STREET PARTIES ARE customs of comparatively recent origin, dating back to the ‘Peace Teas’ of 1919 organised for children by local residents. Earlier, official attempts at holding children’s tea parties in London hadn’t always gone as planned. One, staged in Hyde Park with the blessing of Queen Victoria soon after the Great Exhibition of 1851, turned into a riot with tables overturned and older gatecrashers fighting fist and boot with the police.
The contrasting orderliness of 20th-century street parties reflected a partial equilibrium in which both working- and middle-class neighbourhoods were able to organise among themselves while integrated within the occasional and unifying symbolism of coronations, royal weddings, jubilees, the Festival of Britain, and the anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
This short recording from June 1946 (BBC catalogue number 822742) is of a street party organised for children in Camberwell as part of the Victory in Europe celebrations held that year. The children can be heard singing Knees Up Mother Brown, a popular London song which had been heard widely on Armistice Night at the end of the First World War. The tempo is marked by a drum and what sounds like a ukelele can also be heard.
Street parties typically involved games and the setting up of long tables at which food was served. Both can be seen in this video of a 1945 street party in Anerley, now part of south-east London:
More videos and a short history of street parties can be found on the Streets Alive website.
Recording © copyright BBC. Audio digitisation and restoration by the London Sound Survey. Many thanks to BBC Worldwide for granting permission to reproduce this recording here.