Junk and Adventure – 20th century playground archive

Notting Hill Adventure Playground, c.1960 (c) Donne Buck/V&A Museum, London

Notting Hill Adventure Playground, c.1960 (c) Donne Buck/V&A Museum, London

In August 2014, the V&A Museum of Childhood acquired the Donne Buck Archive of Play and Playgrounds. This internationally significant collection records the practice, people and politics of adventure play in Britain over six decades.

Over the next few months, I’ll be working on sharing more of this incredible collection online, so for now, here’s an introduction to the riches in store…

Donne Buck has been a playleader and campaigner for children’s right to play since the 1950s. A significant figure in the history of play, in his long career Donne has established and run adventure playgrounds in London, Stevenage and Peterborough. He has been an active campaigner for children’s rights and promoted the importance of play in education and social development, working with central government, local councils and international agencies. His extensive archive documents his personal role alongside the national picture of play in Britain.

Indorr activities (c) Donne Buck/V&A Museum, London

Indoor activities (c) Donne Buck/V&A Museum, London

Outdoor actvities (c) Donne Buck/V&A Museum, London

Outdoor actvities (c) Donne Buck/V&A Museum, London

In the 1950s, Donne was working in the poorest areas of London, while the city was still reeling from the damage of the Second World War. Among the bomb sites and rubble, experimental and progressive educators found children desperate for places to play, learn and socialise. Adventure or Junk playgrounds offered “a means of supplying the lost vitamins to the urban child’s impaired recreational diet”[i]. Donne Buck worked in Shoreditch, Lambeth, and at the pioneering Notting Hill adventure playground. The archive contains hundreds of stunning black and white images from this time, documenting the hardships and potential of post-war London.

(c) John Hopkins/V&A Museum, London

(c) John Hopkins/V&A Museum, London

Notting Hill Adventure Playground, c.1960 (c) Donne Buck/V&A Museum, London

Notting Hill Adventure Playground, c.1960 (c) Donne Buck/V&A Museum, London

Notting Hill Adventure Playground, c.1960 (c) Donne Buck/V&A Museum, London

Notting Hill Adventure Playground, c.1960 (c) Donne Buck/V&A Museum, London

In the late 1960s, Buck moved to the New Town of Stevenage, going on to establish a ring of adventure playgrounds. In the 1970s and 1980s, battling with councils and developers, Donne became a staunch organiser. The archive records this period of campaigning and publicising, with an international reach.

As well as a wealth of unpublished photographs and correspondence, the archive includes children’s work, plans and designs for playgrounds, wonderful newsletters, posters and pamphlets from a range of groups, minutes and reports giving insight into the politics of the time, training materials for playworkers, many articles and books concerning the theories and practice of playgrounds, and rich sources for the history of playground safety.

The collection’s thorough documentation of debate, activism and practice holds much potential for researchers. The struggles to retain play services during Thatcher’s government (particularly 1983 – 1987) is well recorded, as are the ideologies of safety and freedom which shape conversations about play to this day.

Leaflet for top-down Play Board venture, adapted to Free Play for Children

Leaflet for top-down Play Board venture, adapted to Free Play for Children

Leaflet for National Association of Recreation Leaders

Leaflet for National Association of Recreation Leaders

Campaign newsletter for Free Play for Children

Campaign newsletter for Free Play for Children

Campaign leaflet for Free Play for Children

Campaign leaflet for Free Play for Children

Leaflet advertising safety equipment

Leaflet advertising safety equipment

Campaign poster for the National Out of School Alliance

Campaign poster for the National Out of School Alliance

Organisations Donne Buck was involved in, including Fair Play for Children and the National Out of School Alliance are documented in detail. Plus the archive contains material from playgrounds across Britain; the Playboard; the Council of Playground Employees; London Adventure Playground Association; the Association for Children’s Play and Recreation; National Playing Fields Association; International Play Association, and many more.

For more information and to access the archive, please get in touch.

 

[i] Joe Benjamin, In Search of Adventure: a study of the junk playground, Nuffield Foundation, 1961.

Campaign poster for Free Play for Children, 1976

Campaign poster for Free Play for Children, 1976

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Small Stories

Though I haven’t ceased collecting childhood, over the last year my efforts at the Museum have been concentrated on the miniature world of dolls’ houses.

Henriques House, about 1780-1820. (c)V&A Museum, London

Henriques House, about 1780-1820. (c)V&A Museum, London

Opening in December, the special exhibition Small Stories: at home in a dolls’ house will introduce episodes from domestic history, as told by the diminutive inhabitants of twelve miniature houses.

Doll from Small Stories exhibition (c)V&A Museum, London

Doll from Small Stories exhibition (c)V&A Museum, London

Doll from Small Stories exhibition (c)V&A Museum, London

Doll from Small Stories exhibition (c)V&A Museum, London

Doll from Small Stories exhibition (c)V&A Museum, London

Doll from Small Stories exhibition (c)V&A Museum, London

Doll from Small Stories exhibition (c)V&A Museum, London

Doll from Small Stories exhibition (c)V&A Museum, London

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do this assortment of characters have to say about homes, life and history?

The world of tiny things has proven absorbing and massively time-consuming. Every house has so many stories, we’ve struggled to whittle them down to the snippets that will be in the final exhibition. So I’m endeavoring to share more of the background to the objects and the people who cared about them, over on another Small Stories blog.

Box Back dolls' house in store (c)V&A Museum, London

Box Back dolls’ house in store (c)V&A Museum, London

To find out about the process of the exhibition, research that we’ve done along the way and a fair bit of shameless anthropomorphising, come, visit, follow.

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A Photographer’s Childhood

Hello World, 1979. Copyright Victoria & Albert Museum London/John Heywood

Hello World, 1979. Copyright Victoria & Albert Museum London/John Heywood

Peek-a-boo!

Over at Collecting Childhood’s new home on the main website of the V&A Museum of Childhood, you can hear photographer John Heywood talking about his childhood, taking pictures, and what he’s learned about children. And, see many more of his wonderful photographs.

Come, listen, look!

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Plum Jam and Slapstick

Lionel Hemsley’s school days

Beach Photo

It is hard work finding evidence for the thoughts and feelings of children in the past.  Letters and diaries are rare and often don’t survive. However, this year I was delighted to meet Lionel Hemsley, who had kept a precious stash of documents from his schooldays during the Second World War. I was even more delighted when he offered to donate them to the Museum!

Lionel Hemsley with school friends. Image (C)V&A Museum, London

Lionel Hemsley with school friends. Image (C)V&A Museum, London

Lionel Hemsley (smartly dressed for the beach). Image (C)V&A Museum, London

Lionel Hemsley (smartly dressed for the beach). Image (C)V&A Museum, London

Lionel Hemsley with his sister. Image (C)V&A Museum, London

Lionel Hemsley with his sister. Image (C)V&A Museum, London

Lionel Hemsley playing with his sister. Image (C)V&A Museum, London

Lionel Hemsley playing with his sister. Image (C)V&A Museum, London

As well as letters from friends and family, Lionel had a number of novels he wrote as a child, and lots of programmes, tickets and scripts from comedy shows he devised with friends. This wonderful trove is now the Hemsley Archive.

Lionel’s story of wartime childhood, evacuation, and radio entertainment starts in 1939:

“The first main event in my life was at the age of seven when I went to boarding school. On the 2nd September 1939 War broke out. We were on holiday on the East coast near Great Yarmouth, a place called Scratby. Because of the war breaking out, we didn’t go back to Croydon where I had been in a kindergarten school with Miss Miles in her private home, two classes, one up, one downstairs!”

To keep them out of danger, Lionel’s parents sent him and his sister to Chipping Campden Grammar School, a boarding school in the Cotswolds.

“We arrived on November 5th. We arrived after heavy snow and my father’s car went off the road and punctured the petrol tank, so I had his company in the local hotel for two or three days. I had some humbugs in a paper bag which I kept in my pocket for probably months and months afterwards without eating them, as a reminder that my parents had disappeared or gone. I hated this first term in school. I felt all the emotion being drained out of me.

I remember, each Sunday, we sat down in the school dining hall, to write letters home. And of course the first letter I wrote ‘I want to come home’ and the prefects who looked at the letters said ‘No, you can’t put that’. However, I enclosed a large number of drawings, and hidden in the drawings were the words ‘I want to come home’ several times. Unfortunately for me they had no effect. So there I was.”

Lionel passed most of the War at Chipping Campden. He can remember the bombers going over on the night of the Coventry air raids, but most of his recollections revolve around food.

“At Chipping Campden, the headmaster’s wife was in charge of the catering, and we had exactly the same menu for the same day of the week. We always knew on Thursdays there wouldn’t be a dessert at lunch, there’d be an apple and cheese. And on another day there’d be tapioca, which was regarded as frogspawn and not very popular. And marg, I don’t think we saw much of butter. The margarine was put on a plate and you sort of helped yourself to margarine. The jam was always plum, so I can no longer eat, well I can eat plum jam but I wouldn’t by choice. Put me off plum jam for life.

One of the nasty things they did was put Epsom salts in your sugar ration. Each week you put out an empty jam jar and your sugar ration was put in that by the matron, and they were put on a big tray, you know, on the trays, for you to collect your own. We must have had our name written on a label I suppose, and they’d put ENOs in which of course ruined the sugar [ENO salts was a common laxative]. It was a tranquil kind of bullying I think. And I remember being depressed by it and how my spirit was bucked up no end when my parents visited and probably the problem sort of disappeared.

I was a vegetarian. When I was about three or four, I found it not possible to eat meat or fish; I don’t know whether that was psychological and unconscious, I certainly had nausea anyway, and so my mother didn’t force the issue. At school they tried to force the issue, and I remember sitting for over an over after lunch eating this fish a morsel at the time, until eventually the assistant matron Miss Toser said I needn’t bother. And they never tried to force me after that. But under the rationing system I had a large chunk of cheese in lieu of meat coupons, in fact I had coupons for nuts as well, and I’d keep this large chunk of cheese in my locker and cut a bit off every meal, and I had cashew nuts which were very tasty. Under the rationing system if you were a vegetarian you had a presumable equal amount of protein in extra cheese and nuts instead of the meat coupons.

But what I did add to my food was marmite. I was very keen on marmite, and I popped a bottle in the pocket of my grey suit and carried it around all day, so that’s why my sister said I smelt always like marmite, so I had my own pot of marmite all the way through, because it really made even the most horrible margarine edible!”

When he was eleven, under advice from the headmaster, Lionel moved to the more academic Kings School Bruton, where he found himself mixed in with boys from a school called Eddington House.

“…which was a Prep school evacuated from Herne Bay, which had been emptied out during the War. Anyway, by the time I arrived at Bruton, the school was in one of these medieval almshouses founded in, I think, the 1600s and there were still old ladies living there. There was a chapel there where we had services and I can remember reading the bible once with the old ladies paying full attention. There were two very large classrooms with a wooden sliding door and this had a stage in it where the headmaster or teacher, usually sat when giving lessons.

The Hippodrome was the concert party that I set up, and goodness knows why the other boys joined in, but anyway, we used to use the stage and we’d sing songs and read poems. I can’t remember what the singing was like! And I think there were probably humorous sketches. It was named after a BBC programme, with Enoch, Ramsbottom and Lovejoy, who were comedians. I called myself John Henry, which was the name of my father’s favourite pre-war comedian, who had a sidekick called Buttercup.

So the group of boys, Ian Luetchford was Buttercup, Tilman was Ramsbottom, Hudson was Enoch, and Dallas was Lovejoy, performed in all these things.

At the end, when the War ended, and we, the whole school moved back to Herne Bay. Now the boys that were supposed to be going to King’s School, some of those stayed behind, but some didn’t like it, in particular didn’t like the Housemaster and his wife – particularly his wife who was an old battle-axe. We had no desire to stay so about half the final lot who started the next term at Eddington House were from Bruton.

Back in Herne Bay, the Hippodrome got a bit more ambitious, and though I don’t quite recall where we did our performances, one of the huts at the school, a big hut, had a stage in it, so we might have used that. But we certainly used that for the pantomimes. Amongst my written stuff I’ve still kept, what 67 years from then, is Billy Bunter, Robin Hood, who rescued the Babes in the Wood, and Cinderella, and I guess we also carried on with the songs and things, because I’ve got a book of songs, about half of which were written in Bruton, and the other half at Herne Bay.”

These production notebooks, scripts and programmes suggest a mad-cap, anarchic comedy style. Utterly unsupervised most of the time, Lionel and his friends made their own fun, inspired by those BBC comedians and movies like Hellzapoppin’.

Hellzapoppin

In this era of frequent moves and disruption, the boys kept in touch by letter. Insulting, brief and riddled with spelling mistakes, reading the earliest letters feels like eavesdropping on a partly incomprehensible world of schoolboys! As they get older, conversation turns to School Certificates, university and careers.

Hemsley letters 147 Hemsley letters 148 Hemsley letters 149 Hemsley letters 150 letter 5 letter 1 letter 2 letter 3 letter 4

Lionel’s full story, including memories of his house in Croydon being bombed, writing novels in the sickbay of the school, and going to university aged 17, has been recorded and is part of the MoC Oral History archive.

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Star-gazing girls of Georgian England

A while ago I came across this Solar System sampler in the Museum’s textiles store. It was uncanny – the arrangement of concentric rings was so familiar and immediately recognisable, but so strange when seen as a piece of Georgian embroidery.

Solar System sampler. T.92-1939

Solar System sampler. T.92-1939

The sampler is a piece of linen 35cm tall and 35cm wide, with the title ‘The Solar System’ followed by five lines of text. At the centre is a large diagram of the six innermost planets orbiting the sun. Continue reading

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Recollection

Mary B.313-1994

Mary
B.313-1994

Mary Kempson is a woman from west London who donated hundreds of things to the Museum in the 1980s and 90s. Her original gift, a group of dolls, was quickly followed by teddies, baby clothes, board games, birthday cards, school books, holiday souvenirs, and much more. A new installation at the Museum brings her objects together with photographs and interview quotes – putting faces and voices to this collection of things. Continue reading

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Prizes, Punishments and Pupil Teachers

Attendance Medal, Misc. 1169-1991

This medal was won – or earned – by Lionel Lehman in 1903. It is not a School Board medal, but, like Denis Delay’s medal, comes from a religious institution, the Westminster Jews Free School.

Westminster Jews Free School was established early in the nineteenth century, before the government provided any money for education. By the time education was made compulsory and school boards were set up in the 1870s, it was a large, successful establishment. In 1883 the school moved to a brand new building in Hanway Place, a narrow lane at the corner of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street. Continue reading

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Seeing is Believing!

Hi, my name is Mara Bosboom and I work for the Toy Museum in Deventer, the Netherlands. I have just completed a one month internship at the V&A Museum of Childhood. As I have done a lot of work on optical toys in my own museum, my job was to sort out the shelves of optical toys in the Museum of Childhood’s Store Six.

Magic Lantern

Continue reading

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An Irish-Cockney Village in the East End

Ellen Delay’s attendance medal, 1900. B.14-1995

This medal was awarded to Ellen Delay, a pupil at St Patrick’s School, Wapping in 1900. It’s a bit different from the medals awarded by the School Board for London I wrote about here. It has no portrait of the Queen, and the metal is a bit lighter. The name of the student is engraved, but so is the year, which suggests they weren’t minted annually. And also, significantly, the name of the school is included. Continue reading

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Never Absent, Never Late

School Attendance Medals in the Museum of Childhood

The British state first became seriously involved in the schooling of its citizens in 1870. A series of inquiries and investigations over the previous decade had revealed an education system of great complexity, supported by structures of inequality and incompetence. To resolve this, the Elementary Education Act of 1870 took the responsibility away from families and gave it to local councils. It was now down to these elected officials to ensure every child had access to a school place (and not just those children from professional or artisan families). In order to provide these places, local authorities were required to establish School Boards, which in turn could build and staff new schools.[1] Continue reading

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