The Chislehurst Society


Joanna Friel - Chairman

With over 4,000 members, The Chislehurst Society is one of the largest civic societies in the UK and is active in preserving and recording the heritage of the local area. Joanna Friel has been the Chairman of the society since 2018 and her absolute passion for the local area and its heritage is apparent in what is a lively, fascinating and extremely enjoyable insight into the local area and its history.

Joanna tells us about some of the famous people from Chislehurst's past, and about many of the gems in the society's collection which she very modestly refers to as 'a cupboard of slightly disorganised ephemera', although it should be noted that the cupboard itself is also a part of Chislehurst's heritage!

Additionally, Joanna talks about the importance of storytelling in preserving local heritage, of engaging with young people and why items found in skips and indeed inside quilts in Victorian attics should never be discarded without thorough examination...


Website: The Chislehurst Society - Heritage

Please Note: This is an automated, machine-generated transcription. We have presented this 'as is' and have not undertaken any editing.

Hello and welcome to the Max Communications 2020 podcast a series of podcasts where we explore various archives and collections my name is Faith Williams and i'm joined today by Joanna Friel chairman for the Chislehurst Society Joanna would you like to introduce yourself and tell us about how you came to be where you are today oh poor me um i'm chairman of the chisel society and have been just for a couple of years but i've been a volunteer with the society which is a local charity for the last 12 years i um i was working in the careers service but um i have a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis and i i have a degree in um history and i just thought when i retired on health grounds what can i do sitting on my bottom and it turned out that there was a sort of vacancy on the trustee board of the Chislehurst Society for their heritage representative so i tentatively went along to a meeting and of course you soon find yourself invigorated into the whole thing and um 14 years later i'm now chair of the society but i've written a couple of books on local history and local history is my absolute passion even though the society does a number of other things to do with the local environment and the local community but um i'm just thrilled to be able to answer people's questions um relating to their family history really um often based on the resources that we hold because you seem quite an open society very sociable we try to be as much as possible we have four thousand members um not just in Chislehurst we've got members actually in Australia and Canada obviously our postal members but um we have our i was going to say head office but it's our only office at the old chapel um in queens passage just just off the high street in in Chislehurst and in better times when we're not all isolating um we hold coffee mornings for um the community and we do a number of uh afternoon talks and we try and arrange meetings and show off some of the items that we have and basically we're here to answer the questions from the local community and that of course always takes us down a number of footpaths we're very very closely linked with our um other local charity which is the Chislehurst commons we are in fact the the freeholder of Chislehurst commons which makes me the lord of the manor which is uh brings with it all sorts of legal machinations let me tell you but um no we enjoy all the open green open space in Chislehurst and that means that we can um help our members to enjoy that environment as well so how do you spend an average day um as a chairman is it that you do with your heritage um role as well or yes it's um it's there's there isn't a typical day which i'm sure you must hear from everybody and and once in a blue moon there's nothing to do isn't that wonderful but it it doesn't happen um i mean mostly i'm answering emails and attending meetings and those can be on a number of different subjects um with um social distancing coming in there have been lots of zoom meetings about how we help the high street to get back on its feet and how we organise people to navigate staying you know two meters apart and to the left and then the next minute i'll be attending a meeting about um air quality or indeed access rights across the common so um there's a lot of email activity and a lot of meetings we actually we only had our agm uh postponed but we had that uh at a social distance yesterday and then wonderfully i'm answering inquiries um from people who are looking into their family history so we get a i'm doing a lot of genealogical stuff which is just like doing a jigsaw i mean even yesterday i had a couple of people um come into my garden because they had discovered we we needed to have a meeting to look at some of the resources we we could we've got and they had discovered in the attics of a family house a beautiful but unfinished patchwork and within that patchwork were templates which had been cut from old Victorian calling cards now these people don't live in Chislehurst so when they showed me the calling cards which were all cut from a particular lady's collection in Chislehurst i was ridiculously excited because i recognise names from our significant past so i was able to share my knowledge of Chislehurst which is based on going through all the books that we have in our collection um with them and we've started slowly to put um a social history together and we may even get a booklet published out of it and we'll certainly get an afternoon talk because the quilt itself is fascinating they've been up to the quilting museum in York just before lockdown and got a lot of information they're in touch with the vna um and then with the information that we've got here locally put the two together and i think there's quite a story to tell so i'm excited and those are the sorts of happy crazy things that i get involved in so do you have your own collection um is it quite wide oh i wish um no i we we have our own collection but i i almost don't call it a collection it it's a cupboard of slightly disorganised ephemera um and it's growing um because we receive um donations we're in a fortunate position that when people clear out their family attics when older members of the family perhaps have passed away they come across a number of items and they think i'm not going to throw this away this might be interesting what can i do with it oh i know i'll get in touch with the Chislehurst society so we have a lovely selection of books um some um editions of webb's history of Chislehurst this is a book the size of the bible um which like an old family bible which only 500 were ever printed back in 1900 1899 and we've got a couple of those which have been donated to us and on the open market those would fetch about 300 pounds and they really are such a resource to us in terms of an itinerary of Chislehurst way back when we have wonderful old photographs that have been collected donated to us we have maps um mugs that were given to children in Chislehurst at the jubilee and um at the coronation of king george v would you believe um i even have um a zulu astagai sword uh within my collection so when i say collection we've got paintings and portraits and maps and things like that it is small and it's growing and we welcome anything that anybody wants to bring along to us and we will find the right home for it sometimes we keep it sometimes and it's a particularly precious item which shouldn't just stay in Chislehurst so we actually give it to the bromley archives who are seriously organized and so for pro researchers the the valuable research items really need to go to the bromley collection such as do you have a lot of links with sort of local historical things like the bromley archives or is there a local museum there isn't a local museum that's one of my dreams to have a local information center or a museum because Chislehurst has so much history about incredibly important people i mean the last emperor of france napoleon iii he lived in Chislehurst he died in Chislehurst malcolm campbell the speed king he was born here he's buried here sir john lubbock the man that gave us bank holidays he lived here uh william willett the man that changed the clocks you know british summer time he made all his uh preparations through parliament from Chislehurst and oh i'd i'd be thrilled to display some of the items that we've got and create um a walk-through time zone if you were um we've got the resources to start it off um but we're a volunteer organization a charity um i've applied for heritage lottery funds before and been successful it's something i would love to do and maybe maybe that'll be my legacy for Chislehurst we'll see but but our links are for for serious researchers are with the bromley archives definitely you've mentioned you get um genealogy requests and things oh yes is there anything more unusual that people come to ask you about um no it is it is mostly about their family heritage but but it's glorious because just the other day i had somebody send me um a photograph of their great grandfather who happened to be the station master at Chislehurst when queen victoria was was coming through to visit the empress and napoleon iii and then literally two weeks later i had an email from somebody saying i am researching my great great grandfather who happened to be the station master at Chislehurst so in the end i was able to connect two completely different people who were second cousins um and had never met before all through the same genealogical inquiry and that just gives me great pleasure so it's a question of storing up the information and cataloguing all those emails and requests and things like that but um we do we do get fascinating um calls i mean i said to you the the collection is housed in a cupboard but that cupboard itself is a piece of local Chislehurst heritage because it's a beautiful painted door and in one of our books which is called edwardian Chislehurst there's a story of a local painter and decorator who you back in 1900 who used to paint his doors well one of my volunteers was walking through the village one day through one of the older part one older streets of Chislehurst and he noticed in a skip outside this beautiful painted door so he said to the chapper on the house could i take that and the man was perfectly happy for him to have it so at the Chislehurst society old chapel which is our our offices this door turned up um and it turns out to be one of the examples that was talked about in in this edwardian chisholm's book so we had the door cleaned because it was covered in cigarette stains i have to say but it's beautiful watercolor sorry oil and it now adorns it's now the cupboard door of our collection so it's things like that that bring our history alive and makes a collection tangible very tactile and for me the whole idea of the collection is that we're able to tell stories one of the um objects of the Chislehurst society is to let people know about the area obviously what it's like now we want to encourage people to come and live here and enjoy the place but also what it was like in days gone by and we can tell stories through doing that i mean i've got a i've got a history group that researches the area and tells local stories but we have in the past had a junior history group and we've told um murder mystery stories because there happened to be a couple of nasty murders that happened in Chislehurst way back when um so you're quite safe but that to me is is the pleasure of the items that get given to us we can turn them into stories and we can bring our history alive speaking of stories you must tell me how you came across a zulu spear if only um well i mentioned our coffee mornings and um one of our older visitors arrived with his walking stick and a very long um what i thought was a flagpole in a plastic bag and he said i i want you to have this and he um removed the plastic bag with quite a flourish and i wasn't scared but i was concerned because he was um not the most sturdy of gentleman he could easily have fallen over and speared me quite frankly um but he had this genuine assaga zulu sword um prince imperial son of emperor napoleon iii unfortunately um died on military service in south africa and he was speared to death by the zulus and this was this sword that was being shown to me was of that type obviously it wasn't v1 but it it's a genuine um zulu item and this gentleman had got it um not from a boot sale but from an eclectic sale some years ago he was moving to a smaller property and he said i want you to have it so we now have this genuine zulu sword um i can't really put it on display i think it might be quite dangerous if somebody decided to borrow it shall we say which probably couldn't happen but i've got to be careful but it does mean that if i go and do talks on our imperial legacy on my stronger days i can take the sword with me um certainly keep the audience in control wouldn't it yeah of course the things that you you find in skin i know from skips and it's just it's a but that's the pleasure of the Chislehurst society you meet so many people who are interested and devoted to the place and they want you to carry on the storytelling and i find that a great honour really what would you say is your biggest challenge when it comes to um you know telling stories um getting in touch with people engaging people it's um my biggest challenge is being organised and selecting what i want to use and making sure i can find what i want but the great challenge is reaching the people who are not our members people who you would want to find out more about Chislehurst i said we have four thousand members but you know there are sixteen thousand people live in Chislehurst so that the vast majority are not our members and and um possibly don't even know about us our our old chapel is down queen pacific queen's passage which is tucked off Chislehurst high street behind um go travel and cafe nero and unless you you know about us we're not immediately obvious i'm trying to put a lovely sort of heritage sign finger post sign on the passage so people can find us more easily but it is always reaching those that are not your members and people that you would like to reach out to and and getting young people engaged so that we've got the next generation of volunteers to help us it's um we're entirely a volunteer organisation and a trustee board of 12 people and we're always looking for other people who can give us their time but you know people are looking after their grandchildren or they're working obviously times are very different from the generation where my mother was doing volunteering all the time it's uh time is a precious resource so that's that's the challenge really it's engaging people and and getting to people to give us um moments opportunities of their time it's not difficult to tell the stories it's it's engaging with it it's getting the audience in the first place do you work with local schools to kind of try and get them involved yes i'm i'm very lucky that um the primary schools in particular um i usually go and give a talk about their environment and um oh it's wonderful because they always say things like um were you there miss you know did you know the emperor and i think holly how old do i look um is that that they have no sense of time or space and they're absolutely delightful to be with and then we offer work experience too so some of the secondary schools um could come along and work with us for a week and get involved in our marketing they could write articles for our magazine and if they were particularly interested in history i would get them um to perhaps do an article for our website on a particular story um and we also run competitions um and every year get youngsters from the schools to give us their their ideas and they can um get financial prizes from us so um it's worth getting involved with the Chislehurst society at a school level and i'm lucky we have a schools forum and we we do link in with with all the schools but they themselves are incredibly busy and it it really has to hit their curriculum if if it's going to um be a long term thing with the schools so obviously you want to engage as much as of the local community as possible um you really want a museum but yeah i think we're going to call it an information center i wonder if the museum it's got an old image hasn't it that word yeah maybe i know the museums association are looking at updating the um definition to make it more accessible and more relevant to the modern age exactly i mean we've got premises we could easily get lots of interactive um materials around and it's the sort of thing that max communications could help us with you know digitizing so much of the the information we've got is there any you're giving me ideas you'll have to be careful is there any particular thing you kind of want to collect is there a book that you you wish you had access to or anything like that um oh i still want to get hold of a photograph of the original Chislehurst railway station i still want images that relate to the northern half of Chislehurst the royal parade end and the village we have a good selection of photographs of because um you may have heard of cooling's garden center but the cooling's family were photographers and they started off in Chislehurst and we have access to a number of the photographs that they took but they seem to focus very much on those two areas royal parade the commons and the high street whereas if you go up red hill to whitehorse hill and you look towards London that's an amazing part of Chislehurst it's really an old industrial park it's where the potteries were where they made um clay tiles some of which went on the roof of hampton court palace i'll tell you but i know crazy the things i know but um we lack the evidence for those stories because they have they haven't been captured so if anyone had old photographs relating to whitehorse hill um red hill and looking north towards London i'd love to see what people's view from Chislehurst of Chislehurst was back in the 19th century because you know we're only we're only 13 miles from the centre of London and the whole reason that people came and settled here in Chislehurst was because of the beautiful green the area and it was a healthy place to be and it still is with all the comments but it was so easy to access London um they had their estates here and their private lives shall we say in London their business lives and i the connection you know Chislehurst is just it's just a suburb of London on the border of Kent and i'd i'd love to find more information about that Chislehurst London link um because i think it's quite significant as to the success of Chislehurst quite frankly yeah yeah it's the sort of perfect meeting between town and country really exactly you've hit the nail on the head and that's why we all love living here because because we've got access to all the um wonderful parts of London and we've got access to the Kent countryside and we're right on on on the cusp of both yeah lovely places to play cricket and things like that right that's right i mean yeah i mean we've got some lovely archives relating to the cricket club which is the only cricket club in the country controlled by act of parliament oh how did it happen well it's part of the commons and of course by act of parliament so um it's funny little things like that which all become part of the stories we tell what is your most favourite item just your personal favourite oh it has to be the Camden place map um that was it is a very large map which we display on the wall in inside the old chapel and max communications um digitized that for us so that we could put it more in the in the um face of people as they could really easily access it rather than just coming into the chapel to see it's a very large document and it it came to us um as a scruffy torn folded creased and stained document from a gentleman who'd bought it on ebay for a reasonable sum of money and he brought it to me knowing that i would lap it up because it shows what the Camden place estate looked like at the time of napoleon iii and it shows the homes of our very significant residents including those that i mentioned before Malcolm Campbell and people like that so with the map i really can um tell people to tell the stories of chisels which are very significant and so we got we used that map we bought it from this gentleman and i have to say he gave the proceeds of that sale to the national lifeboat association so it that was a pleasure that we were able to benefit another charity in the purpose we then got a heritage lottery grant to restore the map so my history group had three years of learning about conservation practices we went up to um a museum at Oxford the imperial war museum that's there and they did the paper conservation for us and then we produced booklets and information banners using all the information from the map so not only have i got information but i've actually got a real friendship with the gentleman who sold us the map and he had other stories of his childhood when he was scrumping around in chisels probably where he shouldn't have been but telling the stories of all the big houses and um i formed a friendship with him he had other documents which helped me write my book on Lubbock road and it just it just grew like topsy and that map is still on our wall and honestly anytime anybody any new person comes into the to the chapel they're completely drawn to it and it it's the start of a conversation so i'm i'm proud of it it's very special um and it it captures the heart of what Chislehurst was and even is so it's just yeah it's very it's very dear to my heart how big is it oh gosh um i'm not good on sizes so it is it's got to be three foot across three and a half foot across and two and a half foot down okay so it's a good portrait size when fully unfolded unfurled on my wall and it's behind museum quality glass so that it can't get um faded by any sunlight and so seriously protected and endorsed by the um national uh the heritage lottery that's wonderful that yeah funding to preserve that piece of heritage i mean even through that i met the chair of the heritage lottery foundation who happened to live in Chislehurst at the time and i was i was put in touch with her by my hairdresser who said you ought to meet this lady she said you both have something in common um history and hounds and now hair um because she hasn't she has a dog she's loved history and we were both at the hairdressers and of course she then came and unveiled the map for us at the library when we when we first showed it to everybody in Chislehurst so yeah it's been a big part of my life that sounds really nice and friendly and very British i have to say yes i'm afraid that's probably true um thank you so much for agreeing to speak to me today Joanna you've been a pleasure the stories you have it's so obvious you love the place you live yes i love i can't wait to see what you've managed to dig out next what what chorus managed to find from what you find i feel like you should have antiques roadshow and just see what people in there i know well that's a good idea what a good idea thank you when when we're all allowed to meet but we could do it in the car park at the old chapel yes yeah you've got to don't let me go exactly one one of the presenters of um antiques roadshow operates from the ripely arts center so we've we've got um an expert on tap i'm sure you've gotten in there you've gone in exactly what it's all about thank you faith thank you and if you've got any photos of the train station north Chislehurst yes get in touch with you you'll be delighted i'm sure totally bless you thank you very much