Pride, comradery and highly-skilled jobs: the lost trades of Islington
PUBLISHED: 14:39 07 November 2018
Craftspeople have shared stories of “pride, comradery and high-skilled jobs” in an upcoming exhibition – Lost Trades Islington.
The Heritage Lottery funded project, a collaboration between Islington’s Local History Centre, London Met uni and Age UK, celebrates crafts and businesses lost from the borough within living memory.
Students were paired with an older person to interview 10 workers – and these oral stories will be shared at the history centre, in Finsbury Library, St John Street, from November 23.
Julie Melrose, an archivist at the centre, said: “These 10 people were based all around Islington, from Clerkenwell to Stroud Green, and it’s just great to have an opportunity to tell their stories – we need to make an effort to preserve them.
“A lot of these people were working for twenty or more years in a trade, and they were all properly trained, whereas in today’s gig economy people are more transient.”
One contributor, Hazel Barrett, worked as a tracer during the 1960s. This entailed hand drawing blueprints for electrical signals, which was a highly-skilled job.
“We also had a leather worker, Eunice Braithwaite, who made high-quality handbags,” said Julie. “I think, to some extent, that level of craftsmanship has been lost now-days due to the rise of machinery.”
Another storyteller, Dolly Gamby, worked in an Essex Road medical factory making bandages.
“You see some of these old buildings around,” said Julie “But you don’t know what they used to be.”
“Quite often they were built as one factory and there would be four floors of people doing all high-quality, and often very hard work.
Students also interviewed Eddie Mence a former barometer, who measured atmospheric pressure to try and predict the weather. Eddie worked in Percival Street, Clerkenwell.
“My grandad had one so I know all about it,” said Julie. “But a lot of the younger generation have never heard of it
“And that’s one of the really nice things about the project, many of the students from London Met didn’t know about barometers either, so learning about it was interesting for them.”
Richard Moore, a chef who worked at Beale’s restaurant, in Holloway Road, also contributed to the exhibition.
Richard joined as an apprentice in 1963 and worked his way up through the kitchen hierarchy, leaving shortly before the business closed in 1968.
“Beale’s was were the Holloway Road Argos is now,” said Julie. “It was a destination of North London.
“It’s hard to imagine now, because the road is terrible, but it was the most amazingly beautiful restaurant.
Lillian Pannell, a former laundryhand, who worked at an industrial washhouse, in Caledonia Street, was also interviewed. The King’s Cross Laundry, which catered mostly to hospitals and businesses, was built in 1905.
“But this was an age before automated washing machines, said Julie. “So sometimes people would also carry huge vats of their washing there.
“But they would only wash it, then hand it back to you wet to hang up yourself, which seems crazy now.”
A King’s Cross crane driver, Fred Rooke, also told his story.
Fred worked in the area where Granary Square is now, where he loaded up trains that were coming into London.
One of his big jobs was a nightly train from Aberdeen, which brought 120 containers of meat to transported on to Smithfield Market.
“It was quite a dangerous job,” said Julie. “The concept of health and safety was different then. The crane driver was paid per job, so they would work quickly rather than safely to make more money.”
They also interviewed Coleen Sheehan, a telephonist who operated a call switchboard; a confectionary worker, Julia White, who grafted in a Stroud Green factory making chocolates and toffees; and Stanley Wilson the coach builder.
Julie added: “I learned a lot about how people use to work, and the sense I was one of comradery and pride, although, some of them aren’t very glamorous jobs. They were physically demanding, so the advent of machinery wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“But I think there’s a bit of a resurgence with skilled trades, certainly crafts like leather work.”