Westminster Libraries and me

It’s National Libraries Day tomorrow, Saturday 9 February – time to share your love of libraries! There will be a place in each Westminster Library (and here on Books & the City) where you can add your thoughts about what the library means to you. In the lead-up to the day, one of our regular customers kindly agreed to tell us about how she uses the library service, and about a few of her favourite books, in this guest blog post.

As a Westminster Tour Guide, one of my favourite things about the libraries is that they all hold regular talks, most of which are free (although some require pre-booking). I usually attend the historical talks at Westminster Reference Library. It’s in an amazing location, very central but tucked away on a side street just off Leicester Square and near the National Gallery. Incidentally it also has a great performing arts section.

Underworld London, by Catharine ArnoldI have enjoyed attending several talks there. Last year I attended the Underworld London talk about crime and punishment in the capital, given by its author Catharine Arnold, who has written extensively about London, and which included lots of gruesome stories about some of the people who had found themselves on the wrong side of the law. This talk has already been mentioned in an earlier blog post.

Another talk was by Philip Ward Jackson about his latest book, Public Sculpture of Historic Westminster. I enjoyed the opportunity to hear him speak as I use his publications regularly. The talk provided a fascinating insight into some of the individual statues and the story behind how they were made and why they were erected.

Public Sculpture of Historic Westminster, by Philip Ward -JacksonThis is a good reference book for anyone wanting to know more about the sculptures they pass by in the street, as it contains great photographs with detailed descriptions of the statutes and their history which I find on par to Nikolaus Pevsner’s architectural books.

Both events were well attended and well organised. There was a good selection of relevant books on display to view and drinks were also available. At the end of the talks there were the opportunity for members of the audience to ask questions and there were also book signings.

I regularly find myself using Westminster Libraries’ services to assist me in gathering interesting material when I am preparing new walks. Westminster covers a large geographical area so unfortunately I can’t afford to buy every book I would like. I find the libraries provide me with a selection of good reliable publications which provide me with accurate information and entertaining stories which I can share on my walks.

Last year I was one of the Westminster Guides who were involved in leading some healthy history walks for Westminster Libraries. I was creating a brand new walk so I visited St John’s Wood Library and their helpful staff assisted me with recommending a few local history publications. Many people will know the area for being the home of Lord’s Cricket Ground and the Abbey Road Studios which were immortalised by The Beatles. Today the area is a desirable, leafy garden suburbs but I discovered that in the 1800s famous artists such as Lawrence Alma-Tadema and James Tissot resided there and it was also the place where wealthy men kept their mistresses!

Cottages and Villas by Mireille GalinouFor anyone wanting a more detailed history of the area I highly recommend the excellent Cottages & Villas. The Birth of the Garden Suburb by Mireille Galinou. It is a large book but extremely readable and with great pictures. To find out more about the area’s more scandalous side St John’s Wood: An Abode of Love and the Arts by Stella Margetson is a very entertaining read.

[Tina, a Westminster Guide and avid user of Westminster Libraries]
Website:  www.guidedwalksinlondon.co.uk

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