Shoreditch, 1937

As part of our weekly Twitter feature on Guildhall Library’s Collections – which utilises the hash tag #GLCol – we recently ran a week-long series of tweets based on the 1937 Official Guide to the Metropolitan Borough of Shoreditch. This Guide was issued back in the day ‘under the Auspices of Shoreditch Borough Council’ – now part of the London Borough of Hackney – and offers many interesting insights into life in 1930’s Shoreditch.

This sixth edition of the Guide includes data on Shoreditch (population: 97,042), its buildings, thoroughfares and places of note. The preface describes Shoreditch as a ‘combination of historical old parishes and a progressive modern borough’, and its connections with early theatre and Shakespeare are also discussed. A number of lovely old street photographs are peppered throughout the Guide, such as the one depicting High Street below – apparently this street was widened ‘about half a century ago’ at the rather staggering cost of £121,816.

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The vast majority of the Guide is actually composed of advertisements for local businesses, with furniture trades and their suppliers predominating. This is hardly surprising given the area’s reputation as a hub of furniture production. There is also a separate section detailing ‘The Furniture Trade of Shoreditch’. Lacquer artists make an appearance too, in what is one my favourite adverts in the Guide:

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It was the borough’s role in furniture production that is still represented today in Hoxton’s Geffrye Museum, which itself gets a significant mention in the Guide. The institution has a fascinating background as the site of almshouses erected in 1715. The Museum opened in 1914, and is described as containing exhibits of ‘all such things as went into the making of the homes of Bygone Londoners’.

Recent acquisitions included a Queen Anne oak staircase from Lower Clapton Road, presented by Hackney Borough Council, and an entire room from the recently demolished Pewterers’ Hall. The Guide also notes that the museum had a lecture hall in the ‘South Wing’, which seated 200 and was used on Thursday nights for adults, and three mornings and three afternoons per week for local school children.

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Shoreditch Borough Council was understandably very proud of its early adoption and promotion of electricity – its motto, shown on the cover of the Guide, emphatically stated ‘More Light, More Power’. The third section of the guide is dedicated to ‘Electricity supply’. Today, the electricity sub-station it refers to on Coronet Street has been restored and is a thriving circus school, Circus Space. The Electricity Offices and Showrooms, where people once came to be dazzled by the latest innovations in consumer electrics, are now a bar and restaurant, called the Electricity Showrooms.
019These new uses for old buildings also reflect the changing face of modern Shoreditch, which is perhaps now best known for its shopping, restaurants, street art and nightlife. Even back in 1937 it was already being described as ‘a comprehensive shopping centre’. But there have been some significant changes – Thursdays were ‘Early Closing’ day, with Shoreditch shops and traders shutting up shop at 1pm!

026Some things stay the same however…You can just make out Syd’s Coffee Stall in bottom right-hand corner of the photograph of St Leonard’s Church (of ‘the bells of St Leonard’s’ fame, shown above). Syd’s has been on that site since 1919 – for so long in fact that the road’s yellow lines have even been painted around it! Drop by today and the original owner’s descendants can show you a board displaying memorabilia and old photographs…

You can also drop by Guildhall Library and view the Official Guide for yourself. We hold the 1926, 1929, 1932 and 1962 editions as well.

Anne-Marie Nankivell
Library Assistant

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