Category Archives: Online

“It worked online – at home!”

This was what someone had to say about Library Press Display, one of our amazing online resources, available to all members of Westminster Libraries. Last week I showed him how it was possible to get different magazines and newspapers using our website and that you don’t even need to be in the library to use them – they can be accessed at home as well.

Online newspapers for members of Westminster LibrariesLibrary Press Display has to be one of my favourites. It allows you to read the papers as they look that very day – the current copy. Not just one or two newspapers either, but papers and some magazines from around the world in a huge variety of languages – also on the day they are published!
I loved it from the moment I saw it but didn’t believe that we could have access to anything that amazing; would they really allow our library members to access all this? Yes, they would and yes, they do.

Of course as the visit by this particular customer proves, using this or any other online resource doesn’t have to mean the end to all your visits to your local library so do continue to drop by.

Library Press Display is one of several online newspaper resources useful for anything from finding recent articles and looking at today’s stories to historical research. Just go to:


Find Your Past with findmypast

Hugely popular database Find My Past has recently made fundamental changes to its search interface. To make the most of this amazing resource, free from your Westminster Library, read on…

Auntie Nora? Family history resourcesThere are increasing numbers of datasets available to users. One set close to home is that from the City of Westminster Archives Centre. These are in what is referred to as The Westminster Collection and are absolutely invaluable if you want to find out about any relatives who perhaps lived, worked or had a major life event in Westminster; maybe they got married here!

Accessing Find My Past in Westminster Libraries

Find My Past can be accessed from the computers in any Westminster Library. Furthermore, access is now automatic but you must follow these instructions:

  • From the start page, go to Online Resources > Family History and follow the link to Ancestry and Find My Past.
  • This will take you to the Online resources page where there are links to both Ancestry (which can also be used in any Tri-Borough Library) and Find My Past.
  • When you follow the link to Find My Past (you can also enter the web address: you will then be able to perform a search straight away, either from the main page or from one of the options referred to later on.
  • When you see a result that interests you, you can see more (for instance the original image) by clicking on the link. You will be taken to a page with a few options. The one you must choose to make sure you remain logged in is: “Continue as a guest”.
  • You may then continue using Find My Past without having to choose this option again.

Recommended ways of searching the new Find My Past

You may find that searching from the first page is not ideal as you may end up with too many results to sift through. What we recommend you do if this is the case (don’t be afraid to try all sorts of methods, by the way) is to go to the Search records menu and either choose to search within one of the general areas, for example Census, land & surveys, and fill in the more complex search form where you can add more criteria. Here you can also choose specific datasets such as the 1911 Census – but this isn’t the only way to search specific Censuses etc.

You can also select A-Z of record sets and either flick or search through to find what you wish to look at eg: a census, electoral register. Each one will have a different search form and may be easier or harder to find records. Some, such as the 1901 Census, may even allow you to search for different things such as addresses. But whatever you do, we encourage you to spend as much time as you wish using both Ancestry and Find My Past in conjunction with one another and…

findmypastIf at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again!


All what jazz?

Music on the GatewaySome of you may have used our 24/7 resource Naxos Music Library (log in with your Westminster library card) to listen to classical recordings, but did you know it also boasts an impressive library of jazz legends and contemporary jazz?

Jazz being a bit of a passion of mine, I decided to put it to the test. When asked “Who is your all time favourite jazz artist” I usually answer: “Egberto Gismonti”, which often meets with a blank expression. This quirky Brazilian composer, guitarist and pianist isn’t your run of the mill main stream jazz artist, so I wasn’t expecting to find many – or even any – of his recordings on Naxos… how wrong was I? There are 22 separate albums listed, with all the album information – genre, category, composer, arrangers and artists – given as separate links. So if I wanted to listen to composers featured on Egberto’s albums such as Piazzolla or Villa Lobos, (even though I didn’t know I wanted to at the time) then the links will take me to a new page with a list of all their Naxos recordings, and in the case of an artist or composer, a biography.

I have noticed more and more courses appearing for the study of jazz, it’s frequently part of the school curriculum, and indeed a growing number of our customer enquiries at Westminster Music Library are jazz related. Naxos is a gift if you’re looking to “listen and learn” and don’t know where to start.

Having ploughed through the prescribed jazz text books as a student and saved up for those precious albums, I would have given anything to have access to a resource that not only meant I could listen to thousands of recordings for free without having to dip into my meagre student grant, but also gave me access to information on every category from Dixieland to avant-garde. Throughout each topic there are links to specific music in the main list of suggested listening, and there is also a supplementary list for further listening. Recordings of over 32,000 artists are represented from over 200 labels, and include the catalogue of Blue Note Records, Warner Jazz, EMI, and many more.

Here’s the techy bit. There are three ways you can search: browse the library alphabetically by CD title, keyword search by name of artist, track or disc title, and advanced search by a combination of criteria, plus you can access with iPhone or iPod Touch.

Naxos Music Library - log in with your Westminster library cardAs long as you’re a member of Westminster Libraries and in possession of a valid card, all you need is your membership number to access Naxos, anywhere and anytime.

To quote the late Duke Ellington: “the most important thing I look for in a musician is whether he knows how to listen.”

Happy listening.


Which? hunt

Which? available in print and online versions at several Westminster LibrariesI love buying new gadgets – who doesn’t?

But how do you make sure you’re getting the best available, and value for money? The trick is to benefit from the experience of other consumers, and that has been the aim of Which? ever since it was conceived back in 1957.

Everybody’s heard about Which? Reports, and savvy consumers have been checking out the experience of their researchers in our libraries for as long as I can remember (you really don’t want to know how long that is…). But the magazine format imposed some fairly obvious restrictions on those reports. Each topic had to fit into no more than half a dozen pages or so, meaning that the variety of models of any given gadget on test was severely limited. The May 2014 magazine reviewed 22 tablet computers and 40 kettles, which seems like a good range. But the Which? website covers 72 tablet computers and 218 kettles. Each report gives every item a percentage score so you can compare with other items, and scores each feature out of 5 in a rigorous test process. Best Buy recommendations are flagged up, as are the more negative Don’t Buy recommendations, and there are detailed specifications for every item on test.

It’s entirely possible that you’re only interested in seeing the Best Buy recommendations, but if you’re interested in a particular feature you may find it useful to have access to the full range of information available for each before making your choice.

The online Which? database is a remarkable development from what was already a really useful service, and it’s free to subscribers at no extra cost. Several of Westminster’s libraries are subscribers, and thanks to a clever piece of software customers are able to make use of the database on the libraries’ computers without having to type in any passwords. Once logged in, you will have full access to the site, and you can use the features which you need.

Libraries where you can access Which? online are: MarylebonePaddington, Pimlico, Queen’s Park, St. John’s Wood, Victoria, and Westminster Reference Library.


The Little Tramp in London

Books about Charlie ChaplinIn October 1905, audiences at the Duke of York’s Theatre in St Martin’s Lane, waiting to see Irene Vanbrugh in her latest play Clarice, had an unexpected treat. For, as a curtain raiser, they saw a short piece called The Painful Predicament of Sherlock Holmes, featuring her co-star William Gillette who was already famous for his stage portrayal of the great detective. The Painful Predicament is notable for Holmes solving a mystery  without saying a single word… though he does pass a note to his pageboy Billy.

While audiences were undoubtedly amused by the piece (which was performed many more times as a curtain-raiser to Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes), it is unlikely that many took much notice of the 16 year old boy who played Billy, Holmes’ faithful page, and even less likely that they would have realised that within 12 years Master Charles Chaplin, as he was credited, would be one of the most famous people in the world.

My Early Years, by Charles ChaplinThe young Chaplin was already a showbusiness veteran at this point, having started his career seven years earlier the as one of the Eight Lancashire Lads. You can read about his impoverished childhood, which included a period in Lambeth workhouse, in his book My Early Years. Incidentally the workhouse is now open to the public as the Cinema Museum.

Chaplin spent the next couple years touring with William Gillette and also HA Saintsbury, another actor noted for his portrayal of the great detective, acting in both the Painful Predicament and in the play Sherlock Holmes itself. While the character of Billy was created by Gillette (though an un-named pageboy had been mentioned by Doyle), he subsequently appeared in several Holmes stories, starting with the Valley of Fear.

Chaplin [DVD]The Chaplin connection with Sherlock Holmes continues to the present day with recent screen Holmes Robert Downey Jr having played Chaplin in Richard Attenborough’s excellent biopic and Chaplin’s grand-daughter Oona acting in the recent updated television series Sherlock. You can find contemporary reviews of the play (which, according to the Manchester Guardian contained some ‘melancholy love-making between Holmes and the heroine’) in our newspaper archive (log in with your library card). There’s a lot more about Doyle and Gillette in our world-famous Sherlock Holmes Collection too.

Chaplin left the Sherlock Holmes company in 1906 and returned to music hall. Ten years later Gillette made a film of the play in Hollywood but by this time, Chaplin had become even more famous than the fictional detective, having already made 50 films. Having established himself with the famous Fred Karno troupe, he travelled to America in 1910 and in 1913 was hired by Mack Sennett to work at Keystone Studios for the not-inconsiderable sum of $150 per week. Incidentally Sennett himself played Sherlock Holmes in several short comic films,  now sadly lost.

It was at Keystone Studios that Chaplin made his first film, Making a Living, which was released on 2 February 1914 – one hundred years ago this week. In this Chaplin played a smooth-talking con artist but a few days later, on 7 February, he made his first appearance as the character who would become world-famous – the Little Tramp in the short film Kid Auto Races at Venice.

In 1921,  Chaplin returned to London and was mobbed by adoring crowds wherever he went, an experience he wrote about in his book My Wonderful Visit. The Illustrated London News on 8 September published a full-page spread of his homecoming headed ‘More welcome than many heroes’.

On a later visit in 1931 Chaplin met another hero  – Gandhi – and British Pathe was there to record the meeting. He returned again to his theatrical roots when  he made the film Limelight, set in a London music hall in 1917 (though it was filmed in Hollywood) and he returned to London to publicise it (never returning to live in the USA). On this and subsequent trips he stayed the Savoy Hotel, overlooking the Thames – you can stay in his very room  if you have a few £100 to spare! What better way to celebrate the centenary of the great man’s first screen appearance?

Charlie Chaplin filmsFor more about Chaplin’s lengthy film career, why not check out the library catalogue for books and films. You can find out more about Chaplin, Doyle,  Karno, Irene Vanbrugh and their contemporaries by logging into the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography or for a rather more academic look at his screen career, check out the International Index to Performing Arts. Or better still, watch some of his films!


Military mewses Down Under

The St John’s Wood Library inbox is usually full of spam, cash reports, and late fees enquiries, so it was a delight to receive a gem of a request from Marianne and Kevin who live in Brisbane, Australia but have a rather familiar address…

Guns at the Wood by Joan WanklynMarianne stated that she would really like to get hold of a copy of Guns at the Wood by Joan Wanklyn. This is a rare book with only 500 copies printed in the 1970s. Westminster Archives does have a copy, but it is a long way from Brisbane. Captured by the challenge we put out enquiries but without much luck so far.

The particular reason for the enquiry is that Kevin’s father was born in St John’s Wood in 1910. Kevin’s father and grandparents lived at 10 Ordnance Mews, just round the corner from the old Royal Artillery barracks on Ordnance Hill. Kevin’s family migrated to Australia in 1920 after WW1. His grandfather was in the Royal Artillery during the war.

Marianne and Kevin currently live in London Street, St Johns Wood which is a locality within the Brisbane suburb of Ashgrove.  They bought the land in 2010 which was exactly 100 years after Kevin’s father was born. They have even named their house Ordnance Mews and the Gallipoli Army Barracks are next door too.

If anyone can locate a copy of ‘Guns at the Wood’ they would like to sell, get in touch with St John’s Wood Library ( – we would be more than happy to put you in touch and share a bit more of St John’s Wood Down Under.

Remember you can always find out about your family history using Westminster’s online resources findmypast and in any of our libraries. St John’s Wood Library are having a special introductory event about these resources at 10.30am on Monday 24 February.


Community Information for Westminster

Westminster Community Information website

The Westminster Community Information website – try it out!

Looking for something in Westminster? The improved search on the Libraries’ Westminster Community Information site makes it easy to find whatever you are looking for, whether it’s

  • a space for your event or meeting
  • where to go for legal advice
  • advice on unemployment, homelessness, debt, addiction, social or health problems
  • where to learn English
  • the nearest Community Centre or gym
  • your local play facilities or baby and toddler group
  • where to go for immigration advice
  • a list of every school in Westminster with links to Ofsted reports, or
  • volunteer groups and opportunities.

There’s much more besides, and the new printer friendly pages make it easy to save your results.

Westminster Community Information - search result detail

An example of the kind of information you can find on the Westminster Community Information website.

Do you run a Westminster community organisation or service?
If you are running an organisation that you think should be on the WCI site, or you found your organisation’s information but it needs an update, email us and let us know so that we can sort it out.

Running a Westminster community event and want to let people know about it?
We will soon be launching a Westminster community events diary on the WCI site. Let us know if you would like to publicise your organisation’s events in Westminster.