Image of the crowd at the St Pancras rent battle of September 1960 outside Kennistoun House. Courtesy of The Camden Tenant John Cowley
Published: 15 November, 2012
by ANDREW JOHNSON
IT'S always tempting to view the past through rose-tinted specs. But there’s nothing wrong with that if it means taking the the best of the past and using it to inform the here and now, as well as the future.
A seven-month exhibition and memory project which launches tomorrow (Friday) at the Map Cafe in Grafton Road, Kentish Town, intends to do just that.
The project, Many Cultures, One Community, is drawing together the social history of Kentish Town from the 1940s to the present day, concentrating on the area’s rich cultural and often radical history.
From the launch of the International Times at the Roundhouse in 1967 with Pink Floyd to the St Pancras Rent Strikes in 1960, the birth of the city farm movement in the 1970s, or Squat City in the now-demolished Prince of Wales Crescent, or Reclaim the Streets in 1995, the past seven decades in and around Kentish Town have been full of incident.
“The exhibition is about the legacy of Kentish Town in terms of its creative collaborations in the past,” says co-organiser Sara Newman, a former Camden New Journal reporter.
“It’s a creative social history – stories of how Camden came to be the creative capital of London in some respects. For example, the Irish workers came to Euston and settled around Kentish Town and Camden because it was cheap to live here.
“They were people who struggled to make a living but found time in their lives to express themselves creatively. So they would have these informal music sessions at places you wouldn’t expect like the Devonshire Arms and the Black Cap.
“The intention is not just to revisit the past, but to inspire the current generation to make their own history.”
The exhibition – called Kentish Town Kaleidoscope – will visit seven different venues over the next seven months. Then in June the project will culminate with a parade and festival.
This is a recreation, or homage, to the festivals put on in the 1960s and 1970s by ED Berman, which helped to form such ongoing projects such as the Weekend Arts College, Talacre open space and the Kentish Town City Farm.
“There was a group of actors who did spontaneous performances on the Heath and led Pied Piper processions through Kentish Town in the 1960s and early 70s,” Sara explains.
“They set up carnivals and for a few years it was a really dynamic place to be. There was just this idea of dynamism, a ‘let’s do it’ attitude, trying to enliven the community and make people feel inspired. ED Berman is the person who did that. He’s well known for his Fun Art Bus and Inter-Action.
“He’s still around. He came to visit Kentish Town community centre recently. He’ll be involved. Hopefully he’ll be able to bring his [new] Fun Art Bus to the festival. I feel the same about things as he does. You just create ripples for no logical reason or end. You just do it.”
The exhibition and history has been researched from original source materials by Sara and her colleagues, including local historians John Cowley, Emma Jolly, Kevin Guyan and Gill Kaffash.
“The best find was a calendar by Inter-Action from the 1970s. There were these boys from Talacre Gardens holding their bikes up. You could see the mess that it was,” Sara says.
“There’s this amazing woman called Liz Jellinek. She’s been sitting in the archive for nine months making scrapbooks of the old newspapers. She used to squat and knew ED, and Sid Rawle, the supposed King of the Hippies. He was involved in a squatting movement called Polytantric that did events with the Squat City crew and was on Malden Road for a bit. He set up the free festival movement in the 1970s which culminated with people being bludgeoned in the battle of the Beanfield in the 1980s.”
It all began after Sara finished an MA in social history at the University of London. “We wanted to do an arts project, and applied for Heritage Lottery Funding to do it,” says Sara, who is of Irish Jewish background.
The idea is also to involve children in as much of the research as possible, including film and video editing.
Hamish MacDougall, the associate director of the King’s Head Theatre and freelance director with the National Youth Theatre and the Young Vic, will be running the performing arts workshops and directing the outdoor performances for the summer carnival.
Adam Saker – aka Sixth Sense – will be responsible for a listening booth that young people will be creating, and Nina Gebauer a community artist who, pending funding, will be running the costume and prop making
To kick things off on Friday, Professor Jerry White of Birkbeck College will be giving a talk on how ordinary people tackled the post-war housing crisis by squatting.
“We neglect the stories that ought to be told, that will make a difference to people’s lives,” Sara adds. “We hear of kings and queens and generals and multi-millionaires, but what about the people who strived to create Kentish Town City Farm, or the Irish musicians or drama schools, squatting movements. What ever you feel about squatters they often inspire a quite creative dynamic thing.
“It’s not just social history, it’s local history and the history of ordinary people’s lives.”
• Kentish Town Kaleidoscope launches on Friday. The talk is fully booked but the exhibition is open generally at 8.30pm. Admission free.
• The Many Cultures One Community project depends on people contributing their memories, support and skills and if people have stories they want to share or know you can contact the organisers at firstname.lastname@example.org