The Independent London Newspaper

Letters

 

WESTMINSTER PEOPLE: Man on a mission to share Soho’s history

Tony Shrimplin

Tony Shrimplin: ‘It’s a culturally and historically important part of London’. Picture: Peter Miles

Published: 28 October, 2016
by ALINA POLIANSKAYA

THE Museum of Soho is filled with memories, stories and photographs of the lively area in the heart of the capital – and it is up to Tony Shrimplin to get these all digitised, preserving them online for generations to come. 

It is a task that he says is “never boring” and “always relevant”.

Tony’s own earliest memories of Soho go all the way back to the 1960s, when his mother would take him in a pram to the bustling market at Berwick Street. 

“At that time it was an incredibly vibrant space with both sides of the street market full of shops, stalls and characters,” he says. “That is why it’s so sad to see the ongoing issue with who runs the market and seeing it look like the Gaza Strip.” 

But he has hope that things will get better soon enough, once building works are done, and he is already seeing “glimmers” of a bright future, through places such as the popular My Place café.

His own memories provide a glimpse into the area’s past. He recalls being taught to swim by “a very strict German lady” at the historic swimming pools in Marshall Street, the closest baths to his primary school, St George’s Hanover Square. 

“I can remember walking across Carnaby Street with my teacher and classmates and noticing this new, funky flooring made up of orange, yellow and black geometric shapes. The coloured paving tiles were installed in October 1973 as part of a WCC facelift for the newly pedestrianised street.” 

As a young man, he spent time working as a bike courier in the area, “probably the coolest job in the world at that time and perfect for people who needed flexible hours as they pursued their artistic dreams”. 

Tony himself played keyboards in a band. He carried all sorts back and forth, from showreels between production companies, to live crickets from a pet shop to the jaws of one client’s hungry pet snake. 

One of the oddest deliveries he remembers was that of a parachute to be used on a film set. “The only way I could carry it was to strap it onto my back, which must have looked very strange at the time even for Soho,” he says. 

His nights in the 1980s were spent exploring Soho’s club life, visiting Le Kilt, The Wag, and “completely falling in love with Philip Sallon’s, Mud Club”.

With Tony’s own history deeply embedded in Soho, he is just the man to share the area’s past with others, through the museum. Originally set up 25 years ago, it’s mainly presented virtually. 

Tony, now 52, says ideally one day they could have their own building, but at the moment all the material is available online and pop-up exhibitions are regularly held. 

“Not having a physical space presents its own problems and while St Anne’s tower is perfect as storage space it is totally unsuitable to exhibit the collection and so we are very fortunate to be able to use the clubs, pubs and ‘pop up’ spaces in Soho to host our events throughout the year.” 

But, he adds: “Ideally a dedicated People’s Museum of Soho building is what is really required.” 

The museum, which is run entirely by volunteers and is not publicly-funded, also has a dedicated monthly museum hour on Soho Radio, and a fact-filled touchscreen in Sherwood Street. 

The project was launched by residents, keen to preserve the area’s history. A decade ago, Tony was approached by the late Bryan Burrough, former Soho Society chairman and one of the main driving forces behind the museum, who asked him to digitise the collection. The museum now contains more than 5,000 items that have been provided by local people and businesses. 

“If I was to pick one object that I could call my favourite it would be our Bellarmine jug which dates from the mid-17th century and was used to ward off ‘evil spirits’. It was the first object that Bryan gave me to photograph and had been found under the cellar of The Ship public house in Wardour Street, in the mid-1980s during renovations. But the real gems are our oral histories, personal accounts from the people who grew up, lived and worked in Soho.” 

Adding another fun fact from the area’s story, he says: “A mnemonic used, so I’m told by taxi drivers on ‘the knowledge’ to remember the east Soho street order is ‘Good For Dodgy Women’ corresponding to Greek, Frith, Dean and Wardour streets!” 

Next year, they hope, will see the museum undertake one of its most ambitious projects to date, creating a documentary film called Soho Remembers, celebrating the area’s heritage and living history through recorded interviews with people linked to the area. 

Tony says: “This will include histories from the full spectrum of Soho’s society. There are generational stories untold and connections to be made with the community that will fill in the gaps of knowledge and preserve the rich diversity and uniqueness of this culturally and historically important part of London and provide a resource to educate and inform future generations.” 

• Anyone who wants to get involved in the project can get in touch through you@mosoho.org.uk

Comments

Thannk you for all your valued work and commitment Tony

Interesting to hear about all the Museum's achievements and you do all this work as unpaid volunteers.
Hats off to you.

Amazing in the grubby corporate world and everyone appropriating culture for their commercial gain.
I see the property companies and other naff self interested people like SOHO CREATE are all about getting public money and serving their commercial agenda.

BRILLIANT to see such great work from you Tony.

Thank you.
Kind Regards

Terry O'Niell

Tony Mosoho

Wonderful vibrant insight into the man and Soho.
Thank you Mosoho

Tony is the Soho Super Hero,

Tony is the Soho Super Hero, who should recreate the history of Berwick Street Market on the hoardings that are blighting. It could be spectacular rather than rubbish graffiti or corporate imagery. Could be inspirational instead of a blight. Let's start with Henry VIII a rabbit and the cry SOHO and leave a space for whatever happens next.. Getty can supply images, interserve might pay for it. Tony, do it, if you can, we'll help. Robin. On behalf of Berwick Street Traders Society.

Post new comment