Unearthed: Collective Histories

Unearthed: Collective Histories is a new twelve-month pilot programme of commissions, workshops and events uncovering the overlooked 20th Century histories of Studio Voltaire’s locality.

This programme will see the creation of a public programme of events, learning programme, and a project curated by a new resident-led research group, ‘Unearthed Collective’ – as part of Lambeth Heritage Festival 2023.

In the first phase of the project, we are partnering with several Lambeth-based archives, local schools, community groups, residents and artists to investigate two local landmarks linked by a shared history of WWII bomb damage: Rectory Gardens and Clapham South Shelter.

Rectory Gardens

Working with Spectacle Media, a Battersea-based community interest company specialising in documentary, community-led investigative journalism and participatory media, we are researching Rectory Gardens.

Rectory Gardens is a street of houses in Clapham’s Old Town, less than a mile from Studio Voltaire, that was severely damaged by bombing during WWII. In the late 60s, a group of squatters moved into the street and slowly renovated the houses. From the 70s to the eviction in 2014, the street played host to an industrious community of artists, musicians, poets and unconventional ‘free thinkers’.

Spectacle Media will host a series of free online participatory film editing and oral history workshops using their archival recordings with participants during the final months of their squat-turned-housing-cooperative, the eviction and beyond.

Clapham South Shelter

In 2023, award-winning artist Jay Bernard will lead a project which explores the history of Clapham South Shelter, working with Black Cultural Archives.

In June 1948, the disused Clapham South Bomb Shelter housed 236 Caribbean people, newly arrived on the MV Empire Windrush, due to lack of temporary housing following WWII. Conditions were basic, cramped and noisy in the windowless bunker, fifteen storeys underground.

Unearthed Collective

Over the next twelve months, a new resident-led research group will meet to discuss ideas, reflect and participate in the programme. Unearthed Collective will also work with us to shape and develop what the future of our Unearthed: Collective Histories programme might look like, creating direct change in the legacy of the programme.

South London-based F.A.T. Studio has been commissioned to design the artwork, posters and materials relating to the project. Their designs were inspired by fonts on WWII Clapham Shelter tickets and the L Shape of Rectory Gardens, combining archival images with illustrations of modern-day Clapham residents.

We have partnered with Lambeth Archives to enter research, documentation and footage into their archives, ensuring this knowledge is accessible to future generations.

Unearthed: Collective Histories is supported by Historic England’s ‘Everyday Heritage Grants: Celebrating Working Class History’ and Hartfield Foundation.

About Jay Bernard

Jay Bernard is an artist from London whose work is interdisciplinary, critical, queer and rooted in the archives. They were named Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year 2020 and winner of the 2017 Ted Hughes Award for Surge, a cross-disciplinary exploration of the New Cross Fire in 1981.

As well as being a film programmer at BFI Flare, Bernard’s short film Something Said has screened in the UK and internationally, including Aesthetica and Leeds International Film Festival, where it won best experimental and best queer short, respectively, as well as Sheffield DocFest and CinemAfrica.

Recent work includes Joint, an-ongoing text related to the legal principle of joint enterprise, showing at the London Literature Festival 2022; Crystals of this Social Substance, a sound installation at the 2021 Serpentine Pavillion; and My Name is My Own, a physical performance piece in response to June Jordan, which premiered at Southbank Centre’s Poetry International 2019.

About Black Cultural Archives

Black Cultural Archives (BCA) is a national heritage centre based in Brixton, London. Its mission is to collect, preserve and celebrate the histories of people of African and Caribbean descent in the UK and to inspire and give strength to individuals, communities, and society.

BCA was founded in 1981, growing from a community response to the New Cross Massacre (1981), the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (1984); underachievement of Black children in British schools, the failings of the Race Relations Act 1976, and the negative impacts of racism against, and a lack of popular recognition of, and representation by people of African and Caribbean descent in the UK. The founders, including the iconic Len Garrison, came to the conclusion that what was needed was a space where members of the community, especially young people, could find positive representations of themselves in history and culture.

This act of self-help expanded into the creation of an ‘archive museum’ that evidenced and painted a more comprehensive picture of Black presence in Britain. At its building, 1 Windrush Square, BCA programmes exhibitions, learning and educational activities and public engagement events whilst also providing free access to its unique set of archives, museum objects and reference library.

About Lambeth Archives

Lambeth Archives is the record office for the London Borough of Lambeth. As well as the historical records of Lambeth Council, it holds the records of many Lambeth businesses, organisations and individuals. It is currently housed at the Minet Library, 52, Knatchbull Road, SE5 9QY.

The archive holds various documents for tracing family history, including parish records, electoral registers, census returns, poll books, cemetery records, trade and commercial directories, and historical newspapers. The archive is open to the public free of charge. Lambeth Archives will close to the public on 31 December 2022 to prepare for its relocation to new purpose-built premises on Brixton Hill and should reopen in June 2023. For more information, contact archives@lambeth.gov.uk

About Spectacle Media

Growing out of Spectacle’s decades of pioneering participatory video practice, Spectacle Media is a non-profit Community Interest Company specifically championing community uses of digital media. Spectacle Media uses new technologies to empower groups and individuals through learning video-making skills, working collaboratively on community-led media production and engaging with online participatory filmmaking and editing.

Spectacle Media also has access to Spectacle’s production equipment and thousands of hours of Spectacle’s unique video archive on themes including urbanism, human rights, social justice, utopianism, alternative media, top-down vs. bottom-up regeneration, housing and more. Spectacle Media aims to develop projects to open and explore the video archive with communities interested in its content.

About F.A.T. Studio

F.A.T. Studio is a design studio and Community Interest Company based in an ex-retail space on Old Kent Road, South East London. It’s run by six friends with different creative practices but a shared enthusiasm for community life and DIY culture.

Image credits

1st July 1948: Charles Stimson (foreground) and Charles Baker writing home to Kingston, Jamaica from a converted air-raid shelter on Clapham Common. Photo by Chris Ware/Keystone Features/Getty Images. #BlackHistoryCultureCollection

Rectory Gardens c.1980s. Courtesy Spectacle Media