Category Archives: Online

Who Lived Where: The London Blue Plaque Scheme

William Ewart's blue plaque at Hampton Public LibraryWith over nine thousand plaques mounted on buildings scattered throughout the capital, the London Blue Plaques scheme is well known. In some streets of central London, almost all the buildings display a plaque, or even more than one. What you may not be aware of is that the interesting scheme celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. Here’s a short history:

William Ewart, a Liberal MP, suggested that the government should start this scheme to honour significant London residents in 1863. The idea was rejected due to cost, but three years later in 1866 the Society of Arts (later the Royal Society of Arts) took the scheme on.

Napoleon III's blue plaque in Kings Street, St JamesThe first two plaques were erected in 1867. The first commemorated the poet Lord Byron at his birthplace, 24 Holles Street off Cavendish Square, but was later destroyed with the demolition of the house. The second plaque in Kings Street, St James was erected to the exiled French emperor Napoleon III London residence.  This has survived.

William Ewart is in the select group who are commemorated with more than one plaque. English Heritage, the current custodians of the scheme, now restrict the scheme to a single plaque per person however many addresses that individual had. William Ewart is commemorated in central London but also his former house which is now Hampton Public Library in south west London (see picture above). This is a particularly fitting commemoration as, whilst an MP, William Ewart introduced a bill that became Britain’s first Public Library Act setting up a network of free public libraries..

The London Blue Plaque Guide by Nick RennisonI think it is fair to say that for many years this scheme has favoured establishment figures and there has been a definite bias towards males. Currently only 13% of the total commemorate women. Recognising this, English Heritage is making concerted efforts to get proposals from the public for female candidates.
Westminster is home to plaques for several ‘non-establishment’ figures, including Crimean war nurse Mary Seacole and, unusually, one commemorating an event rather than a person: The Cato Street Conspiracy, which was a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister and Cabinet in 1820.

Mary Seacole's blue plaque in Soho Square, London   Blue plaque for the Cato Street conspiracy, 1820

Biographical details for these and other blue plaque entries can be found on the English Heritage website. You can find out more in one of the many Blue Plaque guides available from your library. However, for a more comprehensive, detailed biography why not use your library membership to consult the Oxford Dictionary of  National Biography online? Nearby, Kensington Central Library also holds a Biographies special collection of approximately 80,000 books, to which annually over 1,000 new titles are added.

[Francis]

The Fairytale of Leicester City

King Richard IIILast week saw the rather unexpected news of Leicester City clinching the football Premier League title. Was this really as significant as many newspapers described? The most uplifting story in British sporting history, or perhaps the biggest upset/shock? The team’s odds were 5000 to 1 at the beginning of the season having narrowly avoided relegation last year, after all. It was that and more, according to the papers.

To compare this victory with other surprise wins and ‘rise of the underdog’ stories, we should first take a look at how Leicester City’s story was reported last week:

  • Go to the library to look at the recent newspapers held there
  • Use NewsBank to search through all the stories about Leicester City being champions – you can even read Leicester’s local paper The Leicester Mercury. You could go further, following how the story unfolded throughout the season, starting all the way back in August 2015.
  • Read through more stories and see the papers themselves on Library Press Display – the Foxes’ victory was reported as far afield as Thailand, India, the US and more.

But why stop there? Have a look through other resources we have to see whether other sporting shocks had comparable headlines. Explore the tabloid newspapers on UK Press Online and take your search back further and further using the Times Digital Archive or The Guardian and Observer archive. Have a look at some of the suggested shocks mentioned by others: Boris Becker winning Wimbledon in 1985, Denmark winning the European Championships having not qualified, Nottingham Forest’s winning of the league and then European cup just after being promoted from the second division, Wimbledon’s crazy gang’s rise to prominence and FA cup glory in 1988… the list goes on. The headlines and stories are fascinating.

Football stories almost always involve a heroic manager, amazing team work and  notable individuals (Leicester’s stories even discuss the importance of Richard III!). Whatever the sport you will see that the English press – and people – always love an underdog; often more than their own team!

The above is just an illustration of how library resources can help you dig deep, research and analyse a story through looking at how it was reported in the media. The same principles can be applied to any story for personal interest, school projects or other research.

You can find free access to all these great databases – and much more – in the Newspapers and magazines section of our Online resources by subject page. Just log in from wherever you are using the number on your library card. In the Biography section you can also find out more about many of the people involved in the stories mentioned above by looking at Who’s who and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[Owen]

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]

The Queen is 90! Let’s look back to April 1926…

The Queen by AN WilsonSo this year Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her 90th birthday. Or rather birthdays, as while her actual birthday is today, 21 April (she was born in 17 Bruton Street at 2.40am on 21 April 1926), her formal birthday with all the pomp and ceremony is on the second Saturday in June. This year there will be a weekend of celebrations, such as the Patron’s lunch on Sunday 12 June.

But as the title says – what was said and what happened on the day itself? Using our online newspaper archives it is possible to have a glimpse of the news as it would have been read by the people of 1926.

First of all, the time of the then Princess Elizabeth’s birth was important for the daily newspapers. Normally an event which occurred on the 21st would be reported on the 22nd once it has had a chance to be written and printed. However, because the event took place so early in the morning it made it into the headlines of the day!

Check the Times Digital Archive to see how the news was reported (log in with your library card number). You could limit your searches to just 21 and 22 April, or simply browse through each day’s newspaper. Then take a look at some of the other papers, for example The Guardian – different publications can give you different types of story and varying headlines. Some, such as The Daily Mirror (available through UK Press Online), will have pictures.

Online newspapers for members of Westminster LibrariesThink about your search terms; which words will you use? Try out different ones. Remember that the baby born that day had not yet been named, was not yet Queen or even the heir to the throne. Here are a few tips for possible keywords: granddaughter, daughter, birth, Duchess of York, and royal are just a few.

From my searches I discovered that The Times managed to get an announcement into its 21 April ‘News in Brief’ section, and the next day mentions that the princess is third in line for succession to the throne (an important fact, as we would find out later on).

The Daily Mirror provides us with a front page image and headline the day after the birth. Disappointingly there is not much from the Illustrated London News but there are one or two images. The Guardian also provides a picture and headlines “The birth of a princess” and also reminds us that she is “The King’s first granddaughter”.

Book list to celebrate HM The Queen's 90th birthday

Lots of stories to explore! Why not go further and see what is written about each of the birthdays and life events over her 90 years? You can read more in one of the many books featured in our new book list celebrating the Queen’s birthday (pictured above), and find dates and events to then research in the newspapers. Be imaginative with your search terms; you never know what you might discover!

[Owen]

Spring into Spring

On a suitably sunny spring morning the Home Library Service held a ‘Spring into Spring’ event at Church Street Library for its members.

HLS Spring into Spring event at Church Street Library

There were guest speakers and demonstrations on:

  • falls prevention
  • keeping safe in the home
  • chair exercise
  • hand massage

HLS Spring into Spring event at Church Street LibraryThere was also the opportunity to use laptops and tablets to find out how to access library and council information online, and to get to grips with downloading free e-books, e-audiobooks and e-magazines from the library.

Everyone enjoyed the opportunity to find out useful information,(including transport options in Westminster) and to try something new. The chance to chat over a bite to eat was welcome as it is not easy for Home Library Service members to get out and about. New friends were made, phone numbers exchanged and members left with lots of information and new opportunities!

HLS Spring into Spring event at Church Street Library

“Thank you for a delightful day full of exciting information”

“ We learnt many useful tips about various areas where help is available…”

“ Lovely… good company… most helpful with email and using my tablet…”

“Please could we have more events like this – I feel 20 years younger being brought out to this sort of thing!”

The Home Library Service will hold its next Spring into Spring event at Pimlico Library on 21 April.

[Elaine]

Library Press Display: a great source for world news

NewspaperA common complaint about news from UK-based newspapers, television, radio and even online news is that it is often too focused on what is happening nearby and not further afield. Countries with which the UK has less of a perceived connection are being left out.

This can be a real problem if finding out what is happening outside the UK is important to you, either because you have family or cultural ties with a particular part of the world, or a broader social or academic interest. What news is available will be filtered through the lens of UK or even London-based reporting – how might it look from another perspective?

It is possible to access more international and national news using the internet and Library Press Display is a great way of doing this. Showing the actual pages from multiple countries’ newspapers offers an insight into how things look from within the country itself. Library Press Display, along with a wealth of other newspaper archives, is free online to all Westminster Libraries members – just log in with your library card number.

Screenshot of front page of 'Daily Trust' Nigerian newspaper on Library Press Display, 30 March 2016

My colleague Sharif’s favourite library resource is Library Press Display, as it allows him to read the news as it is reported in Nigeria. There are two really useful newspapers available: This Day and The Trust. The stories reported are important to politics in Nigeria, such as changes in government, and there are often stories which you may not otherwise hear (although there are TV stations available online as well). As with the press everywhere, each paper can be selective about which stories are published and can sometimes show bias toward either the north or the south of the country, or through ethnic or religious undertones. But they offer a different perspective than that of the UK press reporting on Nigerian affairs, and having two to choose from can also be enlightening.

Screenshot of front page of 'This Day' Nigerian newspaper on Library Press Display, 30 March 2016

Nigeria is just one example of the many nations’ newspapers available through Library Press Display. In a multilingual city such as London this is invaluable: if you are able to speak more than one language (or if you are trying to learn another at an advanced level), you may it useful for stories and current affairs in 60 languages from Afrikaans to Zulu.

[Owen and Sharif]

 

Welcome to the Cloud Library – new ebooks now

3M Cloud Library

We’re delighted to announce that our new ebook service is now live and ready to use. The 3M Cloud Library is incredibly easy – try it and see.

We’ve offered ebooks for some time, but now we’ve moved to a bigger, better and above all easier to use service. For those of you who are already fans of ebooks from Westminster Libraries, you can continue to use the ‘old’ service alongside the new one for a while. Gradually the stock will be transferred across to 3M and eventually the westminster.libraryebooks.co.uk site will be phased out.

Here’s what you need to do to use ebooks:

  • Download the app
    Download the ‘3M Cloud Library App’ from the Apple App Store, Google Play, NOOK Storefront or install the PC or Mac 3M Cloud Library Apps.
  • Log in to your library
    Using the drop down menu, select GB – England – Westminster Libraries. Click to agree to the terms and conditions, enter your library card number and PIN (if required).
  • Browse, check out and read!
    Now you are ready to browse, check out and read ebooks from your local library.

3M Cloud Library logoYou can find out more on our ebooks page.

No fines, no late returns (ebooks automatically return after 14 days, but you can borrow again if no one has reserved the book), just lots to read.