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Society dinners and events

This month focuses on a few photographs from dinners and social events held by some of our freethinking brethren and which are held in our archives. Locations include fabulous restaurants around London, at Cambridge University, and at Conway Hall itself.

New Year's celebrations held at Conway Hall, 1930

New Year’s celebrations held at Conway Hall, 1930

The first photo was identified as being taken at New Year in 1930. If this is the case, then this is just over a year since Conway Hall had its grand opening on September 23, 1929. Notice the gentleman with the black bow tie sitting in the bottom right of the photo with the suspicious-looking moustache. It would seem that this style of facial adornment was quite popular at the time, particularly in Germany.

RPA Conference Girton College Cambridge August 1956

RPA Conference Girton College Cambridge August 1956


London Freethinkers Annual Dinner, Holburn Restaurant January 11, 1910

London Freethinkers Annual Dinner, Holburn Restaurant, January 11, 1910

We hold quite a few pictures of annual National Secular Society dinners held over a few years. The Holburn Restaurant is no longer standing. Situated on the corner of Kingsway and High Holburn, it was pulled down in 1955 and a Sainsburys supermarket now stands in its place. It looked so grand and majestic!

National Secular Society Dinner, Midland Grand Hotel, 1930

National Secular Society Dinner, Midland Grand Hotel, 1930

The above photo was taken at the NSS Society dinner, another annual event. This photo was taken at the Midland Grand Hotel, which is now known as the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel on the Euston Road.

I chose these photos for this month’s piece because they are simply wonderful to look at and are timeless in themselves. I like studying how the fashions and hair styles, particularly those of the women, change throughout the years. Also, given the formality of most of these photos, I find the faces the most fascinating  and look for clues that would indicate that people were actually having fun and enjoying themselves, and that they were not as dour and straight laced as they appeared in these photographs.

These photographs are a fascinating historical resource and can provide so much information about early 20th century British middle class society events, fashions, architectural styles and much much more. Some  of the locations featured here no  longer exist and their memory is captured only in photos; other locations, such as Conway Hall remain timeless, and the photo taken on the stage at New Year could have been taken only yesterday.

Photographs grab the viewer’s attention much more than a 19th century report sheet or a manuscript because we can connect with the people in the photograph and see ourselves. We can see the excitement, hope, anxiety and even mischief in these people’s faces, and it is this connection to ourselves that draws us in to the photograph every time. I never get fed up with looking at these photos because I see something new each time I look at them.

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