“What I have enjoyed about collecting and sharing all of this material is the many and varied tangents that the journey takes you on. I found a load of old cigarette cards that documented the crests of the inner London boroughs. The GLC campaign and protest badges from the 1980s connect me with my teenage years…”
For the latest in my series exploring how people engage with, interpret and share their interest in the urban past, today I was lucky enough to catch up with Ian who curates the “LCC Municipal” Twitter feed.“LCC Municipal” exploits the potential of Twitter as a visual medium to tantalise its followers with pictures of colourful, poignant and times somewhat eccentric, examples of municipal ephemera from across Greater London.
What is your background?
“When you are at the periphery the sense of belonging can be stronger than when you are at the centre. You have to try harder to belong.”
Well, it isn’t anything to do with local government although I am fortunate enough to find myself working in one of the more ornate and extravagant former London town halls rendered obsolete in 1965. My academic background was economics and economic history with a bit of politics thrown in, but after university I trained and qualified as a chartered accountant with one of the so-called “Big Four” accountancy firms. It may sound defensive, but my interest in all things to do with the LCC, GLC, and the boroughs – past and present – that make up Greater London is purely that of the amateur hobbyist. There is no professional connection and no PhD in the offing.
— LCC Municipal (@lccmunicipal) October 26, 2016
I think the fascination with Greater London has had a lot to do with growing up one street away from the London/Surrey border. When you are at the periphery the sense of belonging can be stronger than when you are at the centre. You have to try harder to belong. Even now, I live four houses in from the edge of Greater London – it may be an invisible and largely ignored border for everyone else, but it has always exerted a powerful pull on my imagination.
Where do you find the municipal “relics” and “memories” that you tweet?
Being a dedicated hoarder, I have accumulated quite a few items over the past 25 years or so with only the vague notion that some form of definable “collection” was being formed. These days, life doesn’t really permit the leisurely trips to Hay-on-Wye bookshops or the aimless wandering around London that used to be such a fruitful source of material. So, I would be lying if I denied the impact that bookfinder.com, eBay and so forth have had on me!
— LCC Municipal (@lccmunicipal) October 22, 2016
What encouraged you to start sharing them?
“…I have always thought [that Twitter] is quite a visual medium.”
I tend to use Twitter mainly as, despite the focus on the character limit, I have always thought it is quite a visual medium. If you go on Twitter in order to be outraged or to indulge in a spot of gratuitous trolling, then I guess it is largely about the words. But I have always been drawn to the pictures that people post – the digitised archives, the fragments of documents and so on.
— LCC Municipal (@lccmunicipal) November 24, 2016
My original plan was to photograph and tweet objects that reflected council identities of the past. I was inspired by the commemorative plaque in Cheam library that records its 1962 opening by the then Borough of Sutton and Cheam – a last gasp progressive act by a borough that was seeing out its final days. The goal was to try and capture this type of stuff and share it to see if anyone else was interested. Except it slowly dawned on me that the chances of getting out to go exploring were pretty slim – “you look after the kids, I’m off to photograph municipal relics” doesn’t really wash. So my focus has been on sharing images of all the various bits of London local authority ephemera that I have picked up over the years. Rather pretentiously, I describe it under the catch-all of the “aesthetics of local government”.
— LCC Municipal (@lccmunicipal) December 3, 2016
What I have enjoyed about collecting and sharing all of this material is the many and varied tangents that the journey takes you on. I found a load of old cigarette cards that documented the crests of the inner London boroughs. The GLC campaign and protest badges from the 1980s connect me with my teenage years. I have unearthed a few fascinating documents that record Charter day celebrations, for example when Urban District Councils attained full Borough status.
“Part of me probably hopes that there is someone out there who appreciates the material, can make sense of it all and turn it into a coherent narrative.”
As I said, I am an amateur and I am just sharing an interest. Part of me probably hopes that there is someone out there who appreciates the material, can make sense of it all and turn it into a coherent narrative.
Do you have any thoughts on what role councils’ logos and symbols play in developing people’s sense of local identity?
The “lost logos of the London Boroughs” is a good example of one of those tangents. It started as a bit of fun, but the completist in me seems to have turned it into a life’s mission. I think everyone in my family breathed a sigh of relief when I found the London Borough of Barnet logo from the 1980s.
“It is always dangerous to assume that your perception or framing of things is the same as anyone else’s, so while these logos and symbols have always exerted a strong influence on me, I accept that I may be in a minority of one.”
I’m not convinced the logos, or indeed the wider visual identities of local authorities, play that much of a role in developing a sense of local identity, although I am happy for a branding expert to challenge my thinking. It is always dangerous to assume that your perception or framing of things is the same as anyone else’s, so while these logos and symbols have always exerted a strong influence on me, I accept that I may be in a minority of one. For example, opposite the house where I grew up there was, in the 1970s and 80s, a smart council noticeboard – navy blue with “London Borough of Sutton” written in white in a simple modern font. Sutton Council rebranded itself around about 1990 and this noticeboard was painted a rather ugly shade of jade green together with all the new corporate branding. For me, a powerful and ever-present point of reference had gone and it felt like something was missing, but I cannot imagine anyone else on my street noticed the change.
— LCC Municipal (@lccmunicipal) November 7, 2016
At the risk of labouring the point, I tweeted a bunch of pictures the other day of some recently removed Croydon lampposts. These silver lampposts with the comforting orange glow of their GEC and Revo lanterns have been an ever-present in my lifetime. It was a Council decision to install them in the 1950s and 60s. It was a Council decision to paint them silver. They are a form of Council symbol aren’t they? (Indeed, many carried the crest of the old County Borough of Croydon). They existed in Croydon but not in neighbouring boroughs, so they were a point of differentiation. When I think of Croydon, I think of them. And now they are all gone. But did they create a sense of local identity for anyone else? Probably not.
“I can share an image of council literature that is, say, 30 or 40 years old and it will generate a strong emotional and nostalgic response with people… Yet that literature would have been ignored at the time and probably discarded by most.”
I suspect that it is in retrospect that logos and symbols play a much stronger role and for a much wider group of people. I can share an image of council literature that is, say, 30 or 40 years old and it will generate a strong emotional and nostalgic response with people. The power of the image comes from the ability to trigger or anchor a memory, so increases as the years pass by. Yet that literature would have been ignored at the time and probably discarded by most. The objects that survive – the “relics” to use your apt term – gain a mythical power and exert a disproportionate influence on our grasp of the past.
Have you noticed any particular “types” of people interacting with the content that you share, or is it a very diverse array of people?
“In a world of Brexit, Trump, post-truth politics… I suspect a lot of my Twitter crowd probably feel that the “Future” has receded into the past.”
It’s a good mix of local historians, museum professionals, archivists, academics, local councillors and local government officials to name but a few. One comment I received really made me reflect on who (if anyone) all this was resonating with. In response to a post about the demolition of Croydon’s 1960s municipal offices, someone responded “we want our Future back”. I think the capital F was intentional – a big concept was being alluded to. The demand resonated with me as it captured the slow death of that post WW2 sense of optimism and of progressive politics and policies that underpins so much of what interests me and many of those people I interact with on Twitter: strong local government, New Towns, social infrastructure (especially housing), transport, motorways, concrete, brutalism, modernism (a term that I tend to use liberally and inaccurately). Not everyone in this little universe shares all of those interests, but there are a lot of overlaps and intersections. In a world of Brexit, Trump, post-truth politics and what many of my academic work colleagues badge as neoliberalism, I suspect a lot of my Twitter crowd probably feel that the “Future” has receded into the past.
— LCC Municipal (@lccmunicipal) October 26, 2016
— LCC Municipal (@lccmunicipal) November 18, 2016