Internship 2: Building history

Abby with her exhibition at Westminster City Archives.Abby Logan is a student of architectural history and archaeology at the University of Boston. She has spent two and a half months as an intern at the City of Westminster Archives Centre. In this second blog post, she shares her experience of researching and creating building histories.


In addition to theatre programme conservation, another project I worked on was creating a short buildings history for the Alhambra Theatre and the Royal Aquarium. To go along with those histories I also researched one performer from each building. I chose William Henry Beckwith for the aquarium and Kate Santley for the theatre.

It was not too difficult to find information about William Beckwith because his whole family was very well known. There were plenty of records about his life; however, that was not the case for Kate Santley. It was very difficult to find reliable information about her and her life because she was not born in the United Kingdom and went by a few different names. I was eventually able to find some reliable facts about her but it was much more difficult than I thought it would be!

Alhambra Theatre

The first building to stand where the Alhambra Theatre stood in Leicester Square was The Royal Panopticon of Science and Art which opened in 1854 and closed in 1856. The Panopticon was poorly managed and unsuccessful so the Alhambra Palace was opened in 1856 under E. T. Smith as first a circus and then a music hall in 1860. The building was sold and renamed the Royal Alhambra Palace in 1861. The name again changed in 1872 when it became the Royal Alhambra Theatre under new management. In 1882, now just called the Alhambra Theatre, almost the entire building was destroyed due to a fire; however, the building was quickly rebuilt and reopened in 1883. The Alhambra Theatre was closed and demolished in 1936. A new theatre, The Odeon, was built in 1937 and still remains open today.

Kate Santley

Actress Kate Santley was born Evangeline Estelle Gazina around 1837. Santley lied about her age and said she was born in 1843 so her exact date of birth is difficult to pinpoint. “In 1872 she appeared in the London production of The Black Crook at the Alhambra Theatre” (The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography). She also stared in other productions at the Alhambra such as La Belle Hélène in 1873. At the height of her career Santley was very well known and widely photographed. In 1877 she became the manager of the Royalty Theatre which lasted for thirty years and was how she spent her later years. She married Lockhart Mure Hartley Kennedy and moved to Brunswick Square, Brighton where she died a widow in 1923 as Evangeline Estelle Gazina Kennedy.

The Royal Aquarium

The Royal Aquarium Summer and Winter Garden opened on Tothill Street in 1876. It was a place of entertainment that went beyond a theatre or music hall. There was a separate but attached building for theatre productions, the Royal Aquarium Theatre. The main attractions of the building were other performances that one would expect to see at a circus. In 1879 the theatre came under new management and was renamed the Imperial Theatre. The Royal Aquarium Summer and Winter Garden was closed and demolished in 1903 but the Imperial Theatre remained standing until 1907 when it too was demolished to make way for the Methodist Central Hall.

William Henry Beckwith

William Henry Beckwith was a professional swimmer who often performed at the Royal Aquarium. He was born on 7 August 1857. His father Frederick Beckwith was a well-known swimming professor and performer so William was born into his profession. William and his younger sister Agnes debuted together in Paris and later travelled abroad to America in 1883. The family often performed together as the “Beckwith Frogs” and did so at the Royal Aquarium “demonstrating swimming strokes and life saving techniques as well as preforming aquatic stunts such as smoking, drinking milk, and eating sponge cakes underwater” (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). William was also a competitive swimmer and won many awards and accolades. He died on 12 December 1892 of a chest infection.

[Abby]

Internship 1: Protecting theatre

Abby with her exhibition at Westminster City Archives.Abby Logan is a student of architectural history and archaeology at the University of Boston. She has spent two and a half months as an intern at the City of Westminster Archives Centre. In this, the first of two blog pieces, she takes us through the conservation process.


Working in paper preservation can be a messy job, as I found out on my first day! My task seemed simple enough: clean three boxes of programmes from the Theatre Collection; however, it involved a lot more dirt, rust and time than I thought it would. Using two smoke sponges, a brush and staple remover I was able to clean the programmes and prevent further damage caused by the rusty staples. At the end of each day I would have a substantial pile of dirt and staples from all the programmes I had cleaned.

Potash and Perlmutter - Queen's Theatre programmes, 1914. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Potash and Perlmutter – Queen’s Theatre programmes, 1914. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

One of the hardest parts was determining when a programme was sufficiently clean because I was unsure how much of the dirt I was supposed to be able to get off. Eventually I learnt what was clean and what could not be taken off by the sponge.

Once all the programmes were clean it was time to move on to the sewing and repairing stage. Those that were once held together by staples needed to be put back together in some way. That was done by taking organic string and sewing the area where the staples used to be. This was a simple task for some of the programmes; however, for the majority of them it was not, because there was too much damage caused by the rusty staples.

Theatre programme. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Theatre programme. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Rust is incredibly damaging in that it creates holes and makes the paper weaker. To combat this problem a special paper called spider tissue is cut into an oval to cover the area that has been damaged by the rust. A paste is put on the paper and it then dries and fixes the holes, allowing the paper to be sewn together. Some other small tears are also fixed by this spider tissue so they do not tear further.

The repairs done to the programs can get more complicated if the spine of the programme is weak or there is more severe damage to the paper. These damages require spider tissue that has been cut specifically for the shape of the tear. Once all the damage has been fixed as far as possible, the programmes are then sewn together and the preservation process is complete.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


[Abby]

 

Make Do and Mend

Make do and Mend with the Recycling Champions at Paddington Library, April 2016Westminster’s Recycling Champions recently ran a clothes repair workshop at Paddington Library. Ten people brought along items they wanted help with, from bags to dresses to jeans. Our four Recycling Champion volunteers helped them get under way fixing and altering their items with guidance and encouragement.

We had a great range of things from holey sheets to coats needing shortening. Everyone had a really good chat and we repaired a lot of items as well!

By fixing or altering old clothes, not only are we creating less waste to deal with, but we’re also helping save resources. The average cotton shirt takes 2,700 litres of water to produce.

Westminster Recycling Champions logoThanks to Paddington Library for hosting the event – and for lending us a sewing machine!

The Recycling Team have a stand in a library every month – come and ask us a question. Our next events are in Pimlico Library as part of South West Fest – we look forward to seeing you there.

And if you’d like to give Make Do and Mend a try but can’t get to an event, you can find lots of books in the library to help you out:

Sewing manual by Laura Strutt  Make do and mend: keeping family and home afloat on war rations  Mend and make fabulous by Denise Wild

[Emma, Recycling Team]

Love, War and Public Libraries for World Book Night

World Book Night 201623 April, as well as being Shakespeare’s (Smyth’s, Cervantes’, Neames’ and Hartnell’s) anniversary, is of course World Book Night.

Westminster libraries joined in the fun, with free copies of several of the WBN titles being given out at six libraries.

Paddington Library‘s World Book Night event tied in nicely with the Shakespearean theme, as author Barrie Stacey‘s background is the theatre. Barrie gave a humorous account of his life in the theatre world, including the many famous people he met and got to know over more than fifty years. He also talked about his latest book Love in the Afternoon, which is an entertaining and original novel about love, a failed marriage followed by a late flowering of romance.

The audience were really taken by Barrie’s interesting and varied real life and were delighted to buy signed copies of his novel having met the author, as well as receiving free copies of Elizabeth Buchan’s novel I can’t begin to tell you, set in Denmark  during the second World War.

In wartime: stories from Ukraine, by Tim JudahThe situation in Ukraine is one which is really not well known in the west, which is why Tim Judah’s talk on his book In Wartime at Victoria Library was so enlightening. It was great to get the information direct from someone who was actually on the ground as the civil strife developed and his insider knowledge really came through.

The talk was punctuated by images taken from the ground and Tim offered some excellent insights into what life is like for people in Ukraine. The talk led into quite a lively political discussion and it was great to have so many people with such a clear interest in the current strife participating. We felt especially privileged to have Tim with us for World Book Night when we realised his next appointment was in Kiev!

Tim Judah tweet 23 April 2016

There was one last World Book Night gift to come… We were delighted to receive free copies of Bailey’s Prize winning author Ali Smith’s Public Library and other stories, along with a letter passing on her thanks for the “brilliant work of librarians across the UK”. Thanks for your support, Ali! You can find a copy of Public Library in every library – borrow or reserve a copy now.

Public Library and other stories, by Ali Smith

[Laurence and Nick]

Shelf help for teens

Fighting invisible tigers by Earl HippDuring the month of April people across London have been reading the same book about riot and civil unrest as part of Cityread London. The story, called Ten Days by Gillian Slovo, is based on events when bad stuff happened, someone died and people just boiled over – they couldn’t take any more.

Sometimes life gets confusing and that’s when people through the ages have turned to books. Writing them, reading them – Shakespeare had a lot to get out of his system, and he did it so well that we remember him 400 years later!

Here in libraries we’ve a got a brand new collection of books for young people between the ages of 13 and 18. The collection – called Shelf Help – was launched last week and they’re already flying off the shelves.

Shelf Help - Reading Well for Young People books

There are books about depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self harm, living with autism and more. They are really helpful and some are funny too – you’ve got to see the funny side sometimes. Some of the books are a bit like guides or reference books and some are fiction but based on real people and real lives. They’ve been chosen by young people with experience of mental health issues, and you can find them in your local library, browse the collection online or even have them recommended to you by your doctor.

No one can read minds, and teen life is full of tricky times, that’s why Shelf Help is there for you in libraries now.

[Kate]

April in Queen’s Park

The Riot by Laura WilsonApril is a busy month for readers, with Cityread and World Book Night offering lots of opportunities to share books.

Queen’s Park Library recently held events to celebrate both occasions, beginning with a talk by award-winning crime novelist and Guardian critic Laura Wilson.

Laura has written a range of contemporary and historical fiction, but this evening she focused on The Riot, set during the 1958 Notting Hill race riots and very much in keeping with this year’s Cityread theme of social unrest and disorder. Laura described her research into the riots and offered a fascinating glimpse into an area that has changed so much in recent years, before explaining why she chose to place her fictional detective, DI Stratton, in this setting. An audience of Laura Wilson fans and locals keen to find out more about the area’s history made for a very lively question and answer session following the talk.

Author Laura Wilson at Queen's Park Library, April 2016

Then on Saturday 16 April, local young people enjoyed an early World Book Night event and the chance to get a free copy of fantasy novel Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, one of this year’s WBN titles. The group voted on which film to watch from a choice of three, each based on a young adult fantasy novel. ‘Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials’ was the clear winner and seemed a good choice – the audience was unusually quiet throughout and the film earned a round of applause at the end!

Clapper board / reels of filmWe run film events aimed at 11 -16 year olds quite regularly, and the great thing for the library is that they attract such a wide audience: boys as well as girls, book fans and more reluctant readers. We’d like to work with teenagers to develop future library events, so if any young people would like to get involved and boost their CVs in the process they should definitely get in touch!

[Lucy]

Everyone but Shakespeare

Westminster Libraries’ users, unless they’ve been living under a rock, will know that today is the 400th anniversary of  William Shakespeare’s death. Quite a lot of us probably think of it as his birthday too though that is a little more dubious. We know he was baptised on 26 April 1564 and it is usually assumed that he was born three days before though there’s no hard evidence for that, or for very much else about his early life.

If you want to know more, read Bill Bryson’s excellent short book Shakespeare: the world as a stage which goes through the established facts we have about his life (surprisingly few – we can’t, for example, be sure where he went to school, only that he picked up some education somewhere, presumably in Stratford). But while you’re celebrating the Bard,  possibly by watching a live broadcast by the Royal Shakespeare Company, spare a thought for some of the other figures whose anniversaries are overshadowed by Will’s.

Top of the list is Spain’s most famous author Miguel Cervantes, who died on the same day as Shakespeare.

Cervantes’ greatest work, Don Quixote, is often called ‘the first modern European novel’ and tells of an elderly knight who is obsessed with tales of chivalry and who, after many adventures with his squire Sancho Panza, is bemused to find he has become a famous fictional character himself.

Don Quixote has been played in films and television by actors as varied as Boris Karloff, Peter O’Toole and Andy Garcia, though the book tends to defeat all but the most determined readers (the most famous incident, that of Don Quixote tilting at windmills comes a few chapters in). Why not resolve to be one of the elite who has actually read it?

A less well-known figure from the arts whose birthday we celebrate this week is composer Dame Ethel Smyth who was born on 23 April 1858. As well as several well-regarded operas (the most famous of which is probably The Wreckers, a tragic story set in eighteenth-century Cornwall) she composed the  March of the Women, the unofficial anthem of the votes for women movement which you may have heard on the soundtrack to the film Suffragette. Her activities for the movement even lead to her imprisonment for window-smashing. She was visited in Holloway by the conductor Thomas Beecham who watched a band of women singing the March in the quadrangle while its composer conducted with a toothbrush from her cell window. For more on this remarkable woman and to listen to some of her works (including a better sound recording than the one used for the video below), check out our online music resources.

Another figure from the arts who shared a birthday with Shakespeare was the  cinematographer and film director Ronald Neame who died in 2010 at the grand old age of 99.  His father Elwyn was a Bond Street photographer and occasional film director and his mother Ivy Close was a bona fide silent star (who received the ultimate accolade of a mention in an episode of Downton Abbey, perhaps not entirely coincidentally produced by Neame’s grandson Gareth) . Neame’s career started young – he was assistant director on Alfred Hitchcock’s first talkie Blackmail and continued until the 1980s, taking in I Could Go On Singing, Judy Garland’s final film and perhaps his most famous work, The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie for which Maggie Smith won an Oscar.  In his 90s he wrote an autobiography Straight from the Horse’s Mouth which is as pleasingly gossipy as one could wish.

For those who prefer deathiversaries to birthdays, why not commemorate the death, on 23 April 1975, of actor William Hartnell, best known as the First Doctor. Hartnell was born in St Pancras to an impoverished  single mother who managed to get him a place in the famed Italia Conti Stage School (attended by Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence a few years earlier). At 16 he left and joined the famed Frank Benson company which specialised in touring productions of Shakespeare. He soon turned to films, mostly in serious roles either in gangster films such as Brighton Rock or as NCOs – you’ve probably seen him in the title role in Carry on Sergeant (a role he more or less repeated in the long running sitcom The Army Game). But nothing in his 40 year career matched the success of his three years as the curmudgeonly eccentric  time traveller. It was a a role he loved and he attracted a huge personal fan mail.

You can find out more about Hartnell’s life in the biography by his grand-daughter Who’s there? and in our newspaper archives and  the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log in with your library card number) . Also check out some more clips of his acting on another  birthday celebrant – Youtube which is 11 years old today!

[Nicky]