Searching for Ghosts at the V&A Museum of Childhood, London

If you're searching for ghosts this Halloween, you won't find the spooky kind at the ‘Searching for Ghosts’ exhibition at the V&A Museum of Childhood but you will be taken on an intergenerational journey, getting a glimpse into the lives and experiences of generations of East Londoners.

This exhibition explores social housing, including the demolished tower block on the Holly Street Estate in Hackney, along with the overwhelming red brick of the Boundary Estate in Tower Hamlets built in 1898.

The exhibition begins with a giant construction of a ‘Ghost House’ that greets viewers as soon as they enter, commanding the viewers’ full attention. The house is inspired by East London houses of the nineteenth century, it was created as a base for an imaginary community as an art project by pupils from Virginia Primary School.

The detail in the house is exquisite. The layers of wallpaper change depending on the occupant and domestic style of the time, from wealthy Victorian home owners, Jewish and Irish migrant tenants of the early twentieth century, the Windrush generation from the West Indies in the 1950s to the Bangladeshi newcomers of the 1970s.

Around the room, there are photographs on the walls, giant in size, of families in their homes who live in East London. The photographs show people from all generations and backgrounds, creating a sense of community and multicultural acceptance.

On the other side of the room, patterned wallpapers are on display, covered with pictures of people from various eras, all whom lived in east London. The wallpapers displayed have vintage floral patterns to represent the time the inhabitants of the photographs lived.

St Hilda’s East is full of fascinating tales of community in the East End throughout the decades. The “ghosts” featured on the wallpaper represent the longevity of the communities of East London.

Featured are pictures of young women who volunteered to live in the charitable settlement. St Hilda’s East has a rich history. The women who lived there dedicated their lives to providing medical, educational and social services for the local people who lived on the newly built Boundary estate.

The Boundary Estate in Tower Hamlets is full of architectural history. It is Britain’s first council estate built in 1898 on the rubble of the Old Nichol, or Jago, London’s most notorious slum. It was built as an experiment in social housing to address the working class housing crisis and rid Shoreditch of the overcrowded terraces, where entire families were crammed into one room. The estate today looks the same from the outside, unscathed by the bombs dropped during the Second World War, the building has stood tall as tenants have come and gone. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century many Jewish families fled to London and the Boundary estate became a safe haven for them.

In the 2000s, the high rise flat became a potential solution to the current housing crisis for the generation that could no longer afford to purchase their own home. Remains of original buildings still stand today, although some have been transformed into newer desirable communities.

Residential skyscrapers have become a huge part of London property, with around two thousand currently being planned or built in London. As the population of the city grows, there is simply nowhere to go but up!

This exhibition offers viewers a wonderful insight to the lives, sacrifices, and the close-knit communities of east London. Many visitors to this exhibition will be able to relate to it in some way, having lived in or currently living in east London, or having past generations of family come from east London. However, everyone who views this exhibition, whether they have relations to east London or not, will be able to appreciate the history and wonder of all this exhibition has to offer.

The viewers are granted the opportunity to look back at London’s history, the communities of people and the buildings that have made London the remarkable city it is today.

'Searching for Ghosts' is on at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, London until the 18th January 2018.  More information may be found here.

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