Local History On The Internet

By Shirley Seaton

Brentford and Chiswick Local History Journal No 10 (2001)

Over the last year websites have proliferated, particularly in the UK, but is there anything really worthwhile on the internet? It is all too easy to get lost in the deluge of material, most of which will not be what you are looking for, so ‘searching the web’ becomes a time-wasting and frustrating occupation, and it is tempting to give up and use the old familiar sources. However, once accustomed to the different vocabulary and ways to access the internet, it really can be more convenient to sit at the computer with the information at your finger-tips, no travelling time or restriction to library ‘opening hours’, no waiting on the telephone while you are held in a queue. Interesting web pages may be saved as ‘favourites’ and printed out or studied later when you are not ‘on line’ paying for your telephone link.

Here are some recommendations for local historians. Starting specifically with ‘Chiswick’, two churches have very good websites, both new in 2000.

This is the site for the parish church of St Nicholas, Chiswick. The web pages include a comprehensive history of the church since the seventh century, with a detailed tour of the church and graveyard, descriptions of the most important memorials and tombs, and many illustrations excellently reproduced. The section on the Archives and Registers includes colourful details from the Churchwardens’ Accounts and ‘Burialls’ Registers such as “cause of death ‘poor highwayman who fell under the wheels of the Exeter coach’.” There are good source notes, and leads for further study. The booklet, The Parish Church of St Nicholas, Chiswick published 2000, from which the website information is compiled is not, though, included in the book list. A loss since many people might like to have the information in book form.

The main page for St Michael & All Angels, Bedford Park, leads you easily to the history of the church and of Bedford Park. There are details of the church festivals, music, services, concerts and events, and a visitor’s impression of the church, all well illustrated. At the time of writing, however, the page has not been updated and events listed do not go beyond 2000. It would also be useful to have a mention of the interesting new book: The Birth of a Parish by Michael Broom, published in 2000, for a more comprehensive history.

St Michael’s web pages are part of www.chiswickW4.com a community website for Chiswick residents and businesses, which is good for up-to-date information about local events and issues. It is nice to see that the Brentford & Chiswick Local History Society is listed in the ‘Societies’ section.

The Kew Bridge Steam Museum website provides many layers of information to explore. Using the pointer controlled by the mouse, you can click on words in the text that are underlined to follow routes to additional related information, while clicking on a topic in the column on the left will lead you to a new page within the site.

http://www.hounslow.gov.uk/ is the website for the London Borough of Hounslow, newly launched in February 2001 and not yet complete. From the main page ‘Leisure’ links lead to Libraries or Heritage or CIP Local Studies Services. Click on Heritage for Parks, and you will be led to Gunnersbury Park, Hogarth House, Boston Manor, Osterley Park (a National Trust web page) and Syon Park. Click on Heritage: Tourism for Kew Bridge Steam Museum (also direct on www.kbsm.org.uk an excellent website) and Kew Gardens. Each entry includes a brief history, with special events and opening times. Looking at Kew Gardens (also direct on www.rbgkew.org.uk/ I was interested to see, along with a full listing of seasonal attractions, new information that 70,000 new daffodil bulbs had been planted in the autumn of 2000 along the Broad Walk, and should be in bloom in April. Heritage also leads to: River Thames Guide: History of the River: Places to visit. The Chiswick House site is still ‘under construction’ by Hounslow, but can be accessed under: Guide to Richmond on Thames: (www.guidetorichmond.co.uk) click on Site Directory for many Attractions including the Musical Museum at Brentford and the River Crane and Gunpowder Mill. There are also leads to the River Thames (www.riverthames.co.uk) with many information tributaries, which include Chiswick Mall and Fuller’s Griffin Brewery, the ‘liquid history’ of the river, cruises and boat trips, and, very usefully, a telephone number for tide times.

London Archives
One very exciting website for those interested in London is: http://collage.nhil.com. This is an image database containing 21,000 pictures (prints, engravings etc) from the Guildhall Library and Art Gallery. If you don’t have a computer, it can be viewed in the Print Room at the Guildhall Library.

The Collage website allows you to search on a choice of symbols, shown on the left picture, these include History, Leisure and Politics, or to type in your own subject. Searching on ‘Chiswick’ produces a selection of thumbnail images (see right hand illustration) which you can click on to enlarge or order a printed copy.

There are many ‘search’ categories from which to choose, such as ‘London’s first railways’, ‘street scene’, ‘trade card’, ‘satire’, ‘river view’. If you select ‘Place’ and type in Chiswick you will see 48 Chiswick images, many of Chiswick House at different periods, all with full details of artist’s name, date, caption details, size of picture, and how to place an order for a print; and ‘Click’ again with the ‘mouse’ for a full screen image. There are 108 Hogarth images, 24 for Brentford, 18 for Syon House, 30 various scenes, satirical sketches, costume drawings and maps on the subject of Thames Watermen and Lightermen.

Some of these images are in the collections at Chiswick or Hounslow Local Studies Libraries, but it is certainly easier to view them on the web and this also saves handling the prints which causes them to deteriorate.

For information on document records available at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), and the Guildhall Library, ‘search’ on the Corporation of London’s website: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/col/. A newly designed and improved website should be launched by May with LMA pages detailing their holdings of parish and school records. Armed with a printout of the microfilm reference numbers means that your visit to Clerkenwell is much more productive.

Many photographs, prints and maps from the LMA collection can be seen on their image database: www.eva-eu.org

www.pro.gov.uk is the main address for the Public Record Office and http://catalogue.pro.gov.uk/ links you to the entire PRO catalogue with over eight million document references and online ordering. Browse or search the catalogue, and it is possible to feed in just one, or up to three, keywords for searching document titles. A search for ‘Chiswick’ finds 840 documents: Volunteers’ Muster Books 1798-1809, 17th and 18th century probate records, a Royal Fine Art Commission document on a proposed scheme for construction of a river embankment between Barnes and Chiswick bridges in 1935, the company registration of Chiswick Art Workers Guild in 1894, many maps, Transport Department records concerning the construction of the Great Chertsey Road (1925) and M4 (1964-5), being a few examples.

The British Library http://blpc.bl.uk/ also has its catalogue on line, which you can search by author, title or subject (the catalogue contains 134 items for Chiswick and 123 for Brentford).

If this whets your appetite for more – try www.archivesinfo.net: UK and Overseas archival repositories on the internet.

Be There In Spirit
The internet, however, offers more than just the facility to leaf through static information sources. It also allows you to watch live events unfolding as you sit in front of your screen in the comfort of your home. My own most exciting internet experience was watching the bidding take place for Camille Pissarro’ s picture of Stamford Brook Common, 1897, at Christie’s major auction of Impressionist and Post Impressionist Paintings last February (www.Christies.com). The painting was sold for £641,750. While listening to the voice of the auctioneer as the bidding progressed, I could see a still frame of the auctioneer himself and of the girls on the telephones, their hand motion ‘frozen’ as they passed on callers’ bids, or I could view the details from the catalogue, including the estimated price, or I could fill the screen with the picture itself. I had been disappointed that the auction was ticketed and oversubscribed as I had hoped to attend. However, in the event I had a much better ‘view’ at home.

Shirley Seaton has lived in Chiswick for over thirty years. A former TV researcher, she is the co-author with Reginald Coleman of Stamford Brook: An Affectionate Portrait. Revised ed.1997.


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