Sunday, 20 July 2014

Local newspapers and the gems therein

We're all used to reading books which cite the grave and Olympian pronouncements of The Times, Guardian, Daily Telegraph, etc., but what of local newspapers and their less exalted position in British life? I'm not sure if local papers ever get used by anyone other than local historians, but if some recent work at Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre is anything to go by then what treasures there are for those who can be bothered to look. True, the parochial minutiae can be somewhat wearisome, but the following list of trivial and serious stuff from notes I hurriedly threw down whilst working through the Hampstead press of the mid-1930s shows what can be found. Some of this stuff was irresistable because it resonated with me in such an odd way - so distant and yet at the same time so familiar - and some of it is, I think, of genuine use to historians and scholars working in a variety of fields:
Hampstead & Highgate Express
  • 18 May 1935: short note of a meeting of the Greenshirts in Kilburn - 200 people in attendance; it wasn't just the British Union of Fascists and the Communists getting attention in the 30s, but in popular memory the Greenshirts barely register at all.
  • 11 April 1936: letter from M. W. Smelt (no, really, that's the name ...) - an Orphean Warbler and 'gtr/lsr Willow Warbler' seen on Hampstead Heath - I'd bet that the OW was a Blackcap, and am not sure what the writer meant by gtr/lsr Willow Warbler; we only have the Willow Warbler in the UK as far as I know.
  • 21 November 1936: report on the trial of Sidney Nobbs, joyrider - who, with a name like that, no doubt went on to an illustrious career in petty crime. I'd have him played by Alfie Bass in the Ealing comedy version.
Hampstead & St John's Advertiser
  • 24 January 1935: John Laurie - he of Dad's Army fame - in The Duchess of Malfi at the Embassy Theatre. His work in the classics is well-known and well-regarded - no wonder he did those ghost stories in Dad's Army with such aplomb. In the same edition of the paper we have 'Save the Skylark': farmers threaten skylarks with wholesale destruction - poets, led by W. H. Davies object; that no doubt had the NFU trembling in their boots.
  • 21 February 1935: an irate correspondent describes the Independent Labour Party as the 'Ignominious League of Perverts' (following the appearance of ILP graffiti in Hampstead) - they do not write insults like that anymore. 
  • 30 May 1935: another Greenshirts open-air meeting; the speaker addressed the inadequacy of mere 'sabotage' of the system - he advocated the need to increase workers' purchasing power. Pay rises all round - sounds like a good idea.
  • 25 July 1935: recipe for Strawberry Empress - never heard of this before, but it sounded tasty; a sort of mousse (and much better than some of the other recipes featured which should, frankly, remain forgotten).
  • 23 July 1936: John Beckett, former Labour MP for Gateshead and Peckham and now a fascist, involved in a fight at a BUF meeting. We all know about Churchill and Mosley himself, of course, leaving one party for another, but it obviously went on in the lower ranks - I wonder if Beckett followed Mosley.
  • 30 July 1936: Charlbert Street evictions - working class victims of development and the 'Portland Town fight'. This story was a prominent feature in the paper for a year or more, and it has a depressingly modern ring to it: working-class Londoners getting stiffed by wealthy property developers. Again.
  • 27 Aug. 1936: a report on 'Queer Occupations': Ministry of Health insurance records note 'hobblers' at Bristol docks. Fact: the term is still in use today.
  • 12 November 1936: Alexander Korda, (Hungarian emigre and film producer) of 81 Avenue Road, St John's Wood, announces that he has become a naturalized UK citizen. One for his biographer.
  • 18 February 1937: Reverend Frederick Chesnutt-Chesney appointed to the living of Holy Innocents, Hornsey. Now there's a surname.
  • 25 February 1937: Wilfred Macartney, author, wounded fighting in Spain. But author of what?
  • 21 October 1937: Sir Reginald Blair MP condemns the BBC for 'internationalism'. The poor old BBC: it never can get it right, can it?
Hampstead & Highgate Record
  • 22 March 1935: William Joyce - better known as the infamous Lord Haw Haw - addresses a meeting at Forresters' Hall in Kilburn. Another fragment for biographers.
So there we have it: a source that can provide the student of London's ornithological history with something of interest and a blow-by-blow (literally) account of tensions in north London for those researching political history is no bad thing. The problem is that until these papers are digitised this material will essentially remain locked up and inaccessible, without you plough through each issue looking: if you're tempted be warned - it takes stamina!

1 comment:

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