A People’s Museum for Harlow: The Legacy of Frances Mason and Alan Burgess

By Michael Casey

I was born in this town. Between November 1961 and September 1981 it was people who formed who I became.

Of course there was my parents, Kevin and Kathleen Casey. Ours was a house, where learning was very important and especially history. I was given a book called 101 Great Lives by Patrick Pringle. Over fifty years, it still sits there in my bookcase.

My view of history was formed then. It was all about people. It was people that made history, formed ideas, shaped nations and changed lives.

Throughout my secondary school years, at St Mark’s, it was teachers such as Judith Pieris, Kelvin Evans and Dave Morson who took a distinctly average student and got him to University. They were led by Anthony O’Shea MC MA, whose mission statement of endeavour and aspiration chimed with me.

https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2010/mar/16/anthony-o-shea-obituary

In 1973, Stan Newen presented medals at the Meadow Athletic end of season presentation. His speech about the importance of education inspired me. Forty years later, In interviewed Stan and was so proud to swap notes on our meetings with Otto Von Habsburg.

I had no time for museums, sculptures and old pieces of pots. It left me cold.

I left Harlow in 1981 and didn’t return until 2006. In those years, I was to meet a huge variety of people, from the great and the good to the odd murderer.

In 2013, I started my second on-line newspaper through a grant from the Carnegie Trust. The commitment was to chronicle the news but also capture the spirit of the individuals that make up the town.

In 2016, when Harlow was looking to celebrate its 70th anniversary, the powers that be seemed to want a celebration of its art and sculpture etc.

I wanted a celebration of the people who made the town it is. So I filmed seventy interviews with seventy residents under the title of “Why I Came Here”.

https://www.yourharlow.com/category/history/harlow-is-70-why-i-came-here/

Because again, Harlow is nothing without its people. We were glad to get people on film, Six have now passed on and soon after their families thanked us for capturing them on film

That is why we try and film as many interviews with people that we can.

Recently, two Harlow residents have died. Alan Burgess and Frances Mason.

In many ways they shared similar qualities. Their lives seemed to be not what Harlow could for them but what they could do for Harlow.

Frances was responding to correspondence in the week she died. She knew of no other way.

To me, they embody the spirit of the town.

In every nook and cranny of Harlow are people who give so much. From Potter Street across to Katherines. From the newest house in Newhall to the last house out of town.

I believe we need to do a lot more to celebrate and preserve their memories.

I would love to see a Harlow’s People’s Museum. A building that would celebrate the lives of the people of Harlow.

I would like to see all the printed newspapers, that ran from March 1953 to January 2019 digitised.

I want a place the people can record their family histories. A place where day to day histories can be recorded.

Many people may say that they never sat down and record their grandparents history but we all have a story to tell and a story to value.

There are endless possibilities but I think Harlow owes this to its citizens.

We think the big ticket companies that are moving in to the town can help. Changing the shape of the town brings a reponsibility to respect its heritage.

And we owe it to Alan Burgess and Frances Mason. We owe it to every family who has made their life here and to those who plan to come here, raise a family and call it home.

I will leave you with Frances Mason, reading about the short life of William Stanham, a man of Harlow, who fell in WW1.

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