Newham Archive visit

Volunteer Debbie Scott went exploring in Newham Archives to uncover East London suffragette stories. This is how she got on.

I sent an email in advance explaining that I was researching local suffragettes and asking the best time to come. Despite being informed it was open from 10.30, I got there at 12.30 and was told, very nicely, that they were closing in half an hour. However, I was impressed to see that the librarian had got out some record books for me and some display material about the Lawrence family that she guessed might be of interest. It was. I was surprised to find that the Pethick-Lawrences had local family connections (Edwin Durning Lawrence) which may explain why they had sympathy with Sylvia’s campaign. The assistant archivist, Jennie, helpfully accessed Ancestry for me on her computer so we could trace the family’s roots back to Shoreditch.

I returned in the afternoon to search the record books: great hulking volumes of the Poor Law Guardians minutes, which didn’t yield the info I was looking for. So Emily, a volunteer, helped interrogate the online catalogue to find some other useful links and books. Of course, Plaistow was a village in Essex one hundred years ago and I discovered that the Kelly’s directories were far less useful than those for London boroughs, being jam-packed with all the eastern home counties.

So we resorted to the Electoral Registers, which are on microfiche here. Jenny selected the relevant one but, being a mine of local info, could also tell me that 32 Romford Road, where the WSPU met, was the Old Dispensary or the building next to it.

I was really impressed by how the staff were keen to help me but, as they were also helping the other users, and the system is a bit oblique, I had to wait until they were available to show me where resources were kept. I also expected that there would be a folder of material (clippings etc) on the local suffragettes but there wasn’t one, although there was, happily, a display outside the archive room on notable local women.