Category Archives: Online

2015 – Anniversaries Are Go!

As has become traditional (see 2014 and 2013), here’s our choice of one anniversary for each month to look forward to in 2015…

January

Books about mobile phones and the mobile phone industryA few seconds past midnight on 1 January 1985, Sir Ernest Harrison received a phone call from his son to wish him a Happy New Year. A few hours later, he received another call, this time from comedian Ernie Wise who, for reasons unknown, was dressed in Victorian costume and riding on a nineteenth century mail coach. So far, so dull, but these were actually the first two calls made on mobile phones in the UK, Sir Ernest Harrison being the chair of Vodaphone.

If you’d bought a mobile phone in 1985, it would have set you back £3000 and you’d have been able to talk for 20 minutes before the battery ran down. Though you’d have been unlikely to be calling another mobile since by 1995 only 7% of the UK population had them. Still, you’ve probably got one now: by 2004 there were more mobile phones in the country than people. For more about the mobile phone industry, see our online business resources

February

Long walk to freedom - the autobiography of Nelson MandelaOn 11 February 1990, after 27 years imprisonment, mostly on Robben Island, Nelson Mandela was finally released and took his Long Walk to Freedom. The event was captured by the cameras and broadcast around the world. You can read contemporary reports in our newspaper archive and also read biographies of the great man who died in December 2013.

March

Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng Chiang, by Terrance DicksOn 26 March 2005 came the television event that some of us had been waiting for since 1989 and, frankly, for most of that time had never believed would happen. Doctor Who returned to our screens after a hiatus of 16 years and was an instant success, spawning two spin-offs (Torchwood and the Sarah-Jane Adventures) as well as making us more familiar with both John Barrowman and Cardiff Bay than we had ever thought possible. Check out one of the many hundreds of books on the most famous time traveller of all, and explore some of the obscure links between the Doctor and our very own detective, Sherlock Holmes

April

Anthony Trollope24 April 2015 sees the 200th anniversary of the birth of Anthony Trollope, prolific novelist and long time post office employee. His novels aren’t read as much as they should be nowadays, which is a shame, and it may be that he is destined to be best remembered as the inventor of the pillar box, first installed in Jersey in 1852. The first ones were set up in England in 1853 – at first there were only five – in Fleet Street, The Strand, Pall Mall, Piccadilly and Rutland Gate. The early ones were green – they didn’t assume their familiar red colour until the 1870s. See The British Postal Museum and Archive for more history.

May

In May it will undoubtedly be quite hard to avoid the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta.
Zeppelin nights, by Jerry WhiteHowever, rather closer to home was an event at 16 Alkham Road, Stoke Newington, which has the unenviable distinction of being the first house in London to be attacked from the air. Nobody in the house was hurt but the Zeppelin went further east and seven people were killed during the one raid. In all, nearly 700 Londoners were killed by air raids in the First World War. You can read more about it in Zeppelin Nights by Jerry White or check out some contemporary accounts in our newspaper archives with the Illustrated London News being particularly interesting for photographs of the aftermath of raids.

June

Books by and about the Women's InstituteA happier First World War centenary is celebrated on 16 June with the centenary of the foundation of the Women’s Institute in the UK.  The movement (which started in Canada in 1897) first met here in Llanfairpwllgwyngyll and its original aim was to get women involved in growing and preserving food in wartime. By the end of 1919 there were 1405 women’s institutes across the country. They are currently enjoying a resurgance and do rather more than make cakes, though it seems to be compulsory to use the phrase ‘jam and Jerusalem’ in every article about them.

They now campaign on many issues, including Love Your Libraries. You can read up on their history in A Force to be Reckoned With by Jane Robinson and the splendidly named Jambusters: the story of the Women’s Institute in the second world war by Julie Summers.

July

Books about Ruth Ellis13 July will mark 60 years since Ruth Ellis became the last woman to be hanged in Britain. Born in poverty in Rhyl, Ruth was determined to escape her background but her first attempt – a romance with a Canadian serviceman – left her an 18-year-old unmarried mother when her lover proved to have a wife and children back home. She did marry in 1950 but the relationship soon ended and Ruth was left to support her two children by the most lucrative work she could find – acting as a hostess in Mayfair nightclubs.

By 1955 she had two lovers – David Blakely, a hard-drinking racing car enthusiast and Desmond Cussen, a former bomber pilot whose family owned a successful chain of tobacconists. The relationship with Blakely was violent, with Ellis having a miscarriage after he punched her in the stomach, and the two men were jealous of each other. On Easter Day, 10 April 1955, Cussen gave Ellis a revolver, showed her how to use it and drove her to Hampstead Heath where she, high on drink and tranquillizers, shot and killed Blakely as he left a pub.

There was no real doubt of the outcome of the trial – Ellis didn’t mention Cussen’s involvement to her solicitor until the day before her exection. The jury took only 20 minutes to convict her and she was sentenced to hang. There was considerable interest in her case with a petition for clemency signed by more than 50,000 people. You can follow the debate in our newspaper archives and there are several biographies of Ellis available in Westminster Libraries

August

Guinness World Records (Guinness Book of Records)A less tragic event in 1955 was the publication on 27 August  of the first edition of the Guinness Book of Records (now known as Guinness World Records). According to publishing legend, Hugh Beaver, the managing director of Guinness Breweries, wanted to settle an argument about which was the fastest game bird, the golden plover or the red grouse, but couldn’t find an appropriate reference book to answer the question.

The runner Christopher Chataway, who worked for Guinness, recommended the twins Norris and Ross McWhirter who, as well as being sports journalists themselves (Norris was the time-keeper when Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile) ran an agency which provided facts and figures to Fleet Street. They were commissioned to write the Guinness Book of Records and it became an instant hit with the annual revisions appearing in time for Christmas. The twins made regular appearance on the BBC children’s programme Record Breakers which ran for 276 episodes between 1972 and 2001 and which was presented for most of that time by Roy Castle. Readers of a certain age are probably humming the theme tune to themselves right now…

You can borrow the latest edition of the  book  from your local library – current random records include the Wolf of Wall Street winning the prize for the most swearing in one film with an average of 3.81 expletives per minute and Daniel Fleming of Cleethorpes holding the world record for greatest number of playable bagpipes (105). Oh, and the fastest game bird in Europe? It’s the plover.

September

ThunderbirdsScott, John, Virgil, Alan, Gordon – also unforgettable to people of a certain age – are the five Tracy brothers, who, with their father Jeff, formed International Rescue, a top secret organisation dedicated to saving lives whose adventures were chronicled in Thunderbirds, first broadcast on 30 September 1965. The series used puppetry combined with scale-model special effects in a technique that producer Gerry Anderson called Supermarionation.

The show was an instant hit and characters such as Lady Penelope and her annoyingly nasal butler Parker became household names. The Tracy brothers were named after the Mercury Seven astronauts, while the puppets were modelled on leading actors such as Sean Connery and Charlton Heston. You can read more about Thunderbirds and other Anderson series such as Captain Scarlet and Stingray in Supermarionation Classics and don’t forget that the original series as well as its cinema incarnations are available on DVD.

October

AgincourtOctober sees the 600th anniversary of one of the most celebrated battles in English history, Agincourt. Made famous by Shakespeare in Henry V, the battle, on St Crispins Day 1415, is well documented with several contemporary accounts surviving. While the English were heavily outnumbered, the use of the longbow against the French soldiers seems to have been a decisive fact in the English victory. Shakespeare’s play is still a favourite with theatre producers and there have been two notable cinema films – both great – one with Laurence Olivier, made during WW2, and more recently with Kenneth Branagh.

November

1940s cinema will be celebrated again, as 26 November sees the 70th anniversary of the release of Brief Encounter, the beloved romantic tragedy  based on Noel Coward’s Still Life. The film tells the simple story of Laura Jesson (played by Celia Johnson), a middle class housewife in a rather dull marriage who meets doctor Alec Harvey in a railway station restaurant and finds that what starts out as a casual chat soon develops into an intensely emotional relationship. There have been other versions of the original play – one with Jane Asher and John Alderton plus Joan Collins as a slightly unlikely tea-shop manageress was broadcast by the BBC in 1991 and there was a simply terrible film version with Sophia Loren and Richard Burton – but none have matched the simple beauty of the original. that said, do check out Victoria Wood’s splendid parody (“I’ve a tin of orange pekoe I keep for the middle classes”):

December

Finally on 28 December 2015 we will have an anniversary that is central to the life of our city as we mark 950 years since the consecration of Westminster Abbey in 1065.

Westminster AbbeyIt was founded by Edward the Confessor (the only English king to be canonised), who died on 5 January 1066, only a week after the consecration. It was the first church in England built in the Norman Romanesque style and has been the traditional site for coronations ever since William the Conqueror. However, only a few arches and columns survive of Edward’s church – the current one dates from the thirteenth century and the reign of Henry III.

If you want to know what St Peter’s Abbey, as it was originally known, used to look like, you’ll have to check out the Bayeux Tapestry which features its only known picture. For more about the Abbey, check out some of the many books about it and of course, it’s there to visit too!


These are just some of the anniversaries that will be commemorated next year – no doubt we’ll also be hearing about the first ascent of the Matterhorn (14 July 1865), the Battle of Waterloo (18 June 1815), VE Day (8 May 1945) and as if that wasn’t enough… there’s another three years of the Great War centenary to work through!

[Nicky]

Merry Christmas from Westminster Libraries

Merry Christmas from Westminster Libraries & Archives!We would like to wish all our customers a happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year.

Our library services are now closed for Christmas Day and Boxing Day, reopening at the usual times on Saturday 27 December. We will close at 5.00pm on New Year’s Eve, 31 December, and reopen on Friday 2 January 2015.

As usual, even though the buildings may be closed, the 24/7 Library is open.

You can download library e-books, e-magazines and e-audiobooks at any time, so if you need amusement during the holiday period or if you receive an e-reader from Father Christmas, free books from your library are never far away!

And if you’re wrestling with one of the fiendish crosswords and quizzes often published at this time of year, need to settle a trivia argument with a family member, or indeed are studying for exams in January – don’t forget our fantastic library of online resources for library members.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Are you giving or receiving an e-reader for Christmas?

e-book presentIf you are, did you know that you can borrow e-books from the library – free?

We have a great selection and all you need to do is use your library membership (if you’re not a member, join now) and sign up for the e-book service.
It’s that simple (unless you have a Kindle… read more below). We’ve even provided a gift card you can include with your gift as you wrap it!

Here’s what David, a recently retired library member, thinks of the service:

“I love books and reading, sometimes as an alternative to TV and video, sometimes inspired by a TV show, but usually in addition to the TV programmes I choose to watch. I have discovered that I can cope easily with multiple formats! And while I still borrow and buy physical books, I now regularly download and read e-books. With my iPad I can see the news, watch TV or video, listen to music, send emails, and READ BOOKS! I no longer have to carry books around with me when on the move, or even from one room to the next.  I can have lots of books with no extra weight.  I can read a few pages wherever I am.

Now not all books are available in an e-format, and the joy of browsing the physical shelves is removed. But how about this – without having to leave the comfort of your home, you can go online to the Westminster Libraries e-books service, find titles or authors that suit your taste and download them to your device absolutely free of charge. After two weeks, the items automatically delete themselves so there’s no risk of overdue charges, and an incentive to get to the last page before the two weeks are up! There are lots of titles to choose from, and new ones are regularly added.  The process is straightforward, and you can create wishlists and reserve titles, and have a reminder of what you have previously read. All in all another great aspect of our library service.  Thank you Westminster!”

e-book card frontSo if you’re giving someone an e-reader for Christmas, pop into the library and pick up one of the cards about the e-book service to help them get started – and your loved one can download loads of free books on Christmas Day!


Note to Kindle users: Unfortunately Amazon do not allow library e-books to be used on their eReaders. However, you can read our titles on an Amazon tablet – the Kindle Fire – though you have to download an app to do so: Find out more about downloading library e-books to a Kindle Fire.

Not Like Father Like Son? The John Lewis Story

Receipted bill for purchases from John Lewis and Company, silk mercers, drapers and fancy warehousemen, 278-288 Oxford Street and 21-28 Holles Street, 27 Oct 1904

2014 has been the 150th anniversary of the John Lewis department store. The current store in Oxford Street stands on the site of the first store founded by John Lewis, a Somerset draper who – after working in another shop – set up his own business in 1864. By 1895 the business had expanded so much that the original shop was replaced by a three-storey department store, with retail showrooms, warehouse space, and a customers’ restaurant. He employed about 150 people, with 100 female staff housed in a hostel nearby, in Weymouth Street.

Whilst his determination and character enabled the business to prosper it was at the expense of his employees. The Victorian cliché of an inflexible hard taskmaster overseeing a downtrodden workforce with little rights and poor wages fits him to a tee. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log in with your library card) entry gives the reader a clear idea of his character. This was the man who was sent to Brixton prison in 1903 for contempt of court during his long running battle over the shop lease with the De Walden estate and who would arbitrarily sack employees on the spot.

So how is it that the John Lewis Partnership model now championed by the coalition government, evolved from this diametrically opposite 19th century model? The answer is John Lewis’s son John Spedan Lewis who championed the current mode of working, first at the Peter Jones department store and then at both stores when he amalgamated the two into one company. In spite of this radical change the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry for John Spedan indicates that he inherited some of his father’s traits stating that he was intolerant with those he considered his intellectual inferiors.

Those wishing to research more deeply into the partnership model and its roots will find trips to Westminster Reference Library and Westminster City Archives useful for the following reference titles:

If you’d like to find out more about the history of department stores and shopping in general, try these:

Department Stores by Claire Masset The World of Mr Selfridge by Alice Maloney Shopping for Pleasure by Erika Rappaport

L to R: Shopping for pleasure : women in the making of London’s West End by Erika Diane Rappaport; The world of Mr Selfridge by Alice Maloney (includes historical details about the department store in among the chapters relating to filming the series and biographical details of the cast); Department stores by Claire Masset.

The City of Westminster Archives Centre holds lots of information on the subject, including the Liberty archive, material about William Whiteley’s and photographs & architectural plans of many of the West End department stores.

[Francis]

Paddington and friends go to town

Paddington Bear books32 Windsor Gardens, one of the most celebrated addresses in literature, is, as many pilgrims have discovered, sadly fictional. But film fans have been delighted to see the home of Mr and Mrs Brown, their children Judy and Jonathan, their housekeeper Mrs Bird and a bear called Paddington brought to life in the enchanting new film. Much of the film was made on location in London, including a lengthy scene – obviously – in Paddington Station here in Westminster as well as Portobello Market in the neighbouring borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

When you’ve seen the film, why not revisit some of the books, which have been loved by children and grown-ups alike since they first appeared in 1958. Readers of a certain age will remember Paddington appearing in Blue Peter annuals. Completely uncoincidentally author Michael Bond worked as a cameraman on the programme.

Good Wives, by Louisa M AlcottPaddington is not the only famous character from children’s fiction to have visited Westminster. Little Women’s Amy March visited as part of her Grand Tour in Louisa May Alcott‘s Good Wives:

Today was fair, and we went to Hyde Park, close by, for we are more aristocratic than we look. The Duke of Devonshire lives near. I often see his footmen lounging at the back gate, and the Duke of Wellington’s house is not far off. Such sights as I saw, my dear! It was as good as Punch, for there were fat dowagers rolling about in their red and yellow coaches, with gorgeous Jeameses in silk stockings and velvet coats, up behind, and powdered coachmen in front. Smart maids, with the rosiest children I ever saw, handsome girls, looking half asleep, dandies in queer English hats and lavender kids lounging about, and tall soldiers, in short red jackets and muffin caps stuck on one side, looking so funny I longed to sketch them.

What Katy Did, by Susan CoolidgeKaty Carr, heroine of the What Katy Did books by Susan Coolidge, stayed in Batt’s Hotel, Dover Street (a real hotel of the ‘second class, especially adapted for families’ according to the Victorian London site. Katy was particularly excited about seeing Wimpole Street, not because of its connections with Elizabeth Barrett Browning but because of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park:

“Wimpole Street!” she cried suddenly, as she caught sight of the name on the corner; “that is the street where Maria Crawford in Mansfield Park, you know, ‘opened one of the best houses’ after she married Mr. Rushworth. Think of seeing Wimpole Street! What fun!” She looked eagerly out after the “best houses,” but the whole street looked uninteresting and old-fashioned; the best house to be seen was not of a kind, Katy thought, to reconcile an ambitious young woman to a dull husband. Katy had to remind herself that Miss Austen wrote her novels nearly a century ago, that London was a “growing” place, and that things were probably much changed since that day.

Fairies were first spotted in Kensington Gardens in 1722 when the perhaps justly forgotten poet Thomas Tickell wrote a poem about them:

“When Albion rul’d the land, whose lineage came
From Neptune mingling with a mortal dame,
Their midnight pranks the sprightly Fairies play’d
On ev’ry hill, and danc’d in ev’ry shade.”

Peter Pan, by JM BarrieHowever it was JM Barrie who immortalised them. In 1897, Barrie met George Llewellyn-Davies and his nanny in Kensington Gardens. He soon became friends with the entire family which included the boys’ uncle Gerald Du Maurier, later to be the first Captain Hook on stage. Barrie invented stories for George and later Jack Llewellyn-Davies about their younger brother Peter who he claimed could fly (which was why there were bars on the nursery window) and who ran away to live among the fairies.

This grew into the tale of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, later turned into a stage play and the more famous Peter Pan and Wendy:

You must see for yourselves that it will be difficult to follow Peter Pan’s adventures unless you are familiar with the Kensington Gardens. They are in London, where the King lives, and I used to take David there nearly every day unless he was looking decidedly flushed. No child has ever been in the whole of the Gardens, because it is so soon time to turn back. The reason it is soon time to turn back is that, if you are as small as David, you sleep from twelve to one. If your mother was not so sure that you sleep from twelve to one, you could most likely see the whole of them.

You can visit the Peter Pan statue by the Long Water and amaze your children or friends by getting a phone call from Peter… if you know how.

Changing Guard at Buckingham Palace, by AA Milne and EH ShephardWhen he wasn’t hanging out with Pooh, Eeyore and the gang in the Hundred Acre Wood, AA Milne’s son Christopher Robin was a London boy who liked nothing better than a bit of pageantry:

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
Alice is marrying one of the guard.
“A soldier’s life is terrible hard,” Says Alice.

From Changing Guard at Buckingham Palace by AA Milne and EH Shephard

The real Christopher Robin has a somewhat ambivalent relationship to his alter ego – you can read about growing up as a National Treasure in his memoirs The Enchanted Places.

The BFG, by Roald DahlSlightly more recently, another visitor to Buckingham Palace was Roald Dahl’s BFG who even manages to have breakfast with the Queen

She found it almost impossible to believe that she, Sophie, a little orphan of no importance in the world, was at this moment actually sitting high above the ground on the window-sill of the Queen of England’s bedroom, with the Queen herself asleep in there behind the curtain not more than five yards away…

Harry Potter booksThe part of London most associated with JK Rowling‘s Harry Potter is of course King’s Cross Station in neighbouring Camden, but many key scenes in the books do take place in Westminster. Notably, Diagon Alley, the wizard’s shopping centre with the extended opening hours, is located just off Charing Cross Road:

Seconds later Harry’s feet found pavement and he opened his eyes on Charing Cross Road. Muggles bustled past wearing the hangdog expressions of early morning quite unconscious of the little inn’s existence. The bar of the Leaky Cauldron was nearly deserted. Tom, the stooped and toothless landlord was polishing glasses; a couple of warlocks having a muttered conversation in the far corner glanced at Hermione and drew back into the shadows.

The opening of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince has a suspiciously Blair-like Prime Minister being visited in his office (presumably in Downing Street) by his opposite number the Minister for Magic, whose own office is just down the road in Whitehall. Anyone who thinks their daily commute is bad should feel grateful they don’t have to clamber into a public lavatory as the ministry staff do in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and be whisked to their office via a drain.

You can find all the books mentioned above in Westminster Libraries and if you’d like to research the authors, why not check out the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and Contemporary Authors – both part of our 24/7 Library, just log in with your library card number.

[Nicky]

The Great War and your ancestors

"The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time" - Sir Edward Grey, August 1914

2014 marks 100 years since the outbreak of World War I. This centenary anniversary has made remembrance even more poignant.  Remembrance Sunday in November helped mark the event which brought an end to this conflict.

There is more we can do to remember though; we can look at how the war affected the lives of our families back then, which is what I and several others did at a recent session using the Ancestry Online database in Kensington Central Library. This resource is available in libraries in Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham.

Ancestry home page - accessible on library computers in Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham

Ancestry home page – accessible on library computers in Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham

The pictures we built were often very interesting viewing Census records as well as military records which allowed us small insights into people’s lives. But it was often also very sad – families left without sons (in one instance losing several within a very short space of time) and fathers listed and remembered on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s website. It made us think of how sad it must have been for them, and their friends as well.

Luckily these online resources make it easier to look back and see what our family did during the war (and before). Whether it is from the medals they won, who they served with, or information from the CWGC website, which lists 1,700,000 men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the two world wars.

As well as family history records for the British Isles there are other records from the same period around the world, including Canada, the USA, Germany, and France.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website can be accessed from anywhere and can provide a lot of information – more than you’d expect. And there are many instructional books available which can help you search through records and find out more about the Great War.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission home page

Commonwealth War Graves Commission home page

You may find newspaper resources interesting and useful in building a picture of the time and possibly a picture of your ancestors too. The Times Digital Archive is the most popular of these but there are other newspapers available in Westminster. The Gazette (official public record) also allows you to search for medals awarded.

Another online family history resource which is available in Westminster Libraries is Find My Past: this contains some different records to Ancestry.

[Owen]

This post was first published on the RBKCLibraries blog.

The Great Interior Design (Library) Challenge!

The Great Interior Design ChallengeFans of the BBC’s ‘Great Interior Design Challenge’ will know that the series reaches its final tomorrow, 2 December. The original field of 27 designers has reduced to just two finalists, who will be working on three rooms each within a converted stately home.

Earlier in the series, a lovely ‘Cote d’Azur’ style bedroom was created in a seaside cottage in Brixham by one of our very own library staff, Lacey.

I wondered if working amidst the library’s wide range of source material had been useful to her in her interior design exploits:

“Working in libraries has definitely played a big part in helping me with my journey in interior design (educational and personal), due to the flexible nature of the job and the wide variety of resources to choose from.
I practically used all of the amazing collections of DIY, art and design books to help me – whether I was taking inspiration from the books and resources (including magazines available in the library or e-magazines such as House and Garden, Ideal Home etc) or finding a book on the returns trolley or on the new book stand – it’s definitely been a real goldmine!”

Lacey obviously doesn’t work in every library across the three boroughs (Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham), but no matter – it’s easy to find and get hold of books and other stock using the joint catalogue. Lacey recommends:

Bright Bazaar, by Will Taylor The perfectly imperfect home, by Deborah Needleman Kevin McCloud’s Colour Now, by Kevin Mccloud Decorating with style by Abigail Ahern A Girl’s Guide to Decorating by Abigail Ahern Colour: a journey by Victoria Alexander

Top row, L-R: Bright Bazaar: embracing colour for make-you-smile style
by Will Taylor; The Perfectly Imperfect Home: how to decorate and live well
by Deborah Needleman; Kevin McCloud’s Colour Now: an expert guide to choosing colours for your home, by Kevin McCloud.
Bottom row, L-RDecorating with style by Abigail Ahern; A Girl’s Guide to Decorating by Abigail Ahern; Colour: a journey by Victoria Alexander.