Explore Layers of London – a new digital platform enabling you to peel back the layers of London’s history to discover its people and places, and to share your own stories.
Did you know that in East London in 1954 you could barter a Christmas cake for a chicken for a Christmas dinner? Or that 35 years earlier a white cross painted by your door guaranteed you’d be woken up for work? Or that on 17th century maps, today’s Oxford Street was simply ‘the Road to Oxford’? Would you like to see a photo of London’s first housing estate? Have you got your own stories and memories you’d like to share?
Layers of London (www.layersoflondon.org) is a ground-breaking online heritage mapping project being led by the Centre for Metropolitan History at the Institute of Historical Research, part of the School of Advanced Study, University of London.
From 21 September, virtual visitors to London will be able to peel back layers of the city’s history to discover information about the landmarks, events memories and stories of London’s diverse people and places, going as far back as Roman times.
With its partners – including the British Library, MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology), Historic England, London Metropolitan Archives, The National Archives, Birkbeck, University of London, and a wide range of national and local institutions as well as community groups– the project has created an extensive programme of public engagement and crowd-sourcing to construct a dynamic website that allows users to explore and engage with the history of London’s 32 boroughs.
This is the history of London created and written by the people who live there, or who once lived there. No comparable website currently exists, and contributions are welcome from all Londoners and organisations wishing to play a part in this innovative venture. To browse or contribute simply visit www.layersoflondon.org.
Professor Matthew Davies, Layers of London Project Director (based at Birkbeck, University of London), says:
“Developing the Layers of London project has given us a really good sense of what people find so exciting about London’s history and heritage. By linking the history and geography of London we’re enabling people of all ages to discover new facets of London and its communities and to share stories, documents and images with others. It is an interactive project, and website users can actually get involved in creating new layers of London for others to explore. In this way we can collectively map the story of London’s remarkable, diverse and sometimes turbulent history over 2,000 years and its evolution into the city it is today. We’re looking forward to working with many new groups and volunteers across London over the coming months and years”
Margaret Chan, a website contributor who has been adding information about her family history in Poplar says:
“Sharing our family histories can help build up a picture of the story of London. It’s a reminder that history is made up of the lives of ordinary folk, not just the exploits of the rich and powerful.”
The project is supported by National Lottery players through the Heritage Lottery Fund, and by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the Ford Britain Trust, and the Institute of Historical Research Trust.
The Layers of London website has been developed by Error Agency (https://error.agency), while Klokan Technologies (https://www.klokantech.com) is supplying the project’s georeferencing interface.
It is also a co-production with the public, using a range of platforms — social media, online tools, workshops and training events — to involve people of all kinds across each of London’s diverse boroughs.
So far, contributions from organisations and individuals range from maps from the National Library of Scotland and conscientious objector historical accounts from Haringey, to evacuee memoirs from Barking and an ethnography of Greek and Cypriot restaurants. The end product is a lasting legacy for London’s heritage, one shaped by London’s diverse communities.
1. For further information, please contact: Maureen McTaggart, Media and Public Relations Officer, School of Advanced Study, University of London +44 (0)20 7862 8653 / Maureen.firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Quotes from project partners and contributors
Professor Jo Fox, Director of the Institute of Historical Research says:
“Layers of London is an innovative, creative and important research project that raises fundamental questions about the future of archives and how we might engage communities in curating their own pasts. It is thrilling to watch their findings unfold.”
Laurence Ward, Head of Digital Services at London Metropolitan Archives says:
“We are delighted to see our historical photographs, maps, and film clips made available through this innovative and exciting platform. The content that we are sharing on Layers of London includes 1,000 remarkable photographs which document the work of the London County Council and the role that it played in the lives of Londoners and the development of the capital between 1889 and 1965, including housing, schools and transport.”
Hannah Dixon, a Layers of London digital intern working on the project at London Metropolitan Archives says:
“Being a Digital Intern at LMA and being closely involved in the Layers of London project involves exploring the fascinating London County Council (LCC) collections, using the wealth of original maps, estate plans, and books to research the role of the LCC and the stories attached to the photographs. I am particularly excited that our discoveries will be publicly accessible on the Layers of London map, as well as being located alongside peoples’ individual experiences of the city.”
Ian Savage, Archive Resources Manager at the Historic England Archive says:
“Towards the end of WWII, the RAF began an aerial photographic survey of the whole country. Known as Operation REVUE, the main aims were to provide up to date mapping and to inform post war planning. The photographs taken during this survey were transferred from the Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre (JARIC) to the Historic England Archive and the digitised images which make up Historic England’s contribution to this project come from this nationally important collection.
Being a partner in Layers of London has allowed us the opportunity to undertake a major digitisation programme of 24 000 aerial images of London, ensuring the safety of these, often fragile, negatives. It is exciting to see our images stitched together for the first time to make up an important element of this fascinating project.”
Sarah Jones, Head of Geomatics at the Museum of London Archaeology, says:
“The geo-rectified and digitised historic maps of London create a framework from which the layers of London’s history can be explored and more stories and places added. It has been both a technical challenge and a pleasure; we have found amazing continuities through time and visited lost worlds.”
Emma Markiewicz, Head of Collections Expertise and Engagement at The National Archives says:
‘Digital technology is bringing the past very much into the present by fundamentally changing how we use and understand historic documents. Maps can offer a unique window to the lives of our ancestors and the Layers of London project offers an exciting new platform for exploring the rich and fascinating history of our capital city. The National Archives is home to one of the world’s richest holdings of historical maps and we are delighted to be a partner in this project which uses maps, aerial photographs and London’s broader visual heritage in ways that bring history to life for everyone.’
Gethin Rees, Lead Curator of Digital Map Collections at the British Library, says:
‘Historical maps provide valuable insights into the places where people spend their day-to-day lives. By bringing maps that span centuries together with contributions from the public in an innovative platform, Layers of London helps communities engage with the history of the city and the neighbourhood that they inhabit. The British Library’s involvement with the project has helped a wide audience engage with and understand the Library’s collections in new and exciting ways.’
Jessica Bryant, a student intern who has been mapping a walk entitled “Feminist History in the East End” developed in the 1970s and ‘rediscovered’ in Senate House Library last year, says:
“I was struck by the sheer number of women who are mentioned on this walking tour. As an American student who travelled to London to study history, I am familiar with the most famous women of the Suffragette movement, as most people are. But how many of us have heard of Clara Grant or Stella Browne? There are so many fascinating stories and lives that have affected the course of history and the way our society works today”.
- About the Project Partners
The School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London, is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and support of research in the humanities. SAS and its member institutes offer unparalleled resources, facilities and academic opportunities across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. Last year SAS welcomed 786 research fellows and associates, held 2,007 events highlighting the latest research in the humanities, received 24.4 million online visits to its research resources and platforms, and hosted 194,145 visits to its specialist libraries and collections. The School also leads Being Human, the UK’s only nationwide festival of the humanities. Find out more at www.sas.ac.uk or follow SAS on Twitter at @SASNews.
The Institute of Historical Research was founded in 1921 and is one of nine institutes that comprise the University of London’s School of Advanced Study. The IHR is dedicated to training the next generation of historians, and to producing and facilitating ambitious, innovative historical research. The Institute helps foster public understanding of history and its social, cultural, and economic importance, advocating for the long-term future of the discipline and supporting its growth and development. It offers a wide range of services both onsite and remotely which promote and facilitate excellence in historical research, teaching and scholarship in the UK, by means of its library, events programmes, fellowships, training and publications. It is a leading centre for the creation of digital resources for historians, and promotes the study of the history of London through its Centre for Metropolitan History and the Victoria County History.
The University of London is a federal university and is one of the oldest, largest and most diverse universities in the UK. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the university is recognised globally as a world leader in higher education. Its members are 18 self-governing institutions of outstanding reputation, and nine research institutes. Learn more about the University of London at http://www.london.ac.uk.
Birkbeck, University of London was founded in 1823 and is a world-class research and teaching institution, a vibrant centre of academic excellence and London’s only specialist provider of evening higher education. The unique model of evening-only teaching allows students to progress their life goals during the day, through work, volunteering or internships. www.bbk.ac.uk
The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world’s greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world’s largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library’s collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website- www.bl.uk – every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.
MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) provides independent archaeology and built heritage advice and professional services, with offices in London, Northampton, Basingstoke and Birmingham. MOLA’s 300 expert staff help its clients to fulfil planning conditions and they work in partnership to develop far-reaching research and community engagement programmes. Find out more at mola.org.uk, on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.
London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) is a public research centre that specialises in the history of London. It cares for and provide access to the historical archives of businesses, schools, hospitals, charities and all manner of other organisations from the London area. With millions of books, maps, photographs, films and documents dating back to 1067 in its strong rooms, it is proud to provide access to one of the finest city archives in the world – it could be called the memory of London.
Historic England is the public body that helps people care for, enjoy and celebrate England’s spectacular historic environment, ensuring the preservation of some 400,000 listed places, including buildings, battlefields, monuments, parks, gardens, shipwrecks and more. The Historic England Archive enables the discovery of archaeology, historic buildings and social history. It holds 12 million photographs, drawings, reports and publications from the 1850s to the present day.
The National Archives is one of the world’s most valuable resources for research and an independent research organisation in its own right. As the official archive and publisher for the UK government, and England and Wales they are the guardians of some of the UK’s most iconic national documents, dating back more than 1,000 years. Their role is to collect and secure the future of the government record, both digital and physical, to preserve it for generations to come, and to make it as accessible and available as possible. brings together the skills and specialisms needed to conserve some of the oldest historic documents as well as leading digital archive practices to manage and preserve government information past, present and future.
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