Saturday, 16 June 2012

An Eastenders story that needs telling

Since volunteering in schools I've been struck how they don't seem to teach local history - at least not in the ones I've seen. Often there's just not the room in the national curriculum - and with Michael Grove's promotion of the LadyBird school of history I suspect there will be even less. Which is a shame because it has the potential to be a great way of telling the 'island story' he's so fond of. 

Of course here in London where there's every chance that a history class will have pupils from anywhere in the world 'local' does not necessarily mean what you might first assume. But then again, the flip-side of this is that London has always been like that. 

Which is why I have jumped at the chance to teach a couple of lessons about a subject very close to my heart - the changing face of London's docklands. With Chinese, Malaysian, Indian, Somali and Eastern European communities established there since the early nineteenth century, the history of the docks almost holds up a mirror to the  classrooms of modern London

So as a bit of preparatory homework I took myself to the excellent Museum of London in Docklands. Telling the story of docklands from Roman times to it's recent 'regeneration', this is proper 'warts and all' local history. Which is to say that it doesn't romanticise the thriving golden era of the docks - which were inextricably linked with the slave trade, nor does it omit the conflicts of he great dock strike of 1889 or the battles a century later between the displaced dock communities* and the London Docklands Development Commission. 

But sadly stuck in the shadow of Canary Wharf and the corporate barrenness that is modern docklands - the museum was almost totally deserted on a Saturday morning. At the end of the tour you are invited to take a post-it and stick your thoughts and impressions up on a 'comments wall'.  Someone has quite rightly suggested that all the bankers and traders who work at Canary Wharf should be compelled to spend half a day in the museum.

*My mum - who grew up around Wapping in the war years -  returned there in the early 1990s - she considered retiring to  one of the new flats. The flats themselves were lovely but she was very upset that she couldn't find the streets and squares she remembered as a child - because they simply weren't there any more. The LDDC had accomplished what six years of the Luftwaffe couldn't.

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