Tag Archives: biography

A Blue Plaque for a Marylebone Punk Rocker

Marylebone is not lacking in blue plaques recording the former residences of the great – and not-so-great – local residents. Several examples have been the subject of previous blog posts. The official plaques were erected formally first by the London County Council / Greater London Council and are currently administered by English Heritage.

Blue plaque for Joe Strummer

English Heritage’s selection criteria include a minimum time frame of 22 years between the subject’s death and an erection of a commemorative plaque. December 2016 saw an unofficial blue plaque erected to Joe Strummer of influential punk band The Clash. Strummer died in 2002 and thus fails the formal selection criteria. Nonetheless, a ceremony was held at the Seymour Housing Co-op building (33 Daventry Street NW1, between Lisson Grove and Edgware Road). In nearby Bell Street, Malcolm McLaren and two of the Sex Pistols were also residents in this period. This is the second public commemoration to Joe Strummer in the area. The pedestrian subway linking the two halves of Edgware Road, bisected by Harrow Road, is named the Joe Strummer Subway. Fittingly above this junction and subway soars the elevated Westway, an major inspiration for the band.

Joe Strummer's entry in the ODNBJoe Strummer has also made it into the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log in with your library card). Other resources one can use for research into his life and the band’s significance in music history are the several newspaper and magazine archives which can also be accessed free online with a Westminster Libraries membership. Those readers who were around in the late 1970s will remember the moral panic that bands such as The Clash and the Sex Pistols generated and this is reflected in many newspaper articles. I found an interesting slant upon the punk rock phenomenon in an Economist article entitled More money than music in nihilism, (June 11, 1977, page 22).

Away from these contemporary reports Westminster Libraries hold a number of books relating to The Clash and the punk rock phenomenon:

Punk rock so what?by Roger SabinRedemption song: the definitive biography of Joe Strummer by Chris SalewiczJoe Strummer and the legend of the Clash by Kris Needs

[Francis]

Interesting times (1)

As 2016 draws to a close, we have probably all read our fill of celebrity obituaries. Many of us will also have seen other, more local or personal losses. While the argument rages on about whether this was indeed an unusual year or just appeared to be so, we’re likely to have found ourselves thinking or wondering about some of the people whose deaths have been reported in the news – people we’ve heard of, people we’ve not (but feel we should have), and people whose summarised lives turn out to be a whole lot more interesting and varied than we originally thought.

If you want to find out more about a person and their life, use the library. Below, librarian Owen uses Fidel Castro as an example to show the amazing resources Westminster Libraries members have at their fingertips for researching history and biography, but you could apply the same principles to find out more about any of the people below, lost in 2016:

Owen writes:

We recently saw the death of former Cuban leader and revolutionary Fidel Castro. He was seen in death – as he was in life – as someone to celebrate and support, but also someone to despise and oppose, a great leader or a terrible dictator. We can look at how his death was met in newspaper stories, obituaries and images from around the UK (eg: through NewsBank) and around the world (eg: through Library Press Display which includes some newspapers from Florida).

However, your delve into newspaper articles does not have to end there. Why not look back further? Newsbank goes back a good 30 years for a start. But go back further still and you will find yet more. Have a look in The Times Digital Archive; you will find it interesting to see how events in Castro’s life unfolded eg: 1956 saw a failed revolt (the final revolution came in 1958/59). Ironically, considering some of the celebrations recently in Florida we see that on 12 November 1958 people were caught attempting to send Fidel Castro arms to support the uprising.

Don’t stop there though, have a look as well in the Guardian and Observer archive and continue on to the missile crisis (1962 – you can search by date on all databases). In 1968 it begins its article Ten years of Fidel Castro with

‘It’s hard to believe that Fidel Castro’s regime has now been in power for ten years.’

All this can be found via our Online Resources: Newspapers section accessible in any Westminster Library and from home with a Westminster Library card. The newspapers are a great way to get started, but – depending on the person’s field of activity and nationality – take a look too at the Quick Reference, Art & Design (especially Oxford Art), Biography or Music & Performing Arts (especially Oxford Music Online) sections. You never know what you might find!

[Owen]

Mary Prince – Britain’s First Black Woman Autobiographer

Paddington Library celebrated Black History Month in October with a well-attended event with historian Beverley Duguid, who gave an illustrated talk about Mary Prince – Britain’s first black woman autobiographer.

Dr Beverley Duguid at Paddington Library, October 2016

The talk took a chronological look at Mary’s life in Bermuda and Antigua, her removal from there to England in 1828 and her petition to the British parliament for her freedom from slavery.

The history of Mary Prince, by Mary Prince

Dr Duguid has a PhD in history from Royal Holloway College gained in 2010.  Her academic work encompasses themes of gender, travel, religion, ethnicity, manners and customs and Britain’s colonial past.

[Laurence]

The great and the good

George Ryan, pictured in bas relief at the base of Nelson's Column, London

All of us who live or work in Westminster have walked through Trafalgar Square dozens of times, but how many of us have actually looked at Nelson’s Column  properly? Certainly not me until recently when I happened to look at the bas-reliefs at the base of the pillar and wondered what they actually represented. Coincidentally on the bus home I heard a trailer for an excellent-sounding radio programme, Britain’s Black Past which mentioned the reliefs and revealed that at least one of the sailors pictured was black. A bit of research revealed that a third of the crew of the Victory, Nelson’s ship, were born outside Britain (including, somewhat surprisingly, three Frenchmen) and that one of the men pictured, George Ryan, was black.

As we celebrate Black History Month, what other memorials of interest can we find in Westminster?

Well, for a start there’s the oldest monument in London – Cleopatra’s Needle. Nothing to do with Cleopatra, it actually predates her by 1500 years, being made for Pharoah Thotmes III. One slightly odd feature of the Needle is that the four sphinxes, ostensibly there to guard it, actually face inwards so you’d think they’d be fairly easy to surprise…

Cleopatra's Needle, London

Moving forward to the eighteenth century brings us to Ignatius Sancho (1724-1780) who, despite pretty much the worst possible start in life (he was born on  slave ship and both his parents died soon after) became butler to the Duke of Montagu and, after securing his freedom, was the only eighteenth-century Afro-Briton known to have voted in a general election (in Westminster). He wrote many letters to the literary figures of the time such as the actor David Garrick and the writer Laurence Sterne, was painted by Thomas Gainsborough and was also a prolific composer.

IgnatiusSancho

You can read more about Sancho in several books available to view at Westminster City Archives, and listen to some of his compositions.

And if you happen to be passing the Foreign and Commonweath Office, see if you can spot the memorial to him.

A more famous near-contemporary of Sancho, was Olaudah Equiano (1747-1797), another former slave and author of one of the earliest autobiographies by a black Briton.

Olaudah Equiano

Like George Ryan, Equiano (or Gustavus Vassa as he was known in his lifetime) was a sailor who travelled to the Caribbean, South America and the Arctic, having been kidnapped from Africa as a child. While still a slave, Equiano converted to Christianity and was baptised in St Margaret’s Westminster. His autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano was one of the first slave narratives and was reprinted several times in Equiano’s lifetime. He became a leading member of the  abolitionist movement, as one of the Sons of Africa, a group of former slaves in London who campaigned against slavery. You can see a plaque to him at 73 Riding House Street, Paddington and see him portrayed  by Youssoo N’Dour in the  film Amazing Grace.

Olaudah Equiana Plaque, London

One black Briton who needs almost no introduction is Mary Seacole (1805-1881), who fought racial prejudice to nurse and feed  soldiers in the Crimea and who was so popular with her former patients that the Times reported on 26th April 1856 that, at a public banquet at the Royal Surrey Gardens:

“Among the illustrious visitors was Mrs Seacole whose appearance awakened the most raputurous enthusiasm. The soldiers not only cheered her but chaired her around the gardens and she really might have suffocated from the oppressive attentions of her admirers were it not that two sergeants of extraordinary stature gallantly undertook to protect her from the pressures of the crowd.”

You can follow the famous war correspondent WH Russell in the Times Digital Archive (log in with your library card number) – he was a great admirer of Mrs Seacole. And if you haven’t already, do read her extraordinary autobiography The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands. There are two plaques in her honour in Westminster – one at 147 George Street and one at 14 Soho Square.

Mary Seacole

Less well-known than Mary Seacole  is Henry Sylvester Williams (1869-1911), a Trinidadian teacher who came to London in the 1890s, studied Latin at King’s College and qualified as a barrister in 1897 (though he earned his living as a lecturer for the Temperance Association). He was a founder-member of the Pan-African Association, whose aims were

“to secure civil and political rights for Africans and their descendants throughout the world; to encourage African peoples everywhere in educational, industrial and commercial enterprise; to ameliorate the condition of the oppressed Negro in Africa, America, the British Empire, and other parts of the world”

In 1906, Williams was elected as a Progressive for Marylebone Council and, along with John Archer in Battersea, was one of the first black people elected to public office in Britain. You can read more about Williams (and the other people listed here) in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and see a plaque erected by Westminster Council in his honour at 38 Church Street.

Bringing us nearer the present day are two former residents of Westminster who everyone knows. Guitarist Jimi Hendrix, discussed before in this blog, lived for a short time in 1968 at 23 Brook Street, Mayfair, and you can see a blue plaque to him there.

Jimi Hendrix, blue plaque

And we finish on perhaps the most famous memorial of recent years – in 2007 a bronze statue of Nelson Mandela was erected in Parliament Square in the presence of Mr Mandela himself.

Nelson Mandela stature, Parliament Square

You can find out more about the people in this blog by checking out our library catalogue and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as well as our Newspaper Archives. Plus if you want to know who the first Black British woman to write an autobiography was, don’t miss the event at Paddington Library on 27 October!

[Nicky]

Who Lived Where: The London Blue Plaque Scheme

William Ewart's blue plaque at Hampton Public LibraryWith over nine thousand plaques mounted on buildings scattered throughout the capital, the London Blue Plaques scheme is well known. In some streets of central London, almost all the buildings display a plaque, or even more than one. What you may not be aware of is that the interesting scheme celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. Here’s a short history:

William Ewart, a Liberal MP, suggested that the government should start this scheme to honour significant London residents in 1863. The idea was rejected due to cost, but three years later in 1866 the Society of Arts (later the Royal Society of Arts) took the scheme on.

Napoleon III's blue plaque in Kings Street, St JamesThe first two plaques were erected in 1867. The first commemorated the poet Lord Byron at his birthplace, 24 Holles Street off Cavendish Square, but was later destroyed with the demolition of the house. The second plaque in Kings Street, St James was erected to the exiled French emperor Napoleon III London residence.  This has survived.

William Ewart is in the select group who are commemorated with more than one plaque. English Heritage, the current custodians of the scheme, now restrict the scheme to a single plaque per person however many addresses that individual had. William Ewart is commemorated in central London but also his former house which is now Hampton Public Library in south west London (see picture above). This is a particularly fitting commemoration as, whilst an MP, William Ewart introduced a bill that became Britain’s first Public Library Act setting up a network of free public libraries..

The London Blue Plaque Guide by Nick RennisonI think it is fair to say that for many years this scheme has favoured establishment figures and there has been a definite bias towards males. Currently only 13% of the total commemorate women. Recognising this, English Heritage is making concerted efforts to get proposals from the public for female candidates.
Westminster is home to plaques for several ‘non-establishment’ figures, including Crimean war nurse Mary Seacole and, unusually, one commemorating an event rather than a person: The Cato Street Conspiracy, which was a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister and Cabinet in 1820.

Mary Seacole's blue plaque in Soho Square, London   Blue plaque for the Cato Street conspiracy, 1820

Biographical details for these and other blue plaque entries can be found on the English Heritage website. You can find out more in one of the many Blue Plaque guides available from your library. However, for a more comprehensive, detailed biography why not use your library membership to consult the Oxford Dictionary of  National Biography online? Nearby, Kensington Central Library also holds a Biographies special collection of approximately 80,000 books, to which annually over 1,000 new titles are added.

[Francis]

The Fairytale of Leicester City

King Richard IIILast week saw the rather unexpected news of Leicester City clinching the football Premier League title. Was this really as significant as many newspapers described? The most uplifting story in British sporting history, or perhaps the biggest upset/shock? The team’s odds were 5000 to 1 at the beginning of the season having narrowly avoided relegation last year, after all. It was that and more, according to the papers.

To compare this victory with other surprise wins and ‘rise of the underdog’ stories, we should first take a look at how Leicester City’s story was reported last week:

  • Go to the library to look at the recent newspapers held there
  • Use NewsBank to search through all the stories about Leicester City being champions – you can even read Leicester’s local paper The Leicester Mercury. You could go further, following how the story unfolded throughout the season, starting all the way back in August 2015.
  • Read through more stories and see the papers themselves on Library Press Display – the Foxes’ victory was reported as far afield as Thailand, India, the US and more.

But why stop there? Have a look through other resources we have to see whether other sporting shocks had comparable headlines. Explore the tabloid newspapers on UK Press Online and take your search back further and further using the Times Digital Archive or The Guardian and Observer archive. Have a look at some of the suggested shocks mentioned by others: Boris Becker winning Wimbledon in 1985, Denmark winning the European Championships having not qualified, Nottingham Forest’s winning of the league and then European cup just after being promoted from the second division, Wimbledon’s crazy gang’s rise to prominence and FA cup glory in 1988… the list goes on. The headlines and stories are fascinating.

Football stories almost always involve a heroic manager, amazing team work and  notable individuals (Leicester’s stories even discuss the importance of Richard III!). Whatever the sport you will see that the English press – and people – always love an underdog; often more than their own team!

The above is just an illustration of how library resources can help you dig deep, research and analyse a story through looking at how it was reported in the media. The same principles can be applied to any story for personal interest, school projects or other research.

You can find free access to all these great databases – and much more – in the Newspapers and magazines section of our Online resources by subject page. Just log in from wherever you are using the number on your library card. In the Biography section you can also find out more about many of the people involved in the stories mentioned above by looking at Who’s who and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[Owen]

Happy Birthday Sir David Attenborough

Happy 90th Birthday to broadcaster, naturalist and conservationist extraordinaire David Attenborough!

David Attenborough was born on 8 May 1926 (not long after the Queen) and must surely qualify as a ‘national treasure’, although it is a term he’d prefer us not to use. While those of us alive in 1979 probably have the groundbreaking TV series ‘Life on Earth’ imprinted on our brains, anyone looking to find out more about his life and work so far can find plenty to inform, amuse and intrigue them in Westminster Libraries.

Whether you’re interested in his days as a BBC senior manager (including being Controller of BBC Two and Director of Programming for BBC Television), as a natural history presenter and programme maker or his more recent conservation campaigns, you can find out more in the biographies available:

Life Stories by David AttenboroughDavid Attenborough in his own words - talking book Life on Air by David Attenborough - talking bookLife on Air, by David Attenborough

You can borrow DVDs of some of his many TV series and read the accompanying books, for example:

Life on Earth by David Attenborough The Private Life of Plants by David Attenborough The life of Mammals by David Attenborough Life in Cold Blood by David Attenborough

And if his work – along with that of the amazing BBC Natural History Unit – has awakened in you an interest in the natural world, which is of course his aim, you can explore your library for other great books (including ebooks – try the non-fiction Nature section):

The Great British Year by Stephen Moss The Hunt by Alastair Fothergill How did we get into this mess by George Monbiot RSPB Migration Hotspots by Tim Harris

You can also watch many of his TV documentaries, interviews (including his recent one with US President Obama) and lots of favourite clips on both YouTube and a special section of the BBC iPlayer – just search for ‘David Attenborough’, sit back and enjoy…

[Ali]