Hanwell and Ealing Heritage Museum:
An Interview with David Blackwell
By Dr. Piotr Stolarski
Scytheman cometh: David Blackwell, former Council
gardener and now sole proprietor of Hanwell & Ealing
This month’s blog post focuses on amateur local historian David Blackwell, who opened his Hanwell and Ealing Heritage Museum in February 2016. Based in Hanwell Community Centre (formerly the Central London District Schools, once attended by Charlie Chaplin), the museum is a fascinating collection of mainly household objects of British origin, as well as a base for David to pursue his local history interests. I met up with David at his home in May 2017, before visiting the museum, which had recently moved to larger premises in the basement of the community centre.
PS: As we get settled down, to have our coffees and teas and hot chocolates, when did you open the museum, David?
DB: The initial one in my smaller room was February last year – 2016.
PS: So it’s a development since the last time I saw you [in 2015], when I did an interview about your local history interests.
DB: Yes, it’s a [development] of the museum I had at the [Greenford] Motorcycle Museum, which is now on the way out, because the motorbike museum will not be around unless they can get funding. So I set up this to carry on.
Above: London Motorcycle Museum opened in May 1999 at Oldfield Lane South,
Greenford, Middlesex. A charitable trust, it displays a range of over 150 classic
and British motorcycles
PS: And, why did you decide to open a museum?
DB: I consider… there’s a need in this area. When I was at the Motorcycle Museum, [where] I was invited to set up in 2002, one of the trustees asked me to set it up, and they didn’t know me from Adam – I was up at the history library [Ealing Local History Centre] at the time… and I learnt from [doing] that, and when I was tipped off that the Motorcycle Museum was on dodgy ground with funding, I came here [to Hanwell Community Centre], asked if there was a room – there wasn’t – but they found me a small room, which had been full of rubbish – which they did up for me, and I was there for… I started setting up in January, and I opened on 13 February…
DB: Yes, 2016… I was there then, and the Food Bank was already in this [new] room, and I knew they were moving out. They kept me informed of what was going on, and I was given a fortnight’s first refusal on this room. I took a gamble, and I took it.
Above: David in his new and expanded room at Hanwell Community
PS: So, am I right in thinking that at the Motorcycle Museum there was additional space where you were active with similar things that you’ve got here?
PS: So you’ve had previous experience of, you could say, curating items…
DB: Yes, from about 2002.
DB: And I learnt from that, how to make it better, for here. And the best stuff from there, which was mainly donations (I kept my own stock at home, which I bought at boot sales) – all the good stuff has come here, so I’ve been able to save what was there for here. And there’s still more stock at home.
PS: So you say you opened the museum because you felt there was a need for it in the local area. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
DB: Er… when I’ve done stalls at the Carnival, and other various things, there’s always an interest in local history and heritage. Especially at the Carnival, the local history – they love what are known as the Wakefield Pictures of Hanwell in the 1930s – they love that stuff. There’s an interest in this area. Some areas don’t appear to be too bothered about their past, but Hanwell was a village – and it still is a village in a way – they care about their past, and they want to know about it.
PS: Okay. And can you talk me through what you’ve got in your collection?
DB: Basically, the oldest items I’ve got are two 1890s sewing machines – in their original boxes – which I was given from the family. [The museum] has got everything from about 1890 to 1990. It’s all British stuff, there’s no foreign make stuff, it’s all British… it’s a celebration of Britain’s past, when everything was British – you couldn’t buy very much foreign. It’s a throwback to how life was.
Above: Retro cameras and telephones in David’s collection at the
PS: I can see around me, sitting here, cameras – early cameras over there… they are cameras aren’t they?
DB: Yes, early 1900s.
PS: I can see… old pales made of metal…
Above: David with a small selection of his beloved
PS: Enamel? I can see Dinky toys, a large spread of them. I can see what looks like a 1950s pram?
Above: 1960s pram
DB: A Silver Cross pram, because that one is a classic model that everyone had.
PS: Okay. I can see boxes, small boxes, which used to have stuff in them, more cameras; I can see telephones, bottles, scales, typewriters, more kettles and World War Two helmets. There’s… you’ve got old radios, and early T.V.’s here as well, and apart from that lots of gardening equipment from the past. Yes, it’s quite a collection, there’s also: the early Hoovers [made at Perivale] as well. So you’re focusing mainly on domestic items is that right?
Above: ‘Not P.C.’: smoking paraphernalia
DB: Yes. A ‘memory lane’. I’ve got at least four or five shelves of different types of tobacco tins. It’s a thing which is not considered P.C. now, but it’s something of the past. This is a celebration of what was, as against what is – for people to enjoy.
PS: And, what are your favourite items in the museum?
DB: Dinky, Matchbox, and Corgi toys.
Above: Some of David’s many Corgi, Dinky, and Matchbox, toy vehicles
PS: And you say – we were at your house earlier (we visited your store room and your local history room) – and you said your favourite items are the telephones. Any particular reason?
DB: All the different colours. I’ve got something like 15 or 16 different colours of the 1970s and 80s ‘finger phones’.
Above: A selection of old ‘finger phones’ in David’s garden shed
PS: Okay. So, moving on, how many visitors do you get?
DB: Not enough, I’m afraid. The biggest problem here is where I am. It’s the right place – it’s got the heritage, with Charlie Chaplain [having gone to school here], and all that – but the history of this place [Hanwell Community Centre] could be a lot better, and it’s not publicised enough. Lots of local people don’t even know this building’s here… in the summer time you can’t see it from the road because of all the trees.
Above: A view of Hanwell Community Centre, where David’s museum
is located, from where Cuckoo Avenue and Westcott Crescent
PS: Yes, do you not think the trees – going up Cuckoo Avenue?
DB: Cuckoo Avenue, yes.
PS: The trees detract from people actually knowing that it’s here?
PS: So could they be chopped down?
DB: No way.
PS: You want to keep the natural environment.
DB: It’s a landmark. If you say ‘Westcott Crescent’ nobody really knows where it is. But if you say ‘at the top of Cuckoo Avenue’ – because of the trees which is a landmark – people know where you are. I find that time after time.
PS: I think you once said that the Council or somebody could put up a decent sign on the Ruislip Road… to tell people it’s here.
DB: Yes. What they need to do is on the sign where it says ‘Welcome to the Cuckoo Estate’, there’s a piece of white on the left had corner, which obviously had a sign at some point – if they were to put an image of the building and say what it is at the top, people would know. During the schoolkid run in the afternoon it’s bumper-to-bumper around there, and people would see it and know it’s there, or wonder, ‘I wonder what’s up there?’ As of now, nobody knows it’s here.
PS: Okay, fair enough. So what would you say is the purpose of your museum?
DB: It’s to…
PS: Maybe there’s more than one…
Above: David’s display boards chart the changes in Hanwell and surrounding areas
DB: There is. Number one, it’s to show people how life was in the past – what people used. Plus, the local history of the area. But it’s not only Hanwell, I’ve got bits and pieces of history that takes in the whole of the borough. But mainly Hanwell, Greenford, Perivale, and Northolt. That part of the borough is more in depth, but I do have stuff on Southall and Ealing.
PS: So, you’ve got display boards about say, Hanwell, Greenford, Perivale and Northolt…
Above: David with newspaper cuttings in his local history room at
PS: And you’ve also got folders with old adverts from old newspapers… So that links in with what we saw at your house, in your store room and your local history room, where you’ve got reams of old newspapers going back to the nineteenth century in large bound volumes, more recent newspapers, yellow pages… telephone books, Argos catalogues, all sorts of local and more general reference material. How does the museum fit in with your local history interests?
DB: I think it’s complementary. To be honest, most people seem to like the heritage pieces. There are others who like the history more, but the percentage is definitely more looking at the past – things that they remember. Especially 50+ people.
PS: However you’re actively involved in doing local history research at the Local History Centre. So I suppose it all feeds in, doesn’t it? It’s mutually beneficial isn’t it?
DB: I’m working on a Hanwell book to be called Bygone Hanwell. It will be published, in time.
PS: This is your Hanwell chronicle, isn’t it?
DB: Well, it’s a chronicle, yes, but I call it Bygone Hanwell. I’m feeding in information that comes from other sources… like the Open Spaces Committee Books, feeding in information which I’ve not got from the local papers. The idea is [to include] everything that is of Hanwell that’s been written in the past.
Above: Inspiration: local historian Dr. Peter Hounsell –
depicted in 1998
PS: Okay. So where did you get all your items from, for the museum?
DB: Previous to being asked to set up this museum in Greenford, I started going to boot sales because in about 2000, 1999 or 2000, there used to be a Countryside Weekend up on Horsenden Hill – it’s not there anymore, it’s stopped. And, there was a local historian there, who – we were talking – and he actually made a one liner: ‘it’s not until it’s lost that people realise what they lost, and it’s valued’.
PS: Was that Peter Hounsell?
DS: Yes. I’m afraid that he’s the one that started this off.
Above: David in his study at home. Visible on the right are Hanwell
records in boxfiles and more Dinky toys on the desk
PS: So that’s where you got your idea from, but the actual items – all the things we can see around us – some of them are from boot sales, some of them you had in your Greenford location, and do you still buy them, do you go into old shops? Do you get them off the internet or do people donate them to you?
DB: At the moment, because this is full, and I’ve got almost the same again at home, I’ve got a storage problem. I’ve spent a lot of money already on this hobby. And I go there [boot sales] still for Dinky, Matchbox and Corgi toys, it’s my little personal hobby – sub-hobby if you like – but there’s less and less of them now: there used to be tons of them about, at boot sales. Because of the likes of ‘Flog It!’ and ‘Bargain Hunt’, even though they are valuable, they are not around so much. But I still buy one or two a week. I don’t pay much for them, maybe four or five pounds each, if I’m lucky.
PS: Have you thought of expanding your collection in terms of the kind of stuff you’ve got? Special areas of the hobby like old-fashioned clothing or particular domestic items you haven’t covered?
DB: If I do find anything that I haven’t got… when I started I just took everything and anything in a good condition and British. Now, I look around everywhere at boot sales and see anything that I have not got. I do not go down the line of clothing or books here, because there’s a damp issue here, down in the basement [of Hanwell Community Centre].
Above: David’s museum is located in the cavern-like basement of
Hanwell Community Centre
Piotr: Obviously, when you’re not busy with volunteers and visitors of whatever kind, what do you do when you’re alone?
David: Normally, what I do, I write out at the library [Ealing Local History Centre] the stuff in pencil, and then [at the museum] I insert it in my history book, which is now 860-odd pages. It’s a lot easier for me to write in out there fast, and insert it here in the right place, and make sure it goes in the right one.
Piotr: So that’s on your laptop?
David: Yes, that’s on the laptop here. So that’s what I do here. At the moment while there’s not so many people here it means I can concentrate on the book. I do not waste my time. Life’s too short!
Piotr: Generally, is Hanwell Community Centre a good location?
Above: Hanwell Community Centre is now run by a partnership of
Ealing Council and Hanwell Community Centre Consortium
David: It’s got the potential of being a lot more than what it is. The Hanwell Community Centre Consortium is running this place with the Council at the moment, which is a very good basis… it could be nurtured more for a historical way, especially with Charlie Chaplin having been here, and the building [former Central London District School] is 160 years old on 20 October this year. We intend to have an exhibition.
Piotr: So, it’s obviously a big building, and you’ve got your own space in the basement. It used to be in a smaller room, now it’s quite a big room, and it’s quite impressive… it might have a damp issue… what do you think needs to be added to it to make it better?
Above: David’s museum also contains collected
information such as these folders of old advertisements
from the local papers
DB: Given the choice, I would like to have a library here. Somewhere – it can’t be in this room, it would ruin my stock – I feel there’s a need for a heritage library for people to look at. Not to take books out, but to use it as a study resource, which the borough doesn’t seem to have.
PS: Isn’t that quite similar to Local History?
DB: No, I’m talking about items, not history.
PS: So you think this could be like an educational resource for schools, community groups, any other associations which might be interested?
DB: The thing is, I can’t show everything. But these books would show a lot more. I am limited by the space and the thing is, all the shelves are filled… not crammed, but you can’t put anything more in here, and I would like to… I feel that because there’s not one around, in the borough, it’s an all-round local history, heritage, and library, for people to resource… would be a nice [all-] round thing.
PS: So do you have good relationships with people at Hanwell Community Centre?
DB: Yes, I have. Rakash the manager is quite helpful. He wants me to be here and to be a success, and so does the Consortium.
PS: You get on with the other people and groups?
DB: The Carnival [Hanwell Carnival] are down here now, getting ready for the Carnival, and I often pop in there when I’ve finished a session, and have a chat with them and stuff. And there’s the regulars at the pottery and upholstery, which is down here as well.
PS: Okay. Looking back over your life, how much have things changed in society and culture around you? And have you changed?
Above: David believes that in a rapidly changing world, people need
to stay in touch with their past
DB: Society, I feel, has changed a lot, since the 1950s and 1960s. It’s not so much community-minded now as it was, partially because… most people are intent on earning a living, having a good family life, and just keeping their head above water. A lot of things that used to happen, the hobby groups that used to be – like here there used to be lots of horticultural societies, and flower shows – that’s all gone… People are just trying to survive.
PS: You think economically it’s got worse since the 50s and 60s?
DB: Yes, definitely.
PS: Having said that, people are much more into technology aren’t they: mobile phones, computers, the internet?
DB: Yes. It’s different… but I feel that people now need a link with what was, in the past. Just because it’s not the modern piece of I.T. equipment, it’s still got value.
PS: And do you believe you’ve changed over the decades?
DB: I’ve mellowed.
PS: So, moving on. What do you consider to be heritage?
DB: Anything that happened or was used in the past, literally previous to today. But I keep to, again, British items, because you can’t do everything, and I just feel, a lot of this stuff I’ve got here would end up in the tip… I’m reserving it for people to enjoy – in future generations.
PS: I suppose there’s two parallel things: you’ve got the local history side, and then you’ve got the objects, but are there any items in your collection that are specifically related to Hanwell?
DB: There are. There’s a bacon slicer and scales from Sainsbury’s that used to be in Hanwell Broadway. Plus, I’ve got some trophy plaques from the Hanwell Festival, and some from the Manor House School, that used to be… most of the stuff here is generic in as much as it would have been used anywhere in the borough. This is why I feel it’s a borough-wide enterprise… but this is the best building for it, if it is nurtured.
Above: The museum has become a resource for locals interested in finding out
about the area’s history and the material culture of the recent past
PS: Do you get asked to appear at local events, with your local history stuff, or even your heritage stuff?
DB: I’ve got at least two or three coming up this summer. Afternoon session type things. Street parties, that sort… because I’ve been doing local history – this is my twentieth year – people know what I do, so they come to me when they want the history. New people move into this area and they don’t know the area. So the idea is, I’m there, showing them stuff. And hopefully, they’ll come and visit me.
PS: Could you name any examples of groups or events?
DB: One is Grove Avenue – they’re having a sort of tea party, in July…
PS: So you’re going to bring along a small kind of display or local history material, is that right?
DB: It depends on the weather. I have said what happens if it rains? They said they might have a small tent for me, but I don’t know how big it is. I’m waiting for some more answers. But they will have something. And I’m doing – and have done for the last three years – the West Ealing Sound Bite in Dean Gardens – where we do that area’s history.
PS: You’ve also become involved in Brent Lodge. Could you explain exactly what Brent Lodge is and what they’re doing there and how you’re involved?
DB: Brent Lodge is the park in Hanwell that the Council took over in 1933. There’s a local arts group called the Art Box, based there, and they’re hoping to get Heritage Lottery Funding for a project for a history of the park, and Churchfields, and St. Mary’s [church, Hanwell], and possibly the [Wharncliffe] Viaduct]… that area. They’ve asked me to get involved on the history side, and also they want to show – it’s on two levels: one is schools, and the other is older people, 18+ will do some research, to find [information]. I am going through the minute books to find the information so that I can guide them, to know where the stuff is, so they don’t waste time.
PS: So that’s an example of a particular local area with its own local history which needs your skills and knowledge, particularly of Hanwell, which you have a particular expertise in. So in a way you are being a kind of consultant for them?
DB: Yes. I feel a museum nowadays can’t just be for looking at. It should be educational.And that’s what I want to do. I’ve got the information, and I feel, if I can help people learn about their area… then I should.
PS: Going back to the collection, how many items do you have? Have you counted them all?
DB: Nope. Off the top of my head, thousands? If you count what’s here plus what’s at home… just say I’ve spent a lot of money on it.
PS: So you have to have some security precautions don’t you? You have duplicates and the best ones you keep at home in reserve?
PS: Do you rotate your collection or does it stay the same?
Above: A plan of the original Central London District Schools building. Only the area hatched
yellow survives today as the Hanwell Community Centre
DB: I intend to rotate. My idea at the moment is I’ve been setting this up, saving the best stuff from the Greenford [Motorcycle] Museum. I can change every shelf if I wanted to, like anything. There’s a section here which related to the Poor School [Central London District School] which will not be changed – which [consists of] the trades which were taught to pauper children to learn a skill before they left at age 14.
PS: That display included items which would have been used in trades such as?
DB: Sewing stuff, cookery for the girls, for the boys: mending boots, gardening stuff, carpentry – the sort of trades they were taught. According to their records that’s what they thought they should be taught, and the level of life they would be at…
PS: So these are children who were studying in this particular building, or anywhere?
DB: This building. I’ve got information on what they learned here… also on what they were fed. I’ve gone to the London Metropolitan Archives and I sat there for weeks, writing it all out…
PS: Well, that’s most impressive, I can’t imagine doing that myself! It shows that you’ve certainly rooted your collection in the building and the local area well – it’s not just a random collection of trash. There’s some very nice items. Very unusual some of them. But they’ve also got specific local revelance as well. I’m sure it could be a useful educational tool for children?
DB: I would like the schools to come here. But I hear they’ve changed the curriculum – they used to ‘learn about your area’. That seems to have gone out of the window now, which is a shame, because this would have suited in nicely. I’ve been talking to schools, but I’m not getting anywhere.
PS: What do you think the future holds for the museum?
DB: This museum needs people to come in, and/or funding. I’ve got to pay rent on this, I am not funded by the Council. I’ve tried to get some money from the [local] Ward [funding], and I’ve been told, ‘no’. There’s no money for the rent. Having a volunteer to help with publicity or I.T. would be useful.
PS: What about tapping into the Council budget for heritage? Somehow getting in touch with Gunnersbury Park Museum, and trying to do some collaboration with them?
Above: Gunnersbury Park Museum serves both the boroughs of Ealing and
Hounslow, and is the only major museum in Ealing – currently undergoing
DB: That’s the way I want to go, but I’m waiting for them to reopen next Spring, and see what can be done.
PS: Who do you think has been the biggest influence on you doing what you’re doing?
DB: [Chuckles]. Peter Hounsell.
PS: Just with his one quote?
PS: Did he say that just before you began the Greenford museum?
DB: Before. I started that August, the year we had the Countryside Weekend. There was this boot sale at Brentside School, so I started going there… buying bits and pieces I fancied… then I didn’t quite know where to go from here, and suddenly I was asked by this trustee, would I like to set up this museum – it came of out nowhere. And this is a continuation of it.
PS: More of a joke question here. Do you polish your items, if so, which?
PS: You prefer the old-style grime?
DB: In all seriousness, this place is as dust-free as you can, but the Motorcycle Museum was very dusty… leaves used to come in through the roof. It wasn’t the best place. And it was very cold. This place is dust-free, so I don’t think I shall have to do any dusting for a while. Everything’s been thoroughly washed when it came in here.
PS: Almost at the end now. What do you get out of running the museum?
DB: Part of it is when people come, them enthusing about things. ‘I remember that, my auntie, whoever, had it’ – it works. And it gives me a chance to do my history typing as well. I am guaranteed here two days a week and I can knuckle down. Otherwise… you can’t always do it. The biggest thing is people’s reaction.
Above: David enjoys the reactions people have to items in his
PS: That’s good. After our previous interview two years’ ago, published on the internet, you have had people coming through that. But you’ve had people unexpectedly turning up, so you do get satisfaction from all that, presumably?
DB: I never know quite whether anyone is going to come or not. I do encourage people, if they are coming, to give me an email the night before at home, so I know they are coming – it’s useful. But not necessarily – they don’t have to. But it’s useful if someone is running a bit late, I know they are coming. Otherwise I might be shut up.
PS: Finally, we could have a brief chat about the internet. Obviously, everybody used the internet now, to a lesser or greater extent. Most museums have got their own internet page, where people can see what’s going on, when things are open, pictures, or texts of descriptions of items or any information… so what’s your reaction to that?
DB: I know I.T. is the way forward but I personally have a problem with I.T. I have a very uphill relationship with it. I can do emails, and that’s about it. I really need a volunteer would do my I.T. side, advertising, for me. That’s what I really need.
PS: Well, what about doing a free computer course in the library for example? You could spend one or two hours a week increasing your skills on the internet and computer. Do you think that would be useful?
DB: Yes. I have done a course, some years ago, up at Northolt. But at the moment, at this precise moment, I’m trying to get as much information out of these books up at Ealing, while they are available, because who knows what the future is? But that idea does make sense, but you can only do a certain amount in a day: and I feel the priority is to get the information so I can tell other people. And I want to get this book published, and get as much in it as possible. Once I’ve done that, then that’s a possibility.
PS: Fair enough. I suppose with the internet you can not only look at other museums’ sites, but also get onto chatrooms with people who are interested in the same sort of thing. I’m sure there’s lots and lots of similar museums or shops or whatever…
DB: I want to get involved with other people. You need to work with others, but I’ve not yet found if there is a joint forum or not – so far I haven’t found anything. It might be out there.
PS: We can leave it there. Any final thoughts?
DB: My only comment is: please come down and see your past.
PS: David Blackwell, thank you very much indeed.
Hanwell and Ealing Heritage Museum
Hanwell Community Centre
(top of Cuckoo Avenue)
- The museum is open on Saturdays and Wednesdays from 11am to 3pm*.
*Other days by appointment. Groups welcome.
- Contact: David Blackwell on: 020 8579 0178 or 07889 033 201
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Facebook: Hanwell and Ealing Heritage Museum