Joining Forces for Silver Sunday (on Saturday)

Westminster Music Library was filled to the brim this Saturday for a hugely popular choir workshop which, with record attendance, topped even last year’s number of participants. Over fifty keen songsters rose early on Saturday morning to make music among the bookshelves, until it truly was standing room only!

Silver Sunday at Westminster Music Library, October 2015

The event was one of the many hundreds of events put on across the UK to celebrate Silver Sunday, a nationwide annual day to “celebrate older residents and help them get out and about and meet new people”. This year marks the fourth consecutive Silver Sunday and we were thrilled to be a part of it. Observant readers will notice that there was something unique about our event: namely, we hosted one of the only Silver Sunday events to be held on a Saturday! Our library’s opening hours necessitated this change, but, of course, it meant that all our attendees were able to join in with Sunday’s events, too.

We were honoured to have in attendance the Lord Mayor of Westminster, Councillor The Lady Christabel Flight, who, with the Sir Simon Milton Foundation, has pioneered Silver Sunday from its beginning in 2012 and is still very much showing her support for as many events as possible!

Silver Sunday at Westminster Music Library, October 2015

Keen followers of Westminster Music Library’s activities will be well aware of our year-long Joint Force Singers project in collaboration with Westminster Armed Forces. We were pleased to incorporate this choir project into our Silver Sunday event, as many of our choir members and non-members alike joined forces for the morning workshop. For our guests who weren’t members of the choir, it was a real privilege to join this established group of singers, and the choir’s presence gave the whole morning a real boost. We even had some non-members asking to join the choir afterwards! It’s not too late to join Joint Force Singers – if you live locally and would be interested in committing to our project, please contact Westminster Music Library.

The familiar faces of Project Officer, Felicity, and Accompanist, Helene, were seen, and the whole morning was led by the wonderfully talented Ruairi, the Joint Force Singers’ Musical Director. Ruth and Jon from the Music Library were our hosts for the event, ensuring everything ran smoothl, and re-formatting the library in record time afterwards to ensure we could open our doors to the public at 1 o’clock sharp!

As the morning took the form of a workshop, our choir members experienced a change from their regular rehearsal routine, while, in Silver Sunday spirit, our non-members found the event to be totally accessible even to those with no previous singing experience at all. Ruairi took us through a wide array of physical and vocal warm-ups, games, and then was able to teach us a significant amount of music, all in the short space of two hours! By the end of the session, he’d had us singing in canon (the musical term for a round) and two-part harmony: a great achievement for a group of singers who’d only been singing together for one morning. Music ranged from traditional English, to Scottish, to Swahili lullabies, and everything in between. All over the world there is such a rich musical tradition and we were fortunate to be led on a short tour of it all by our knowledgeable Musical Director.

Silver Sunday at Westminster Music Library, October 2015

All our guests were treated to well-earned refreshments, and were surely singing as they went home contented! Ruairi had really inspired folks with his enthusiasm and passion for making music. “I really enjoyed myself,” commented one of our attendees. Another said, “I try to attend all the events at the Music Library but this one was my favourite so far!”

Hosting events is a passion of ours here at the Music Library and our next one also has a sing-a-long theme – this Thurday 8 October, please feel free to join us for a World War I-themed singing event in collaboration with the London Transport Museum’s ‘Battle Bus’ project.


Long overdue

Complete poetry of CatallusIt’s not actually that uncommon (here at Marylebone Library we get two or three a year) but it’s always interesting to receive a decades overdue library book.
It’s rare to be given a background story though, so we’re left wondering… Was the borrower suddenly struck by a crisis of conscience after 50 years? Was a conscientious relative doing the house clearing?

Sadly we don’t know who borrowed the Complete Poetry of Catullus in 1965 as we no longer have reader records from the pre-digital age. But there is much else worth noting on the date label:

Complete poetry of CatallusThe book was bought when St Marylebone was a separate council and nobody had yet got round to changing the date label to a shiny new Westminster one (perhaps if the book had been out for some time and renewed several times, nobody had a chance to do it). Fines were a penny a day (for comparison, the Daily Mirror, now 60p, then cost 4p). Opening hours were actually shorter – though there was Saturday evening opening until 8.00pm (no doubt highly unpopular with staff!). There was no Sunday opening at all.

The telephone numbers (eg: WELbeck 2629 for renewals) may be a bit of a puzzle to those not old enough to remember dials on phones. See this informative site for how it all worked, with some information about the most famous old time telephone number of all.

Most intriguing is the instruction to tell the Librarian if you had come into contact with any infectious disease. I’ve never been able to find out what the Librarian was meant to do with this information except put on a mask and recommend you see your doctor, and I was told many years ago by a very old colleague that books which had been contact with the lurgy were left on an open window sill for a few days and put back on the shelf.  What I never found out is if anyone was actually fined for spreading plague throughout the borough via the medium of a chicken-poxy Agatha Christie.

Anyway, whoever returned Catullus to his rightful home, we’re very grateful. If you’d like to try his poetry for yourself, we have several volumes available. But please bring them back!


Into the next millennium

Books & the City - 1000th post

We can scarce believe it, but this is the 1000th post on Books & the City! The original aim was to shed light on ‘the life of the Libraries & Archives service, what’s happening, occasionally a little insight into what goes on behind the scenes. And a certain amount of random library-ness too’, in (we thought) one or two posts a week… This would have meant post number 1000 would have taken between ten and twenty years to arrive. The aim remains the same, but of course there has been a LOT more to write about than we foresaw, and it’s taken just 5 years and 3 months to get to this point.

Door(s) to the Marylebone Information Service reserve stackSo to celebrate, we thought we’d look back at some of the most popular, interesting or strange posts since 1 July 2010.

There have been posts about books, and posts about history. Posts about national projects and individual experiences. We’ve helped you use online resources and save money, we’ve introduced new services, reviewed hundreds of events from author visits to concerts and shown you some of the hidden places in our libraries.

What do the statistics tell us about what you want to see? You like a chance to get involved (Little Big Stories (A Mail Art Call)), you lap up pictures of works in progress (The rebirth of Maida Vale Library), and you love the idea of getting married in a library (Wedding ceremonies at Mayfair library).

Testing the technology and finding homes for the books, not very long before reopening... eek!The Marylebone Room - One of the two beautiful marriage & civil partnership rooms at Mayfair LibraryA piece in the 'Little Big Stories' mail art exhibition at Pimlico Library.

But most of all you want to read about the history of the wonderful City of Westminster, whether it’s in the form of a post from the Archives Centre (most popular subjects: Charles Dickens, swimming baths, Nathaniel Bryceson), a re-enactment to mark an event (Marylebone Library in the Park) or an exploration of a minute detail of library architecture (An ‘uplifting’ relic of Charing Cross past).

Hungerford Stairs, near the site of a blacking factory where Dickens worked as a boy. Image property of Westminster City Archives.Marylebone Library in the Park 2015 - Francis, Anabel, SabinaRelic of the London Hydraulic Power Company, to be found in Charing Cross Library

Posts about children’s activities are always popular too, and while they barely scratch the surface of the huge number of events that go on every week (especially during the Summer Reading Challenges), these stories do fulfil the stated aim of shedding light on ‘what’s happening in libraries’. Pictures of Lego rockets, vast papier maché penguins and duffle-coat clad dignitaries are among many that have caught the imagination.

Lego rocket and enthusiasts at Maida Vale LibraryPapier Mache Penguin in progress - St John's Wood Library, February 2013Paddington Bear visits Paddington Library, November 2014. Photos courtesy of Gavin Conlon Photography Ltd.

And what of this editor’s favourites? Well, being able to boast not one but TWO posts entitled, quite legitimately, ‘Polar Bear in the Library‘ has always pleased me, and I confess to a puerile giggle at having the chance to publish a post with the heading ‘Explosive bowels‘. But my favourite post of all was the one that seemed to say all that needed to be said about the modern public library service, the pride and ownership you the customers feel and how very wrong people can be about libraries (but also how gracious they can be in admitting their mistakes): ‘Frankly, my dear, we *do* give a …‘.

Frank Skinner at Church Street Library

We look forward to the next thousand posts and hope you’ll join us for the journey. Now, shall we watch some fireworks?

Spreading the word (and the music)

Music resourcesAt the beginning of each academic year, Westminster Music Library teams up with the Barbican Music Library to promote our library services to students at music colleges across London, registering new members and inviting them to come and explore the wealth of resources we have on offer.

During September, I attended a total of four Freshers’ Fairs on behalf of Westminster Libraries; at the Royal College of Music, Royal Academy of Music, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and Goldsmiths College, University of London.

Sharing a table with Barbican Music Library at the Royal College of Music - signing up a new recruit for Westminster, September 2015

Sharing a table with Barbican Music Library at the Royal College of Music – signing up a new recruit for Westminster, September 2015

As with previous years, I was lucky enough to be joined at the Royal Academy of Music by Learning Support Librarian Barry Tsirtou, sharing an exclusive ‘Westminster’ table for the Music Library and Marylebone Library. This was a great way of promoting the full range of Westminster Libraries’ resources to new students, and having an extra pair of hands to register new members proved to be a huge bonus.

Many students were very keen to join but a few took a little more persuading, and by the end of each Fair I had all but lost my voice from describing the vast wealth of services we have to offer. The long queues at the Royal Academy of Music had Barry and I talking non-stop for most of the Fair!

Many of the students’ faces lit up when they heard that membership was free of charge but it was the range of scores available at Westminster Music Library and CDs at branches including Marylebone that really grabbed their attention. One Fresher was particularly surprised and excited to hear that we had a variety of scores for the composer Henri Dutilleux; although widely considered one of the greatest modern French composers of his day, there are precious few freely accessible collections that can boast the range of his works held in Westminster Music Library.

Barry and I were keen to promote our plethora of 24/7 online resources particularly those that cover the performing arts such as Naxos and Oxford Music Online (log in to these and others with your Westminster library card number), alongside the advantages of access to library services across Westminster, Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea. These extra benefits also scored a big hit!

Almost 150 students registered to join Westminster Libraries during the Fairs with many more showing an interest, making this year a resounding success. Those who registered were issued with their membership cards on the day; we look forward to welcoming them to our libraries and helping them to make the most of our excellent resources.


Libraries in fiction

I was prompted to these thoughts having recently re-watched Ghostbusters which, as you may remember, starts inside the magnificent New York Public Library with the ghostly terrorisation of a librarian by levitating books and flying catalogue cards. In the future remake of this film I wonder how the film makers will get round the inconvenient fact in the intervening years catalogue cards have gone the way of the dodo in most libraries…

In this example the library was simply a location for the plot. Another example is Agatha Christie’s The Body in the Library. Here the library is used as an example of locked room murder mystery so popular in early crime fiction. Other authors such as Colin Dexter (Inspector Morse) and Dorothy L Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey) used college libraries as part of the Oxford setting of their novels.

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers The Wench is Dead by Colin Dexter

Libraries however have played a more significant role in some relatively recent crime novels. Sue Grafton’s detective series is set in the 1980s, in other words pre personal computers / the internet and such library resources as Newsbank. Therefore in several novels in this series, the investigator Kinsey Millhone visits her local library to consult old newspapers issues on microfilm.

More recently I have enjoyed reading Donna Leon’s novel By its Cover, set in an Venetian academic library. This novel starts with the discovery of a theft of an early printed book from the collection and leads to a murder. As a librarian I was cheering Commissario Guido Brunetti on in his efforts to solve these crimes.

G is for Gumshoe by Sue Grafton By its Cover by Donna Leon Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

One fictional library together with its orangutan librarian loom large in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. It would be a very foolish thief or murderer to enter this library to commit a crime. If The Librarian did not apprehend the felon the chances are that the magical books would. This is the library whose contents were chained to protect the user from harm rather than to protect the books from theft. In fact there was one library book theft in Pratchett’s novel Guards! Guards! A book on summoning dragons was successful stolen to order as part of a plot to overthrow the city ruler. Not that it did the conspirators much good, as the summoned dragon quickly incinerated them.

A hero to many library staff, Discworld’s The Librarian is a member of a small elite group of senior librarians who have the knowledge and ability to travel through L-space, an extradimentional space that connects all libraries and other large accumulations of books; a skill that alas has not passed onto this member of staff. I can’t speak for my colleagues.


Widow Fling, Mr Gusheroons and friends

Bundle of St. Margaret’s Parish records (E3339/1801) waiting to be cleaned. Particularly vulnerable items are enclosed in archival rag paper for protection.One of the delights of my job has been collating the various indexing projects carried out by our team of Archives volunteers, involving the collections of parish registers and records, and in particular the Poor Law Settlement Examinations.  These provide a wealth of detail about people’s names and families, occupations and places of origin – all extremely valuable to family historians.

But along the way, I have noted down some of the weird and wonderful names that appear in the records.

Noah Flood

Noah Flood

Most people used a very limited number of conventional names – Anne, Mary/Maria, Jane, Elizabeth and Sarah for women, and John, William, Thomas, Henry and George, for men, with spikes in usage in line with royal names.

Some oddities might be transcription errors – spelling wasn’t fixed and the parish clerks may have just written down what they heard, eg Fidusha for Fiducia, Pellaja for Pellagia or Easter for Esther. But is Mordecia Jones an error for Mordecai, or an early appearance of Morticia?

Humility Meeks

Humility Meeks

There are some common abbreviations: Wm, Danl, Jno, Chas, Thos, and the less usual Xpfer and Xian for Christopher and Christian – the X and P are the Greek letters Chi Rho, but there are less usual abbreviations that can be mistaken for weird names in their own right, eg  Cors – Cornelius, Fras – Francis/Frances, Sush – Susannah, Hart – Harriet if for a girl, Hanh – Hannah etc.

Why do people choose particular names for their children?  We are used to celebrities doing this (Zowie Bowie, Nolan Bolan, North West etc), but it is amusing to know that throughout history ordinary people have also done so.  Sometimes the names are inherited through the family, but why would any parent call their child Stamp Brooksbank? Or Freelove Picket? Or Wharton Pigg Nind? Believe me, they really did.

Amorous, child of John Hess(e)

Amorous, child of John Hess(e)

Foundlings – babies abandoned on church steps or in the street – were named by parish officers, and were usually given a biblical or religious name, often taking the name of the church or street as their surname.  For instance a baby girl picked up on the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields might be called Mary Martin, or a boy found up in Curzon Street might be called John Curzon.

There is also the tradition of giving the eldest son his mother’s maiden name or a significant family name as a Christian name: Brereton Poynton Mitchell, Hindmass Sowerby, Gatley Jenkerson’, Urquhart Hay and Musgrave Hopwood.

Many Non-conformist families chose biblical or religious names, virtues, or aspirations: Hepzibah Woolston, Jochabet Hart Crafer, Jehu Dunn, Shadrack Spurritt, Deodatus Collis, Constant Heart Barberson, Silence Sparrow, Virtue Cave, Paradise Smith, Record Lyons and Modesty Stannard, Although you wonder what was going on when the parents of Satisfaction Lewis, Repent Scarth, and Repentance Smith made their choice!

Senacharib Sacris Stone (mother Elizabeth Stone, father Peter Sacris)

Senacharib Sacris Stone (mother Elizabeth Stone, father Peter Sacris)

Some people chose classical names: Iphiginia Morse; Julius Caesar Smith, Hercules Hill, Senacherib Sacris Stone. Sometimes you find fitting combinations: Humility Meeks, Comfort Lack, Makepeace Goodman, Rise Price, Noah Flood, Damsel Quiver.

Amusing, unfortunate or just plain weird: Harmonious Budding, Amorous Hesse, Mrs Titt and Widow Fling, Peter Breast and Thomas Manhood, Tempus Hazard or Tempesthazard Carey, Canker Boswell, Dorkes Sharpe (perhaps this should be Dorcas?), Err May, Brogden Poplet and Mr Gusheroons.

Damsel Quiver

Damsel Quiver

All the examples and illustrations above are from the 18th and 19th Centuries, and from the parishes of St Martin-in-the-Fields, St James, Piccadilly and St Clement Danes. What interesting names do you have in your family’s past?


Open House at the Archives Centre befitting of a celebration of art and architecture of London, we felt that our contribution to Open House London this year needed to be themed around some of the beautiful Georgian mansions of Westminster. We chose to showcase these wonderful buildings using some of the resources that we have associated with them.

Being a Georgian history ‘anorak’ and self-confessed Byromaniac (a term coined for someone who dotes on the poetry and personage of George Gordon, Lord Byron), I decided to use my fairly extensive knowledge of the notable people and social history of the period as a linchpin for explaining some of our fascinating resources.

"Procession to the Hustings After a Successful Canvass” by Thomas Rowlandson, 1784. Image property of Westminster City Archives

“Procession to the Hustings After a Successful Canvass” by Thomas Rowlandson, 1784. Image property of Westminster City Archives

The first property on our list was the magnificent Spencer House, which was one of the homes of Lady Georgiana Spencer – later the famous (and infamous) Duchess of Devonshire. Anyone who has seen The Duchess will realise that she is immortalised by Kiera Knightley in that film. One of the resources we used from our beautiful Gardiner collection of prints in connection with the property was a cartoon by Thomas Rowlandson, “Procession to the Hustings After a Successful Canvass” satirising the Westminster election, 1784. The cartoon shows supporters of the Whig politician Charles James Fox marching towards the hustings during the election. The Duchess was a celebrated socialite, political campaigner and champion of the Whig party and it was said that she exchanged kisses for votes.

Another of the properties that we looked at was Apsley House, once the London home of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington. It was perhaps most appropriate that we should showcase material associated with the Duke, as 2015 marks the Bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo.

Cannon from the Battle of Salamanca at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich. Image property fo Westminster City Archives

Cannon from the Battle of Salamanca at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich. Image property fo Westminster City Archives

One small black mortar that was captured at the Battle of Salamanca (a great victory for Wellington) was unveiled in St James’s Park on the Prince Regent’s birthday in 1816, to commemorate the victory. The Prince Regent (later the uncelebrated George IV) had this cannon mounted on a plinth at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, surrounded by garish dragons – quite typical of his appalling taste in art and decor. It was subsequently nicknamed The Regent’s Bomb and was used against the prince by satirists in the caricature literature of the day. “Bomb”, sounds like the word “bum” and the prince was fairly rotund – which posited such satirical ditties such as:


Being uncovered, in St. James’s Park, on Monday, the 12th of August, 1816, His Royal Highness’s Birth-Day.

Oh! all ye Muses, hither come—
And celebrate the Regent’s bomb!
Illustrious Bomb! Immortal capture!
Thou fill’st my every sense with rapture!
Oh, such a Bomb! so full of fire—
Apollo—hither bring thy lyre—
And all ye powers of music come,
And aid me sing this mighty Bomb…”

This was far too irresistible a poem for us not to relate to the public and show this together with a picture from our images collection of The Regent’s Bomb. Where there’s social history there’s humour and connecting the social aspects of history with a celebration of architecture is one of the best ways of engagement. Give your audience something to remember!

A very enjoyable day was had by all and all of the organising was well worth it. We wish to extend a huge thanks to the staff and volunteers who made the day possible and also to our fantastic public for visiting us. We look forward to welcoming everyone again next year!