Unlike the summer bank holiday, the Battle of the Boyne or the Queen’s birthday (?!), London History Day won’t be pre-scheduled in your Google calendar. The event has only been around since 2017. It came about through a Yougov poll devised by Historic England as part of its Keep It London campaign, which asked the public to choose from ten relevant dates we could use to mark the first London History Day. The winner was May 31, the day Big Ben started keeping time.
For the 2020 edition London History Day is turning its attention to one particular London landmark: Tower Bridge. London Metropolitan Archives has released a 1894 photograph of the construction team who helped build the famous river crossing. But there’s a problem: the current Tower Bridge team has very little information about the men in the photo – and they want your help to try and identify them.
Here’s what they do know: the picture was taken outside one of the bridge’s towers. They know the men are sporting a great variation in tash’ styles and fulsome beards. They are also wearing a mix of hats: flatcaps (mostly worn by workers) and bowlers (likely means they are construction foremen). Some are covered in dust from construction, while others (mostly the bowlers) don’t have a spec on their lapels. But who are the two young boys perched against the wooden wheel in the centre of the photograph? And who is the lonely Lenin lookalike, standing apart from the group on the far left? Is the guy on the right holding a watering can? And what were the relationships between these men like? Why do some have their hands tenderly posed on their colleague’s shoulders, while others stand with their arms crossed?
By circulating the photo, Tower Bridge wants to fill in as many blanks as possible. It might seem like a long shot, but the last Tower Bridge callout not only helped identify Tower Bridge worker Edward ‘Ted’ Forrest, it also tracked down a scrapbook Forrest made about his time on the Bridge’s construction site. The book is now on display in the Tower Bridge engine room.
If anyone in the photo looks suspiciously like every mustachioed man in your family, you might just have a lead. If your great-granddad ever pointed at the landmark and said ‘I built that, you know’, now is the time to start investigating the claim.
Start digging for documents in the attic now. We need to know more about these lads immediately. Look at that chemistry (and those charismatic brows!). There’s a buddy movie in there somewhere:
Find out what else is happening in London this weekend with our streaming guide.
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