Self storage rooms in Kent. What do they tell us about social history? See below...
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A Personal Note (Archive)
April 16, 2014
Sometimes the most unlikely of places can reveal history in the making. One of these unlikely places is a new self storage building which I cycle by on my way to work. Self storage in Britain is an industry that over the last thirty years has grown from nothing to a £500 million a year business. This apparently rather mundane fact reveals a lot of history. First there is the trend to smaller housing. Just behind the self storage building you can see low rise flats, which are now being built extensively. Demand for housing is so great that there is simply not the space to allow for the individual houses and gardens of past generations. But we still gather stuff as we did before, and don't want to get rid of it to match new constraints. So perhaps the most enduring historical trend revealed by the lines of yellow storage room doors is the desire to continue living as we used to even as times change. Back in the 1670s people were accustomed to living in a house with its own bit of land. This ideal was hard to achieve in the new crowded urban environments that were beginning to emerge. The solution was terraced housing. The Great Fire of London in 1666 was followed by a vast building programme of terraced housing in London, driven by developers such as Nicholas Bourbon. You might say that the current self storage entrepreneurs are the Nicholas Bourbons of modern times. They allow us to to keep our stuff and live as we once did, even as history forces changes on us.
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Historical news for April
On 22nd April 1884 an earthquake hit the area of Colchester in Essex. This turned out to be the most damaging earthquake in Britain in the last four hundred years, damaging over a thousand buildings. This event is commemorated this month with an exhibition at the Natural History Museum Colchester. The exhibition runs until 17th April. Telephone 01206 282941.
An exhibition exploring the life and work of William Kent opens at the V&A this month. Kent created what we now know as Georgian architecture. The exhibition brings together almost 200 examples of Kent's work, ranging from architectural drawings to pieces of gilded and upholstered furniture. The exhibition runs 22 March - 13 July. Telephone 020 7924 2000.
In 1911 hundreds of women across Britain boycotted the census of that year. The aim was to raise awareness for the campaign to grant women the vote. An exhibition commemorating this event is being staged at the People's History Museum in Manchester this month. The exhibition runs from 24th February until 27th April. Telephone 0161 838 9190.
Anniversaries for April
2nd April 1801: Caught between threats from Russia and Britain, Denmark decides to sign a treaty with Russia. Britain responds by sending in the Royal Navy. Using a combination of insubordination and audacity Admiral Nelson defeats the Danish fleet and shore batteries at Copanhagen. With the British ships taking a terrible pounding, Nelson ignores his commanding officer's order to withdraw. Even though Nelson's ships were being shot to pieces, Nelson magisterially offered the Danes a chance to surrender, which they did.
7th April 1827: Following his invention of the "friction match" in 1826, John Walker, a chemist from Stockton-on-Tees makes his first sale.
8th April 1886: William Gladstone's government introduces the Government of Ireland Bill, commonly known as the First Home Rule Bill, into Parliament.
10th April 1815: Mount Tambora erupts in Indoneasia, reducing temperatures world wide for the next two years. During the summer of 1816, young Mary Shelley, is staying beside Lake Geneva with her new husband Percy Shelley, and their friend Lord Byron. The weather is cold and wet, so Mary stays indoors and starts writing Frankenstein.
25th April 1599:Oliver Cromwell is born in Huntingdon near Cambridge. He would grow up to end the divine right of kings, leading the rebellion which deposed Charles I. Ironically stories about Cromwell's birth couldn't resist mimicing the sense of destiny used to bolster the position of monarchs. Cromwell's traditional birth time was moved to the early hours of the morning, to give him a more powerful horoscope.
28th April 1940: Following an attempt to resist the German invasion of Norway, the British and French governments decide to evacuate their forces from Norway. This would effectively end the career of British prime minister Neville Chamberlain. Meanwhile Winston Churchill, who was much more closely involved with the Norway campaign than Chamberlain, would go on to become prime minister in May 1940.
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