Were you in this photo? Or your mum or dad? Do you have memories of taking part in similar Somers Town events? From mum’s club, pub pram races to festivals – we’d like to hear from you for the Somers Town Memory Project.
Here’s a film of one of our Photo Share events.
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Find out more about the Spriit! film below.
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Capturing the ‘Spirit!’ of a dying area
Sandwiched between three London terminals, Somers Town is yet again to undergo immense change – once a cohesive solidly working class community – but for how much longer?
Spirit through the stories of George, Mimi and Dave and the voices of many others gives a picture of a disappearing way of life.
The film will premiere at the British Library to time with the 21st anniversary of the local Street Festival of Cultures.
Interview with Director
Why the 1930s starting point?
The 1930s slum clearance here was innovative, not just for helping the poor out of desperate conditions, but also in their ethos of ‘Housing is not enough’. This emphasised that people, even in a deprived area, need more than bricks and mortar: they need, ‘companionship’ a social life, and to celebrate culture. And that built in parties and social events into the housing project.
Why the connection to the street festivals?
It seems to me that that ethos is evident today through the annual local START Street ‘Festival of Cultures’ – it was initiated for a very different reason, reflecting the changes, to bring together a diverse community. And 2018 will be the 21st anniversary of START.
Why Somers Town?
Like much of inner London, the area is a living story of urban change – slum clearance to social housing, and the influx of waves of immigrants. What’s interesting is that it’s a small very cohesive community that survived and was overlooked – but for how much longer?
Because it’s sandwiched between two train stations, Somers Town, as the title of a short-lived community paper suggested, is ‘between the tracks’, so the origin of the area was shaped by railways and forcible movement of people.
And yet again, national infrastructure is moving people and communities out – though developments such as HS2, Cross Rail, which are planning to demolish buildings. For example, the Edith Neville Cottages in future may well be looked at as important examples of social housing. It also means the local market cannot sur- vive 15 years of HS2 construction traffic. And like much of London, the property boom with the resulting council intensification plans, as well as property developers interest, will ensure the area will change – luxury tower blocks are planned and student flats and hotels gain planning agreement.
It’s an area which doesn’t have the protection and resources other areas command to prevent these plans. Of course this in turn, will change the nature of the community.
What’s that got to do with parties?
All of this means that Somers Town is threatened by not only physical, but also by cultural transformation – impacting on what was once a cohesive community. We sat down and listed how many of the old clubs and pubs – centres of the community spirit – have been turned into private flats – almost every corner had one. The notion of ‘community’ is talked about but it seems recent changes directly contradict the priority given maintaining cohesion that the original founders of social housing in the area gave.
Why make a film now?
Somers Town is at a new turning point and many fear could extinguish not just its physical space, but its existing community.
This is why it is timely to chronicle the spirit of a working class community that has persevered and otherwise might be lost.
Why the title Spirit’?
It’s a working title but the clue’s in the title – pubs may have had a lot to do with it.
What’s the idea behind ‘Who’s in the picture’ exhibition?
We want to identify the people in the photos and hear their memories of the events – many photos documented the early days of the St Pancras Housing Project, in the Holborn Local Studies Archive ( a fantastic resource) and there are others of the street festivals.
We’re looking for people who were in the photos and also those who have their own photos to show us. Please contact us!
When does the exhibition open?
It will be a pop up at a number of locations in Somers Town around Chalon street.
THIS PROJECT HAS BEEN KINDLY SUPPORTED BY CAMDEN GIVING KINGS CROSS FUND AND HERITAGE LOTTERY SHARING HERITAGE.
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By Director, Diana Foster of the Somers Town History Club