I’m now two thirds of the way through the first draft of my novel – very exciting! For those who don’t know, my novel is an epic drama based on my Malayan family’s story. So although it’s fiction, the underlying story is true. It starts in Ipoh with a Nyonya matriarch (a character based on my great grandmother), then moves to London with the matriarch’s eldest son (a character based on my grandfather) who arrives in London in the 1920s for studies.
As part of my research, I managed to track down my grandfather’s former college. The picture below is what it must have looked like when he was there.
The Battersea Polytechnic Institute is no longer around, but its archived materials are held by the Battersea Library, where I spent the whole day this past Wednesday (October 19th), trawling through hand-written ledgers of every student on every course in the 1920s, as well as examination lists from 1924! What a thrill it was to see my grandfather’s name…I thought of how amazing it was that my grandfather should have arrived on these shores to a very different Britain, and here was I, his grand-daughter, a century later, digging through records which showed exactly which examinations he failed (!)
The records were a hodge-podge…student rolls, financial ledgers, prospectuses, student magazines…many bound in vellum so old, tiny particles of colour fell off when the volumes were placed on the special cushion onto which they had to rest while I browsed through. There were times I held my breath, lest my touch proved too much for these tomes that had lain dormant over the years. I loved looking at the photographs especially – men in white shirts and ties and suits, stiff in their starches even on the golf course, and women with so many layers and frills, it was astonishing they could move. All in, a great look into a bygone time, thanks to the wonderful heritage service offered by Battersea Library.