Monday, 17 July 2017

Banana Lil'

“A single image of an ordinary street or family photo can spark memories, stories and conversations bringing the past and participants to life making concerns and thoughts ever present. A family photo, a black and white image of a woman’s great grandmother sat on a chair holding a piece of paper can be recognised by a stranger as ‘Banana Lil’, someone she’d not seen since her childhood in St Ebbe’s between the wars.  The group could then tell previously unknown stories to the woman about her own relative that she could then take away to the rest of her family.”
Kieran Cox

It was wonderful to meet 'Banana Lil's' great-grand daughter, Jen, at the last of our reminiscence sessions at Modern Art Oxford. 'Banana Lil'', also known as 'old mother fire blocks', was a well known character in St Ebbe's. She ran a fruit and vegetable shop on Commercial Road, but drummed up extra custom by selling fruit and veg from a barrow which she wheeled around the streets of St Ebbe's. She was a strong character, shaped by a tough life and a will to survive. Banana Lil' seems to epitomise a certain spirit and character so typical of St Ebbe's. The grit and determination to succeed, and the wry humour with which to laugh away life's knocks and bumps.

Snapshots of St Ebbe's

Another fantastic collection of images and memorabilia has come to light. David Brown spent his childhood in St Ebbe's, moving to Marston in his early teens when St Ebbe's was demolished. He is a keen collector and has gathered a fascinating array of material.

We spent some time looking at a collection of photographs given to David by his friend. These are snapshots taken around St Ebbe's in the early stages of the demolition. Many are of seemingly quite ordinary buildings and places - not necessarily the most attractive parts of St Ebbe's - but at a reminiscence session the significance of these places emerged. It was interesting to see how photos taken by an 'insider' of St Ebbe's - someone who knew the area intimately as a resident - were so evocative for former residents who have rich memories of daily life associated with these places.

Mabel's shop. "It was absolutely packed. If there was anything you wanted you could buy it here!"  

"You see the lamp post on the corner? I remember the lady who lived in this house used to mop the bottom of the lamp post every morning. In case a dog had done a wee on it." 

The back of Paradise Square.

Paradise Street

Paradise Square.

Charles Street (now Turn Again Lane). The two houses on the left were demolished (despite being listed). Oxford Preservation Trust saved the remaining buildings in the terrace. 

Warburtons scrap yard. This space was very important for the community, and particularly for children who would earn pennies for taking bottles, scrap metal, even rabbit skins to the scrap yard. 

Looking up Littlegate Street towards the town centre. Albion Terrace (childhood home of Gillian Williams) is seen on the left. This was sadly demolished, but the garden and vicarage beyond survived.

Corner of Castle Street and Paradise Square.

Luther Terrace

New Street - T Bard & Son was a fish wholesaler.

Speedwell Street

Thames Street with South Oxford School on the right.

Urbansuburban sculpture workshop at Modern Art Oxford

Taking inspiration from Oxford’s ‘Golf ball’ control room for the demolished multi-storey car park, and using the simple construction methods of Charles and Ray Eames kit, known as ‘The Toy’, children and adults collaborated to make large cardboard sculptures in an urbansuburban workshop for Future Knowledge. 

Despite working from a uniform starting point, the outcomes were diverse, exploring architectural ideas, play structures, imaginary spaces, interiors and exteriors. 

We collaged onto the sculptures using archive images from St Ebbe’s, finding interesting ways to relate imagery from the photographs to ideas within the sculptures.

“The Toy” was a self-assembly project made in 1951 by Charles and Ray Eames and sold by Sears, Roebuck and Co. The pieces of “the Toy” came packed in a hexagonal tube and could be used to produce multiple structures, playhouses, theatres and shelters.

The control room of the 1970s Westgate multi-storey car park, known locally as 'The Golf Ball'. This was demolished in 1999 due to degradation of the building and redundant technology. The rest of the site was cleared in 2016.

Workshop photos credit: Kieran Cox

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

urbansuburban at Modern Art Oxford

I am showing the urbansuburban book and new work created in response to research around St Ebbe's at Modern Art Oxford in their exhibition 'Future Knowledge'.

Please come along to see the work and archive photographs and contribute to the on-going research which will be developed and displayed during the course of the exhibition! I am interested in your memories and viewpoints, whether relating to the old pre-1960s St Ebbe's, the original Westgate and multi-storey car park or the new re-development.

I will be running drop-in workshops in the upper galleries on 25th May, 31st May, 6th June and 15th June from 2-4pm.

There will also be a talk by Ben Highmore this Saturday, 27th May at 3pm. More details on the Modern Art Oxford website.

If you want to share memories or material relating to St Ebbe's and can't manage these sessions then please contact me to arrange another time to meet.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

The urbansuburban book!

The urbansuburban book is on display at the Museum of Oxford in their permanent displays from 1st October to 17th December 2016. Please go and have a look!

You can view a pdf of the book here.

Friday, 9 September 2016

1960's St Ebbe's in colour

Tom Hassall, the archaeologist who ran excavations in St Ebbe's before the first Westgate Centre was built, has shared his extensive collection of slides taken in the area when he began work in 1967. Although St Ebbe's was regarded as a slum and planners did not think it should be preserved, Tom sensed that something was going that should be captured. He took many photographs for his personal archive, recording details of remaining houses, the demolition process and aspects of the construction of the Westgate Centre.

After so many black and white images of St Ebbe's it is a revelation to see the area in colour.

All photographs are used with the permission of Tom Hassall.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Searching for St Ebbe's in Blackbird Leys

St Ebbe's as a community and a place no longer exists, and yet it is possible that it is still there dispersed throughout the City of Oxford. Researching a place when the physical structures that defined it no longer exist requires a broader search focussing on material and memories that people are willing to share. I am interested in whether a place can still exist in some way when the physical elements of that place have been lost and the people have been re-located. In a sense, finding St Ebbe's is an impossible task, and yet it seems to be a project worth taking on.

Gillian was born and brought up in Littlegate Street in St Ebbe's. At our first reminiscence workshop she saw a photograph of her childhood home for the first time. The house had been demolished in the early 1960's. Memories came flooding back and since then Gillian has shown me some of the objects from St Ebbe's kept by her mother after they moved away and shared the memories that they triggered.

Albion Terrace. Gillian's house is mid-terrace with a gas light in front of it. 
Photo courtesy of the Oxford Mail

Gillian has spent most of her life living in Blackbird Leys, first in Evenlode Tower and later, as family circumstances changed, in a house nearby. Her house is full of objects that she has collected over the years, each with a story and most of them relating to family, friends and memories of the past. The objects are carefully arranged in cabinets and around an impeccably neat and tidy home. 

"My father was a painter. So everything in the house used to get painted. The trays that you put your cup of tea on. Plimsolls. Shoes. If you wanted a different colour (we couldn’t afford new shoes) he’d say ‘What colour do you want it?’.

Everything… The iron – that was painted. I can remember mum using that afterwards as a doorstop.

But mum used to put it on and then spit on it. And I can remember seeing her spit on it – to see if it was hot enough I suppose."

Gillian's father was a painter at Lucy's ironworks. Whether it was toxic fumes caused by spray painting or another vulnerability that caused him to develop pleurisy no-one knows, but he spent eighteen months in hospital and out of work when Gillian was a young child in the mid 1940's. At this point the welfare state was either in it's infancy or possibly just an idea. Either way, Gillian's childhood memories are of the impact this had on the family, her mother's struggle to manage and the support of their community.

"Dad – he had pleurisy. And he was in the old Slade hospital and I wasn’t very old. And I can remember furniture going actually out of the house. Only small. Not tables and chairs… small pieces of furniture… and maybe two weeks later they’d come back. And over the years we found out that mum used to put them in the pawn shop. Because Dad wasn’t there and dad wasn’t earning any money to look after us. She had to pawn and then get it out when she could. Eighteen months dad was in the Slade hospital.

I wasn’t allowed in the hospital, but there was woods. And I can remember my mum taking me in the woods first. Putting me by a fence and telling me to stay there. And then she used to go into the hospital and sometimes if Dad was allowed out he used to walk over to the fence to say ‘hello’ to me.

There was nothing. But you see I can remember neighbours bringing food. And me going to somebody and having something to eat. You never questioned it at all."

This experience was probably quite common. Others have talked of ill health and illnesses as a result of serving in the war and the impact this had on family finances before the days of sick pay and benefits. At a point when the country was on it's knees, having expended it's resources there was a clear need for the NHS and welfare state. 

"Now my sister. She was 8 or 9 years older than I was. She was the lady and I was the tom boy. We were different. She always wore a dress, I always wore trousers.

I didn’t like playing with the girls. I used to always play with the family of boys that lived next door. I used to go scrumping… they used to put me over the vicarage because I was a girl and I could get away with it. But do you know, I still had a clip round the ear from my mother! 'You shouldn’t do what them boys tell you to do!'

There used to be a policeman on a push bike and we used to wait until he’d gone round commercial Road or somewhere and then I used to hop over.

I never ever camped at the rec ground because I wasn’t allowed. But that was the play area and it had the mounds, and there was a bridge with little alcoves and that’s where you did your courting. That’s where the boys and girls used to go and have a kiss or whatever. And on the rec we used to play or swim. And you could go swimming. I was always getting told off for that. When you think now I wouldn’t go in the Thames. We used to be so daring.

We never had money but we had fun.

I can remember mum making me jam sandwiches and packing me off on Saturday morning and I’d be back at tea time."

"They were never used. I think Mum got them from Webbers. She got most of her glasses and suchlike from there."

"This was supposed to have belonged to my Great-Gran. I was given it by my mother. But I don’t know. They’re not painted on the back, she told me, because it goes flat on the shelf. And all it’s got on is a number. I’ve never really believed it but…  I wouldn’t sort of say yes it was…"

“This was under the floorboards of that bungalow that my son bought. He said “Do you remember senior service?” I said ‘Vaguely.’ But I never did smoke them because they never had a tip on them. He said ‘It was under the floorboards when we took up the floorboards of the kitchen of that bungalow.’ And he said ‘I told Kerry just dust off the dust and mum’ll have that!’”