Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Curatorial Corner - 14th September 2011

Acton Garden Village

Steve Gregory, Library and Archive Volunteer at STEAM, was lucky enough to catalogue a new donation of photographs on the GWRs garden village at Acton.  In this Blog he shares his thoughts on this fantastic set of images.

STEAM has been lucky enough to receive a collection of 50 photographs tracing the development of the homes built by the GWR in its Acton Garden Village.  Donated in August, the images (all in black and white, but from a mixture of sources) start in 1924, and trace the growth of this development over almost 40 years. This collection will fascinate those who are interested in the history of the GWR and the ways in which it sought to look after its employees. Individual types of house available are clearly illustrated, along with aerial photographs showing the layout of the whole estate.
I was lucky enough to be asked to index the collection, and to add details of each image to the database which is used to help manage STEAM’s large collection of photographs, book & magazines. As I worked my way through the pictures, it struck me how much other information this small collection also contained. I had not realised, for instance, that there were companies providing aerial photography as a commercial service so soon after World War I, but here was the stamp of “Aero Films Ltd., Hendon NW9”, with individual negative numbers and a date of 1924. By 1928, the same firm was again taking a new set of photographs, so business must have good enough for it to survive the start of the depression.

A view of Acton Garden Village in 1935

By 1930, the houses are starting to show the individual touches added by the various tenants – roses growing on trellises or archways over garden paths. In 1935, communal areas have been grassed and planted with trees and shrubs, and even some hard-landscaping makes an appearance. 
Being so close to London and to the main lines, it would have been surprising if Acton Garden Village had escaped damage from bombing raids. Sure enough, a group of 12 photographs shows damage to West Acton School, and various houses with tiles blown from the roofs. There is even a close-up of what I assume (and hope, for the photographer’s sake) is an unexploded bomb of some kind. Judging by the garden fork lying nearby, it must have been a fair sized device, which makes the small amount of damage to the houses even more remarkable.
 After the war, there is a gap in the collection until 1961 when a picture from a local newspaper shows the estate as well established and well cared-for.
The collection shows a tremendous amount of social history and the changes to everyday life over the years ; 1930s pictures show a horse-drawn van and a delivery boy’s bike , while cars are parked outside some houses in 1961. The war-time shots show a very uncomfortable-looking pushchair, and a hand mangle to press  water out of items being washed at home, and barbed wire features on a number of fences.
Over the years, those who lived in the village have had a range of social activities.  An aerial shot from 1928 shows a cricket pitch, complete with well-kept wicket and pavilion, not far from the houses. A commercial photograph shows a trip to Ostende in Belgium organised by the Tenants’ Association - almost certainly in the late 1920s or 1930s, to judge by the clothes and the magnificent “Coach 7”, supplied by the British Travel Bureau of Ostende.  Another newspaper picture from 1961 shows the Acton Garden Village Sports Day Queen being ‘crowned’ by the Chairman of the Residents’ Association.  
The donation of 50 pictures, by a range of photographers, is a lovely little collection which adds still more interest by filling a previous gap in the STEAM Library and Archive. 

The donation of photographs also came with a range of paperwork relating to the history of the Village and a silver cup for the Village Allotment Association.

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