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Metropolitan History
16 January 2013
Robin Woolven
The rise and fall of John Sperni, Mayor of St Pancras, 1937-1938

 

St Pancras (wikipedia)

St Pancras (wikipedia)

John Sperni was mayor of the St Pancras municipal Borough during the 1930s.  He began life as an impoverished Italian immigrant, but slowly worked his way up through the construction industry until he was eventually elected mayor.   The year was fairly successful but after only a short while cracks began to appear.  Sperni came to odds with the members of his party (the Conservatives) and became viewed with suspicion as holding fascists views. 

Robin Woolven recounts the context in which Sperni lived and worked in local politics.  Part of his source material is the diary of Anthony Heap who, himself, had fascist leanings (although he was never a member).  Heap recorded many of the encounters with Sperni and the views of other councillors.  Another source is a large file held by MI5 on Sperni revealing early concerns that he could be a problem.  Not only was he Italian born and a potential fascist, but accusations were rife about corruption both when he had worked in the construction industry and as his time as Mayer.  During the Second World War, Sperni was arrested as a potential undesirable alien.  After 21 months internment, Sperni won his freedom, but the Advisary committee were far from convinced by any of the claims that he had made in his defence.  Sperni’s attempt to place all the blame on his son, for example – who had since escaped to Rome – failed when it was shown that he did in fact have contact with him (something which Sperni had denied).  This podcast is a look, then, at the brief career of John Sperni and the wider context of British concerns about alien nationals within London.

To listen to this podcast click here.

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Yesterday was a busy day for podcasting here at the IHR.  Throughout the day we were recording the Local History Summer School with talks by Professor John Beckett on the history of local history, Dr Simon Trafford on sources for local history, Amy Proctor on the London Metropolitan Archive and myself talking about History SPOT.  Then there was the final session for this year of the Sport and Leisure History seminar – on the subject of ‘boom and bust’.  On this occasion Sean Creighton was not talking about the economic climate, but the brief explosion of interest in roller skating during the early twentieth century.

To end the day we recorded the Mark Fitch lecture celebrating the rededication of the Victoria County History county volumes by Elizabeth II in celebration of her Diamond Jubilee.  The lecture was given enthusiastically as ever, by Dr David Starkey on the topic of “Head of Our Morality”: why the modern British monarchy matters.   Starkey gave a fascinating insight into the Diamond jubilee ceremonies for Queen Victoria, which was not at all what we imagined and looked at the invention of ‘monarchy’ and its focus on ceremony and tradition in the twentieth century. 

All of these will be released on History SPOT over the coming days, weeks, and months alongside today’s release of the opening lecture for the History of Education in Scotland network, and the Anglo-American 2009 conference on the topic of Cities.

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