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Advertiser launches fight to save East End archive heritage

PUBLISHED: 20:20 16 June 2008 | UPDATED: 13:22 05 October 2010

THE East End’s famous Bancroft History Library & Archives could be evicted to make way for a prestigious collection of documents detailing the horrors of the Holocaust. The East London Advertiser has discovered that Tower Hamlets council is proposing to sell the historic building in Bancroft-road, Mile End, for what's thought to be about £1.2 million. The potential buyer is Queen Mary College, which is negotiating with the world-famous Wiener Library about relocating to East London from the Great Portland Street area. If the council’s cabinet backs the sale, Bancroft is likely to have until the end of the year to move out.

THE East End’s famous Bancroft History Library & archives could be evicted to make way for a prestigious collection of documents detailing the horrors of the Holocaust.

The East London Advertiser has discovered that Tower Hamlets council is proposing to sell the historic former Mile End Vestry Hall Bancroft-road, for what’s thought to be about £1.2 million.

The potential buyer is Queen Mary College next door, which is negotiating with the world famous Wiener Library about relocating to East London from its West End location near Great Portland Street.

If the council’s cabinet backs the sale next month, Bancroft is likely to have until the end of this year to move out.

It would mean breaking up the famous history library collection and archives into two separate locations, a disaster for staff, historians and family researchers.

The Town Hall, which closed Bancroft's lending library in 2006, now says the building is 'under used.'

It also admits it is even considering removing the East End's records from Tower Hamlets.

The proposals have sparked outrage. Tory Opposition leader Cllr Peter Golds described it as a "scandal", while the East End's most dogged heritage campaigner Tom Ridge said it was "yet another example of the council's systematic running down of all that is dear to people."

The Wiener Library describes itself as "one of the world's leading and most extensive archives on the Holocaust and Nazi era" which has more than a million items, including press cuttings, photographs and eye-witness testimony.

The 50-year lease on its current home is up in 2009, but Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised two years ago when he was Chancellor to help find it a new site.

Labour-run Tower Hamlets council stepped in after Town Hall bosses agreed relocation would boost the prestige of the East End.

The council's senior management has agreed the principle of the proposals and the cabinet is due to discuss them next month.

Negotiations are taking place about finding Bancroft's records a permanent home on the News International site in Wapping in 2010, but interim measures would see the municipal collections broken up.

The favoured option is to cart the archives to the Royal London Hospital's own depository in Whitechapel, while the history library documents would be moved from the heart of the East End and buried at the Museum in Docklands in Canary Wharf.

Scattering records across two parts of the East End would be a major problem for the Bancroft's 3,000 visitors a year, many of whom will also be afraid of interim measures gradually becoming permanent.

The Advertiser has therefore launched a 'Save Our History' campaign calling for the former Mile End Vestry Hall in Bancroft Road to remain the capital of East End heritage.

The building was in dire need of investment even before Tower Hamlets council closed the downstairs public lending library two years ago.

Although Queen Mary College is promising to revamp it, we believe it is the duty of Tower Hamlets council, which seems to prefer spending £1.5 million a year on its East End Life propaganda newssheet to investing in buildings bequeathed us by former generations.

The archives and the library should stay together.

Maintained by dedicated and qualified archivists, the centre contains a gold-mine of information, including all the archives of the East London Advertiser from 1866.

Letters, maps, photos, and other nuggets of information, including family and records and reports about the 1865 Cholera epidemic, Jack the Ripper and the 1888 Whitechapel Murders, the 1921 Poplar Rate Strikers, the 1936 Battle of Cable Street and the Krays are all held there.

These reflect the rich and treasured multicultural memories of Tower Hamlets.

By putting cash before history, Tower Hamlets council officers, already notorious for bulldozing Victorian buildings like Bethnal Green's Bonner School, are once again demonstrating a disregard for our heritage.

As we have previously reported, all but two of the council's 11-strong senior management team actually live in the borough. They are unlikely to have a true feel for our area's amazing history.

We call on new council leader Lutfur Rahman and other elected politicians, like Cllr Peter Golds, who backs our campaign, to show them the way.

Cllr Golds said: "I am appalled at any suggestion of breaking up the Tower Hamlets archives, regarded as second only to those held by Westminster.

"The essence of this amazing collection is that it is all available on a single site and available for anyone to research and study.

"It will be a public scandal to see this collection split into two."

Local historian and campaigner Tom Ridge has been using the Bancroft for 30 years.

He said: "Throughout that period I've always used the resources of the library and the archives together.

"That's the beauty of Bancroft. Once they're broken up, they'll never come together again."

Queen Mary College and Tower Hamlets council said in a joint statement that under the proposals, the Wiener Library would take up the ground floor, while a reading room would be created upstairs after "significant investment."

This would 'safeguard' the future of the building, the statement continued, adding: "Bancroft Library no longer functions as a public library, but houses the local history library and archive which attract an average of 60 visits per week.

"In considering Queen Mary's proposals, the council is exploring options for the temporary relocation of the local history library and archive.

"Alternative locations within the borough or within close proximity to the borough are being investigated with a view to identifying new permanent locations in Tower Hamlets."

Advertiser readers are urged to send comments to:

ela.editorial@artchant.co.uk


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