Does research always need to be a lonely affair? We don’t think so.
On 1st May 2011 we hid five hundred golden tickets in Brixton Tate Library, between the pages of select books that reference themes from sugar to Victoriana, labour, art, Black history, Charles Dickens, employment and architecture. Golden posters were dotted around the library, to catch visitors’ eyes and let them know to look out for the tickets.
It was an invitation; a means of opening up a collective investigation into the philanthropic legacy of of Sir Henry Tate. The tickets were intended for any member of the public using Brixton Library who might be compelled by curiosity after finding one to join us on Henry’s Trail.
These were some of the books that the first twelve people to respond found their golden tickets inside…
“It was amazing – went to work on my manuscript in the reference library and noticed your poster on the way up. Checking references, I opened The Victorians by John Gardiner and out it came. I had also brought 2 volumes of The Oxford History of England (19th century) to my table – another golden ticket!” – Eva O’Cathoir
“It was like Christmas. I like visiting good libraries. It helps me to concentrate on my research and writing, seeing others working away. Anyway, I saw the poster for the golden tickets coming in, settled down in the quiet study room – very attractive, modern style in a traditional building and the first book I opened, the golden ticket fell out.
With hindsight, it was no wonder more golden tickets appeared – I was reading up late 19th century English history, a period of enormous change, when Henry Tate made his fortune.”
“When I found my ticket I somehow felt I owed it to the book to borrow it. Time flew and I ended up paying a £3 fine for returning it late, but that works out at only £1 an outing so it was really worth it.” – Caroline Hendrie
These a few of many who helped to forge links between the history and contemporary resonances of Henry’s legacy
The first day – from Brixton Tate Library, to Tate Britain, the Archives, and a boat trip to Tate Modern to see Miró
We arranged to meet for the first time on Saturday 14 May, at Brixton Tate Library. Everyone introduced themselves, and we took a group portrait under the bust of Henry Tate, which stands outside the library in Windrush Square and lends its name to this blog. We decided that whenever we came across a portait of Henry we’d take a group picture.
Then we headed by tube to Tate Britain, where we looked at artworks from Henry Tate’s original collection that hang in the gallery today. Works from his initial bequeathal are listed here on the Tate website – if you scroll down you’re able to see which works are currently on display in the Galleries.
We also had an introduction from Sarah Den Dikken about the many gifts and bequests within the Tate’s collection, which sparked an initial discussion between us about contemporary philanthropy.
…From there we had an introduction to the Tate Library and Archive from Krystof Cieszkowski, and looked over some of Tate’s original bequeathal documents, along with letters and portraits in the archive collections.
A group portrait with Henry …And from there we took a boat down the Thames to the Tate Modern, to see the Miró exhibition.
“It was interesting being in the archives of the Tate. Seeing how the place evolved over the centuries. It used to be a swamp near the Thames and then became a sort of model prison in Millbank. Not successful, Millbank Prison was described as an architectural disaster with long corridors, fairly damp. Prisoners were put into irons here and taken out to the Thames to be transported to Australia. We were lucky, we travelled between Tate and Tate by Thames Clipper.”
And finally, up to the top of Tate Modern
where we reflected on the day with a back-drop view over London.
“This is one of the best things about Tate Modern – the view from the top, across to St. Paul’s Cathedral. It rivals a painting, the way your eye is drawn across the river by the Millenium Bridge to the city of London. St. Paul’s always looks a sort of cheerful building and its architect, Christopher Wren’s grave has an inscription saying “If you seek his monument, look around you”. You could apply that to Henry Tate when you look at the libraries and galleries he sponsored.”
The second day – a tour of Windrush Square, behind the scenes at Tate Brixton Library, Tate’s mansion at Park Hill and the Tate family mausoleum at West Norwood Cemetery
On Saturday 28th May we gathered on Windrush Square, where the paving slabs are patterned with sugar cane. Local historian Alan Piper told us a history of Brixton and the Tate Brixton Library.
We moved indoors to meet Vincia Bennet, the manager of Brixton Tate Library, who introduced us to the ins-and-outs of a day in the life of the library.
From the library we drove to Park Hill in Streatham, Brixton’s neighbouring borough, where Henry Tate lived and initially housed his collection of British art.
Park Hill was designed and built between 1830 – 1835 by J. B. Papworth (1775-1847), a founder member of Royal Institute of British Architects, for William Leaf, a banker and silk merchant from Streatham. Henry bought the property in 1874 and became a resident during the 1880’s.
Works from the current Tate Collection, such as John Everett Millais’s Ophelia (1851-52) and John William Waterhouse’s Lady of Shalott (1888) were originally displayed at Park Hill. It’s rumoured that Henry opened his doors to the public on Sunday afternoons.
The house was modified in 1880, when Henry commissioned the landscape designer Robert Marnock (1800-1889) to redesign the gardens, and a review was published inGarden magazine in 1886. He also added an entrance porch and extended other features of the house. The building and grounds are now a Grade II listed. Tate lived at the house until his death on 5thDecember 1899, when he was buried at the nearby Norwood cemetery.
Park Hill was redeveloped as a residential complex between 2001 and 2002, and renamed Sir Henry Tate Mews. We were warmly accommodated by Debbie Orl and her family, who are the current owners of the house.
In the gardens of Henry Tate Mews three flights of steps, each flanked by sphinxes on plinths, lead down from the terrace to the orchard. The terrace walls and small doric summerhouse at the north end are all grade II listed.
We took the train to West Norward Cemetery, where Jill Dudman took us on a tour around the Cemetery and showed us to the Tate family mausoleum. Henry commissioned his family mausoleum in 1884. It was designed by the architect Harold Peto (1854-1933).
“Did Henry choose the inscription and the design of his mausoleum himself? Did lots of graves of the same period in Norwood cemetery have that line from the Song of Solomon?” – Caroline Hendrie
We finished the day in the Cemetery rose garden, where Caroline Tate shared letters from her great, great grandfather about the opening of his gallery.
Our third and final day trip on Henry’s Trail took us to the Tate & Lyle Thames Refinery, in Silvertown.
An early archival photograph of the original packaging of Tate Cube Sugars…
And Tate & Lyle sugar as we know it today.
Ken Wilson gave us a presentation about the process of refining sugar at the Tate & Lyle Thames Refinery, and the history of Tate & Lyle.
“I was surprised to hear that the sugar still arrives by ship, coming right up the Thames to the factory pier. The warehouses near Tower Bridge have all been turned into flats and restaurants long ago and I didn’t realise there were cargo ships still making deliveries. I thought everything went by road these days, so good to find the river is still a real thoroughfare.” — Caroline Hendrie
“Val getting into a debate, a deep conversation there.” — Elouise Ferron
“I think he was trying to say something I maybe disagreed with.” – Valerie Lindo
“The debate ended happily with everyone who took part feeling satisfied they’d been right all along.” — Caroline Hendrie
Kitted out in hard hats, goggles and high-vis jackets, on our way to a site-visit of the factory.
“There were slogans and safety notices everywhere. The current posters were more subtle, with positive messages like ‘this woman helps avoid 90 per cent of on site injuries by tidying her work station, do you?” In the museum there was one saying “Employees going from floor to floor must use the stairs or lift. Anyone sliding down the shoots will be dismissed.” I wonder if it was only Tate himself who was allowed to slide down the shoot, like Willy Wonka.” – Caroline Hendrie
“JCB sugar scoop! …The smell of cane sugar in the air was amazing”
– Laura Hemming-Lowe
“I was astounded that sugar looking like a pile of sand sits in an open shed with pigeons flapping about. And then it ends up in bags on a supermarket shelf.”
– Caroline Hendrie
On our way out of Silvertown we passed by the old Tate Institute, on the junction of Wythes Road and Connaught Road.
Tate built the Institute opposite his Silvertown factory for the benefit of his workers, in 1887. The Institute was open until 1933, when it was sold to be used as the local library. With the library on the top floor, the ground floor was used for regular social events by local residents and Tate & Lyle employees. It’s now disused and has been boarded up, but there are plans to renovate and re-open it.
“They’ll have to use it for something. They need to use buildings instead of leaving them empty!” — Elouise Ferron
by Melanie Mauthner
*Melanie Mauthner is a member of Malika’s Kitchen Poetry Collective.
Yo, Henry time to make amends
for slavery, thank you for your
library, sugar gravy you liquefied
purified into crystals, so we
fish net, genuflect in Windrush
Square, hand you a cool-blue
beard snood, say, hey dude, come on
down this sugar trail
tread fresh, planted cane
grow, bust! How tall, how ripe
how golden, we taste
brown and white!
We’re all artists, readers, sugar
reapers, to Acre Lane, we rush
buy Tesco granulated
click Olive Morris, mail order Amazon
stored in warehouses, both -
necessities not luxuries, we
can’t surf without a sugar fix
text trip, candy fight
see it spill, break the boardroom
table? Tate and Lyle, print or virtual
which is best, healthiest,
has more fibre, nutrients?
How we gonna survive without sugar ‘n text?
Yo Henry, we live in electronic times
So, you want to join us in this digital maze?
Go supersonic, transatlantic? Get sugar wise:
post us the reason on your Facebook page
why after your death, your mansion mortgaged
into a convent, why your descendants did not
inherit? Maybe then, your Park Hill mountain
instead of chipped into flats, ballroom lounge
where you hung your first Millais, Burne-
Jones bargains, we could factory it
restore it – Streatham cachet it
In your funky folly recovery lab, we
test how you refined sugar into treats
we consume in old Mill Bank’s Penitentiary
Albert Dock’s Nicki de Sainte Phalle shooting
paintings. Say Henry, you agree we filtrate
your crumbly cube into the fun-fair, kids
with sticky ice cream cones, dream of?
Theme-park your grotto, rinse-
bling our bikes in the stream? Sure,
you need reeds to soothe your wife, hybridise
her apple-pear orchard, water to filter steam
Thames to lug shipments to Silvertown
Yo, Henry, see a fountain spray that Ritzy
shuffle girl, how crazy she whizz for your Windrush
sweets? Zip, match, we need speed on screen
to exchange-mu-tate, so if you’s got sugar cash
to spare, you fund our extension bridge, compress
sachets of lolly, so we Brixtonites can skip-hip-nip
dive from black cul-tu-ral ar-chi-ves under li-bra-ry quilt
flip-hop da Kindle, sit-kiss our butts on da i-pad,
tube-flume this digi-bizz, soul-sift brown
and white, raw and industrial fit
we all refined now, rake-bake, save
sugar cubes for street dance Scrabble cake
Yo Henry, you hear me? You build us a sky-lift
sugar silo in this heart of Windrush
so we tumble, sugar plush into the truth
politicians want to keep from us
so’s we feed ourselves facts
not shortcrust shortcuts -
so much caster sprinkled
on that Hesser floor that if only, we
economise, save it, melt it with butter
icing our slide, thread it with Smarties
weave-festoon, garland your ribbon
Norwood tomb, maybe you’ll rest-invest in Lambeth?
We still hungry for history, Henry
we want seed-corn pennies to
sow our square sugar cane green
smell golden sweet bubbles
treacle-dribble our waffles
melt us a molasses river, and
for you, big daddy, to spin that
granulated truth, that without
black hands and feet cutting cane
there would be no Reference Turbine
Library Hall. Yo Henry, you still listening?
You still owe us, see, a Discovery Channel
Grow, we whisper, water fibre optic sugar
grass – the taller you sprout the richer we rate
tate-affinate: we want our text plantation
message-frenzy, visual display wi-fi Skype
hubble magic, down-loadable harvest,
ship-shape, navigate; so’s every steam
crate rising we jetty, wharf, chat-dizzy
we swell, soar, friend-savvy, idea-happy
flip-fly, chilled as a heron, Prince-esse KFC
we taste, pod-cast Henry’s tricks: tweet
Brixton syrup drip so thick, we morph
yo, from caster to demerara, we be – molashine
A haughty fox strolls in Brixton
on the lookout for a vixen.
On the Frontline boys race along
Shakespeare, Chaucer, Spencer and Milton.
A helicopter searchlight hovers
Looking for the racers giving bother.
Flesh & blood is no
match for speed and steel.
A life is stolen in a
moment without heed.
Phyllis Lane 2010