Thursday, 9 March 2017

Merton Heritage Exhibition

2nd Floor Morden Library, Merton Civic Centre, London Road
Morden SM4 5DX

Thursday 9 March 2017

Linda and I like local, borough Museums, but we weren't too optimistic about this one.  We were mistaken.
We met at Morden tube, at the extreme southern end of the Northern Line, and headed too the somewhat Orwellian block which houses the Civic Centre, the Library and, of course, the Heritage bit. Up on the second floor, the Exhibition was mainly panels round the wall, and included many of the ingredients we have come to expect.

There was, for instance, a list of notable Merton residents:  and of course Merton is particularly rich in celebrities: from John Donne, through Horatio Nelson (and his significant other) William Wilberforce and Joseph Bazalgette, to Margaret Rutherford, Richard Briers, and Air Chief Marshall Dowding

There were also photographs of local industrial sites, including the snuff mills where Rutters powdered and packaged tobacco, and Carters Tested Seeds. There was also the film studio of Cricks and Sharp, later Cricks and Martin.  As well as tobacco, textiles were woven (sorry!) into Merton's history, with William Morris and indeed Liberty's producing fabrics here.
There were a couple of cases of objects  connected to the history of the borough including, downstairs, mementoes recording the great days of Wimbledon football club, before its failure to find a space for a new ground forced an unpopular move to Milton Keynes. Some Kings College School magazines and photos were also feaured.

 But what made out visit really exceptional was the exhibition about the Merton (and Heritage Lottery Fund) project, Carved in Stone, which was about Merton's experience of the First World War.

Photographs were not permitted, and the web seems full of plans for the work, rather than reports of the exhibition as a whole,  so you will have to accept our word that it is well worth a visit.  One ingredient is a number of accounts of individual lives, in striking detail. For example, John Henry Dimmer, VC, and the young pilot from the tobacco family, Captain Donald Rutter, RFC, whose plane disappeared in June 1917. There there were a couple of Conscientious Objectors, including one driven out of his mind by the 2 years of forced labour to which he was sentenced, who died in a local mental hospital in 1917. Two Royal Navy men had their stories told, including Stoker Ist Class George Baker who died at Jutland.

Perhaps saddest was the story of the 190th Brigade, the last of the volunteers before conscription was introduced, making Wimbledon's own one of the last Pals Regiments formed. (As I'm sure you know, friends and neighbours were encouraged to join and therefore serve together, thus ensuring more serious devastation in particular communities, particularly in early July 1916 when these new regiments were just about ready for the Battle of the Somme.

A section told us about the hospitals and convalescent homes of the area, and the work of civilians and particularly women in the war effort, and we were pleased to see advertisements for cinema shows, including continuous showings on 4 September 1916 of the great documentary The Battle of the Somme (now available from the Imperial War Museum, by the way) but also other films called The Avenging Conscience and The Fighting Hope.

Across the other side of the second floor was a further exhibition about attempts to achieve peace in the world since everyone hope that they had finished 'the war to end wars'.  Illustrate with recruiting posters, it included celebrity pacifists like Sylvia Pankhurst and Bertrand Russell, and a time line of the various peace unions, associations and agreements which have so signally failed.  Perhaps most interesting was a quotation from Lord Rothermere of the Daily Mail in November 1917: 'We daren't tell the public the truth'; and the artist Paul Nash's statement, 'I am a messenger who will bring back word from the men who are fighting to those who want the war to go on forever'.

All in all, we were impressed with the work of Merton's researchers and, having expected to pop in and out in no time, spent more than a hour in the exhibition.

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