So this is how the story goes. In 1826 a London merchant decides to buy some cloth from a weaver in Hawick, a town in the Scottish borders famous for its cloth production. Very happy with his order, he decides to get some more but – crucially – misreads the weaver’s dashed handwriting. Instead of ‘twill’ this Londoner reads ‘tweed’, and assumes this new cloth must take after the River Tweed which runs fast and clear through the textile areas of lower Scotland. ‘Tweed’ and not ’twill’ has been the term used ever since.
“The St. Lawrence is mere water. The Missouri muddy water. The Thames is liquid history.” So declared John Burns – a great advocate of London’s history – when asked to compare the Thames against those other great rivers in 1929. Forty years earlier in 1889 Burns had been a towering figurehead of the Great Dock Strike, thus sealing his own place in those murky waters. As the 125th anniversary of the strike approaches (14 August – 16 September) it feels an opportune moment to reflect on what this particular passage of liquid history might mean today.
As curator of the museum’s wonderful Suffragette collection I often welcome ‘important’ visitors to the archive, captivated by the story of the women who endured imprisonment, hunger-strike and even force-feeding in their battle to win the vote.
By jen kavanagh, senior curator of contemporary history on 9 Sep 2015
Three years ago, when I started researching Downstream: a history and celebration of swimming the River Thames, I thought it would be quite a short book. After all, how many people would want to swim in the Thames?
Margaret White – training in Leigh swimming pool, 1961 (Courtesy of Margaret White-Wrixon)
But I soon realised that bathing in London’s great waterway used to be the norm, that river racing reached its peak in Victorian times and that now, with the Thames the cleanest in living memory, there has been a real resurgence in ‘wild swimming’.
By jen kavanagh, senior curator of contemporary history on 5 May 2015
When you cross a bridge over the magnificent Thames, or hop on a boat and sail past London’s Docks, has it ever crossed your mind that the city’s famous river would make a nice spot for a swim? It certainly hadn’t mine, until I met Caitlin Davies earlier this year and learned all about the amazing history of wild swimming in the River Thames. For centuries the river has been a place for bathing, and in recent years has become a hot spot for outdoor swimming once again.Read the full post
Following Hilary Young’s blog post Listening for a change last week, author Harriet Salisbury talks about the discoveries she made while delving into the Museum of London’s oral history collections for her new book, The War on our Doorstep. I am not an oral historian – or even a historian. Before I began researching material for The War on our Doorstep, my experience of oral history was limited to recording a few interviews in my student days. So for me, the Museum of London’s vast collection of tapes was a big step into the unknown. Luckily, in the case of the Port & River collection, there […]