Category Archives: Special collections

City Limits: perambulating in Westminster

The boundaries of the present City of Westminster were set in 1965 when the boroughs of Paddington and St Marylebone were incorporated into the City.

A safe bet that you’re within the City’s precincts is if you have one of Westminster’s distinctive street nameplates in view.  Designed in 1967 by Sir Misha Black, these harmonious metal signs have become a design classic. Their popularity spawned a large trade in replica signs sold as souvenirs – which prompted the City Council to buy the copyright in 2007 from Sir Misha’s estate. Their reproduction is now permitted only under license from the Council.

Ordnance Hill Street Sign

Ordnance Hill street nameplate [staff photo] © Westminster City Council

The signs, with some small revisions and special editions (e.g. for those celebrating Theatreland and Chinatown), have almost entirely replaced the former street nameplates of the three old boroughs. A few of these do exist still and there is the odd street sign that predates the creation of the London Metropolitan Boroughs in 1901.

Even older symbols of name and place are parish boundary markers.  A surprising number survive in Westminster, some weathered and illegible, others preserving inscriptions of number, date, or parish name.  A cache endures undisturbed (and largely unnoticed) in the Royal Parks.   Boundaries of the parishes of St Margaret Westminster, St George Hanover Square, Paddington and Kensington all traversed some part of Kensington Gardens or Hyde Park; the parishes of St Marylebone and St Pancras met in Regent’s Park.

Boundary stones in Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park

Boundary stones in Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park [staff photos]

The boundary markers took various forms: stone and iron posts and pillars; flagstones; stone and metal tablets; and painted and lettered marks.  Survivors are a fraction of those that once existed. In 1856 there were 137 describing the united parishes of St Margaret and St John the Evangelist, Westminster; in 1882, St George Hanover Square counted 142; and there were 87 in the parish of Paddington in 1904.

Boundary markers were important because they described the geographical extent of parochial assets and responsibilities.  The main asset was the taxes paid by parishioners; the responsibilities the ecclesiastical and civic services parishioners relied upon. The parish vestries were therefore keen to mark and maintain the boundaries and guard against encroachment.

The signs and stones defined the route for the ceremony of the beating of the bounds, walking a circuit of the parish limits.  The origins of the ritual are ancient and were originally a means of asking for God’s protection and blessing.   Before the 1860s there were few accurate local maps that detailed parish boundaries, hence the practical need for the beating of the bounds.

Documented in the parish records held at Westminster’s Archives Centre are inventories of boundary markers, descriptions of the perambulations, and financial accounts relating to attendant festivities. The processions generally took place every 5-10 years, at Rogantide before Ascension Day.  They were well attended.

St Marylebone, Perambulation of Parish Boundaries, 27 June 1866, Order of Procession (Ref: Ashbridge 018 – Acc 1977)

There is evidence of young parishioners, commonly charity school boys, suffering certain indignities with the aim of soundly fixing in their memory the location of a boundary marker. The trials might include unannounced clouts around the head, being held upside down and shaken by the ankles, or even whipping. The accounts for the perambulation of St Marylebone in 1760 records:

“To sundry boys whipped at the Perambulation, 4s 10d”.

But also:

“For Dinner for the Charity Children: £3. 3s 0d”

The accounts for the same parish in 1828 list the costs for some of the merriment accompanying the perambulation:

“Wine 39 dozen (468) bottles: £121 1s 0d”
“Ale and porter”: £72 12s 6d”

The total expense associated with the day amounted to £453 0s 10d.  There were critics of this particular largesse and the parish vestry was reported to a committee of the House of Commons.  The next St Marylebone perambulation in 1836 appears to have been more abstemious: the total cost fell to £45 19s 9d.

As buildings and utilities were commonly constructed without respect for parish boundaries, markers were often to be found in unusual or inaccessible places. A St George Hanover Square description of its bounds in 1882 records: “then along the line of covered sewer behind Chester Cottages to an iron Tablet fixed on the face of North side of wall of Metropolitan District Railway station (Sloane Square Station), over the crown of the sewer near the engine house, at the point where the sewer crosses the railway”.  A map of the same year shows the boundary between St George Hanover Square and St James Piccadilly cutting through Buckingham Palace.

St George Hanover Square parish map, 1882

St George Hanover Square parish map, 1882, detail showing Buckingham Palace
(Ref: C765b)

When in the later nineteenth century Ordnance Survey maps plotted boundary stones, the practical value of beating the bounds fell and the practice declined. Today the ceremony continues to be observed in some parishes, commonly as a means of charitable fund-raising.

Beating the Bounds, St Clement Danes, 1930s

Beating the Bounds, St Clement Danes, 1930s (Ref: Acc 2232-49)

Do keep an eye out for these stubborn relics: they may conjure up the shadows of festive, marching beadles, bell-ringers, charity school children, and parish officers in their pomp.

Yorkshire Stingo

If you happen to search for the words “Yorkshire Stingo” on the archives catalogue WESTCAT  then a brief look at the 87 entries  that appear should be enough to convince you that it  was a colourful and exciting place to be.

This tavern, on the corner of Church Street and Marylebone Road, certainly hosted some lavish entertainment. Posters and newspaper cuttings advertise Grand Summer Fetes, concerts and vaudeville music hall shows.  Diversions ranged from the spectacular to the bizarre with, a newspaper cutting from 1837 advertising  a  Grand Balloon Fete  featuring a live animal being  dropped from a parachute.

The Yorkshire Stingo is believed to date from the 1600s, and was most aptly named, ‘Stingo’ which is old slang for strong beer. However the Stingo was far more than just a tavern; it was the multiplex of its time, boasting a tea garden, a bowling green and the Apollo Saloon Music Hall.

As well as being known as a house of entertainment it also holds an important place in the history of London’s public transport. It was the terminus of the first London omnibus.  We hold an illustration of this vividly ornate vehicle at Westminster City Archives, shown above. The catalogue description reads as follows:

‘George Shillibeer (1797-1866) introduced the first omnibus service to London on 4th July, 1829. For the price of a shilling, passengers could travel from the Yorkshire Stingo Inn in Marylebone to Bank in the City, attended to on the journey by conductors renowned for their courtesy’

I like to imagine the passengers  on the first London bus as a cheerfully inebriated crowd, regaling each other with raucous drinking songs as the horse drawn bus  trundles through the city streets.  This is my own fancy however, I can offer no historical evidence for the mood of the passengers or their behaviour.

After roughly 300 years of entertaining Londoners and slaking their thirst for strong ale, the Yorkshire Stingo was finally closed in the 1960s as part of demolition work prior to the development of the Westway flyover. One of the paintings below shows it in 1960 shortly before its demise.

Do you have memories of the Yorkshire Stingo?

One of the things I find most tantalising about the Yorkshire Stingo is that it still remains within living memory. There are people in London today who must remember drinking there.  If you are one of them, or if you know someone who is, we would love to hear from you. Perhaps you even have a photograph  taken at the Stingo that you would be happy to share with us. You can drop us an email at this address:

Want to see more pictures of the Yorkshire Stingo? Take a look at our our  Flickr book album:

Astronomy Month: Stars in Your Eyes

September is Astronomy Month at Westminster Reference Library with free events each week and telescopes for loan; more information about everything that’s happening on our website

Bayeux Tapestry 32-33 comet Halley Harold

Isti Mirant Stella, Bayeaux Tapestry, Canterbury, 1070s

They wonder at the star

This is the earliest picture of Halley’s Comet, made at a time when comets were bad omens. In 1066, it was visible from  24 April to 1 May, a few months after Harold’s coronation on 6 January, and before his death and defeat at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October.

Edmond Halley (1656 – 1742) astronomer and mathematician, was the first to compute the orbit of this comet and accurately predict its return in 1758. Halley was a frequent visitor when Sir Isaac Newton lived in the house which was on the site of the library from 1710 – 1727.

Did you know the library has a specialist Fine Arts Collection on the first floor? You are welcome to explore our books on this early medieval masterpiece, from a contemporary account to recent research:

Bayeux Tapestry and the Norman Invasion, Introduction and Translation from the contemporary account of William of Poitiers by Lewis Thorpe, London 1973

David Mackenzie Wilson, The Bayeux tapestry: the complete tapestry in colour, with introduction, description and commentary, London, 1985

Wolfgang Grape, The Bayeux Tapestry: monument to a Norman triumph, Translated from the German, Munich 1994

Lucien Musset, The Bayeux Tapestry: translated by Richard Rex, Woodbridge, 2005

Carola Hicks, The Bayeux Tapestry: The Life Story of a Masterpiece London, 2007

Library staff are happy to help you to find these and other books in the collection.

Not sure where we are? Westminster Reference Library  is off the south side of Leicester Square, behind the main wing of the National Gallery.  For more information, telephone 020 7641 1300.

Cuttings remarks

Westminster Music Library's newspaper cuttings collectionRegular readers of this blog may recall Hold the front page, in which I described my work sorting through and analysing Westminster Music Library’s Edwin Evans Press Cuttings Collection. At the time of writing that particular blog entry, I had made my way through approximately 20% of the collection.

Now, over a year later, the task is complete, and I am in some position to report on my findings.

My specific task has been to create an elementary catalogue of this collection, alongside recording some basic details against each person’s entry: discipline, gender, etc.

While the eventual aim of the entire project – the creation of a fully searchable digital archive of this collection – remains unchanged, this was deemed a suitable preliminary task to assess the collection’s value and potential. It seems remarkable that, for all the years that the collection has been in the Music Library’s possession, it had not been catalogued until now. The reasons for this, one may suppose, relate to its relative inaccessibility and its sheer size – both of which are motivating factors in the decision to create a digital record of this underappreciated collection!

In my initial blog post a year ago, I offered some statistics on the content of the collection which may have been of interest to those wishing to understand the shape of the classical music culture of the early 20th century.  The final breakdown of discipline and gender of subjects included in the Evans Collection is mostly unchanged from my initial report, but the most up-to-date version is summarised here for those interested:

  • A significant majority (66%) of subjects are Performers. Of these Performers,
  • 37% are singers
  • 29% are pianists
  • 17% are string players
  • 5% are conductors
  • 12% are ensembles
  • Just 2% are wind players of any sort!
  • Composers represent 26% of subjects, while “Others” come in at just 9%.
  • 57% of all entries are Male, 32% female (the remaining 11% accounts for non-individuals such as ensembles and festivals).
  • 38% of all subjects are featured in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (log in with your Westminster library card).

If you’re anything like me, a chart of percentages and statistics fills you with delight, but these data do indeed serve a useful purpose. The Evans Collection may be used to draw comparisons between historical music circles and today’s, to the interest of music fans and great benefit of historians. For example, over one-third of all performers reported on were singers, as opposed to a mere 0.2% being woodwind or brass players! (Speaking as a French horn player myself, I am grateful to report that today’s classical music culture is much more balanced in favour of wind players: trombonist Christian Lindberg, for example, or clarinettist Julian Bliss, are well-known names.)

My work with the Edwin Evans Press Cuttings Collection is, regrettably, finished for now. As previously mentioned, a digital archive of the collection is the goal, but for now, even with the publication of this catalogue, it is hoped that this will go some way in increasing the collection’s accessibility to all interested parties.

The newly-created catalogue is now available online, via the Westminster Libraries web pages – take a look.

Edwin Evans' Press Cuttings Collection online


Art Book of the Month, February 2017

Leaves from a Missionary’s Notebook by Stephen Tennant

Leaves from a Missionary’s Notebook by Stephen Tennant
Hamish Hamilton, 1986
(First published by Secker & Warburg Ltd, 1929)

Stephen Tennant, “the brightest” of “The Bright Young People”, was twenty-three years old when Leaves from a Missionary’s Notebook was first published.  The notebook tells the story of the Rev Felix Littlejohn and his quest to convert the heathens to the light and in the process is exposed to all sorts of outrageous, horrifying and hilarious behaviour by natives, sailors and other characters.

from: Leaves from a Missionary’s Notebook by Stephen Tennant

It is in some ways a book ahead of its time, as the story is told in graphic novel format with drawings by the author who was also an artist as well as a socialite and a quintessential English eccentric.

from: Leaves from a Missionary’s Notebook by Stephen Tennant   from: Leaves from a Missionary’s Notebook by Stephen Tennant

Stephen’s life is as interesting as any book if not more so.  The son of British nobility, as a young man he is supposed to have ‘resembled the youthful Shelley’ and was the inspiration for Cedric in Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate. Stephen’s friends ranged from Virginia Woolf to David Hockney and his surrealist poses are a frequent feature in Cecil Beaton’s photographs of the 1920s and 1930s.

Dedication in Leaves from a Missionary’s Notebook by Stephen Tennant

Stephen’s niece was British novelist and editor, the Hon. Emma Tennant who sadly died last month.