The Independent London Newspaper
23rd May 2019

SOHO SOCIETY FESTIVAL - This Sunday, July 10th - Keeping stories and images of old Soho alive

    David Bieda and Tony Shrimplin with the cup

    SOHO'S history is replete with famous names – Karl Marx, Casanova, Mozart – but it is the area’s forgotten artisans, the so-called little people, that most fascinate those behind the Museum of Soho.

    MoSoho, as it is known, is a repository of oral testimonies, archival photographs and historical artefacts. 

    It was established in 1990 by pillars of the community including Soho Society stalwart Bryan Burroughs and local historian, author Roy Harrison.

    The museum contains records of craftsmen who could once be found plying their trades throughout the West End, as well as memoirs penned by people who have lived their whole lives in the area.

    Currently the museum is almost as ephemeral as some of its exhibits. Once upon a time these were housed in elegant display cabinets in a purpose-built exhibition space in St Anne’s Church, Dean Street. Now they lie in boxes which are keenly sifted through by volunteers who file away their contents in a process known as accessioning.

    “I think we are at a stage now that we could actually take on a purpose-built museum space,” says Tony Shrimplin, a Soho resident of 20 years standing who is working on a project to digitise the archive. “However, there are funding issues around that as we would have to rent the space. 

    “That is partly why I am trying to use new technology to create a kind of virtual museum. With a degree of modification to technology that’s already there, we could have interactive projections onto walls, which would be a cheap way of having exhibitions in gallery spaces. 

    “With modifications to an XBox Connect, for example, you could have a degree of interactivity, with images to touch and slide.”

    This exciting approach to museum curating has caught the eye of influential academics. MoSoho was this week a case study at a conference on “museums and the moving image” at the Centre for Research and Study in the Humanities at Fitzwilliam College Cambridge.

    Mr Shrimplin hopes to have an “interactive museum stream” up and running on a screen attached to a new development in Sherwood Street by October, and he makes copious use of Quantum Reality – matrix barcodes that can be used to store reams of information which can be “swiped” using a smartphone.

    The museum is not all about new technology, however. It is always on the lookout for volunteers to lend a hand cataloguing material and will have a stall at this year’s Soho Festival, where anyone interested can find out more information.

    David Bieda, a Dean Street resident and aficionado of local history, recalls how a friend in Meard Street who was doing up his flat recently discovered a stash of letters and old tailoring equipment which had been left under the floorboards by a former occupant. He donated the items to MoSoho.

    “The general public associate Soho with sex shops and drinking,” says Mr Bieda. “In fact, it has a very interesting history, only some of which relates to that. 

    “What’s unique about the centre of London is you’ve got these urban villages: Soho, Covent Garden, Seven Dials, Fitzrovia, St James’s. You can go to a public meeting in St James’s and the people will be totally different from the Soho people. They are distinct villages and each has its own history.”

    MoSoho, says Mr Shrimplin, is a lot like Soho itself. “Things come and go,” he says. “But we can record them before they are gone.”

    Photo: David Bieda and Tony Shrimplin with the ‘Holy Grail’ – a Soho Restaurateur’s Association cup which was recently restored by one of the last remaining Soho artisans. The work was paid for by French House owner Lesley Lewis and Groucho Club boss Bernie Katz. It was awarded to the winners of something called the “waiters race” ­– a tradition Ms Lewis and Mr Katz are apparently keen to revive.

    Published: 08 July 2011
    by JOSH LOEB



    Post new comment

    By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.