The Brentford Oral History Compilation
The oral history compilations availible to listen to here on this page were originally conceived of as part of the Brentford Mural Commission in 2001.
The project was developed by Hounslow Community Initiatives Partnerships, the body responsible for Arts and Cultural events in Hounslow.
Supported by British Waterways who run the canal system, the project commemorates the history of the town of Brentford and its relationship with the Grand Union Canal.
Amal Ghosh was commissioned to produce an enamel panel, one of three works of high quality art commissioned for this purpose, the others being the Oral History of the area and a website, built with the help of local schoolchildren, by Michelle Duxbury.
CIP invited Frances Rifkin, oral historian and community artist to research the history of Brentford and interview a selection of its residents. The resulting material was used to help inform both the mural and the website and was intended to be placed in listening posts in the town centre next to the mural, and later on the canal itself.
Brentford is an old industrial town trapped within London, which still retains the rural atmosphere of its past as an area of orchards and bee-keeping. It is also a place where water - the Grand Union Canal, the Thames, the River Brent, the Welsh Harp and a multitude of local waterways - has played a central part in its long life.
The mural, website and listening post projects helped to record and commemorate the history of a town that has faced radical changes during the last two years.
Frances Rifkin was instrumental in helping Amal Ghosh with his own research for the mural design. Together they walked around the areas of the town that she had visited previously when collecting her own materials.
She met the local people, old and young, in pubs, the docks, the drop-in centres, and in the shopping areas. Though Frances was looking for older people who remembered the canal over the years, she was interested in meeting anyone who had some association with the canal and used the material to build a sound picture of contemporary experiences of the town.
The selection of voices heard in the recordings were recorded in locations on and off the water, between Norwood Top Lock and the Thames Lock and are often specific to particular spots - for example the Thames Lock, the Canal Bridge, Danehurst Older people's accommodation which was the site of a wharf and railway yard in the past and the side ponds at Lock 95 on the Hanwell Flight.
If you were to listen to these compilations at these places, you would be able to either see or imagine what people are describing. You can also hear the sounds of the canal and its surroundings. The intimate connection of the speakers with the canal and their engagement with the town and its history leaps out of every word they say.
Dedicated to the memory of Betty Johnson, long time resident of Brentford.
Oral History interviews and recording:
Frances Rifkin and Graham Lucas
Original Music and Sound Engineering:
2nd December 2004 - 28 February 2005
Kew Bridge Steam Museum
Green Dragon Lane,
Mural by Amal Ghosh
While collecting the oral material Frances also extensively photographed the area for Amal and worked with CIP staff to put research materials together for his use. She offered an idea of the canal as a connecting line, running through the many local communities. The use Amal made of this concept can be seen in the design of mural itself, in which the images of Brentford's present and past are linked together by the form of the canal in one large satisfying composition.
Amal Ghosh's mural can be seen in the square at Brentford.