Category Archives: Online

Get your free e-books here!

Westminster Libraries e-books on a smartphoneWe’re delighted to announce the arrival of Westminster Libraries’ new e-book service! You can now download e-books for free onto your computer, smartphone, e-book reader or tablet.

Over 1600 titles are currently available with more being added every week.

Titles include How to Bake by Paul Hollywood, Booker Prize shortlisted A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, Icons of England by Bill Bryson, Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child and other titles by best selling crime writers.

We also have Lonely Planet travel guides, self help titles (covering job hunting, starting a business and health and wellbeing), cookery books and much much more!

The collection is available at any time of the day or night.  To start borrowing e-books today visit and follow the instructions. You’ll need your library card number and pin/password (the same ones you use to renew your books online). If you’re not a member, it’s easy to join. If you are a member but don’t have a password for your card, please contact your library to get one.

It’s really that simple!


Silver Sunday

Knitting Club - Silver Sunday - 6 October at Paddington LibraryLast Sunday, 6 October, was Silver Sunday - a UK wide celebration of older people.

There were events in several Westminster libraries, including Paddington Library, which hosted two events.

Silver Sunday - 6 October at Paddington LibraryOn the ground floor the regular Sunday knitting and crochet club did their thing. Meanwhile, in the basement Laurence ran a Go Online beginners IT drop in. We were pleased to welcome several first time computer users to the session. 

Of course, the libraries host a plethora of events for all ages, all year round – take a look at our News & Events page or follow @WCCLibraries on Twitter to find out more!


Meet the Neighbours – in Marylebone

Treasure Hunt Towers has moved. On 11 August we closed the door on the Marylebone Council House and two weeks later we opened up our new premises on 54 Beaumont Street to the public.

Beaumont Street, 1907. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Beaumont Street, 1907. Image property of Westminster City Archives

One of the pleasures of any move is getting to know a new area and its history, and in our new location we are positively surrounded by the stuff. Just walking from the nearest bus stop at the corner of Harley Street and Marylebone Road, you see three plaques on the way to the library and there are many others within a five minute walk. So let’s have a look at some of the great and the good who have lived in the area…

Directly opposite the library entrance on a suspiciously modern looking house (the original was demolished in 1924) is a plaque to John Richard Green, 1837-1883, historian, who lived there from 1869-1876. Little known now, Green was one of the most important and influential nineteenth century historians, notable for his library views and his stress on social and economic issues rather than ‘kings and queens’. Incidentally, while living in Marylebone, he was the librarian of Lambeth Palace.

"The Second Mrs Tanqueray" by Arthur Wing Pinero. Image property of Westminster City Archives

“The Second Mrs Tanqueray” by Arthur Wing Pinero. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Turning left we come to Arthur Wing Pinero’s house at 115a Harley Street. From humble beginnings, he attended elocution classes at Birkbeck and after some experience acting on tour with Sir Henry Irving, he discovered his true vocation was writing. Perhaps the leading British playwright at the turn of the century, he has had a bit of a revival recently – if you missed the recent London productions of The Second Mrs Tanqueray, Trelawny of the Wells and The Magistrate, don’t worry – the film version of Dandy Dick (with Will Hay) has just been released on DVD.

Pinero’s near neighbour at 146  Harley Street, Lionel Logue (1880-1953) has also attracted a lot of interest in the last few years. The speech therapist who treated King George VI and became his friend for 20 years, didn’t have quite the humble background seen in The King’s Speech (his 25 room house in Sydenham Hill was probably bigger than the Piccadilly residence of George VI when he was Duke of York) but, as described in the book of the same name, while he charged high fees to his wealthy  patients, he treated many others for free and was a pioneer of speech therapy for shell-shocked soldiers.

Harley Street, 1910. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Harley Street, 1910. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Another Harley Street neighbour, at no 73, was Prime Minister William Gladstone, who lived there from 1876-1882 while in opposition. It was here he wrote the pamphlet The Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East, which called upon the government to withdraw its support for Turkey. On Sunday 24 February 1878, a pro-government mob smashed the windows of the house (“This is not very Sabbatical” wrote Gladstone in his diary).

Just round the corner  at 50 Wimpole Street, the poet Elizabeth Barrett lived from 1838-1846. It was here in 1845 that she first met Robert Browning and eloped with him to marry at St Marylebone Church a few blocks away and from there, travelled to Italy. This period of her life is portrayed, with a certain amount of dramatic licence in The Barretts of Wimpole Street.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1859. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1859. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Elizabeth Barrett wasn’t the only notable author  to have lived here. On 1 April  1891, Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) set up a doctor’s surgery at 2 Upper Wimpole Street. Though he only spent a few months here,  his time was certainly productive. By Friday 3 April 1891, his diary records: “sent ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ to A. P. Watt”. This was the first of the Sherlock Holmes short stories, and Watt, his literary agent, immediately sent it on to the Strand Magazine. In all, the first five of the Holmes short stories were written at this address.

York Gate, Regent's Park and Mary-Le-Bone Church. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

York Gate, Regent’s Park and Mary-Le-Bone Church. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Nearby at in the grounds of St Marylebone Church is another plaque, not this time to where an eminent person lived but to where one was educated. The conductor Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) attended St Marylebone School, as the plaque put up by the Leopold Stokowski society attests. Stokowski regularly claimed to have been born in Poland but actually, like his parents he was born in London and grew up in Nottingham Street, where his precocious talent was soon recognised – he entered the Royal Academy of Music, then in Hanover Square, at the age of 13. Anyone who has seen his performance in One Hundred Men and a Girl, with the late Deanna Durbin, will wonder where exactly his Mittel European accent came from, but that’s showbusiness for you…

The churchyard itself is the burial place of Charles Wesley (1707-1788), one of the founders of Methodism and lyricist for hymns still popular today, notably Hark the Herald Angels Sing and  and Love Divine, All Loves Excelling. A London County Council plaque in Wheatley Street marks the site where he lived for many years.

Finally, opposite St Marylebone churchyard, on Marylebone High Street,  a plaque put up by the Howard De Walden estate, commemorating the most distinquished of all Marylebone residents, though temporarory ones. From the thirteenth century, this was the site of Tyburn Manor House, which both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I used as a hunting lodge. This was demolished in 1791 and Harley Street and the surrounding roads were built on the land.

For more information about any of the people mentioned here, have a look at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography which you can access from anywhere with your Westminster Libraries membership card.


Follow a Library today!

Follow @WCCLibraries on Twitter!Today, 1 October, is ‘Follow a library day’ on Twitter.

The idea is that you tweet about your favourite or local library and encourage your friends and followers to do the same, including the hashtag or keyword #followalibrary (click on the link to see what other people around the world are saying about libraries).

We’d love to know which of our libraries and services you use, so tell us more by tweeting us @WCCLibraries and share the library love!

The Iron Lady

Bang! A history of Britain in the 1980s by Graham StewartLove her or loathe her, Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first and so far only female Prime Minister certainly divided opinions.
She was at her most popular in foreign policy - taking on and winning the Falklands war, negotiating a rebate on UK contribution to the European Union, and building a ‘special relationship’ with the USA. But domestically her policies of privatisation and running down traditional industries caused controversy and destroyed communities. Her campaign against the trade unions and the highly unpopular Poll Tax led to riots on the streets.

I’m sure most of us have read at least one newspaper obituary of her but it’s fascinating to look back and see how she was seen by contemporaries at the time. Check out the Westminster Libraries collection of online newspaper resources (you’ll need to log in with your Westminster Library card unless you’re using a library computer)  for views from all sides of the political spectrum. Let’s have a quick browse through her early career…

She appears in The Times on 29th June 1959 in an article titled ‘Hands that Rock the Cradle, do not Rock Commons’ – ‘Apart from 10 Conservative Women who are standing again, the are 19 women candidates on the Conservative list of adoptions. Of these, only two have safe seats: Mrs Margaret Thatcher at Finchley (majority 12,825) and Mrs B  Harvie Anderson in East Renfrewshire (16,588).’ Betty Harvie Anderson, by the way, scored her own notable first as she was the first woman to sit in the Speaker’s Chair when she was Deputy Speaker from 1970-1973.

You can follow Mrs Thatcher’s early career including an interest in widow’s pensions, support for the re-introduction of judicial corporal punishment and her concern for her constituent Gerald Brooke, who had been arrested in the USSR for alleged  anti-Soviet activity. There was also a Private Member’s Bill in 1960 which, somewhat surprisingly, concerned the rights of the press to be admitted to local authority meetings.

On 25th November 1960, The Guardian reported that she had fainted in the House of Commons, which she later attributed to ‘sheer overtiredness’. On March 23rd 1962, the Guardian published a lengthy profile of her, by the journalist Taya Zinkin,  headed Political Woman:

‘Any memories of the suffragettes that might have lingered in my mind, evaporated as I listened to this smartly dressed, pretty women whose shrewd common sense comes forth in the most mellifluous of voices… “Here again, I am fortunate” said Mrs Thatcher. “Finchley, my constituency, is not far from Parliament and since I live in Kent, I need not keep a flat in London and I can go home to my husband and children. Moreover I do not have to worry about money – as you know we get no pension as of right; this can matter to those who have to support themselves ; it is expensive to be in politics ; one has to be well-groomed, and one has to entertain”.’

From which we can see that Parliament was a very different place in the days before MPs started claiming for duck houses.

For many of us, Margaret Thatcher’s first significant act on the political stage was, as Education Secretary in 1971,  the abolition of free school milk which had been available to children under 18 since 1946 (though, in her defence, anyone old enough to have drunk the stuff absolutely loathed it). She did refuse to make other cuts – one Treasury proposal was for public libraries to charge for lending books but the nickname Milk Snatcher stuck with her for years.

One thing is for sure - in death as in life the debate on the Thatcher legacy will go on and on. If her recent demise has awakened a desire to know more about or reappraise the ‘Iron Lady’, read on…


The path to power by Margaret ThatcherThe path to power
by Margaret Thatcher
This volume of Margaret Thatcher’s memoirs reflects back on her life before her monumental election in 1979.

The Downing Street years by Margaret ThatcherThe Downing Street years
by Margaret Thatcher
These bestselling memoirs of Margaret Thatcher provide an inside look at her role as a world leader and the events and personalities that shaped her years as Britain’s prime minister.


The real iron lady by Gillian ShephardThe real Iron Lady: working with Mrs T, by Gillian Shephard
Gillian Shephard, who herself served as a minister under Margaret Thatcher, has brought together a group of contributors with experience of working with Mrs Thatcher during her time at 10 Downing Street.


Reagan and Thatcher by Richard AldousReagan and Thatcher: the difficult relationship, by Richard Aldous
Historians have cited the long-term alliance of Reagan and Thatcher as an example of the special bond between the US and Britain. But these political titans clashed repeatedly as they confronted the greatest threat of their time: the USSR.

Maggie & me, by Damian BarrMaggie and me, by Damian Barr
Maggie & Me is a touching and darkly witty memoir about surviving Thatcher’s Britain; a story of growing up gay in a straight world and coming out the other side in spite of, and maybe because of, the iron lady.

Making Thatcher's Britain by Ben JacksonMaking Thatcher’s Britain, by Ben Jackson
This book draws together leading historians to locate Thatcher and Thatcherism within the political, social, cultural and economic history of modern Britain.

Thatcher and sons by Simon JenkinsThatcher and sons: a revolution in three acts, by Simon Jenkins
The history of Britain in the past thirty years, under both Conservative and Labour governments, has been dominated above all by one figure – Margaret Thatcher.

No such thing as society by Andy McSmithNo such thing as society, by Andy McSmith
From the Falklands war and the miners’ strike to Bobby Sands and the Guildford Four, from Diana and the New Romantics to Live Aid and the ‘big bang’, from the Rubik’s cube to the ZX Spectrum, McSmith’’s narrative account uncovers the truth behind the decade that changed Britain forever.

Rejoice! Rejoice! by Alwyn TurnerRejoice! Rejoice! Britain in the 1980s, by Alwyn W Turner
The Eighties may seem to many of us like yesterday, but they are already two decades ago. Not only have we already become nostalgic for them, but in many ways the decade does seem like a thoroughly foreign country.

Thatcher's Britain by Richard VinenThatcher’s Britain: the politics and social upheaval of the Thatcher era, by Richard Vinen
Britain’s first female prime minister remains a political figure of almost mythical proportions. Margaret Thatcher divided a political nation, became a cultural icon, and was the longest-serving prime minister of the twentieth century.


How I killed Margaret Thatcher by Anthony CartwrightHow I killed Margaret Thatcher, by Anthony Cartwright
Nine-year old Sean has never seen anything like what happens on the day Margaret Thatcher takes power and his grandad discovers his uncle voted for her.

GB84 by David PeaceGB84, by David Peace
In a bloody and dramatic fictional portrait of the year that was to leave an indelible mark on the nation’s consciousness, Peace dares to engage with the Britain’s social and political past, bringing it shockingly and brilliantly to life.


The Iron Lady
– starring Meryl Streep, 2012

[Nicky and Malcolm]