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Migration Museum review: Take a closer look at Britain’s cultural landscape

© Migration Museum Project

The Migration Museum has opened at The Workshop in Lambeth, central London

Following the Brexit vote last year, the Syrian refugee crisis and Donald Trump’s shock presidency, the issue of migration is bigger than ever. London is renowned for being a multicultural city so it’s no surprise most of the capital voted against Brexit. Most Londoners recognise the huge contribution migrants have given to the city. However, migration is no new phenomena, with waves from various parts in the world dating back centuries. London itself after all was founded by migrants, aka Romans, in the 1st century. As someone who was born, grew up and continues to live in London, I can’t think of many friends who are British going back generations. I myself am a first generation Brit born to Irish parents and most of my best friends have migrant parents.

With migration being such an important part of London’s history, it’s amazing there hasn’t been a museum dedicated to the subject until now. However this spring, the Migration Museum opened its doors at The Workshop in Lambeth. The Workshop, an arts and community space which is home to the London Fire Brigade Museum among others, is a temporary venue for the Museum until 2018. The museum aims to explore how the movement of people has shaped the country throughout history.

© Migration Museum Project

Call Me By My Name gives a voice to the Calais Migrants, a group generalised and stereotyped
© Migration Museum Project

I paid a visit recently and checked out two exhibitions: Call Me By My Name and 100 Images Of Migration. The latter was a collection of thought-provoking images of migrants in Britain from professional and amateur photographers, dating back decades to present day. Although some photos were very different, they collectively demonstrated up the variety of experiences and lifestyles of migrants in the UK. I especially liked a photo of children from different ethnic groups playing together, which was a lovely display of integration and reminded me of my childhood at a multi-cultural, south London primary school.

Call Me By My Name is a particularly powerful exhibition, giving a voice to those who experienced living in Calais’ infamous ‘Jungle’. Following a lot of negative criticism and pigeon-holing in the media, this multi-media exhibition humanises them. Through art, images and other media, it delves into individuals’ motivation for leaving their home country, their desperation to seek safe refuge and their hopes for a new life in the UK or Europe. Reading some of the first-person narratives was incredibly moving and I think many MPs should check it out before making decisions regarding the UK’s treatment of migrants. The exhibition is far from one-sided, giving the views of politicians, lorry drivers and others who hold more negative opinions of migrants. I was specially struck by the tear gas curtain – what looks like a piece of decoration from afar, it’s only on closer inspection you realise it is made of tear gas canisters used in ‘the Jungle’, provoking a disturbing image.

Overall, the Migration Museum provides a balanced, informative and moving collection, putting migration in context and demonstrating it cannot be generalised. Regardless of your background, it’s well worth visiting to explore how movement of people having shaped our country, particularly when Brexit is likely to make a huge impact on this in the coming years.

  • Migration Museum @ The Workshop, 26 Lambeth High Street, Lambeth, SE1 7AG. Nearest station: Vauxhall, Westminster or Lambeth North. Open Wed-Sun 10am-4pm. Free admission. For more information, visit the Migration Museum website.

To read Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.

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Sit back and enjoy one of London’s best views: The swan benches on the Albert Embankment

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

The swan benches line Albert Embankment between Lambeth and Westminster Bridge

I’ve previously blogged about the creation of the Victoria and Albert Embankments in the 19th century which coincided with the creation of the camel and sphinx benches, the sturgeon lamps and Cleopatra Needle’s sphinxes. However, there is another item of street furniture which appeared around the same time – the swan benches on the Albert Embankment.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

Bringing some grace to the Thames: The benches are often used by patients and visitors to nearby St Thomas’s Hospital

In Victorian London, the rapidly expanding population were creating major issues including the disposal of waste and sewage, most memorably the ‘Great Stink’ in 1858. The local government recognised the infrastructure couldn’t cope with surge of people living and working in the city and established the Metropolitan Board Of Works in 1855. One of board’s biggest projects was the creation of the Victoria and Chelsea Embankments on the north bank of the River Thames and the Albert Embankment on the south. The MBW’s Chief Engineer Sir Joseph Bazelgette (1819–1891) oversaw the extensive project, which involved reclaiming marshland and making the river slimmer in that part of the capital. As well as creating a sewage system and new streets to relieve traffic congestion, a lot of slums on the banks of the river were cleared. In regards to the south bank, the creation of Albert Embankment was also designed to protect low-lying areas of Lambeth from flooding at high tide. The creation of the Victoria Embankment started in 1862, with work commencing on the Albert Embankment in July 1866 and was finished in November 1869. The Chelsea Embankment wasn’t finished until 1874. The embankments were named after the reigning monarch of the time Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert, who died in 1861.

In the typically Victorian way, the new Embankment needed to have suitable ‘street furniture’ to give London – heart of the British Empire – a look of prestige and style. English architect George John Vulliamy (1817–1886) was hired as the Superintending Architect. Among one of his many projects in addition to the iconic London ‘dolphin’ lampposts, were creating benches for both sides of the Thames. On the north side, the benches’ panels and arms were designed in the shape of Egyptian sphinxes and camels – complementing Cleopatra’s Needle. On the south side of the river, there aren’t quite as many ornamental benches. However, on the stretch of Albert Embankment between Lambeth and Westminster Bridges are 15 benches featuring cast iron swan panels and arms. These benches were Grade II listed in 1981 and are established within Lambeth’s Conservation Area due to their aesthetic and historical significance. Although I am yet to find official confirmation, I would assume the swan benches have been similarly designed by Vulliamy and made by Z.D. Berry & Son of Regent Street. While the reason behind the Egyptian theme of the Victoria Embankment benches is established, the significance of the swans is not clear.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

Enjoy the view: Take a seat on the swan benches and gaze across the River Thames at the Houses Of Parliament

The name Henry Doulton is stamped on the base on the benches. I admit I couldn’t find a definite answer (but would welcome anyone who knows to comment below), but perhaps Sir Henry (1820-1897) contributed to the funding of the Embankment. Sir Henry was a key player in the expansion of the family ceramics company Royal Doulton, which was founded by his father John (1793-1873). The company had factories on various sites in Lambeth over the years located just a couple of minutes walk from the Embankment. Sir Henry’s brother Frederick (1824–1872) was a MP for the Liberal Party and a member of the Lambeth Vestry of the Metropolitan Board Of Works from 1855 to 1868. Today, the only remainder of the pottery industry which once stood there is the former Royal Doulton headquarters building on the junction of Black Prince Road and Lambeth High Street, a neo-Gothic building (built 1878) now renamed as Southbank House. Royal Doulton left the Lambeth premises in the 1950s for Stoke-on-Trent.

Whatever the reasoning behind the design of the swan benches, today they stand elevated on a concrete plinth so people can sit and admire the fine view of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Located so near to St Thomas’s Hospital, the stretch of Embankment and benches are popular with hospital patients and visitors.

  • The swan benches are on the Albert Embankment, in between Lambeth and Westminster Bridges. Nearest tube: Westminster, Lambeth North or Waterloo.

For Metro Girl’s blog post on the Vulliamy’s camel and sphinx benches on the Victoria Embankment, click here.

Or for more on Vulliamy’s Dolphin lamps, read Seen a Dolphin in the Thames? Story behind the lamps on the Thames Embankment.

To read Metro Girl’s other blog posts on London history, click here.

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Ice ice baby! Get your skates on at Ice Skate Vauxhall

© Ice Skate Vauxhall

The open-air rink runs at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens until early January 2015
© Ice Skate Vauxhall

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you may have noticed that Vauxhall is one of London’s up and coming areas. Long renowned as a transport hub and for its business parks, SE11 is now gaining attention for its nightlife and restaurants after a huge investment in the area. With its close proximity to the Thames, it’s a wonder it hasn’t happened sooner.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Get your skates on: An ice sculpture at the Vauxhall launch

This festive season, the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens has been transformed into a mini winter wonderland of sorts with an ice rink, maze of Christmas tress and suitably Christmassy food and drink. Last Friday, we went to the launch of Ice Skate Vauxhall, the first temporary rink to come to the area. The full-sized rink has an atmospheric, urban surrounding of multi-coloured lights, trees and street art. The amount of people on the ice at one time is controlled in 45 minute sessions so you have enough room to skate regardless of your confidence.

For those who aren’t so gung-ho on the skates, there’s plenty to keep you occupied at the sidelines while your friends or family members twirl around the ice. After our Torvill and Dean impressions (ahem), we headed to the pop-up Cabin Bar, which was serving mulled wine and hot cider, perfect for those chilly winter days. During the weekends there will also be an extended street food market.

An added attraction, which is unique to Ice Skate Vauxhall, is the Christmas Tree Maze next door. A labyrinth of lanes separated by fir trees, covers a square kilometre of the Gardens, providing a challenge to find the centre. Overall, the combination of attractions and choice of food and drink mean you could easily spend a few hours here, getting into the festive spirit with family or friends.

  • Ice Skate Vauxhall is open daily from 11am-8/9pm from 21 November until 4 January 2015. Skating tickets: Adults £10.80/£12, Children start from £9.45/£7.65. (Cheaper if booked online in advance). Entrance to the maze is £4.50. Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, Kennington Lane, Vauxhall, SE11 5HL. Nearest tube/train: Vauxhall. For more information, visit Ice Skate Vauxhall website.

For Metro Girl’s guide to what else is on in London this month, click here.

Or for a guide to open air ice rinks in London this season, click here.

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