Prefab Museum

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After the Second World War thousands of prefabricated houses sprung up around UK in an effort to deal with the extreme housing shortage. Over the years most of these have been demolished – they were only ever intended to be temporary structures. However, one community of prefabs in Catford, South East London, has clung on. With the estate now in its last days, a temporary exhibition currently offers the rare opportunity to see inside a prefab house.

IMG_5957The Excalibur Estate was built between 1945 and 1946 by German and Italian prisoners of war and is the largest surviving prefab community in the country.  The buildings were only intended to last for around ten years.

PM1The estate – whose streets are named after Arthurian characters – is destined for the bulldozer, to be replaced with 371 new homes by Lewisham Council. Part of it has already been demolished and fenced off. Only six buildings, which have been listed by English Heritage, are to be retained.

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The temporary exhibition features photographs (including some particularly stunning ones by Rob Pickard), memorabilia and films about life in the Excalibur Estate and other prefab communities in the UK – and your last chance to visit one of London’s more unusual communities.

PM5The Prefab Museum can be found at 17 Meliot Road, Catford, SE6 1RY. The exhibition has now been extended to run until the end of May, and is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays (10am – 4:30pm) and Saturdays (10am – 6pm). Entry is free. The closest station is Bellingham (National Rail).

Caroline’s Miscellany has also written a very thought-provoking piece on the Excalibur Estate.

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C.A. Mathew returns

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This March and April Londoners will get another chance to view the compelling street photography of C.A. Mathew. This series of black and white images, which capture the people and streets of 1912 Spitalfields, are unique and unmissable. Revealing the daily life of an area rarely depicted in photographs of the time, this new exhibition features the first chance to see all 21 photographs – including some original prints – on display.

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The story behind the photographs is a fascinating one in itself: C.A. Mathew was actually based in Essex and is thought to have taken these photos while travelling to nearby Liverpool Street Station one fateful Saturday morning in April 1912 (April 20th, to be precise). These are the only surviving body of work by Mathew, who started out in photography just a year before these images were taken, and it is not known for what purpose he chose this subject. Thankfully for us he did – as they have now become the primary visual record of early 20th century Spitalfields.

The sheer number of people out and about on the streets – and the relative youth of many – is fascinating, as is the comparison of the streets and buildings themselves then and now. And with the works on display at Eleven Spitalfields Gallery in Princelet Street, you won’t need to go far to draw such comparisons…

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The images will be on display at Eleven Spitalfields Gallery from 7th March to 25th April 2014; on weekends 10am-6pm and by appointment during the week.

The collection of C.A. Mathew’s work is now housed at Bishopsgate Institute, which is also running a series of events – entitled East End in Focus – in conjunction with the exhibition.

On the same day this blog post was published, Spitalfields Life published this lovely piece by Vicky Stewart, which unravels some of C.A. Mathew’s life story.

All images are ©Bishopsgate Institute.

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