Clissold Park, the jewel at the heart of Stoke Newington wouldn’t exist if it hadn’t been for a passionate local campaign in the 1880s to save the then private estate from development. As the last remaining open space in the area, the prospect of losing it to housing developers prompted concerned local residents to mobilise and lobby bodies such as the Metropolitan Board of Works to raise the funds to purchase the park for the public.
The Clissold Park Preservation Committee organised a ‘mega-petition’ in 1886, which was signed by 11,000 people, mainly from Stoke Newington, Hackney and Islington. The scale of the petition is remarkable and it was pivotal to the success of the campaign, which led to Clissold Park opening as a public park on July 24th 1889.
The petition consists of 412 pages with roughly 30 signatures and addresses in each page. It is kept in the London Metropolitan Archives as it was submitted to the Metropolitan Board of Works, which was succeeded by the London County Council in 1889. In March 2021, I organised a crowdsourcing project to transcribe the petition, which I photographed, by volunteers.
Crowdsourcing the transcription of the petition
I issued a call for volunteers via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and within 24 hours had 40 people lined up, ready to take on the challenge of transcribing the signatures and addresses. The project was carried out entirely online using Google Sheets. To enable this ambitious project I assigned each volunteer 10 pages and an online spreadsheet to capture the transcription. Each of the 40 spreadsheets was linked to an ‘Admin spreadsheet’ Dotan maintained to keep track of progress in real-time.
The transcription was completed in 19 days but wasn’t without its challenges. While the set-up I created in Google Sheets was highly effective, managing 40 volunteers proved challenging and required constant attention. Some volunteers completed their pages quickly, while others possibly took their time, gave up after a few pages or struggled to find the time for what was undoubtedly time-consuming and exhausting activity. This meant that pages had to be reassigned often and at the end the majority of the work ended up being carried out by approximately half of the volunteers.
Having the transcription of the petition available online offers people for the first time to not only admire the contribution of the signatories, but also to look up ancestors as well their own address as the following quote, which was sent on Twitter illustrates: “Amazing to see that the old owner of my house signed a petition 130 years ago to save the park that my family love and use almost every day.”
It was community spirit which saved Clissold Park in the 1880s and was community spirit once again 135 years later, which brought the petition back to life so the efforts of the campaigners and contribution of the signatories could be appreciated. The timing of this project is only fitting given Clissold Park, which was at risk of being built over, proved to be so vital and important to people’s lives and wellbeing during the Covid-19 pandemic.