memorial had itself been recreated in 1968 on the nearby ANZAC parade that leads down from the Memorial towards the Parliament building in the distance. This memorial to the Desert Mounted Corps – together with their horses – had been the first to a section of the military erected in this prestigious national memorial site.

re-created mountede

Close-up of the re-created Desert Mounted Corps memorial, ANZAC parade, Canberra, 1968

 The plaque accompanying the horse’s head commemorates in simple language animals who ‘served alongside Australians’ and ‘performed many essential duties’ including those who ‘lived with the Australians as mascots or companions’ and acknowledges their continuing ‘important role in the work of the Australian armed forces.’ It has a less melodramatic – and anthropomorphic – text than the huge ‘Animals in War’ memorial  in London’s Park Lane. In contrast to the sentiments on the London memorial, there is little emphasis on agency, loyalty or lack of choice. In avoiding such sentiment the words do not suggest animal sacrifice in a human cause but rather joint animal-human activity.

plaque close up

Plaque accompanying the 'horse's head' at the Animals in War memorial

Alan Rice’s book on slavery memorials

2012 August 21


scottish american

Figure at the base of the memorial to Scottish American Soldiers, Old Calton burial ground, Edinburgh

Alongside others in a roundtable discussion, I reviewed enthusiastically Alan Rice’s excellent book Creating Memorials, Building Identities: The Politics of Memory in the Black Atlantic in Journal of American Studies 46 (1) (2012).

It has just been issued in paperback, as the youtube film of the launch at Liverpool Maritime Museum shows.  An extract from his  book is included in the Public History Reader.

The images are of an interesting memorial by George Bissell in Old Calton burial ground, Edinburgh.  Ostensibly it is in memory of 5 named Scottish-American soldiers who had fought in the American Civil War.  However, on top is a statue of Abraham Lincoln and at the bottom a bronze life-sized figure of a slave promoting a more specific anti-slavery message.  Unveiled in 1893 it bore no traces during my recent visit of being marked today by  forms of memorialisation, such as those I describe at the new Bomber Command memorial.

5 soldiers names

Names of Scottish soldiers who fought in the American Civil War, Old Calton burial ground, Edinburgh

Why is Greyfriars Bobby not looking at the graveyard?

2012 August 13


greyfriars bobby

Greyfriars Bobby - facing away from the graveyard

I have previously written about ‘The moment of Greyfriars Bobby’ and also compared the statue of this Victorian Edinburgh dog to that of the old brown dog in Battersea. During my visit last week I noted the memorial to James Brown, the former sexton who had fed the dog, and died in an unmarked grave in 1868. The memorial was erected in 2006 apparently because of the part he played in caring for Bobby, or so a local newspaper described it. The memorial to John Gray is also of more modern times. These two men owe their place in the physical landscape to a small dog who, unusually for the time, is commemorated standing alone – outside the Greyfriars Kirk.The people owe their status in this prestigious graveyard to  a small dog and, of course, to the myths surrounding this Victorian tale of remembrance after death.

Sexton James Brown
2006 memorial in Greyfriars Kirk graveyard , Edinburgh

However, the dog is neither looking back west to the kirk where ‘his master’ was buried nor north to the castle where apparently he went every day to hear the lunchtime firing of the guns. Metaphorically he may be looking to the future – or anachronistically to the new wing of the national museum of Scotland – but he is not looking back to the human on whose grave he allegedly ate his dinner and mourned. Although famous for allegiance to one lowly man beyond death the siting of his statue recreates the dog as somewhat separate from the rationale for his public profile. He is now the ‘property’ of the whole of Edinburgh : surely this undermines the very story created about the dog?

john gray close up

A human remembered - because of his dog

Workers’ memorial in Hackney walk

2012 July 31
Plaque Powell House
A workers’ memorial and a forgotten radical past

I have recently been trying out a new walk around Clapton and central Hackney with artist Melissa Bliss who I met at the unofficial histories conference held at the Bishopsgate Institute in May. We are looking at  traces of the past in the current landscape that are often overlooked. These include trade marks on railings, kerb stones ‘chiselled’ during the riots last year, public pathways dating back to 1816 now used by foxes and workshops about to be transmogrified in the new Hackney in which yummy mummy shops are proliferating almost weekly.

We were pleased to see surviving amidst consumerist dross and privatised space a plaque to the workers who in the 1980s built new council houses and flats on Lower Clapton Road – or murder mile. When the stone – and accompanying paving stones listing by name the DLO apprentices who built the houses – was laid it was a statement of opposition in the face of Conservative attacks. The plaque – and scheme – was a stand  against government destruction of unionised and directly employed labour, training programmes, and public housing. However, I doubt if any councillors realised how this plaque, only 30 years later, would be one of the few remaining traces locally of this radical past…

Conference on: Can we rebuild the plebs tradition ?

2012 July 28

A timely conference  is being held  by the Independent Working-Class Education Network. As they put it ‘After “plebgate” and the Ruskin archive shredding , can we rebuild the Plebs tradition?

Speakers include Martin Bashforth (who is a contributor to the People and their Pasts book)  on radical family history, Alex Gordon, president of the RMT union. I will be speaking on ‘ Whose archive? Whose history? Lessons of the destruction at Ruskin College, Oxford’

The conference is on Saturday November 24th from 10 to 5 at Northern College, near Barnsley.

Cost is £12 per person including lunch and a shared travel pool operates.

Please book in advance with Keith Venables. Also contact Keith for further details

Alan Hollinghurst and public history

2012 July 27

We have just submitted the draft of our Public History Reader to the publishers. We explore the ways in which the past is never fixed and is being constantly re-written and contested. We have discussed examples of Australian historians, such as Peter Read, looking at landscape anew from an indigenous perspective or the work of public historians in New Zealand working with Maori communities challenging western historical orthodoxy of interpretations of the past – and land ownership – through the Waitangi tribunals.

stranger snapshot

However, if I had read Alan Hollinghurst’s book The Stranger’s Child before this week I am sure that I would have included it as another fascinating example of the fluidity of the past. This wonderful and engaging book explores different interpretations over a hundred years of linked fictional events from the summer of 1913. This is not an unravelling as such in whodunit mode but rather an exploration of the ways that different personal and historical circumstances influence the way individuals interpret the past. Moreover ‘external historical events’ such as the Great War or the 1967 Sexual Offences Act are not included as obligatory add-ons to indicate ‘history’ but are employed to explain the way that actions, behaviour and ways of seeing change over time. Apart from being a great read it is also a wonderful introduction to the ways that the past gets made into history – and is constantly re-written, reinvented – or forgotten.

Writing – and talking – about cats

2012 July 21
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cover street cat bob

I have recently returned from the ISAZ conference in Cambridge where I gave a work-in-progress paper on the changing human-feline relationship in Britain from c.1900 to 1950. To illustrate the difficulties in writing about non-human animals I started with the new book by London Big Issue seller A street cat named Bob which is an interesting read particularly if you have seen the cat outside the Angel tube station! It describes  how a stray cat finds the author, James Bowen, a former drug addict. Through the cat’s intervention the man turns his life around: a sort of Pilgrim’s Progress for the  twenty first century with the cat as a saviour. While I am sure that these events did happen, the narrative is clearly a human construct and it is difficult to disentangle the cat from a Protestant narrative of ‘coming through’. As Erica Fudge has argued, animals can almost disappear and become abandoned in favour of the ‘purely textual’. (I discuss this in my new article on animal-human history)

A rather different approach is that of Janet and Steven Alger whose wonderful account of cats living together in a cat shelter is an excellent analysis and description of the sociability of cats. Too often cats are seen either as solitary or only existing in relation to humans.  I have come across several images of groups of stray cats or cats in homes waiting to be adopted in the early 1900s where their presence in a group is seen as transgressive. Some of these images  seem to have been taken as they are not the ‘norm’ of a relationship of cats to humans. This cat to cat ‘relationship’ is antithetical to the way that cats were (and are) seen to perform a particular function in relation to humans. I am continuing to explore this relationship particularly with reference to the Second World War.

cover cat culture

The conference organisers have now issued  50 short films  of  conference presentations on youtube. You can see me talking about this through this link .

New article published on writing animal-human history

2012 July 14
anthrozoos cake

Celebrating Anthrozoos at a recent ISAZ conference

I previously mentioned the article I had been writing for Anthrozoos that included discussion on the sea-faring cat, Trim.

The special edition to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the journal is now out. It includes various articles on the current state of animal studies  and anthrozoology.

Click here to go to the page that gives information on my new article on the challenges of writing animal-human history.

Animal exhibition now launched

2012 July 7



badge odfl

Early C20th badge of chiidren's branch of Our Dumb Friends League

The exhibition on humane education hosted online by the National Museum of Animals & Society is now launched.

Click here to go to the page with details of the articles I have contributed.

People appropriate 2 new memorials in London

2012 July 3

Memorial side view

flowers candle

Candle, flowers and internet story

Two new memorials have been appropriated in London in the last few days. The first is the new memorial to Bomber Command opened in Green Park alongside the Hyde Park Corner end of Piccadilly. It is an imposing piece of architecture in a classical style designed by Liam O’Connor who also designed the Armed Forces Memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas in Staffordshire.


However, as artists and historians – including Paul Gough and Sally J. Morgan – have shown, memorials do not have monolithic meanings and frequently people appropriate them and create their own interpretations. This has previously occurred at the National Memorial Arboretum site, as Paul Gough has discussed in his chapter in People and their Pasts.


sweeet william flowers

Sweet William Flowers and small wooden crosses on base of sculptured figures

It is already happening in Piccadilly. Despite the grandeur of the architecture and imposing bronze sculpture by Philip Jackson, people are already leaving flowers and their own stories and images.There are the usual small wooden crosses one sees on Remembrance Sunday recording individual lives but also flowers and candles with messages, more reminiscent of modern sites of memory after a sudden death such as a road accident or shooting.




The second memorial was not created as such by the artist Anish Kapoor. However, the Olympic Tower –the ArcelorMittal Orbit – has just been reclaimed as ‘A Memorial in Exile’ by survivors of a Bosnian Serb concentration camp.  The Omarska mine in Prijedor, Bosnia was used as a camp: thousands were imprisoned and hundreds killed. Arcelor Mittal is now the major owner of this mining complex. Iron ore – and profits – extracted from this mine have been used to make this sculpture.


olympics artwork

Another sort of memorial in another part of town...


As we discuss in The Public History Reader, History is never settled and finished. Even when memorials seems to be permanent and are cast in iron, bronze or stone people will always create their own meanings often subverting original intentions.


note and flowers

Flowers and message from Marie

Public history and rats

2012 June 23
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Rats' nest and home in a cabinet in the Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney, 2010

I am currently finalising one of the introductions to the Public History Reader. The Reader emphases public history as a process by which the past is constructed into history and a practice which has the capacity for involving people as well as nations and communities in the creation of their own histories. Discussion of process is an integral part of the practice of public history – and of the book. Process also implies practice including the materials used for creating history as much as who decides what history is.

A good example of this is the wonderful The Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney, (PDF) Australia which I have visited several times. There are often art installations inside and out, including the Irish famine memorial, pictured below. The Barracks – in the same road as the statue of Trim the cat explorer of southern Australia – is now a museum that depicts various aspects of Australia’s past by showing the different uses of the building over time including its use as a military prison, home for destitute women and government departments. When visitors enter the shop to buy admission tickets they are confronted with the  glass cabinet above containing real rats and their nests. Sadly the rats kept in the case are not Norwegian brown rats – the type found on ships who would have been the type to have lived in the barracks. Instead they are domestic agouti rats since they were seen as friendlier (!)

As the accompanying sign says, for most of the nineteenth century the human occupants of the barracks shared the building with rats who scurried about dragging away scraps of clothing, food and bedding to make nests. Because the rats did this, thousands of personal and everyday items relating to humans were found: bonnets, aprons, shirts, shoes, stockings. It was this animal process of accumulation – and then a different, human, recognition of its value – that allowed the archaeological service to document ordinary everyday lives at the barracks in the past.

This is still a fairly unusual approach to the display of materials in a museum since it not only explains but also highlights the way in which the institution has constructed its displays. It shows the decisions taken to save what some might see as everyday rubbish and how these ephemeral traces of the past came to be there. It demystifies the work of the professional historians paid to produce such a collection. (It also starkingly illustrates an aspect of animal-human relationships, of course!)

hyde parks barracks artwork

Irish famine memorial by Hossein and Angela Valamanesh, Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney, 2010

Online Animal Museum: History and Animals

2012 June 17
animals and society museum

Promotional postcard of the National Museum of Animals & Society

I have just had accepted various articles for an online museum exhibition ‘ Be Kind: A Visual History of Humane Education 1880 -1945’to be launched by the National Museum of Animals and Society on 2 July 2012.

The online museum already features various fascinating visual material and (mainly American) artifacts including a 1930s ink blotter of the ‘Miss B’Kind Animal Protection Club’.

I like their striking postcards though not sure I agree with the wording. Even ‘badly behaved’ animals only make history if people choose to write about them and recognise their actions as historical!

Details of my articles on animal campaigning badges will follow once the exhibition is launched.

Historians, People and Brown Rats: Different Roles in Making Histories

2012 June 14

This talk is part of a new seminar series in cultural heritage, public archaeology, conservation and museum studies  launched by the Institute of Archaeology Heritage Studies Section and the Centre for Museums, Heritage and Material Culture Studies at University College, London.

It draws on the introduction to the Public History Reader in which I discuss public history as a process rather than simply an act of presentation by ‘historians’ to ‘the public’.  It draws on the work of rats at the Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney, that I have discussed elsewhere  on this website as a way of considering the different agents involved in the creation of history.

The talk is free and open to all.

It takes place from 5 to 7  on Wednesday December 5th in room 412 of the Institute of Archaeology at UCL

Queen Victoria and Islay – a cross gender dog

2012 June 13
islay snapshot

Queen Victoria's dog outside QVB Sydney

‘Islay’ a small bronze terrier  based on a sketch of Queen Victoria sits begging outside the popular Queen Victoria Building – now a shopping arcade –  in Sydney. When I wrote about this statue and that of the ‘dog on the tuckerbox’  I had assumed that Islay was a female dog. The newly released free online diaries of Queen Victoria tell a different story . Her journal for Wednesday 13th March 1839 says: ‘I am charmed with my new little dog, whom I have called Islay. He is so gentle, so good natured and friendly and so funny, for he begs delightfully.’ There are some 150 references to this specific  dog – as well as to her other animal companions. Good to see an archive catalogue search mechanism that recognises non human animals!

The building owes its preservation trade unionists in the building trade and activists like Jack Mundey. As Mundey said: ‘Everyone should be interested when Sydney’s history and beauty is going to be torn down, and when people in the way of this so-called progress are regarded as minor inconveniences’.

This radical history is now ignored and outside the building is a statue of Queen Victoria and of  Islay. Neil Glasser, a business man and self defined ‘unashamed royalist’ had tried to move an existing statue of Queen Victoria, by Joseph Boehm, from Eastern Park, where it had stood since the 1888 centennial celebrations. Permission was refused, but Glasser was undeterred by this setback. Nor was his enthusiasm dampened by the refusal of the Yemeni government to dispose of its own monument of Victoria.The Yemeni authorities had wanted, so they said, to keep their own statue,‘to remind them of the oppression they had suffered at the hands of their former colonialist oppressors’. The businessman had continued his mission to locate a statue of Victoria for some three years until he was successful. The statue,found in a field in the south of Ireland, was bequeathed by the Irish government on the strict understanding that it was not to be portrayed as a bicentenary gift and  was required to be unveiled prior to the 1988 ‘celebrations’. Thus the statue of the queen was unveiled some three months after the unveiling of Islay and a few days before Christmas 1987.




Bloomsbury animals: Horses and sheep

2012 June 4
hospital hors

Horse hospital exterior

Showing a visiting historian traces of animal pasts in the Bloomsbury area over the weekend, we visited the horse hospital. This is at the back of Russell Square tube station on the corner of Colonnade and Herbrand Street, adjacent to former mews.

The hospital was first designed by architect James Burton who also built the Veterinary College in St Pancras in 1797. The horse hospital was redeveloped after 1860.



Horse hospital ground floor ramp

Ramp from lower ground floor to entrance

Today this listed building is an arts centre – with the interior floors preserved. Horses were treated on different levels. Ramps – rather than stairs – were installed to facilitate this: a case of non-human animals making their mark in the material landscape of cities.






Much to my colleague’s surprise we also saw the sheep and goats munching grass at the Thomas Coram Foundation: traces of animals past – and present – do still exist in central London. See my article on this for more information.



Sheep may graze in Bloomsbury

Animals and War Memorials and Water Troughs

2012 May 28


Ryan Hediger has just contacted me to let me know that the new book he is editing, Animals and War, has now been accepted by the publishers, Brill,  as part of its human-animal series. The wide range of topics includes my chapter on ‘Animals and War Memorials: Different Approaches to Commemorating the Human-Animal Relationship’

The chapter looks at different forms of memorials in different countries and explores the nature of the particular commemoration.  One form I analyse are the troughs that commemorated the thousands of horses killed in the South African Wars at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Many thousands of horses had been transported from South America to South Africa to aid the war effort, but over 16,000 died on the sea voyage before even reaching the war zone. In the course of the military engagement more than 400,000 animals had died mostly through neglect and lack of food and rest, rather than injuries caused in the fighting.  Brigadier Clabby, the veterinary surgeon who would write the official history of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, declared, ‘It has been said that never in the history of any British war has there been such a deliberate sacrifice of animal life and of public money.Partly as a result of the outrage of welfare campaigners at the poor treatment suffered by animals, the Royal Army Veterinary Corps was established and in operation by the 1914 -18 war.

Martock trough

Part of the restored trough in Martock, Somerset (Thanks to Dr Katherine Vanovitch)


Animal welfare campaigners erected commemorative water troughs that would benefit animals themselves. This includes this one in Martock, in Somerset, recently restored and incorporated within the village’s local heritage outside the eighteenth century market house. Here the figure of 450,000 dead animals is given.

Another is the trough, now filled with flowers, in Burstow, Surrey, created in 1903. This was funded by William Tebb. He was a leading campaigner against compulsory vaccination against smallpox. An anti-imperialist, he was also a vice president of the National Canine Defence League (as Dogs Trust was previously called ) and a supporter of the Humanitarian League. The words commemorate ‘the mute fidelity of the 400,000 horses killed and wounded at the call of their masters during the South African war 1899-1902 in a cause of which they knew nothing.’ The sentiments embrace notions of loyalty but the last line of the inscription is significant: ‘This fountain is erected by a reverent fellow creature.’  These challenge the assumption that there is a hierarchical division between ‘masters’ and ‘horses’— or people and animals.


trough in Burstow

Trough in Burstow, Surrey erected by Willliam Tebb

The trough form, albeit on a grander scale, was also incorporated in the 1905 commemoration in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, where horses had been landed. As Sandra Swart has discussed in her interesting book Riding High Horses, Humans and History in South Africa a pro- British women’s committee who had been sympathetic to the ‘dejected remounts’ disembarked there initiated this memorial. The memorial included  the critical wording :  ‘The greatness of a nation depends not so much upon the number of its people or its territory, as in the extent and justice of its compassion.’  Paid for by Mrs Harriet Meyer, from King’s Lynn and cast at Thames Ditton in Surrey it was erected in 1905 in Port Elizabeth before being moved nearby  in 1957.

This trough form was no accident. It originated from the design of Joseph Whitehead of the stonemason’s firm, Whitehead. Joseph Whitehead was the same artist who sculpted the controversial Old Brown Dog statue that commemorated animals killed  through vivisection in Battersea. Whitehead had become the official contractor to the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association founded in 1859 by leading Quaker families such as the Buxtons and Hanburys. The Association had created troughs in public thoroughfares both to benefit working animals as such but also to dissuade their keepers from frequenting public houses, the only sites in which fresh water was routinely available for horses and cattle.


Update on Unofficial Histories Conference

2012 May 20

The Unofficial Histories conference that took place recently at the Bishopsgate Institute organised by Fiona Cosson and Ian Gwynn was a successful event. There was a wide range of speakers and topics. There were various contributions by artists on imaginative approaches to the past including work on walks and squatting in Hackney by Melissa Bliss, and memory work by Katy Beinart in Brixton market (undertaken by someone with a white South African background) and Rosa Ainley on approaches to family history and place focussing on a potentially boring-looking house in Colindale.

Other contributions included Catherine Feely’s fascinating analysis of a Communist’s  diary – mixing Dietzgen with dancing and Andrew Flinn on controversies around workers’ libraries and Jerome de Groot on the pastness evoked by cigarettes.

My contribution drew on aspects of the introduction to the forthcoming Reader in Public History:

I argued that by opening up the categorisation of those making history, ‘the who’, then epistemology, ‘the what’, also changed: the nature of the knowledge produced was different – and wider in its compass. Social knowledge including an approach designed to place an emphasis on lived and engaged experience produced different histories.

I referred to ‘Start the Week’ on BBC Radio 4 on Monday 13 May in which  Professor Paul Preston of the LSE was promoting his book The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain about the murder of Republicans under Franco. He focussed on the 2000 Associations for the Recovery of Historical Memory in Spain. While stating that Spanish universities had been ‘pretty remiss on this’ since they did not receive any government funding for such work he praised the network of local historians without whom he could not have written his own book talking of the ‘great historian of south west Spain’ who runs a petrol station and the ‘great expert’ of atrocities in Valencia who runs a little tobacconist shop.

Another good example of experience creating different sorts of histories is London Recruits,  a powerful new collection of personal testimonies written by white British people who were recruited clandestinely in the late 60s and 70s to distribute illegal leaflets in South Africa at a time when the Apartheid regime was strong and the opposition was fragmented, underground or imprisoned. It is only some 35 years later that the individuals met each other and realised that they had all been undertaking this: the book arose from this meeting. The book is an excellent subjective account of individuals’ experience of their own involvement in this campaign but it is not – nor is it intended to be – an over-arching analysis of the politics of South Africa in the 60s and 70s. To accompany this is a wonderful youtube film of Graeme Whyte, one of the recruits, displaying the suitcase with the false bottom he took to – and brought back -from South Africa – that now holds his Xmas decorations.

I look forward to further conferences and events discussing such ideas. Michael Blythe has taken some great images of the conference  For those of a certain age note the Patricia Roberts jumper…


unofficial histories conference

Photo by Michael Blythe


The Times and The Great Escape

2012 May 8
tags: ,
tommy escape

A more mundane bid for 'escape'

The Times has recently published an interview I gave to Daisy Greenwell on the cat and dog massacre. The interview had its origins in a new children’s fictional book by Megan Rix called The Great Escape. It narrates the adventures of 2 dogs and a cat including their plight at the start of the war when some 400,000 cats and dogs were killed in London alone. It is surely welcome that children are told both about the negative as well as positive aspects of animal-human relationships.

I am aware of other interesting books on animals in war aimed at children including Michael Morpurgo’s take on the bombing of Dresden – with an elephant as a main character – and the late Robert Westall’s very moving Blitzcat  (this was surely also aimed at adults?)  but this was the first I have come across to address people killing their pets specifically. It also mentions the work of the National Air Raids Precautions Animals Committee, an organisation formed just before the war began to advise the government on “all problems affecting animals in wartime”.  NARPAC included representatives of the veterinary profession, government departments and the police. It also included animal welfare organisations such as the Battersea Dogs Home, PDSA, National Canine Defence League, Our Dumb Friends League /Blue Cross, RSPCA  and the Home of Rest for Horses. Although  NARPAC did popular work in cities re-uniting animals and humans there were tensions between the charities and the vets. As the president of the National Veterinary Medical Association at the time, Harry Steele Bodger, put it, ‘Born in faith, nurtured with hope, died through charities. Thus sums up the National ARP Animals Committee but it is not the whole story. I feel that the villain of the piece is that fairy godmother the Ministry of Home Security which was present at the birth, gave it its blessing, and proceeded to starve it to death.’

The Times misquoted me saying I had worked on this topic for 40 years – which almost sounds like Albert Chevalier’s ‘My Old Dutch’. Sometimes it feels like that though the research time is more like 4 years but at least some of my articles on the topic will be coming out next year.





Dickens and Smithfield

2012 May 1


Dickens quote Smithfield

Dickens quote West Smithfield Gardens

Taken on a guided walk during the rain in West Smithfield gardens where quotes from Dickens adorn the artwork. Despite the coverage of Dickens’ writing this year there has been scant writing about his relationship with animals. He was a supporter of the Battersea Dogs Home. Dickens’ companion animals included Williamina, a soft white Persian cat, who lived with him at Gad’s Hill with her deaf kitten. The kitten followed Dickens around ‘like a dog’ and put out his candle when Dickens was reading to get the author’s  attention. The kitten was called ‘The master’s cat’. (Animals’ World 1893)

Animal guided walk

2012 April 9
sam the cat

Sam the cat in Queen Square, Holborn


Animal Pasts in London’s Landscape Today

In September, (Saturday 29th at 2pm) )I will be leading a guided walk around Smithfield, the City borders and Holborn with an emphasis on non-human animals, images of them and people who have taken an interest in animal welfare and rights.

Alongside our human ancestors animals have created the physical and cultural landscape of London as it exists today. In this walk of c. 2 hours we will look at traces left by cattle, horses, dogs and cats – and their human companions. Skirting the city, this walk will  offer a different way of seeing London.

Start: Barbican tube station 2pm. (Finish: Russell Square tube)

Cost: £8

It is organised by the London Metropolitan Archives. You will need to book through the LMA. or ring them 020 7332 3851


Walking with Buckinghamshire Suffragettes

2012 April 8
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I have recently been sent an interesting  booklet of 6 walks tracing the women’s suffrage movement in and around the Chilterns devised by Colin Cartwright and Andrew Clark. There are maps and helpful short accounts of suffrage involvement. read more…

Anthrozoos new article on animal history

2012 April 8
Trim the cat


I have just sent off the revised version of Challenges for Historians Writing Animal–Human History: What is Really Enough? which is due to be published in Anthrozoos in a couple of months time.

It draws on historiographical debates within feminist and social history to re-visit debates on animal agency, representation, and the nature of the materials for writing history.  read more…

Sealions and Moses Montefiore in Ramsgate

2012 April 8
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Woodward grave sealions

This image is  taken from the Woodward family grave in Ramsgate cemetery (confusingly also called Margate cemetery)which I revisited a couple of weeks ago. It is the only memorial I have come across that features performing sealions including their (unsuccessful) role in detecting enemy submarines in the First World War.

I came across the work of the Woodwards – and the sealions – in a paper Dr David Wilson , now at the University of Leicester,gave to the Minding Animals conference in Newcastle, Australia a couple of years ago.

On returning to walk back along the clifftop to Broadstairs we came across this synagogue and mausoleum, that was totally un-signposted  and surrounded by the overgrown gardens of a Victorian estate. It turns out to have been built by Moses Montefiore who had bought the land from Queen Caroline.  Further details at the Montefiore Endowment site. Some of the grounds are now  a municipal park – complete with workshops in a former nineteenth century mock castle complete with ‘italian’ greenhouse. Worth a diversion – though not too sure about the wording around the clock!


montefiore synagogue

Caption on synagogue built by Moses Montefiore

Antennae – animal cartoon

2012 April 8
tags: , , ,

The free online journal Antennae. The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture that is edited by Giovanni Aloi has a special issue later this year on animals in advertising. I have submitted a piece on an advert I have come across during the Second World in the magazine  the Tail Wagger.  The Tail- Waggers Club had been founded in 1928 to promote dog welfare stating,‘The love of animals, and especially of dogs, is inherent in nearly all Britishers’ and by 1930 numbered some 300,000 members.

I have written about an advert for vitamin tablets for nervous dogs that is being advertised by cartoon bull dogs. It explores how we are supposed to read the advert and argues that the particular animal human relationship was of a particular time and place.


cover of tailwaggers

The Tail-wagger July 1941

Why a comments page / blog?

2012 April 8
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Under this heading you will find updates on my current research and progress on books and articles that I am writing. You will also find information about things I have been reading or have seen that may be of interest to others.

I will try not to rant about the frustrations of  quotidian life – although I may find it difficult to restrain myself from a rant about the ongoing deterioration in library services especially at the British Library …

Please feel free to send me suggestions of events to cover etc  :

Public History Group: Living with the Past at Home

2012 April 4

Saturday 18th May 10.30 for 11

Living with the Past at Home

Dr Caron Lipman, Research Fellow, School of Geography, Queen Mary University of London

This talk will offer preliminary insights into a current research project that seeks to understand people’s attitudes to and understandings of the history of their homes. It involves interviews with a range of householders to discover how their knowledge of the past of their homes informs the choices they make in living in them, and describes what has been ‘inherited’ from previous inhabitants – materially, aesthetically, and in terms of stories that might have been passed on or uncovered.

Bishopsgate Institute, 230 Bishopsgate, London, EC2M 4QH. This is a few minutes walk from Liverpool Street station in the direction of Shoreditch and Spitalfields market.

Sessions begin promptly at 11 and will finish before 1.  Please bring your own coffee – lots of places nearby.

Public History Group:Mausoleums or resource centres? Labour history museums and archives and useable pasts

2012 April 4

Saturday 20th April 20 10.30 for 11

Mausoleums or resource centres? Labour history museums and archives and useable pasts

Dr Andrew Flinn, University College London.

In ‘Mausoleums or resource centres’ Andrew will examine the history of working-class movement and labour archives, museums and libraries in the UK. He will look at the origins and the motivations of the founding figures of these bodies, the changes, controversies and challenges which these institutions faced over the years and will conclude with some reflections on the role and trajectory of contemporary labour archives and museums. Andrew was an archivist and museum researcher at the National Museum of Labour History in Manchester between 1989 and 1999 and is now a Senior Lecturer at UCL specialising in archives, oral history and community history.

Bishopsgate Institute, 230 Bishopsgate, London, EC2M 4QH. This is a few minutes walk from Liverpool Street station (in the direction of Shoreditch and Spitalfields market.

Sessions begin promptly at 11 and will finish before 1.  Please bring your own coffee – lots of places nearby.


Public History Group: The Public History Reader

2012 April 3


Saturday 9th March 10.30 for 11

The Public History Reader

Dr Paul Martin and Dr Hilda Kean

The session will launch the Public History Reader published by Routledge in 2013 which explores public history as an everyday practice. It is embedded in the idea that historical knowledge is discovered and accrued from everyday encounters people have with their environments and points to the continuing dialogue that the present has with the past, exploring why this has burgeoned on a popular level in recent years. For one month only from March 9th a copy can be purchased for £20.01 and free p and p by going to the Routledge website and typing in the code PHR13

Bishopsgate Institute, 230 Bishopsgate, London, EC2M 4QH. This is a few minutes walk from Liverpool Street station (in the direction of Shoreditch and Spitalfields market.

The session will begin promptly at 11 and will finish before 1.

Public History Group:In Search of Florence Hancock: How to put a museum exhibition together when Wikipedia lets you down

2012 April 3

Saturday 9th February 10.30 for 11

In Search of Florence Hancock: How to put a museum exhibition together when Wikipedia lets you down

Paul Connell, Assistant Curator, Chippenham Museum & Heritage Centre

To mark the centenary of the event which launched her career in the trade union movement, the formation of a branch of the Workers Union and then a strike at the local Nestles & Anglo-Swiss Milk Factory, Chippenham Museum & Heritage Centre is putting together an exhibition on the life and work of Dame Florence Hancock for January 1913. Florence’s life story, one of a family of 14, leaving school at 12 to work in a café for 5s a week, to starting a union branch then progressing up through that union (through two World Wars) has been described as a ‘microcosm of the union movement in the 20th century’. You might expect that researching the life of second female president of the TUC, a dame of the British Empire, National Women’s Officer for the TGWU would be easy, but it has proved to be anything but – and also a lesson in not believing everything you read and checking facts.

Bishopsgate Institute, 230 Bishopsgate, London, EC2M 4QH. This is a few minutes walk from Liverpool Street station (in the direction of Shoreditch and Spitalfields market.

Sessions begin promptly at 11 and will finish before 1.  Please bring your own coffee – lots of places nearby.

Public History Group : Beastly Sneaks: Rescuing Other People’s Diaries

2012 April 3

Saturday November 10th  10.30 for 11

Beastly Sneaks: Rescuing Other People’s Diaries

Irving Finkel,founder of the Great Diary Project

This talk will discuss the extraordinary way in which other people’s diaries are disregarded and often just thrown away, and explain why they are such important human documents and why the Great Diary Project has come into being.

Bishopsgate Institute, 230 Bishopsgate, London, EC2M 4QH. This is a few minutes walk from Liverpool Street station (in the direction of Shoreditch and Spitalfields market.

Sessions begin promptly at 11 and will finish before 1.  Please bring your own coffee – lots of places nearby.

Public History Group:Physical Resistance: a life, a book and a history of anti-fascism

2012 April 3

Saturday  12th January 10.30 for 11

Physical Resistance: a life, a book and a history of anti-fascism

Louise Purbrick, University of Brighton

The author of a new book on the history of anti-fascism in Britain, Dave Hann, died before he finished its manuscript. Louise Purbrick will discuss Dave Hann’s practice of writing, which was always part of his anti-fascist activism, and the process of completing his history.

Bishopsgate Institute, 230 Bishopsgate, London, EC2M 4QH. This is a few minutes walk from Liverpool Street station (in the direction of Shoreditch and Spitalfields market.

Sessions begin promptly at 11 and will finish before 1.  Please bring your own coffee – lots of places nearby.


History detectives at London Metropolitan Archives

2012 April 1

I am running a day session session on Tuesday 31 July  at the London Metropolitan Archive 10.30 – 3.30 exploring through hands-on activities different ways of using the wonderful archive there. We will be looking at a particular place in the locality and following up the ways in which we can find more information about it by working collectively, brain-storming , thinking laterally, and rummaging.

You do not need any experience of working in archives only a lively, enquiring mind and a willingness to work with others!

It costs £7.50.  Coffee and tea included but make tour own arrangements for lunch, Booking must go through the London Metropolitan Archive, not me.

To book any event please email or call 020 7332 3851 and quote the name of the event (Archive detectives). You can also write to Event Bookings, LMA, 40 Northampton Road, London EC1R 0HB.

If you enclose a cheque it should be payable to ‘City of London’. You can also pay by debit or credit card.

London Metropolitan Archives
40 Northampton Road

Telephone 020 7332 3820
Fax 020 7833 9136

It  appears under the events page of the City of London

ISAZ conference and cats

2012 April 1
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I am giving a paper called The changing human-feline relationship in Britain c.1900 -1950 at this conference in Cambridge.

It draws on some of my extensive research on cats and dogs on the Home Front in the Second World War. I will argue that at the start of the twentieth century cats were often seen in purely utilitarian ways.They received rudimentary attention from the veterinary profession. Regularly abandoned outside the houses of the middle classes whilst they went on holiday, given poor health provision and treated in brutal ways nevertheless their role did start to change. Increasingly during the late 30s and 40s they were both treated as a disposable ‘animal’ while contradictorily also being seen to be part of a ‘family’. The materials that I will draw on emanate from humans but , I will argue, there are sufficient ‘feline traces’ for one to conclude that the human-feline relationship did change.

Speakers include Mary Midgley and Jonathan Burt.

It is organised by ISAZ which publishes Anthrozoos, now celebrating its 25th anniversary. I have an article coming out in the next issue on animal-human history.

For details go to ISAZ

Public history group: towards a public history of disability- Mandeville legacy

2012 April 1
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The last public history discussion group for the academic year is a presentation on Saturday 28 April  at 11 by:

Jon Newman, archive consultant

Jon Newman has been working with Bucks County Council, Stoke Mandeville Hospital and various sports disability charities to assemble a history of the changes to the treatment of spinal injuries patients and the development of wheelchair games – latterly the ‘paralympic’ movement – since the Second World War. Using the Revisiting Collections methodology in conjunction with hospital and charity archive collections he has worked with groups of former patients, athletes, hospital staff and sports administrators to both capture their responses to the ‘official’ record and to create new narratives.

It is the courtyard room and lift accessible.

All meetings take place at the Bishopsgate Institute, 230 Bishopsgate, London, EC2M 4QH. This is a few minutes walk from Liverpool Street station (in the direction of Shoreditch and Spitalfields market) and on the corner with Brushfield Street.

All sessions begin promptly at 11 and will finish before 1. Please bring your own coffee – lots of places nearby.

Please direct any queries or suggestions for future sessions / offers of presentations to me as convenor of the public history group:

Unofficial Histories conference

2012 April 1
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I am giving a presentation on Critical Public Histories: the role of public historians in the social construction of knowledge

Other speakers include Jerome de Groot and Andrew Flinn who have previously spoken at public history events. Some of the presentations seem to be in the ‘hidden from history’ mode but others seem to be about the process of history-making and the different forms this can take.

In other words it seems similar in several respects to the conferences I have organised over the past decade at Ruskin College. Unlike those conferences it is free!

The organisers are 2 PhD students: Fiona Cosson and Ian Gwinn.

Click on this link to get to the website : unofficial histories conference

Pulling your family history research together – and writing it up!

2012 April 1
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This is a day hands-on session for family historians I am running at the London Metropolitan Archives on Friday 27 April from 10 -3.30.

Been researching your family for years? Got back to the distant past and still no end in sight? Then this workshop may be for you.

We will look at different approaches to writing up research, and think of different ‘hooks’ and themes for your writing and ways of finally getting started on writing it up.

Please bring an object and /or photo with you from your family history that you are willing to share.

This workshop is aimed at people who have already undertaken research and  want to move on to the next stage

Do NOT book here but contact the London Metropolitan Archives

Women on the Home Front:Shifting relationships between women, cats and dogs

2012 March 24
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I gave a paper on ‘Shifting relationships between women cats, and dogs: challenges to the ‘people’s war’ at the conference organised by the Midlands Region of the Women’s History Network on Women on the Home Front at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas in Staffordshire. The gist of the talk was as follows:

The 1939-45 war on the Home Front is often referred to as the people’s war implying particular (positive) qualities. However, this wording ignores the role played by non-human animals both as the first victims of war, being slaughtered in hundreds of thousands at the start of the war and later providing emotional and practical support to humans. The paper  discussed various contemporary accounts including those of Nella Last and Londoners Lilian Margaret Hart,  Glawdys Cox, Alice Rosman and F.Tennyson Jesse to explore the particular relationships between individual women and their companion cats or dogs. It  argued that although the massacre of some 400,000 companion animals in London alone at the start of the war divided animals and humans, the domestic circumstances of animals and humans alike drew them both closer during the war, in some ways blurring the ‘species distinctions’. It argued that even if one is not particularly interested in animals one cannot ignore the impact of the animal – human relationship at this time.

Dr Maggie Andrews and Dr Janis Lomas are planning to publish a book arising from the conference so in due course I intend to develop the presentation for an article in the proposed collection.

Britain as a nation of animal lovers?

2012 March 20

I gave a keynote talk at the Representing Animals conference organised by Emilie Dardenne  and Sophie Mesplede at the University of Rennes in Britanny in October 2011. Although it was quite small it was a very good conference in that there was much discussion of  presentations and the opportunity for following up points from one session to the next. Although our french colleagues didn’t read it the same way it was refreshing entering into a university building with the epitaph ‘liberty,equality and fraternity’ over the entrance rather than a ‘mission statement’ or ‘ investors in people’ motif…

The contributions, including a version of this talk, ‘The  People’s War on the British Home Front: the challenge of the human-animal relationship’ are being edited by Emilie Dardenne  and Sophie Mesplede for a book entitled A Nation of Animal Lovers? Representing Human-Animal Relations in Britain  to be published by Manchester University Press in 2013.

Public History group : Memory, place, identity

2012 March 15

Saturday March 10th 2012 10.30 for 11

Christine McCauley MA (RCA) University of Westminster

Christine gave an interesting talk that took further her earlier work presented at a  public history conference . As she explained, it started as an exploration of my troubled relationship with my father, a veteran of the Burma conflict during WW2 and resulted in 2 journeys to the North Eastern frontier states of India, searching for the remnants of the British presence there and the ‘ties that bind’ countries and peoples geographically so far apart. As a mixed media artist I use a wide range of media and techniques. The evocative potential of materials and processes is an important part of my practice.

Check out her work on her website.

‘Vets’ and ‘Pets’. Veterinary surgeons, animal charities and the National Air Raids Precautions Animals Committee in the Second World War

2012 March 5
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In this talk I recently gave to the  Centre for Animal Welfare within the veterinary department of the University of Cambridge I explored the relationship between veterinary surgeons, the state and animal charities during the Second World War . In particular I looked at the work of NARPAC that was established by the state in August 1939 ostensibly ‘ ‘to advise on all problems affecting animals in wartime’. However ‘animals’ meant different things to different people.To animal charities involved in NARPAC such as the PDSA this meant cats and dogs; to the vets and the state it meant ‘farm’ animals of economic value.The tensions were inevitable from the start … read more…

Public history group: Revisiting the Miners’ strike of 1984 -5

2012 February 10

Saturday 4 February 2012

The 1984/85 Miners’ Strike: Re-claiming Cultural Heritage Michael Bailey (University of Essex)  Simon Popple (University of Leeds)

In this session Michael and Simon  discussed their research  as follows:

Shortly after the 1984/85 miners’ strike had come to an end, the socialist historian Raphael Samuel noted that the meaning of the strike would be determined not ‘by the terms of settlement … or even by the events of the past year but by the way in which it is assimilated in popular memory, by … retrospective understanding both in the pit villages themselves and in the country at large’. The significance of Samuel’s remark is that, though the 1984/85 strike was a decisive defeat for mining communities, it is imperative that such communities are encouraged to participate in the creation of new representations and social rituals that seek to democratise the mediation of the strike. Not only because such texts hold out the promise of raising public awareness of what actually happened twenty-five years ago but because they also provide affirmation for those miners and families most affected by the strike-action and the subsequent closure of pits. This presentation discusses the two AHRC/BBC funded projects undertaken on this between autumn 2007 and summer 2009 by a small team from the Institute of Communications Studies, University of Leeds.

They have written up aspect of this in an article in the book eds Laurajane Smith, Gary Campbell & Paul Shackel, Heritage, Labour and the Working Classes  Routledge, 2011. I also have an article in the same book on English labour movement festivals.


Animals in London during the Second World War

2012 January 31
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I gave this public lecture at the London Metropolitan Archives during a day of activities around the Second World War. I did look at the massacre of 400,000 cats and dogs at the start of the war but also the provisions that were made for animals during the war. Animals and humans in many instances became closer through sharing physical spaces more intimately. Cats and dogs – through their excellent hearing – often alerted humans to pending bombardment beating them to run to the shelter in the garden!

I am interested in more stories of people and their companion animals during the war. So please send me your family stories:

Public history group: Young historians take to the streets

2012 January 10

Saturday 3 December 2011

The second of the public history discussion group meetings at the Bishopsgate was on:

Young historians take to the street: school students tackling the big picture of race, protest and immigration control.

Martin Spafford

In 1995 thirty 11 year olds in an East London school spent several months looking at the world of asylum seekers and the politics of immigration control.  Last year ten 15 year olds from the same school worked with historians to investigate fascist assaults on the East End over time and how local people have responded. These projects took them onto the streets, into detention centres, to Parliament and even into direct confrontation with organised racism.

Present and former students from George Mitchell School showed clips from their films and discussed with their teacher Martin Spafford the impact of such projects – at the time and in later life – on their politics and values.

Animals and humans during the war

2011 November 19


I am giving a paper on : The shifting animal – human relationship during the Second World War in Britain: going beyond an incorporation of non-human animals into human history at the Cosmopolitan Animals Conference being held at the Institute of English Studies  at Senate House, University of  London on October 26 -7, 2012.

I am looking at the way the relationship between humans and ‘pets’ changed and argue that  this is not simply an add-on to existing histories but implies a re-thinking of ways in which the Second World War is seen.

Keynote speakers include Donna Haraway and Simon Glendinning

Link here for further conference details

Public history group : Revealing the Rookery, St. Giles – art, artifacts and anecdotes

2011 November 5
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Saturday November 5th  2011


public history group image

Jane Palm-Gold, Sian Anthony, and me

Revealing the Rookery, St. Giles – art, artifacts and anecdotes.

This was the first of the public history group sessions to take place at the Bishopsgate Institute : I had run them  since 1998 at Ruskin College, Oxford.

Jane Palm-Gold (Artist and curator) and Sian Anthony (former Senior Archaeologist at Museum of London Archaeology)
As Jane explained, ‘The recent ‘London’s Underworld Unearthed: The Secret Life of the Rookery’ exhibition in London, illustrated everyday life in the notorious St. Giles Rookery.  ‘Revealing the Rookery’ seeks to further explore the narratives presented in the exhibition, using recollections, prints and archaeology.’

The talk was presented by Jane Palm-Gold (artist and curator behind the exhibition) and Sian Anthony, former Senior Archaeologist at Museum of London Archaeology, who led the excavation into the foundations of Central Saint Giles, the site of the Rookery.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Jane’s work is that she lives in St Giles overlooking part of the former Rookery.Some of her artwork is of incidents taking place outside her flat. Her work  both draws on her own experience but also  has resonances with some of Hogarth’s images.

Check out Jane Palm-Gold’s website here

Spitalfields walk

2011 November 1


Mosque Brick Lane

Brick Lane Mosque: changes in the landscape

From a recent walk I conducted around Spitalfields.The area is constantly changing although its medieval past and eighteenth century development still remain. There is much to see in the built environment not least the restored weavers’ windows, constructed to bring in the light, and the Brick Lane mosque. It started life in 1809 as the  New French Church or Neuve Eglise then leased  to the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews before being passed on to the Methodists and thence  the Machzike Hadath Society.