A New Jerusalem

Towards A New Jerusalem tells stories from the turn of the century through the second world war, before the formation of the National Health Service. Charles Booth found that thirty percent of London lived under the poverty line. Those stories shed light on the hardships those people faced and how it ultimately propelled the nation towards the welfare state.  

The concept of 'New Jerusalem' comes from a poem by William Blake, written in 1808 during the industrial revolution. It outlines the way the country had become rich, but at the same time been incredibly damaging to its people. Blake hopes that someday there will be a more fair and equal society, a heaven on earth where every person would support the next.  

The story is focused around Joe Seaby and his family, Londoners living in Chelsea before, during, and after the war. They experienced hardships that would be unimaginable today. Extreme poverty, lack of education, healthcare and the horrors of the war characterize the 'Five Giants', the major issues plaguing British Society according to William Beveridge. Idleness, want, disease, ignorance, and squalor all affected one or more members of the Seaby family, and the total lack of support for people in their position made it even tougher.  

The Blitz, rationing, and everyday life brought British society closer together during the war, as evidenced afterwards. Winston Churchill had no plans for general welfare, instead representing a return to the status quo. British citizens did not want be left behind after making the sacrifices they did. Clement Attlee offered the people a way out, a road to 'New Jerusalem', an end to suffering and hardship for the people. He supported Beveridge in his plan to tackle the five giants and put Aneurin Bevan in a position to found the NHS. 

The project began with Westminster Archives visiting Servite Roman Catholic Primary School, adjacent to the Chelsea Westminster Hospital. There Digital Works trained half the class to use camera and sound equipment to interview Chelsea Pensioners and nurses from the Royal College of Nursing and create a short documentary film charting the circumstances behind the creation of the NHS. A preview of the film will be screened at the show on the tenth of July, while the full film will premier in September at the Royal College of Nursing.

This program allowed students to use interactive learning to better understand how the Seaby's and many other families might have felt. Artifacts, clothing, and uniforms put them in their shoes, and the students discussed how their lives might be affected if they had to leave school at age twelve or were unable to afford proper housing or medical treatment. They learned about the conditions most of the rank and file soldiers lived in, and the difference it made once they had proper care in the army. They learned about the challenges women faced during childbirth and after their husbands were killed, and how little support they received. 

Students also learned songs about life in London at the turn of the century, poverty and trying to overcome it. Those songs helped them to further understand the everyday struggles people endured. All this helped them understand what made it possible for the welfare state to exist, and why it was so desperately sought after by everyday people. 

Students visiting the Royal College of Nursing

Students interviewed Chelsea Pensioners and others

Students acting as a man going off to war and his wife seeing him off
Students interacting with artifacts and uniforms 


Students with illustrator Michael Foreman, who told stories about growing up during the war

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