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Interesting times (2)

December 2016 version of Sgt Pepper cover, by Chris Barker There’s an ancient Chinese curse or proverb: “May you live in interesting times…”

Well, there isn’t actually (it dates all the way back to the politician Austen Chamberlain in 1936) but I think we can all agree that 2016 has been… interesting!
Most of us would probably wish that 2017 is a little less so.

While Westminster Libraries can’t promise world peace or political stability, we can promise you some interesting anniversaries and the resources for interested people to carry out further research.

January

The year kicks off in January with the 75th anniversary of Desert Island Discs, which was first broadcast on 29 January 1942. It continues to this day with guests (rather tweely known as ‘castaways’) being asked to discuss the eight pieces of music they would take to a desert island. Later on, guests were allowed to choose a book and a luxury too. The first castaway was the ‘comedian, lightning club manipulator, violinist and comedy trick cyclist’, Vic Oliver. Oliver was not only a major star on the radio but also the son-in-law of Winston Churchill (something Churchill wasn’t too thrilled about, though Oliver never traded on the relationship). Though this episode doesn’t survive in the BBC archives, many hundreds of others do and  are available to listen online or download as podcasts. The earliest surviving episode has the actress Margaret Lockwood as a guest and other castaways include seven prime ministers, dozens of Oscar winners, a bunch of Olympic medallists, a few Royals and several criminals.

February

19 February brings the 300th anniversary of the birth of the actor, playwright and theatre manager David Garrick. Though he was a native of Lichfield (and former pupil of another Lichfield resident-turned-London-devotee, Samuel Johnson) by the age of 23, Garrick was acclaimed as the greatest actor on the English stage. He was a noted playwright but most famous for his Shakespearean roles – though he was not averse to ‘improving’ on the text – his adaptations included a Hamlet without the funeral of Ophelia and the need for the gravediggers, a ‘King Lear’ without the Fool and a Cordelia who lives on, an interpolated dying speech for Macbeth and a scene between the two lovers in the tomb before they die in ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Be honest – who wouldn’t want to see those? He ran the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane for nearly 30 years and he is now commemorated by a theatre and a pub (with Charing Cross Library neatly sandwiched in between).

March

1717 wasn’t just a significant year in the history of ‘legitimate’ theatre. 2 March that year saw the first performance (at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane)  of The Loves of Mars and Venus by John Weaver, generally regarded as the  first ballet performed in Britain. While there had been English masques and French ballets before this, Weaver was the first person to tell a story through the medium of dance without the need for songs or dialogue. Weaver was the son of the dancing master at Shrewsbury School (public school curricula must have been rather different in the 1600s).

Mrs Hester BoothIn 1703 he had staged (at Drury Lane) a performance called The Tavern Bilkers, usually regarded as the first English pantomime (he described it as “the first entertainment that appeared on the English Stage, where the Representation and Story was carried on by Dancing Action and Motion only”) but it was The Loves of Mars and Venus (the choreography of which survives) which established Weaver as the major figure in English dance until the twentieth century. Venus was played by Hester Santlow (shown dressed as a harlequin), one of the leading ballerinas of the day, who created many roles for Weaver.

April

Readers of a certain age will remember adverts for Memorex tapes (other brands are available) in which a singer shattered a glass with a high note and the trick was repeated when the tape was played back. Depending on exactly how certain your age is, you may have identified the singer as the great Ella Fitzgerald whose centenary is commemorated on 25 April 2017.

Growing up in a poor district of New York and orphaned in her early teens, Ella spent time in a reformatory but soon escaped and began to enter show business via talent competitions and amateur nights, becoming an established band singer. At the age of 21 she recorded a version of the children’s nursery rhyme A Tisket A Tasket which went on to sell over a million copies. She went on to become one of the greatest of all jazz singers, developing her own idiosyncratic style of ‘scat singing’. All through her career she fought prejudice, refusing to accept any discrimination in hotels and concert venues even when such treatment was  standard in the Southern USA.

You can listen to some of her greatest recordings via the Naxos Music Library and learn more about her career in Oxford Music Online (log in to each with your Westminster library card number).

May

May Day has long been a festival associated with dancing and celebration and more recently with political demonstrations. But 1 May 1517 has become known as Evil May Day. Tensions between native Londoners and foreigners lead one John Lincoln to persuade Dr Bell, the vicar of St Mary’s, Spitalfields to preach against incomers and to call upon “Englishmen to cherish and defend themselves, and to hurt and grieve aliens for the common weal.”. Even though the Under-Sherriff of London (none other than Sir Thomas More)  patrolled the streets, a riot broke out when they tried to arrest an apprentice for breaking the curfew. Soon afterwards, a crowd of young men began to attack foreigners and burn their houses. The rioting continued throughout May Day – fortunately, while some houses were burned down there were no fatalities. More than a thousand soldiers were needed to put down the riot. Lincoln and the other leaders were executed, but most were spared at the instigation of Cardinal Wolsey, who according to Edward Hall

‘fell on his knees and begged the king to show compassion while the prisoners themselves called out “Mercy, Mercy!” Eventually the king relented and granted them pardon. At which point they cast off their halters and “jumped for joy”.’

Sadly this was not the last outburst of anti-foreign feeling in London’s history but such incidents are thankfully rare.

June

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK RowlingA happier event took place on 30 June 1997 with the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling.  It’s hard to remember a time when we didn’t all wish we’d received our letter to Hogwarts instead of going to a boring Muggle school.

But we all know about Harry so let’s move on.

July

To 12 July and first documented ride, in 1817, of the ‘dandy horse’ or ‘running machine’ or, to you and me, a bicycle without chains or pedals. This was the first means of transport to make use of the two-wheel principle and the creator was Baron Karl Drais , perhaps the most successful inventor you’ve never heard of, and he managed an impressive 10 miles in an hour. While it looks pretty clunky by today’s standards, Drais was inspired by the Year without a Summer of 1816 when crops failed and there weren’t enough oats to feed horses.

Dandy horse

Readers of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances may remember thar Jessamy in Frederica was very proud of his skill with the ‘pedestrian curricle’. The Observer newspaper was enthralled by the invention of  ‘the velocipede or swift walker’ claiming in 1819 that, on a descent, ‘it equalled a horse at full-speed’ and suggesting that

‘on the  pavements of the Metropolis it might be impelled with great velocity, but this is forbidden. One conviction, under Mr Taylor’s Paving Act, took place on Tuesday. The individual was fined 2/-.’

When he wasn’t inventing bicycles Karl Drais was making an early typewriter, a haybox cooker and a meat grinder.

And on 27 July 1967, we note the 50th anniversary of the decriminalistion of homosexuality.  This will be celebrated with many events throughout the year such as this one at Benjamin Britten’s home and others at various National Trust properties.

August

Most of us can probably remember what we were doing on 31 August 1997 when we heard of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales and she will be on many people’s minds as the 20th anniversary of this event approaches.

A slightly more auspicious event took place on 17 August 1917, when the two war poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon met at the Craiglockhart War Hospital, an event written about by Pat Barker in her novel Regeneration, as well as Stephen Macdonald’s play Not about Heroes. Owen wrote two of his most beloved poems – Dulce Et Decorum Est and Anthem for Doomed Youth while he was in hospital (he also edited The Hydra, the patients’ magazine) and was tragically killed the following year at the very end of the war. Sassoon survived the war and wrote about his hospital experiences in the autobiographical novel Sherston’s Progress. You can read more about the lives of Owen, Sassoon and the other war poets in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log in with your library card).

Wilfred Owen 

September

Another literary anniversary is upon us on 21 September, when we note the publication of one of the bestselling fantasy books of all time – The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, about a small, shy creature who becomes involved in a quest for a dragon’s hoard. It was offered first to the publisher Stanley Unwin who asked his 10 year old son Raynor to review it for him,

Bilbo Baggins was a Hobbit who lived in his Hobbit hole and never went for adventures, at last Gandalf the wizard and his Dwarves persuaded him to go. He had a very exiting (sic) time fighting goblins and wargs. At last they get to the lonely mountain; Smaug, the dragon who guards it is killed and after a terrific battle with the goblins he returned home – rich!

This book, with the help of maps, does not need any illustrations it is good and should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 and 9.”

The Hobbit by JRR TolkienThe book was an instant success thanks to glowing newspaper reviews (The Manchester Guardian wrote ‘The quest of the dragon’s treasure  – rightfully the dwarves treasure – makes an exciting epic of travel, magical adventures, and – working up to a devastating climax, war. Not a story for pacifist children. Or is it?’) and has never been out of print. While embarking on the sequel, The Lord of the Rings, is a pretty daunting task, The Hobbit is still funny and exciting and highly recommended to that clichéd group – children of all ages.

October

The audience at Warner’s Theatre in New York on 6 October 1927 knew they were going to see an exciting new movie, but none of them could have predicted that motion pictures would never be the same again. The Jazz Singer was the first feature film with synchronised singing – no dialogue had been planned but the star, Al Jolson, couldn’t resist adlibbing on set and his ‘Wait a minute, you ain’t heard nothing yet’ (in fact, his stage catchphrase) has electrified audiences ever since.

The film was a huge hit making over $2,000,000 (having cost only $400,000) and Jolson became an international star. The movies didn’t look back and within three years, silent film was a thing of the past.

The Jazz singer posterTo be honest, seen now, the film (about a Jewish boy who defies his father to sing jazz) is slow, sentimental and creaky, and the less said about Al Jolson’s penchant for blackface the better, but it’s worth checking out his performance to see the sort of charisma that sold out Broadway theatres for 20 years.

You can also see how fan magazines reported it at the time by checking out the Lantern site – a fantastic archive of Hollywood magazines that will keep film buffs busy for days…

November

As of 2015 there were 5640 female clergy in the Church of England (with 14,820 men) and it’s predicted that women will make up 43% of the clergy by 2035. Yet the General Synod only voted to allow women priests (against fierce opposition from conservatives) on 25 November 1992. Now they are central to the life of the Church of England  and most of their opponents have been won over. Some of this can, of course, be attributed to The Vicar of Dibley with Dawn French as the eponymous lady priest, but they’re now so much part of the landscape that even Ambridge, home of the Archers has had a woman vicar.

December

3 December will be the 50th anniversary of the first heart transplant operationperformed by the South African surgeon Christian Barnard. The first patient, Lewis Washkansky, died 18 days after the operation (though he was  able to walk and talk after the transplant). The second patient to receive a heart was a baby who sadly didn’t survive the operation, but the third patient, Philip Blaiberg lived for another nineteen months. Six months later, in May 1968, the first British heart transplant took place at the National Heart Hospital in  Westmoreland Street, Marylebone. Now about 3,500 heart transplants take place each year and 50% of patients live for at least 10 years. So while none of us want one, it’s good to know they’re available.

Christiaan Barnard

You can find out more about these events and many more in our 24/7 library and of course the in the libraries themselves. Happy 2017!

[Nicky]

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Tricks of the trade

I love the trade cards we hold at the Archives Centre, I always have done. They are so decorative as well as being packed with information about the business they are advertising, who owned it, what it sold and where it was located.

Trade card of William Woodward, nightman, 1 Marylebone Passage, Wells Street, c1820 (Ashbridge 411 Acc 1909). Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Trade card of William Woodward, nightman, 1 Marylebone Passage, Wells Street, c1820. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Westminster City Archives has over 300 trade cards, mostly dating from the mid-18th century, so the main decorative feature is Rococo shell patterns in keeping with the style of the time. They also frequently include a picture of the workshop or shop and the products they made or sold. Business premises were known by signs, a bit like modern public house signs, before street numbering was introduced in the 1760s.

Trade card of Evan Bynner, family grocery warehouse, 35 Little Newport Street, late 18th century (Box 63 No. 2e). Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Trade card of Evan Bynner, family grocery warehouse, 35 Little Newport Street, late 18th century. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

One of my favourite cards from the collection is that of Evan Bynner, family grocer, whose trade card contains a picture of a Chinese man in a conical hat. Trade cards often contain interesting information about racial stereotypes in the 18th century, as we can also see from the one for Barrett’s old tobacco at the sign of the Two Black Boys against Somerset House.

Trade card for Barrett's old tobacco at the sign of the Two Black Boys against Somerset House, Strand, 18th century (Box 63 No. 33f). Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Trade card for Barrett’s old tobacco at the sign of the Two Black Boys against Somerset House, Strand, 18th century. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

We have a postcard for sale in our bookshop of the trade card of William Woodward of Marylebone (pictured at the top of the page), who removed nightsoil (no prizes for guessing what that was in the era of chamber pots!) and other rubbish, emptied drains and cesspits, and swept chimneys in about 1820.

Trade card of John Perry, maker of jockey and hunting caps, at the sign of the Cap and Habit, Beaufort Buildings, Strand, mid-18th century (Box 63 No. 13b). Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Trade card of John Perry, maker of jockey and hunting caps, at the sign of the Cap and Habit, Beaufort Buildings, Strand, mid-18th century. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Other interesting trades show up in the trade cards of John Perry, maker of jockey and hunting caps, and Richard Siddall, chemist. Perry’s language is as flowery as the border on his card – he “Makes and sells all sorts of Caps, Ladies Habits & Gentlemens Cloaths in ye Neatest manner and at the most reasonable Rates” – and Siddall’s weird and wonderful picture makes him look more like a medieval alchemist than a purveyor of “Chymical and Calenical Medicines With all Sorts of Druggs”.

Trade card of Richard Siddall, chymist (sic), at the sign of the Golden Head, Panton Street, 18th century (Box 63 No. 29f). Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Trade card of Richard Siddall, chymist (sic), at the sign of the Golden Head, Panton Street, 18th century. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

The most famous trade card collection in the country is the Ambrose Heal Collection. Ambrose Heal was a member of the Heal’s furniture shop family on Tottenham Court Road, who bequeathed his collection to the British Museum. He also wrote several books on the subject, one of which, called London Tradesmen’s Cards of the XVIII Century: An Account of Their Origin and Use, 1968, containing over 100 illustrations, can be seen in the Archives Centre search room. Why not come along and have a look for yourself?

And if all this has whetted your appetite, have a browse through a fascinating collection of trade cards via the John Johnson Collection of ephemera, held at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. You can view the collection online – just log in with your library card number!

[Alison]

A brochure for Dolphin Square, 1937

The treasure from the Archives that we have unearthed for you today is a 30 page brochure produced by Richard Costain Ltd promoting the Dolphin Square flats to potential purchasers, with floor plans of different suites and colour illustrations.

Dolphin Square Cover (Acc 2518/2). Image property of Westminster City Archives

Occupying the site of Thomas Cubbit’s building works and later the Royal Army Clothing depot, lies Dolphin Square. This famous apartment block still exists today, standing tall on the banks of the Thames in Pimlico. Architecturally it blends with the style of modern constructions, but historically this building was foreign, speculative and state-of-the-art.

Dolphin Square was the brainchild of Fred French, an American real estate specialist known for speculative housing ventures and responsible for developments in New York’s East Side, of these the monumental art deco Fred F. French building on the corner of 45th and Fifth that still stands today. Designed by Stanley Gordon Jeeves and built by Costains Ltd, the building set the classical proportions of the art-deco and neo-Georgian style against the familiar domesticity of red brickwork and framed white windows.

Black and white exterior photograph of the flats in Dolphin Square, photograph by Sydney W Newbury, of Stockwell Terrace, London. 1930s. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

The social scene of the 1930s saw the great juxtaposition of prosperity and adversity in the UK. This was, as expected, most deeply felt in the cultural hub of London. The world was quickly moving forward with the advent of modern home technologies, changes in family dynamics, the Golden Age of photography and film in Hollywood, and the establishment of the Art Deco movement that would govern aesthetics until after the Second World War.

All the while, the “Great Slump” – the very British name given to the Britain’s equivalent of America’s Great Depression – was well underway. Falling prices, hire-purchase schemes and smaller families – all direct causes of the Slump – meant that those with access to some wealth had more money to spend on luxuries. Investors seized this opportunity, building apartment blocks which were able to contain a number of residents in an ever-crowded city and boasting ‘avant-garde’ technologies to lure the common man.

Illustration on the opening pages of the Dolphin Square brochure. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Illustration on the opening pages of the Dolphin Square brochure. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Dolphin Square was marketed as “Europe’s greatest residential landmark on London’s riverside drive” and “London’s most distinguished address”. It boasted squash courts, a swimming pool, gymnasium, private rooms for hire, a restaurant, laundry service and beauty parlour as well as state-of-the-art mechanised electricity, heating and plumbing that would make life “as effortless as modern science can make it”. The 1236 flats were to have different designs to suit a variety of family structures from the bachelor to the young couple or family unit.

Interestingly, the brochure subtly toys with the idea of independence and freedom, seducing the modern woman and her avant-garde spouse with amenities that will allow for “blessed relief from domestic improvement”.

'Effortless Home Life' at Dolphin Square. Image property of Westminster City Archives

On a different page, advertising a childcare facility named Toddler Town, the slogan appears again:

“Parenthood has not lost its sense of duty, nor motherhood its inherent love, but both have become sensible to the dictates of modern life – and seek conditions of life which minister to these new proportions”.

Ultimately, the execution of this ideal fell somewhat short of expectation for developers and tenants alike. When Dolphin Square was formally opened on the 25 November 1936, a large proportion of the leases had not been taken and rates were reduced.

Black and white photograph of Frobisher House, Dolphin Square. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Black and white photograph of Frobisher House, Dolphin Square. Image property of Westminster City Archives

The apartment block was hit in the war, though it was never demolished as a result of the bomb damage. The vast space previously allocated to the luxurious facilities was re-vamped as part of the War Effort as well, serving as a shelter and ambulance bay. Nevertheless, in its time, the history of the building and its inhabitants is interesting. Dolphin Square has shaped the cityscape and the riverside view, and featured prominently in the history of the area. The building has been home to many British politicians, provided sanctuary to young single women and same-sex couples, and even had known connections to espionage.

If you’d like to know more, visit our search room to peruse the collection of documents and read about it in our local studies collection. Besides this brochure and the Civil Defence files from which the black and white photographs are drawn, there are a number of other documents you might find interesting including photographs, postcards, architectural plans, and more brochures!

The buidings of England: London 6: Westminster, by Simon Bradley and Nikolaus PevsnerThe following books, available in the reference library of the Archives Search Room, are also a wonderful resource in learning about the history of the area:

[Michelle]

Home again, after a lifetime Down Under

The Persuasion IndustryA new Westminster Libraries record was broken this week when St John’s Wood Library received an email from Johnathan in Australia, requesting to return a book borrowed on 15 October 1965.

The book, entitled ‘The Persuasion Industry; British Advertising and Public Relations in Action’, by John Pearson and Graham Turner, was found amongst the possessions of Johnathan’s late father – who had never travelled to the UK in his lifetime, so the mystery remains as to how the book ever got there!

The fine for late books in 1965 was 1 penny per day so this book had racked up a fine of £70 and counting. One of the librarians at Marylebone Information Service calculated its current value as a not insubstantial £1060 in today’s money (using the website measuringworth.com, from the Statistics & figures section of the Gateway).

Research on the Times Digital Archive also tells us what was happening on the day the book was borrowed: the Vietnam war was causing thousands in America to burn their draft cards, Afghanistan’s first democratic government was formed and in Britain, the rates were going up, most notably in Westminster,  topping the nation with a ‘rateable value of £104,051,000’.

[Amy]

Dainty blouses… e-resource of the week: The John Johnson Collection

“Dainty blouses for summer months”…
“a grand historical exhibition”…
“the most sensational feat ever attempted”…
“the lamentation of those who are cast for death”.Use the John Johnson Collection

If ever you found an advert overblown, or laughed at the boasts about the latest West End show; if ever you gasped with guilty pleasure at details of a juicy murder; if ever you sneered at (or secretly admired) the frocks at a charity premiere, then the John Johnson Collection is for you.

John Johnson was Printer to the University of Oxford in the early part of the Twentieth Century, and had a thing about ephemera – handbills, pamphlets, adverts… anything printed but not designed to last (or be collected!). JJ was interested in theatre, so a lot of the stuff he collected related to theatre and other entertainment, a rich source of colourful material. The physical collection is housed in that holy place of books, manuscripts and so on, the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

But the Bod recognised that the Internet was made for stuff like this, so they acquired a commercial partner (Proquest), and got digitising. You can still make an appointment to see the original items, but you can see so much of it online (nearly 68,000 documents, since you ask), and search it by category, author, artist, keyword, or date. If you choose to browse, it’s a bit clunky, but stick with it for rich rewards. It’s a veritable “olio of oddities”!

[David]