Tag Archives: archives

“Pass along, pass along”:  the London Proms

The First Night of the Proms is almost within earshot. The Proms are now in their 122nd year, the first being held in August 1895 at the Queen’s Hall in Langham Place.

Proms programme cover 1936. Image property fo Westminster City Archives.But London promenade concerts pre-date this by at least 60 years. Their early history can be pieced together in Robert Altick’s wondrous The Shows of London, a comprehensive survey of the myriad edifications, spectacles and entertainments enjoyed by Londoners from the seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century – and it’s a history that can be well illustrated from the fine collection of playbills, programmes and prints to be found in the large West End theatre collection held at Westminster City Archives.

Promenade concerts (of sorts) were a feature of the London pleasure gardens of the eighteenth century. The music was one of several attractions: dining, dancing, fireworks and masquerades were other draws. The Marylebone Gardens was the most notable example in Westminster – both Thomas Arne and George Frideric Handel conducted their work here. The Gardens closed in 1778; the current Marylebone Library in Beaumont Street now occupies part of the site.

Marylebone Gardens, c1770, with the “orchestra” (bandstand) on the right. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Marylebone Gardens, c1770, with the “orchestra” (bandstand) on the right. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

But the first promenade concert so called in the capital appears to have been amid Madame Tussauds costumed wax figures, then temporarily billeted in the Assembly Rooms of the Royal London Bazaar in the Gray’s Inn Road.  The Romance of Madame Tussauds quotes from a poster of 1833:

“there will be a Musical Promenade every Evening from Half-past Seven till Ten, when a selection of Music will be performed … the Promenade will be lighted with a profusion of lamps, producing, with the variety of rich costumes, special decorations, etc., an unequalled coup d’œil”

The fashion for promenade concerts became established at the Colosseum in Regent’s Park, a huge rotunda designed by Decimus Burton to house a giant panorama of London as envisaged from the top of St Paul’s Cathedral. To stem the fall in visitors to the panorama, promenade concerts were introduced, following their popularity in France where they were known as concerts a la Musard. The musical programme largely comprised overtures, quadrilles and waltzes.  The Colosseum was demolished in 1875 and the Royal College of Physicians now stands on its site.

View of Colosseum, Regent’s Park, c1840. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

View of Colosseum, Regent’s Park, c1840. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Colosseum playbill, 1835. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Colosseum playbill, 1835. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

By 1839 promenade concerts were given at the cavernous Crown and Anchor Tavern in the Strand.  A poster of 1843 offered “a series of grand instrumental Promenade Concerts a la Valentino” – denoting that the concerts were in the style of those held in Paris under the direction of the French conductor Henri Valentino.

Crown and Anchor poster, 1843. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Crown and Anchor poster, 1843. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

By the 1840s, proms had become established at several London venues devoted to entertainment or instruction. In 1842 the Royal Adelaide Gallery, in the Lowther Arcade off the west Strand invited Londoners to a “Grand Musical Promenade Concert, Vocal and Instrumental”.  The Gallery was originally dedicated to the display and demonstration of popular science and technology for the “Intellectual Recreation and Scientific Improvement in every Member of the Community” but within a few years music, dance and other amusements were added to the billing. During the concert intermissions popular science demonstrations and lectures were offered,  including “magical illusions” and lectures on “Animal Mechanics” and “Laughing Gas”.  The head office of Coutts Bank now stands on the site of the Lowther Arcade.

Royal Adelaide Gallery poster, 1842. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Royal Adelaide Gallery poster, 1842. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

In the later nineteenth century, Drury Lane, the Albert Hall and, pre-eminently, Covent Garden were favoured venues for prom concerts.  They became a regular fixture at Covent Garden by the late 1850s, with Louis Antione Jullien and later Arthur Sullivan among their celebrated conductors.  In Thirty Years of Musical Life in London 1870-1900, Hermann Klein notes

“in central London, during the “seventies”, the best medium for good orchestral music were the Promenade Concerts at Covent Garden. These were held in August and September, under the management of Messrs. A. and S. Gatti.  Much that was interesting and instructive the shilling habitué could  hear at these “Promenades”.

Detail from a lithograph depicting Jullien’s promenade concert at Covent Garden. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Detail from a lithograph depicting Jullien’s promenade concert at Covent Garden. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Another observer evokes the bustle of an 1889 prom:

“On New Year’s night at the Albert Hall, [the] Messiah is the affair of the shilling gallery, and not of the seven-and-sixpence stalls. Up there you find every chair occupied, and people standing two or three deep behind the chairs.  These sitters and standers are the gallery vanguard, consisting of prima donna worshippers who are bent on obtaining a bird’s-eye view of Madame Albani [link?  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emma_Albani ] for their money. At the back are those who are content to hear Handel’s music. They sit on the floor against the wall, with their legs converging straight towards the centre of the dome, and terminating in an inner circumference of boot soles in various stages of wear and tear. Between the circle of boots and the circle of sightseers moves a ceaseless procession of promenaders to whom the performance is as the sounding brass and tinkling cymbals of a military band on a pier. The police take this view, and deal with the gallery as with a thoroughfare … calling out “Pass along, pass along” and even going the length of a decisive shove when the promenade is at all narrowed by too many unreasonable persons stopping to listen to the music. The crowd is a motley one, including many mechanics, who have bought Novello’s vocal score of the oratorio and are following it diligently; professional men who cannot afford that luxury and are fain to peep enviously over the mechanics shoulders; musicians in the Bohemian  phase of artistic life; masses of “shilling people”.
(from George Bernard Shaw’s London Music in 1888-89)

From 1895, under the management of Robert Newman and the baton of Henry Wood, the Proms became an annual festival of the new and the best in classical music at the Queen’s Hall. They began as a private venture but in 1927 came under the patronage of the young BBC. The decoratively rich and acoustically fine Queen’s Hall was damaged beyond repair by enemy action in 1941, after which the Proms moved to the Albert Hall.  The story of the Hall’s destruction is told at the West End at War website, drawing on the WW2 civil defence archive held at Westminster City Archives.

Queen’s Hall: Programme cover 1936; Playbill, 1906; engraved portrait of Sir Henry Wood, 1934. Images property of Westminster City Archives.

Queen’s Hall: Programme cover 1936; Playbill, 1906; engraved portrait of Sir Henry Wood, 1934. Images property of Westminster City Archives.

Busts of Wagner, Brahms and Weber, salvaged from the debris of the Queen’s Hall, c1953. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Busts of Wagner, Brahms and Weber, salvaged from the debris of the Queen’s Hall, c1953. Image property of Westminster City Archives.



Remembering the Somme – the story of Major Booth

Last Friday, in the Long Room of Lords Cricket Ground, the Westminster Cathedral School held a special assembly in commemoration of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. Years 3, 4, 5, and 6 sat attentively ahead of an audience including parents, staff from Lords and Westminster City Council, Chelsea pensioners and other invited guests.

Army and Navy Co-operative Society Limited, abridged list of officers' equipment and necessaries for home and foreign service [1916-1918] . Image property of Westminster City ArchivesThe day, curated by the Archives’ Education Officer Peter Daniel, started with a visit from the ghost of a soldier from Pimlico – Ernest Richard Boots (now aged 133 years). In a flurry of historical hats and playful repartee with the children, this charismatic apparition explained the features of his army uniform and how each was suited to the international arena of the First World War. Two modern-day soldiers from the 7 Rifles, the Army Reserve Battalion in Westminster, then explained how the uniforms had changed in accordance with technological developments.

The main attraction of the day followed, when the Year 5 class of the Westminster Cathedral School performed a play about Major Booth for their colleagues. The play told the story of Major Booth, who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme and was a player for the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and Second Lieutenant in the British Army. The play had previously been performed by the MOD Theatre group.

Booth’s biography intersected with various key moments in 20th century history. The story included encounters with the Suffragettes and Mahatma Ghandi. Booth’s path to success as a cricketer and his role in the army showed how the world had been unfair before the war and how after the war, through the equality of sacrifice of all the soldiers and those involved in the war effort at home, British society came to adopt the determination to pursue a fairer, better and more inclusive structure.

Each of the roles in the play was shared with different children taking it in turn to act each part and the Year 5s joined in chorus to sing an ensemble of wartime songs. The songs which had been used as a mnemonic tool to teach the children about history, now staggered the performance beautifully.

The show ended with England’s cricket anthem Jerusalem and a minute of silence led by Chelsea Pensioner John Gallagher with live accompaniment.

A central message came through, questioning the ‘whys’ behind inequality and discrimination of class, gender, and race:

Voice 1: I was a have
Voice 2: I was a have not
All: What hadst thou given that I gave not?

If you’d like to know more about this project, try the following:


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:


Nathaniel Bryceson lives on a little longer…

We were delighted to receive a visit recently from three descendants of Nathaniel Bryceson, the 19-year old clerk whose 1846 diary we are serialising throughout this year in a blog and a weekly podcast.

Jane, Mary and John - descendants of Nathaniel Bryceson, visiting the Archives Centre to view his diary with archivist Alison. May 2016

Jane and her sister Mary and cousin John, who are descended from Nathaniel’s son (also called Nathaniel), were thrilled to see their ancestor’s handwriting in the diary and to hear the explanation of the shorthand which he used to disguise details about his bank account and his activities with Ann Fox, who, at the age of 45, was his very much older woman! In one entry Nathaniel described these activities as “wicked tricks”, and the diary is certainly much more sexually explicit than one might expect from a Victorian.

It’s wonderful to meet more of Nathaniel’s descendants – back in 2010 we were pleased to make the acquaintance of the Reverend Steven Saxby, who then went on to take part in a Bryceson-themed walk across the city. If there are any more family members out there, we’d love to hear from you!

Diary entry of Nathaniel Bryceson, 26 May 1846

To read each day’s diary entry, you can subscribe to Nathaniel’s blog ‘The Life and Loves of a Victorian Clerk‘ (scroll down for subscription details), follow @VictorianClerk on Twitter or like Westminster City Archives on Facebook. If a weekly update would suit you better, listen to Nathaniel’s podcast, brought to life by local guide and Bryceson fan Sheldon Goodman.

[Alison and Michelle]

A month in Rome

The story that draws our attention today begins beautifully:

‘Thursday April 6th

Cover of James Knowles diary, April 1854. Image property of Westminster City ArchivesYesterday morning early the Neapolitan Company’s boat “Calabre[s]e” (300 horse power) brought us into the picturesque harbour of Civita Vecchia after a most tranquil night of passage from Leghorn. The moon and stars had added to their beauty the interest of a rare guest & a small comet with a nucleus of great brightness was visible during the first hours of the evening. After some idle time of waiting whilst passport formalities were in progress we were admitted to land […]’

James Knowles diary, 6 April 1854. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Inspired by the daily updates and podcasts of Nathaniel Bryceson’s diary of 1846, we have turned our noses internally to seek out similar items in the Westminster City Archives‘ collections. There are a number of manuscript diaries in the deposited archives and even more in the printed collections.

The object in question is James Knowles’ account of a month spent in Rome in April 1854 – just eight years after Bryceson was detailing his daily life in London. There is great enjoyment to be found in Knowles’ vivid descriptions of a tourist experience eerily familiar yet so far removed for the lucky ones among us who have seen Rome. Examining its content superficially, this detailed narrative paints the experience of the travelling Englishman which we can cross-reference with what is known of the time. The Neapolitan boat arriving from Leghorn, for example, was part of a longer route leaving Marseilles and travelling through Genoa, Leghorn, and Civita Vecchia on the way to Naples over 4 days (see bibliography below). Knowles comments upon recognisable works of art and tourist sites also:

‘We looked again into the Cathederal but liked it none the more. The dome less & less. The size of the place tho’ grand, it seemed wonderfully great today.

Passing the Pantheon, look’ again into it for a few moments and liked it better, especially the Portiico seemed finer than at first sight […]’

James Knowles diary, 8-9 April 1854. Image property of Westminster City Archives

But the value of this item is manifold, for it opens a space in which to briefly consider the diary as a historical source. The value of diaries as sources for social research is one which has been considered widely with both school-level and scholarly learning in mind and is one which we hope to touch upon at a later date. Pervasively though, it is agreed that one must start by addressing preliminary concerns, ie: by questioning by whom and when a diary was written, its purpose and its intended audience, and of course, its subject.

This diary is that of a young man, but Sir James Knowles (1831-1908) (log in to the ODNB with your library card number) was to become a key figure in nineteenth century London.

Whilst this is, generally, a travel diary, it is particularly the voyage of a learned man whose knowledge of the classics and the arts is scholarly and well-established. Following the life and literary output of Knowles’ work allows us to place it in a wider context of acquisition and use of knowledge. In the “Papers of Sir James Thomas Knowles, Architect and Editor, 1850-1908”, the deposited collection held here at the Archives Centre (Ref no: 716), it is one in a set of diaries of a tour of Italy and Sicilly. The only other one of our collection is “No.3” – a daily account of travels in and around Naples and in Sicily that ends in mid-sentence of description of journey from Salerno to Amalfi. Whilst the diary of the month in Rome cannot linearly be traced to another item in our collection, diary no. 3 can, for we hold a volume of lecture notes on travels to Rome and Sicily for a lecture delivered to the Clapham Literary and Scientific Institute in January 1856.

Sir James Knowles was an architect and journal editor, with humble origins editing the Clapham Magazine to becoming an associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1853, and a fellow of the institute in 1870, founding and editing the Nineteenth Century journal and being a key member of the Metaphysical Society, a representative ‘theological society’ to discuss the bases of morality founded 1869.

Besides the diaries in question, the deposited papers in Acc 716 include letters to notable persons and the Royal Family, papers relating to the Metaphysical Society and Nineteenth Century journal including manuscript drafts, photographs and papers relating to the knighthood and death of Sir James Knowles and other examples of speeches papers and poems.

We hope that this has inspired you to visit and peruse these treasures more closely!



A handbook for travellers in southern Italy : being a guide for the continental portion of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies : with a travelling map and plans” (Paris, 1855), accessed 27 April 2016

Sidney Lee, ‘Knowles, Sir James Thomas (1831–1908)’, rev. H. C. G. Matthew, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sept 2010, accessed 3 May 2016

Internship 2: Building history

Abby with her exhibition at Westminster City Archives.Abby Logan is a student of architectural history and archaeology at the University of Boston. She has spent two and a half months as an intern at the City of Westminster Archives Centre. In this second blog post, she shares her experience of researching and creating building histories.

In addition to theatre programme conservation, another project I worked on was creating a short buildings history for the Alhambra Theatre and the Royal Aquarium. To go along with those histories I also researched one performer from each building. I chose William Henry Beckwith for the aquarium and Kate Santley for the theatre.

It was not too difficult to find information about William Beckwith because his whole family was very well known. There were plenty of records about his life; however, that was not the case for Kate Santley. It was very difficult to find reliable information about her and her life because she was not born in the United Kingdom and went by a few different names. I was eventually able to find some reliable facts about her but it was much more difficult than I thought it would be!

Alhambra Theatre

The first building to stand where the Alhambra Theatre stood in Leicester Square was The Royal Panopticon of Science and Art which opened in 1854 and closed in 1856. The Panopticon was poorly managed and unsuccessful so the Alhambra Palace was opened in 1856 under E. T. Smith as first a circus and then a music hall in 1860. The building was sold and renamed the Royal Alhambra Palace in 1861. The name again changed in 1872 when it became the Royal Alhambra Theatre under new management. In 1882, now just called the Alhambra Theatre, almost the entire building was destroyed due to a fire; however, the building was quickly rebuilt and reopened in 1883. The Alhambra Theatre was closed and demolished in 1936. A new theatre, The Odeon, was built in 1937 and still remains open today.

Kate Santley

Actress Kate Santley was born Evangeline Estelle Gazina around 1837. Santley lied about her age and said she was born in 1843 so her exact date of birth is difficult to pinpoint. “In 1872 she appeared in the London production of The Black Crook at the Alhambra Theatre” (The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography). She also stared in other productions at the Alhambra such as La Belle Hélène in 1873. At the height of her career Santley was very well known and widely photographed. In 1877 she became the manager of the Royalty Theatre which lasted for thirty years and was how she spent her later years. She married Lockhart Mure Hartley Kennedy and moved to Brunswick Square, Brighton where she died a widow in 1923 as Evangeline Estelle Gazina Kennedy.

The Royal Aquarium

The Royal Aquarium Summer and Winter Garden opened on Tothill Street in 1876. It was a place of entertainment that went beyond a theatre or music hall. There was a separate but attached building for theatre productions, the Royal Aquarium Theatre. The main attractions of the building were other performances that one would expect to see at a circus. In 1879 the theatre came under new management and was renamed the Imperial Theatre. The Royal Aquarium Summer and Winter Garden was closed and demolished in 1903 but the Imperial Theatre remained standing until 1907 when it too was demolished to make way for the Methodist Central Hall.

William Henry Beckwith

William Henry Beckwith was a professional swimmer who often performed at the Royal Aquarium. He was born on 7 August 1857. His father Frederick Beckwith was a well-known swimming professor and performer so William was born into his profession. William and his younger sister Agnes debuted together in Paris and later travelled abroad to America in 1883. The family often performed together as the “Beckwith Frogs” and did so at the Royal Aquarium “demonstrating swimming strokes and life saving techniques as well as preforming aquatic stunts such as smoking, drinking milk, and eating sponge cakes underwater” (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). William was also a competitive swimmer and won many awards and accolades. He died on 12 December 1892 of a chest infection.


Internship 1: Protecting theatre

Abby with her exhibition at Westminster City Archives.Abby Logan is a student of architectural history and archaeology at the University of Boston. She has spent two and a half months as an intern at the City of Westminster Archives Centre. In this, the first of two blog pieces, she takes us through the conservation process.

Working in paper preservation can be a messy job, as I found out on my first day! My task seemed simple enough: clean three boxes of programmes from the Theatre Collection; however, it involved a lot more dirt, rust and time than I thought it would. Using two smoke sponges, a brush and staple remover I was able to clean the programmes and prevent further damage caused by the rusty staples. At the end of each day I would have a substantial pile of dirt and staples from all the programmes I had cleaned.

Potash and Perlmutter - Queen's Theatre programmes, 1914. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Potash and Perlmutter – Queen’s Theatre programmes, 1914. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

One of the hardest parts was determining when a programme was sufficiently clean because I was unsure how much of the dirt I was supposed to be able to get off. Eventually I learnt what was clean and what could not be taken off by the sponge.

Once all the programmes were clean it was time to move on to the sewing and repairing stage. Those that were once held together by staples needed to be put back together in some way. That was done by taking organic string and sewing the area where the staples used to be. This was a simple task for some of the programmes; however, for the majority of them it was not, because there was too much damage caused by the rusty staples.

Theatre programme. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Theatre programme. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Rust is incredibly damaging in that it creates holes and makes the paper weaker. To combat this problem a special paper called spider tissue is cut into an oval to cover the area that has been damaged by the rust. A paste is put on the paper and it then dries and fixes the holes, allowing the paper to be sewn together. Some other small tears are also fixed by this spider tissue so they do not tear further.

The repairs done to the programs can get more complicated if the spine of the programme is weak or there is more severe damage to the paper. These damages require spider tissue that has been cut specifically for the shape of the tear. Once all the damage has been fixed as far as possible, the programmes are then sewn together and the preservation process is complete.

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