Category Archives: Online

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!


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!


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.


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 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.


The 1939 Register on findmypast

Great news everyone: the 1939 Register is now available when you use findmypast in the library – without the need to pay!

Family group, circa 19391939 was the year that Great Britain entered the Second World War. At the same time the government was already almost prepared for the next Census, due to take place in 1941. The worry of the impending crisis and this coincidence meant that they chose to create a national register on 29 September 1939.

This Register was similar to a Census, but differed in a few ways. Most obviously, the date is not a Census date – the Census is held every ten years, the previous ones in the 20th century being 1911, 1921 and 1931. It was also not called a census but a register. The Register holds the details of 41 million people, each of whom would have been issued with an ID card at a time of rationing etc. The details they had to submit to get this ID card, including name, address, marital status, occupation and date of birth are held on this register. The register is described by Find My Past as “one of the most important documents in 20th century Britain”.

Having been scanned by findmypast it was made available on a pay per view basis in September 2015. However, it is not until now that it has become available to general subscribers, and this of course includes library users in Westminster. In some ways we are very privileged to be able to view the register. If it were a Census we would be unable to view the entries until 100 years after it took place. The 1921 Census will be the next Census available after the 1911 Census, this will not be viewable until 2021 at least. Nevertheless, findmypast has put in some regulations as to which records are available. The main limit is that you will be unable to view ‘records of people younger than 100 and still alive, or who died after 1991’; it is possible to challenge this on a case by case basis. More information is available on the Find My Past site.

Family group, circa 1939You can use findmypast in every Westminster Library and at Westminster City Archives, along with Ancestry.
These are just two of the many amazing online resources available to readers to help with their family history research and any other studies and research they wish to undertake.


Read all about it! The Times Digital Archive

NewspaperImagine if you could pick up a newspaper from over 200 years ago and see what people were saying. Wouldn’t that be difficult? I mean, you would have to find a good reference library with a pretty decent collection of backdated copies…
Surely there is no other way?

Of course there is, the clue is in the title of this blog!

A few months ago, my colleague Francis talked about how addictive searching the Oxford Database of National Biography can be. While I do agree, I am going to say that The Times Digital Archive will give him a run for his money.

Recently I have been visiting libraries and talking with members of the public about some of the Online Resources available to anyone with a Westminster library card. The Times Digital Archive (TDA) is a fully searchable database containing facsimiles of all of the Times newspapers from 1785 to 2009. Here are three points I like to show our customers while highlighting some useful features of the TDA:

Founding of the Newspaper

I like to start at the very beginning. Not only does it make sense chronologically, it also shows just how far back the Digital Archive goes. The Times was first released as The Daily Universal Register for 3 years until 1788 and would set you back 2 ½ pence for 4 very large pages of content (the very definition of a broadsheet newspaper).

The first entry in the TDA is actually the second edition of the paper, you can see under the left hand ‘Printed Logographically’ banner. I like to point it out when demonstrating the TDA as well as to show off this rambling explanation from the editor:

Snippet from The Daily Universal Register, 3 January 1785

“An unfortunate accident having prevent the publication of the first number of this paper in as early an hour as the proprietor intended, and the hawkers having taken away so many papers, that he was not able to supply his numerous friends and others, according to the promise, he thinks it proper to reprint his address to the public, that those who have not yet seen it may have an opportunity to form a judgement of his plan.”

On Tuesday 4 January 1785 the editor expands on what he intends to report in this fledgling newspaper. I’ve trimmed the text but you can read the whole paragraph in the image below:

“In this paper his readers will find regular accounts of the sailing and arrival of ships, of remarkable trials, debates in Parliament, bills of entry, prices courant, price of stocks, promotions, marriages and deaths &c. in a word, no expence [sic] will be spared that may procure useful intelligence and as next to having good intelligence is to have it early, the paper will be published regularly every morning at six o’clock, even during the sitting of Parliament.”

Snippet from The Daily Universal Register, 4 January 1785

Looking through modern day Times, I can’t decide if it is meeting its 250 year old aims or not.

Important Events of our Times

While it is mildly useful to search through the rambles of the early editors and peruse the advertisements, I do enjoy showing people events that still resonate with us today. While we all know that Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939, it must have been curious to read about it as the events are unfolding.

Here is one of the headlines from Monday 4 September:

The Times, Monday 4 September 1939

Today that would be the front page headline, but in 1939 before reading that the country was at war you had to skip past a couple of pages of advertisements, shipping news, sports results – association football, rugby, golf and racing all come first. Admittedly, the next several pages discussed it in depth, but I find it interesting that front page headlines aren’t commonplace at this time.

The majority of the articles related to the war’s outbreak are either very short or very long, making it difficult to find good examples, but here are a few from the same edition that I find interesting:


Let’s go back a little further to another war and another battle that we know through hindsight – the Battle of Waterloo:

The Times, 22 June 1815

I won’t copy the whole text now, but the dispatch is fascinating and I encourage you to go look it up.

Each description of what the army is up to has this immediacy to it – slightly ironic that you are reading about it days after the event. For example, before the Battle of Waterloo was reported you had the reports coming in regarding the minor skirmishes taking place on 16 June 1815 in the 21 June edition:

The Times, 21 June 1815

And it wasn’t until 23 June that reports of the actual battle started coming in, along with lists of dead officers (the rank and file had not yet been accounted for) and a report from Wellington himself. Here are his closing remarks:

The Times, 23 June 1815

Change of Image

The last point I want to show is not about the content of the newspaper, but how the newspaper was presented – and I might have already given it away. If you look back at the font from the Battle of Waterloo reports, to the font for the WW2 War Declaration you might see where I am going with this.

By the 1930s the Times was a 28 page broadsheet, very popular but being accused of not adhering to the times (irony?) and still using an antiquated typeface. In 1931 a new type was commissioned that would sound very familiar to you if you have used a Microsoft computer in the past 3 decades. I am talking about, of course, Times Roman.

So there we have it. There is far too much to talk about in one blog post, but I hope I have whet your appetite for the Times Digital Archive and all the history that it contains.

If you have an event in history that you would like to look up, it is simple to do so yourself if you follow these steps:

Helpfully, the Browse by Date function is on the front page.

Tome Digital Archive (TDA) header

Happy searching!