Our Recorded Media Project Assistant, Hilary Young, introduces the research work recently undertaken by author, Harriet Salisbury.
Harriet has been working with the Museum’s oral history collection to research her new book on how people’s lives changed in the East End after the Blitz. The War on Our Doorstep: London’s East End and how the Blitz Changed it Forever charts people’s everyday experiences of life before, during and after the Second World War. Her notion of the East End has been defined through listening to people’s memories of their individual connection to place through, community, family, work and location.
One of the collections Harriet used was from a project that in 1985 set out to record the attitudes and experiences of those who worked in London’s Docks, only a few years after the last of London’s upstream docks closed. The bulk of the recording for the Port and River oral history project was undertaken by a small team of museum staff and volunteers who interviewed almost 200 people creating approximately 500 hours of audio material. The collection features interviews with people who worked in a range of jobs associated with the port and river – dockers, engineers, stevedores, lightermen, watermen, machine operators, river pilots, typists, porters, crane drivers, customs officers, policemen, even a pie & mash shop owner. The time frame covered by the interviews extends as far back as the early 1900s and brings us up to date with people’s feelings about the closure of the docks in the 1980s.
Harriet’s use of the oral history collection unpicks the layers of experiences and memories associated with the East End. For example, here Herbert Hollingsbee (born 1899) recalls the Silvertown explosion in 1917 while Anne Griffiths (born 1918) recalls going dancing in Silvertown after her shift at Tate & Lyle during the Second World War:
‘My first year at the PLA in the Albert Dock, we were working till seven and one evening, there was a jolly loud bang and it was the Silvertown explosion and we lost three of our staff who were working. As far as I know, there was quite a number of casualties in the civilian population. We were lucky really because between us and the explosion, there was a large ship on the north side of the Albert Dock and also on the south side, and they were both loaded, which stopped the blast. Even so, our tank in the office burst and there was quite a flood. We all packed up work, caught the tram to East Ham, and home. It was quite exciting.’Herbert Hollingsbee, PLA Audit Clerk (DK87.81)
‘I liked working at Tate & Lyle’s because I could look over the docks from my window where my machine is. I used to look into the docks and see the ships coming in and going and the dockers all coming out at various times. We used to have little social evenings, dancing. We used to be two till ten, and at ten o’clock then we all used to rush up and have a little last hour in the dance. And when we was six till two, we could go early.’
Anne Griffiths, Machine Operator Tate & Lyle (DK88.66)
Look out for Harriet’s upcoming blog posts about her experiences of using the oral history collection to write her book and selecting images from the museum’s collection to illustrate the book.