On 17 April, 1941, a bomb shelter on the former site of a baker’s shop, which is now the location of the Young Vic’s main house, suffered a direct hit. All 54 people sheltering there were killed. The youngest victim was two months. The oldest 81 years. Entire families of children, parents and grandparents. To imagine the horror of those last moments, and the grief that followed, is an impossible task, one which we had no desire – or right – to undertake. But we did want to find a way of remembering. So we started to think about all the other people who had inhabited the building over time, what patterns their footsteps made, what their legacies might have been.
Local residents sharing their stories. Photo by Jerome Toole.
We wanted to acknowledge all of the echoes. The Young Vic is a living palimpsest, a re-usable manuscript. Built in a butcher’s shop next to a baker’s on top of a bomb site, it inhabits a space in the community far greater than its considerable size suggests. So we designed and built a cart. Part rag and bone, part postbox, we trundled it around the local area with artist, Anna Beecher over the course of a year. We parked it in estate courtyards, community centres, the street and our own foyer and invited local residents and people who had moved out of the area to contribute stories and memories, gradually building up a vivid picture of a changing area.
Visitors reading stories with designs by Anna Beecher. Photo by Jerome Toole.
On Saturday 16 April, 2016, almost 75 years to the day after the bomb hit, we gathered all of the collected postcards and created an installation that could be explored and added to. A group of five storytellers, who we had contacted and worked with over a few weeks to expand their contribution, read at the event and we played a voice recording of an 88 year old woman who moved away years ago. Stories of tailored overcoats, racial tension in the 70s, flower stalls, jellied eels and overnight cleaners at Waterloo were delivered in a celebratory atmosphere enhanced by a piano player, tea, and lots of cake. The cart we built will now live on as part of a community garden. A fitting fate for a project that was designed to commemorate past, present, and future.
Cut Cart postcards, each with a personal story from the area. Photo by Jerome Toole.