Pioneering Health in London, 1935-2000: The Peckham Experiment, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Pioneering Health in London, 1935-2000

The Peckham Experiment, 1st Edition

By David Kuchenbuch


200 pages

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pub: 2018-11-02
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The Peckham Experiment, conducted between 1935 and 1950 in the London Pioneer Health Centre, was one of the most talked-about social experiments of the 20th century. Families from the South London neighbourhood of Peckham were invited to use the facilities of a radiantly modern building. They were encouraged to freely choose and organize their leisure activities, taking advantage of a swimming pool, a gymnasium, and a self-service cafeteria. In doing so, both their health status and interaction with other members of the nascent centre-community were closely observed by a team of physicians.

The first research monograph on the history of the experiment building on archival sources, this book combines a micro-historical perspective with methods from the history of science. It shows how bio-medical holism and evolutionary theories typical of the interwar years informed research on social life in the centre. But it also reveals that the "guinea pigs", too, were trying to make sense of the research they were taking part in. The outcome was an ambiguous social laboratory that generated new insights into the power of social groups to self-organize, which were soon discussed all over the world – and continue to haunt British political debates today.

Table of Contents


List of figures


List of abbreviations

  1. Introduction
  2. A laboratory of the present?

    "Peckham" as a social generator of knowledge

    Structure of the book

  3. From C3 to A1 – reforming the working class family (1925–1931)
  4. On Queen’s Road


    Helping with self-help

    Biographical aspects

    Plans for expansion

    Responsibility as a biological function: the first book

    Internal supremacy

  5. St Mary’s Road, S. E. 15 – new premises, initial routines? (1931–1935)
  6. Observation platforms and niches for congregation

    Success stories

  7. "Living Structure of Society" – the magnum opus and its scientific context
  8. The social environment as growth medium

    The ideal life

    Culture and cultivation

    Interwar holisms

    Eugenics, evolution and community

  9. Looking through the bioscope – research and social interaction in the prewar centre (1935–1939)
  10. Data collection

    Chaos and order

    Mary Langman’s recollections

    Revisions: "socialized science"

    Genius and autocrat

    The biologist as the summit of creation

  11. Interim findings

  13. The centre in photographs – visual stimulation and participant observation
  14. Holistic perspectives and visual contagions

    Moving images: The Centre

    A winter evening

  15. Guinea pigs? The members between participation and social control
  16. Members’ memoirs

    "Bouquets & Brickbats"

    An experiment in education

  17. Missed opportunities – the centre and the welfare state (1939–1949)
  18. War, agriculture and family

    "Physician, heal thyself"

    Reviews and an enforced reopening

    Visitors and lecture tours

    "Peckham" in the world’s press

  19. "The Passing of Peckham" (1949–1959)
  20. Criticisms from within and without

    The directors’ fall from power

    The money trail

    From guinea pigs to citizens’ group

    Proof of the pudding

  21. "Peckham" after the Pioneer Health Centre and the changing discourse of health (1959)
  22. (Post-)modernization

    From social engineer to social entrepreneur

  23. Preliminary conclusion: the Pioneer Health Centre as liberal missing link?
  24. The promise of Peckham. Hidden legacies
  25. Anarchist appropriations

    The Peckham experiment as seen by city planners and architects

    Brave new worlds

    A "strange laboratory"?

    Northfield, Hawkspur & Hawthorne

    Experiments in self-organization

    Therapeutic experiments

    The experimental animal

  26. Epilogue



About the Author

David Kuchenbuch is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Justus-Liebig-University Giessen, Germany.

About the Series

Routledge Studies in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

Studies in the History of Science Technology and Medicine aims to stimulate research in the field, concentrating on the twentieth century. It seeks to contribute to our understanding of science, technology and medicine as they are embedded in society, exploring the links between the subjects on the one hand, and the cultural, economic, political and institutional contexts of their genesis and development on the other. Within this framework, and while not favouring any particular methodological approach, the series welcomes studies which examine relations between science, technology, medicine and society in new ways, e.g. the social construction of technologies, large technical systems.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HEALTH & FITNESS / Healthy Living
HISTORY / General