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Why The Bancroft’ is unique for London’s local history

PUBLISHED: 20:18 16 June 2008 | UPDATED: 13:22 05 October 2010

THE Bancroft Local History Library and Archives is a place that is used by the whole community. It’s the history of London’s East End and Tower Hamlets which is not just the history of the white working class.’ The East End has always been a melting pot comprised of groups of all creeds and colours. The records of the archives show this.

Gary Haines

East London Advertiser history columnist

THE Bancroft Local History Library and Archives is a place that is used by the whole community. It's the history of London's East End and Tower Hamlets which is not just the history of the 'white working class.'

The East End has always been a melting pot comprised of groups of all creeds and colours. The records of the archives show this.

The papers I have written for the East London Advertiser and other publications over the years come from sources and records held in Bancroft.

The history of the East End is much more than Jack the Ripper or the Krays. This is reflected in the fantastic collection at the Bancroft.

I was shocked to hear of the plans to move the History Library Archives to Docklands, chiefly because we were told outright at last year's public consultation that they would not be moved from Bancroft Road.

Perhaps this was before Tower Hamlets council realised how much it could sell the building for.

The heritage of the East End has never been top priority for the council unless it suits them for a 'photo opportunity.' So I'm sad to say I'm not completely surprised by this decision.

With investment in staff and the building, Bancroft could have been a showpiece for the council, in the same way heritage is for many other areas.

Instead if plans go ahead, it will prove to be yet another example of Tower Hamlets council backtracking on their word.

There are five main questions I would like answered.

1. What is going to happen to the wonderful Local History Library Collection of thousands of books, photographs and newspaper articles which has been built up and assembled over the decades and expertly worked on by archivist Christopher Lloyd?

2. What is going to happen to the archives collection which needs even more specialist care and storage? This collection assembled by Malcolm Barr-Hamilton, the most professional and dedicated archivist I have ever come across in my 10 years of working in archives, documents the history of the East End.

3. If the move does happen, will everything just sit in storage, never to be looked at again, or will a plan be put into place to make everything accessible? At a time when local history has never been so fashionable, thanks to media interest, shutting off the archives would be ironic.

4. What is going to happen to the dedicated staff who work there? I worked as a volunteer with the archives on and off for around five years, so I know first hand that they are dedicated professionals who have years of invaluable experience which should not be lost.

5. Are the new locations going to increase their staff numbers to cope with the rise in demand and make the collections accessible? Or is the collection just going to be 'moved' and put on a shelf never to be seen again.

I believe Tower Hamlets should have another public consultation.

I wonder what George Lansbury would think of today's councillors. The days of standing up for the local people who voted for you and listening to their opinions, it appears, have long since gone.


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