Mapping Memories: Making ‘Clerkenwell: Now & Then’

Siôn Ap Tomos takes us behind the scenes and shares how our new illustrated map was created.


  • Learning

'Clerkenwell: Now & Then' is a beautiful map, but arguably even more beautiful are the stories behind it. Siôn Ap Tomos takes us through the 'making of' this illustrated map of older residents' memories of the area.

How did you get started working with the participants and putting the map together?

I wanted to start off the project thinking about memories and illustrations at the same time: stimulating conversation while simultaneously creating visual material.

So the first thing we did was draw signs of streets and roads that had significance for the participants. I thought this would be a gentle start to both image-making and starting a dialogue about places in the area and the group’s connection to them.

I needn’t have worried about stimulating conversation. The participants were fantastic to work with from the get-go, with stories, opinions and recollections firing across the table from the moment we met up. Their enthusiasm gave the project immediate momentum, and it became clear quite quickly that there would be plenty of story material for the map.

The choices of streets they depicted started to give us an idea of the areas the map might focus upon and we went on from there.

How did you use the historical archives to prompt personal memories?

Our two visits to the London Metropolitan Archives early in the project were crucial. The archivist kindly organised viewings of photographs and illustrations of Clerkenwell which kicked off all kinds of memories and conversations about the area. The power of images to unlock all sorts of recollections was really striking.

For the remainder of the project, we began each session by viewing archive images. The process was very useful both for bringing forth further stories and also just getting each session started.

We also looked at archive maps and illustrated maps, both of which helped give the group a clear sense of what they were working towards.

What illustration techniques did you and the participants use and why?

We used a mixture of techniques and materials including watercolour, colour pencils and markers, mono-printing and collage.

We used this mixture of approaches partly to create a more varied aesthetic, but more importantly because I wanted each participant to use their illustration method of choice to depict their stories. Having the underlying structure of the map itself would allow us to have a varied approach to the images that would lay on top of it.

I did encourage using colour as much as possible, so colour materials were always prominently available on the table, colour markers and watercolour proving to be very popular.

I also encouraged drawing using markers or dark soft pencils so that images would reproduce as clearly as possible at a smaller size. I’m also a big believer in these sorts of materials helping people not be afraid of making a clear statement when image-making.

I suggested breaking down the structure of a building into simple shapes first, then working in blocks of colour rather than outlines, collage being a good example of this. Also using white lines on dark proved a very useful and popular method of drawing window frames and similar architectural features.

What’s your favourite entry on the map?

Ha! I couldn’t possibly choose as I have become so familiar and intimate with them all and seen some of them develop from a just a throwaway remark to being fully illustrated in print.

I will say this: it is the very personal stories and memories that made an impact on me during the sessions and when I was organising the material.

Were there any stories or illustrations that didn’t make it onto the final map that you want to shout out?

A few images had to be left out sadly either because there wasn’t room or there were multiple pictures of the same subject to have to choose from (mercifully this was rare).

In terms of entries, I was sad to have to leave out the recollection of children taking chips of ice to suck on from a giant block being transported along the street by horse and cart. I felt similarly about the tale of the department store parrot that was especially rude to one of the participants’ mother.

There were also some moving recollections of being an evacuee and experiencing London during the Blitz. And the local market streets were a particularly rich source of recollections which sadly couldn’t all be fitted on the final map.

Find out more about 'Clerkenwell: Now & Then' and pick up a free copy at Islington Libraries, Islington Museum and other local community and cultural centres.

Many thanks to Siôn Ap Tomos, The Peel Institute, London Metropolitan Archives and all the participants on this project: Selma Atasoy, Sheila Collins, Vivienne Evans, Bill Gilliam, Marilyn Gilliam, Josie Hadley, Michael Janulewicz, Sue Lloyd, Maria Mansfield, Jill Putland, Ray Rich and Mary Smith.