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East End Vernacular In Bethnal Green

February 10, 2018
by the gentle author

Salmon & Ball, Bethnal Green, by Albert Turpin c.1955

I am delighted to collaborate with V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green to present an event on Thursday 22nd February which explores the history of the Museum in encouraging artists in the East End.

When it first opened, the Museum displayed a magnificent gallery of grand master paintings which are now known as The Wallace Collection and, in the twenties, curator Arthur Sabin invited members of the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Art Club to display their own work there.

Archivist Gary Haines will talk about Arthur Sabin and his inspirational ideas, followed by a guided tour of the current painting collection at the Museum. Complementing this, I shall be giving an illustrated lecture about the artists who were encouraged by Sabin and showing the work of those who came after, selected from my book EAST END VERNACULAR, Artists who painted London’s East End streets in the 20th century.




The Wallace Collection of paintings was hung in the Bethnal Green Museum when it first opened

Curator Arthur Sabin (far right) shows a dignitary around a show of paintings by members of the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Art Club at the Bethnal Green Museum in the twenties


ARTHUR SABIN was Curator of the Bethnal Green Branch of the Victoria & Albert Museum from 1922 to 1940. Through his work, the Museum began the slow process of becoming the V & A Museum of Childhood, an undertaking that was completed by Sir Roy Strong in the seventies.

Sabin was inspired by the popular Children’s Room at the V & A South Kensington and, when he observed that the Bethnal Green Museum was full of bored children, decided to make it more child friendly. He rehung paintings at child’s eye level. He also set up a classroom and employed teachers, and started to collect items relating to childhood. Through this endeavour, he came to recognise the importance of the social and cultural history of childhood.

Sabin was convinced that Art could educate and improve the lives of those who saw it. In a speech he gave in 1931 to the Bethnal Green & Shoreditch Skilled Employment Committee on ‘The Relation of Museums to Skilled Employment,’ he described the role a museum should play.

‘An Art Museum, such as we have at Bethnal Green, is concerned with many phases of life, but more than anything else with the development of craftsmanship … Let us produce boys and girls who desire with all their hearts to do something – to make something – better than anyone else can do it or make it … The museums exist to encourage this tendency, to awaken this desire.’

Through the work of Sabin and those who followed, the V & A Museum of Childhood inspired countless generations of children by showing them Art & Design. I include myself, since I remember visiting as a child and staring up in awe at a suit of Japanese Samurai armour. The same armour is now on display at South Kensington but I am at eye level with it these days!”

Gary Haines, Archivist at V & A Museum of Childhood

St Paul’s School, Wapping 1997 by Dan Jones (Click on this image to enlarge)

One Response leave one →
  1. Helen Breen permalink
    February 10, 2018

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, kudos on keeping EAST END VERNACULAR before the public. Good work.

    I was surprised to read that the MUSEUM OF CHILDHOOD once housed the Wallace Collection – one of my very favorite museums on London. Gorgeous art in a magnificent setting.

    Missing London today…

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