Tag Archives: Charing Cross

Ali Smith in Charing Cross Library

More than fifty people braved a cold wet Monday evening to come to prize-winning author Ali Smith‘s inspiring talk in praise of public libraries.

Author Ali Smith at Charing Cross Library, February 2017

Public Library and other stories by Ali SmithThe audience was enthralled for the whole 45 minutes of Ali’s talk in Charing Cross Library. She gave a fiercely intelligent, passionate and valuable insight into the role libraries play and why we need them so much, as well as how she came to gather the material for her book Public Library and other stories.

After the talk, she signed copies of her books that people had brought with them. A fantastic evening.

Author Ali Smith at Charing Cross Library, February 2017

[Helen]

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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]

Calling all comic fans!

Free Comic Book Day 2016Save the date –
Saturday 7 May is
Free Comic Book Day

Across North America and around the world, comic shops will be giving away free comics. And Westminster Libraries are taking part, courtesy of the lovely folks at Forbidden Planet who are providing the comics.

You can collect yours from your local library (see list of participating libraries below). One title per customer, while stocks last – which won’t be long!

There is a Doctor Who title, a Superhero Girls title and selected libraries will also have Suicide Squad (suitable for teens and over only).

Doctor Who for Free Comic Book day 2016 DC Superhero Girls for Free Comic Book day 2016 Suicide Squad for Free Comic Book day 2016

“Free Comic Book Day is the perfect occasion for newcomers to comics as well as those who have been reading them for years to celebrate comics and discover new titles that debut on the first Saturday in May”
– Free Comic Book Day spokesperson Dan Manser

Why not check out the graphic novel collection while you are there and see what else your library has to offer?

[Rachel]


Participating libraries in Westminster:

Year of the Monkey

Happy New Year!

Charing Cross Library held a Chinese New Year celebration last Friday, 5 February. Over 130 people enjoyed fantastic magic shows, singing, dancing, networking and drinks. This year we worked together with Henan Associations, who brought us some interesting Henan local folk cultural elements.

Chris Lloyd, Community Development Manager, presented a welcome speech. The Chinese Embassy Minister Counsellor (Economic & Commercial) Jin Xu and counsellor Li Hui attended the party and kindly wished all our customers a Happy New Year. The longest-serving Premier Minister of St Kitts and Nevis Denzil Douglas also attended the celebration and gave warm wishes of good relationships among British, Caribbean countries and China.

This weekend the biggest celebrations of Chinese New Year outside Asia will take place in London: find out more.

Mussolini’s Folly in Charing Cross

The idea of learning about the hall which was once the headquarters of the Italian Fascist party obviously intrigued a lot of people, as nearly 100 came to the opening of the exhibition Mussolini’s Folly – Farce & tragedy in Little Italy at Charing Cross Library last week.

'Mussolini’s Folly – Farce & tragedy in Little Italy' exhibition at Charing Cross Library , November 2015

‘Mussolini’s Folly – Farce & tragedy in Little Italy’ exhibition at Charing Cross Library , November 2015

Alfio Bernabei, author, historian and journalist curated the exhibition and talked us through the relevance of the library building to the Italians from 1937-1940 – “an 11,000-square-foot Palace befitting the rightful pride of Italians of the Fascist Era“; and the rise of the Fascist movement and its importance in London.

Alfio Bernabeis with Italian Consul Giulia Romani, Charing Cross Library, November 2015Our other two speakers were the Italian Consul for London, Giulia Romani, who talked about the need for vigilance in present times, and Simone Rossi, the UK secretary of Anpi-London who spoke passionately about the National Association of Italian Partisans.

The exhibition runs until 14 December and there are images of the library as the former headquarters – with a statue of Julius Cesar; the special music evenings with the tenor Beniamino Gigli and a boys violin concert (Mussolini’s favourite instrument). It also includes fascinating images, reports and newspaper cuttings including one about Sylvia Pankhurst supporting the anti-fascist movement.

Photograph showing fascist motto 'Believe Obey Fight' above the balcony upon which it was once written - Charing Cross Library, November 2015

Photograph showing fascist motto ‘Believe Obey Fight’ above the balcony upon which it was once written – Charing Cross Library, November 2015

One of the fascist mottos, ‘Believe Obey Fight’ used to run around the balcony of the building– it might be nice to get a library motto up there – perhaps ‘Question Read Learn’? Any ideas?

Do come and see the exhibition, it is a great success and we hope to continue to build further links with our local Italian community.

“Really interesting”

“Great to hear about our local history, I had no idea about the background of the library”

“Perfect talk – interesting, at just the right level and not too long”

Continuing the theme of ‘Italians in London’, Alfio Bernabeis’ 1987 Channel 4 documentary Dangerous Characters was shown in the library this week, with Alfio present. It tells the story of how a thriving Italian community in London was led astray politically and ends with the tragedy of the sinking of the SS Arandora Star in 1940.

Alfio Bernabeis at Charing Cross Library, November 2015

Alfio Bernabeis at Charing Cross Library, November 2015

[Katrina]

Record Breaking Fun

Record Breakers 2015 Boo Hiccup event at Maida Vale LibrarySince our last update, over 2,000 children have joined this year’s Summer Reading Challenge, ‘Record Breakers’. Children borrow books from the library, come back and tell us a bit about them and receive stickers and rewards for their books. Have you joined in yet? There are still 3 weeks to go so lots of time to get reading!

Here is a round-up of some of this week’s Summer Reading Challenge events in our libraries:

We had the amazing ‘Boo Hiccup’ and his magical comedy show at Maida Vale library (above). He was great – the children and grown-ups had lots of fun!

Mask-making from the Wallace Collection at St John’s Wood library
Mask-making inspired by the mythical creatures from the Wallace Collection at St John’s Wood library (above).

Mayfair library had a visit from Debutots: here is Isobel in action telling her stories, and the children having fun with bubbles.

Isobel at debutots session telling her stories and the children having fun with bubbles
If you like dancing, you’d love the events by Diddidance – below, Kerry is doing a dance with children at Charing Cross library, complete with pom poms!

Diddidance: Kerry doing a dance with children at Charing Cross library

Back at Maida Vale library, there was the “Wacky Vehicle” event. Children were tasked with making a vehicle of some sort with a large collection of recyclable materials. It’s amazing what you can do with toilet rolls, Pringle boxes and old bottles! Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most popular vehicle proved to be the rocket: there appear to be a lot of budding record-breaking astronauts at Maida Vale. Here are some cosmic photos of the results (including a bus!)

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Check out the events yet to come to see what’s on at your local library!

Fab Times at Charing Cross and St John’s Wood

It was back to the 1960s at Charing Cross Library last Friday when we recalled the days of Beatlemania with Aaron Krerowicz, America’s only full-time professional Beatles scholar.

Books and music by and about the BeatlesUsing a mixture of slide show, music clips and audio interview extracts from the band, he described the Beatles career from start to break-up. He showed how they developed, both musically and lyrically, and demonstrated the influence of other musicians, notably Carl Perkins and Bob Dylan. Paul McCartney claimed:

“If there were no Carl Perkins, there would be no Beatles”.

Aaron also described the innovations that the Beatles themselves pioneered, some of which could only be achieved on a studio recording..

It was considered a matter of personal preference which was the best of the Beatles albums, although it was generally agreed that Abbey Road had the best contributions from the pen of George Harrison.

The enduring appeal of the Beatles is undoubted – only next door the Garrick Theatre has been staging Let it Be, a tribute to the Beatles, while earlier this week the Metro had a feature about a Soho restaurant that was displaying a collection of previously unseen photos of the band on tour in the USA.

The audience, some 40-50 strong, were predominantly (like myself) people who had lived through the Beatles era. Many were quite knowledgeable about the group themselves and Aaron gained some new facts himself during the Q & A session. The discussion could probably have gone on for several hours, but sadly we had to draw matters to a close and prepare the library for opening the following day, with a reminder to the audience that, if they wanted more, Aaron would be giving another different talk at St. John’s Wood Library the next day, before returning to the States.

A ‘fab’ time was had by all:

‘Great informed presentation, fantastic’

‘Lively and well documented presentation’

‘Wonderful music lesson!’

[Malcolm]

St John’s Wood Library also enjoyed welcoming Aaron Krerowicz on Saturday 18 July for his presentation ‘The Beatles’ Alter Ego, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’.

Aaron Krerowicz at St john's Wood Library, July 2015

As St John’s Wood Library is a stone’s throw away from Abbey Road, it was a delight to have such an expert here to tell us about the production, collaboration and inspiration behind the iconic album.

Aaron Krerowicz’s books will shortly be available to borrow from St John’s Wood Library.

[Amy]