diamond geezer

 Sunday, April 17, 2011

The London Maze is a local history fair for London. It doesn't come round very often, roughly every 2½ years by my calculations, and it came round yesterday for the first time since 2008. Did you go?
For one day the City of London opens up the whole of the Guildhall complex to host displays by community history groups, local societies, museums, archives and libraries; talks; guided walks; tours of the Guildhall Art Gallery and the Roman Amphitheatre; film shows from the City’s archives and performances from youth and adult groups.
There's something rather brilliant about holding a local history fair in the Guildhall. No musty church hall for these stallholders, but instead a medieval Grade-I listed Great Hall, one of the oldest surviving buildings in the City. Here they set up their display stands on the ancient floor and laid out their wares beneath the stern gaze of Gog and Magog. You might think it'd be tricky to flog books about minor suburban history under such overwhelmingly diverting circumstances, but by golly they did.

I enjoyed wandering around and being courted by local history groups from various different parts of London. No, sorry, I don't live in Wandsworth. I only nearly live in Hackney, but give me your leaflet anyway. Oh go on, you've put a lot of effort into that booklet on Wanstead Flats, I'll buy one. Top marks to Barking & Dagenham council who'd not only brought along a lady in period costume but were also handing out envelopes stuffed full of information on the borough's Heritage Sites. I've filed that particular package away as a lifesaver when my jamjar finally delivers. One of the inner London history societies sold me a booklet I'm tempted to use as the basis for this blog's local history month in 2013. And, following an animated conversation with one of their volunteers, maybe I really should join up with the East London History Society to take advantage of all their excellent research into my home patch.

If you didn't make it to the Guildhall, and local history's your thing, then here are the local London groups you missed out on.
North: Camden History Society, Edmonton Hundred Historical Society, Enfield Society, Hornsey Historical Society, Islington Archaeology & History Society
East: East London History Society, East of London Family History Society, Eastside Community Heritage, Jewish East End Celebration Society, Walthamstow Historical Society
South: Clapham Society, Streatham Society, Wandsworth Heritage
West: West Middlesex Family History Society
City: City of London Archaeological Society, Friends of the City Churches
General: London and Middlesex Archaeological Society, London Topographical Society, The London Society, London Metropolitan Archives
And if your local London local history society isn't there, it might be here. Great list, David, thanks.

As well as advice and selling stuff, there was plenty of other Maze-y stuff going on at the Guildhall yesterday. Guided walks, lectures and poetry readings, for a start. The chance to dress up as an ancient Roman, especially if you were little. Down in the Livery Hall I sat entranced by an hour-long documentary about Thamesmead, in which today's residents were shown two over-optimistic public information films from 40 years ago, and invited to pass comment with the benefit of hindsight. Now there's social history for you. Alas one particular "medical history" event had to be cancelled due to illness, but the poster apologising for this quite made my day.

And never let the opportunity to explore the Guildhall slip you by. The crypt has vaulting to die for. The Old Library boasts several portraits of royal banquets. And the Guildhall Art Gallery, which recently scrapped its admission fee, has a lot more than several rooms of old paintings. A marble statue of Margaret Thatcher, for example, which has to be displayed behind toughened glass in case anyone else pops in and attempts to decapitate it. A temporary exhibition of 'Marf' financial cartoons. And, greatest of all, the remains of Londinium's Roman Amphitheatre in its basement. Gets me every time, that does. So if you can't wait until autumn 2013 for the next London Maze, rest assured that there's enough amazing around here to fill the gap.

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