Tag Archives: 1939

Diving lessons with a difference

Some of the most popular posts on this blog over the years have been those relating to the history of the Marshall Street Baths and its more recent refurbishment, so we thought you might like to see a few more pictures from the art deco pool’s past.

Westminster City Archives holds an amazing album of photographs showing servicemen training at the Marshall Street Baths in World War Two. Among them were US Paratroops and Dutch servicemen.

Dutch servicemen at Marshall Street Baths c1939-1945. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

The collection includes three black and white photographs of US paratroops training at Marshall Street Baths, jumping into the pool whilst wearing full combat gear (1943-1945), and three black and white copy photographs of Dutch servicemen between 1939 and 1945.

 US paratroops training in full combat gear at Marshall Street Baths c1943-45. Image property of Westminster City Archives.US paratroops training in full combat gear at Marshall Street Baths c1943-45. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

These Grade II listed buildings, also known as the Westminster Public Baths, were built in 1850 and retained their original usage until 1997. Public funds financed the construction for the health and well being of local people; the institution provided hot and cold washing facilities for local people and their garments. The building is noted for its architecture and is Grade II listed.

Since 2010, the Marshall Street Baths has been a modern leisure centre, so you can still visit and imagine the space in this unusual incarnation as a military training zone. Training aside, those jumps look fun…!



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!


2014 – a year to remember

While 2013 was a good year for anniversaries, what with Doctor Who and the JFK conspiracy theories both celebrating their 50th birthdays and the crossword reaching its century, 2014 looks to be even more memorable. We’ll be posting lots about the centenary of the start of the First World War during the course of the year (and the Music Library’s Behind the Lines project is already well established), so let’s see what other anniversaries we have to look forward to in 2014.


Frost Fair held on the Thames, February 1814 (Image property of Westminster City Archives)While the Daily Express has predicted that this will be the worst winter for 60 years (just like it does every year), it is unlikely to be as cold (or as fun) as the winter of 1814 when the Thames froze over so solidly that an elephant was able to cross at Blackfriars. On 22 January a pig was spotted sailing down the river on a miniature iceberg. Sheep were roasted, stalls were set up and there was even an icy casino. You can read contemporary accounts of the last Frost Fair by logging into our newspaper archives using your Westminster library card.

Books about Charlie ChaplinFebruary

2 February brings the 100th anniversary of the film debut of Londoner Charlie Chaplin in Making a Living. More importantly though, a few days later on 7 February, Chaplin made his first appearance as the Little Tramp in Kid Auto Races at Venice. By the end of World War I, the boy who had grown up in poverty in Lambeth was one of the most famous people in the world. You can find out more about him in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log in with your library card).

Books about the Great EscapeMarch

We at Treasure Hunt Towers are big fans of World War II films and one of the finest is The Great Escape. The real Great Escape took place 70 years ago, on March 24/25 1944. As most readers will know, the attempted escape from Stalag Luft III ended in tragedy with the murder of fifty of the escapers, to the horror of the Luftwaffe as well as the Allies. Incidently, Donald Pleasance, who played the doomed forger, had himself been a POW in Stalag Luft I.

Alec GuinnessApril

2 April 2014 sees the 100th anniversary of the birth (in Maida Vale) of one of the greatest actors of all time, Sir Alec Guinness. Check out some of his films and autobiographical books and celebrate someone whose work ranged from Dickensian villains, through Popes, spies and inter-galactic superheroes but was never less than brilliant. And if you were too young to see him on stage, check out some reviews in our newspaper archives.


Many of us will have made new year resolutions and few will keep them going for long, but this year you might find some inspiration on 6 May when we commemorate the 60th anniversary of the first Four Minute Mile by Roger Bannister. While the record itself was broken at the Iffley Road track in Oxford, Bannister did most of his training at the Paddington Track near St Marys Hospital where he worked. The track reopened in 2012 and is the home to the Serpentine Running Club. Check out the British Pathe site for news coverage of the event.

Robert Low's Scottish trilogyJune

Delving further into the past, 23 June is the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn when Robert the Bruce defeated the invading English army lead by Edward II.  Expect to hear a lot more about this in the run up to the Scottish referendum – impress your Caledonian friends with some research in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (and see if they know what Robert the Bruce died of…).


From 28 July onwards, remembrance of World War One will be foremost in all our minds – more of which in later posts.

Longitude by Dava SobelJuly also sees the 300th anniversary of the passing of the Longitude Act. This offered a prize of £10,000 to £20,000 for a method of calculating longitude and, as readers of Dava Sobel’s excellent book will know, the first person to succeed was John Harrison, a clockmaker who lived in Lincolnshire. His persistence and that of Rupert Gould (who restored Harrison’s timepieces) were the subject of a television film in 2000. Once again, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography can tell you more, or you can visit the Royal Observatory to see Harrison’s clocks.


The Wizard of Oz2014 is the 75th anniversary of an exceptional year for cinema. 1939 saw the release of Gone with the Wind, Goodbye Mr Chips, Wuthering Heights and a particular favourite at Treasure Hunt Towers, The Wizard of Oz. There are many legends associated with this story (Is the book a parable of  the economic crisis of the late nineteenth century? Did a Munchkin die during its making?) But the most amazing story of all involved the coat worn by Frank Morgan who played the Wizard himself as well as Professor Marvel.

Jamie's DinnersSeptember

In addition to the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II (more of which in later posts), September 2014 sees the 60th anniversary of the opening of Kidbrooke School, the first purpose-built comprehensive. Now renamed Corelli College, it is perhaps better known as the place where Jamie Oliver fed the pupils his healthy school dinners and tried to start a revolution in school food.


Monty PythonExpect an outbreak of silly walks, dead parrots and a quartet of Yorkshiremen in October, as this is the month of the 45th anniversary of the first broadcast of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Expect too some pedantry from devotees pointing out that the Four Yorkshiremen sketch was actually written for At Last the 1948 Show. With their new stage shows in July, this is certainly going to be the year of the Python so prepare to be bombarded with repeats, DVD reissues and endless interviews. Just sit back and enjoy…

The National LotteryNovember

On 20 November 1994, millions of people up and down the land crossed their fingers and thought “It could be me…” as they watched the first National Lottery draw. Nobody at Treasure Hunt Towers has ever been successful at picking the right numbers, but perhaps we’re in the wrong job. According to recent news reports, the luckiest profession to be in is office administration. You’d think we’d do better considering lotteries were invented by librarian (amongst other things) Giacomo Casanova.


And finally, 17 December sees the 25th anniversary of the first broadcast of The Simpsons, starring America’s favourite yellow family. Cowabunga!