Tag Archives: history

Forty years of change

Open doors at Westminster Music Library

Westminster Libraries is changing. Readers will be pleased to know that no libraries are closing and opening hours are not being slashed as has happened in some other parts of London and elsewhere in the country. But from April you may see fewer and different staff in your local library as a number of staff are leaving, retiring or switching libraries. Of course libraries need to change and evolve, just like any other organisation, if they are to remain relevant to people’s changing needs and to embrace technological changes.

As one of those staff who is retiring after some 40 years, I invite you to look back at some of the key changes in Westminster Libraries over that period.

Church Street Library 1969

When I started in the 1970s there were no computers in libraries. Most libraries issued books using the Browne system. Books had a pocket holding a card which gave the book’s number and author/title details. Readers were given a number of pocket tickets with their name and address details. They tendered one of these for each book borrowed and the book’s card was placed in the pocket ticket and then filed in a rack before (or behind) a date due marker. On returning a book, the racks would be searched for the matching card and the ticket returned. Returns and renewals could only be done at the library where the books were borrowed. Readers with overdue books would receive posted reminders.

St. Marylebone library book label and pocket

However in Westminster, the libraries were so busy, especially at lunchtimes, that the Browne system was too slow to cope. Instead readers were given plastic tokens which they handed over for all but the most expensive books. There was no record of who had out what books, so no overdue letters could be sent, but once a year each reader was written to and they had to produce all their tokens or pay a forfeit. This system was to last until a computerised management system was introduced from 1984.

City of Westminster tokens

The library catalogue was a large set of drawers in which were inserted 5 inch by 3 inch cards for each book – one filed by author, and one by title or class number. The catalogue would only show books at that library, and would not show whether the book was in stock or on loan. When new books were added or old books withdrawn the cards had to be manually filed or removed. By the 1970s new technology saw the introduction of a system-wide catalogue on microform, but it still could not show whether the books were in the library or on loan. This again had to wait for computer technology.

New books were selected from ‘approval collection’s or by visiting suppliers’ showrooms. Once supplied they all had to be catalogued, processed and jacketed so it might take weeks before they reached the shelves. Non-fiction books had their class numbers embossed on the spine in gold leaf.

Gramophone records at Charing Cross Library, circa 1950s

As well as books, readers could borrow gramophone records, although there were strict rules about their care. The records themselves were not on the shelves. Instead there were display racks of the cards from which borrowers made their choice and then exchanged the card for the recording – supplied in a carrying case.

Reference libraries had shelves upon shelves of atlases, dictionaries, directories, encyclopaedias and so on, often out of date even before being published. Some directories even came in loose-leaf binders so that update replacement pages could be supplied.

Periodicals room in Marylebone Library, 1940

There were no public computers, no Internet, no wi-fi , no DVDs… since none of these had yet been invented.

Computer technology has completely transformed all of this, as it has life and work elsewhere. Readers can issue and return their loans (at any of our libraries) through self-issue terminals without queuing at the counter. They can renew online at any time and keep a historical record of what they have borrowed. The catalogue can be searched online and reservations placed from home. E-mail notification lets you know when items are due back or reservations are available. New stock will appear on the catalogue when ordered in advance of publication and will be received, ready for loan, within days of publication.

Computers at Pimlico Library - gradually getting sorted

Those groaning shelves of reference books have mostly gone now, replaced by public computers to use and study space with free wi-fi access. But don’t think that there is any less information available. Far from it. With the 24/7 library your library card gives you access to a wealth of information for free on our subscription databases. Business information, the arts, family history and worldwide newspapers are among the resources available – much of it accessible from anywhere online and – as the name suggests – available 24/7, not just when the library is open.  E-books, e-audiobooks and e-magazines are also available online.

The library service has not just changed as a result of technology though. The present City of Westminster had only been formed in 1965 under the Local Government Act 1963. It was a merger of the City of Westminster and the Boroughs of St  Marylebone and Paddington each of which had had their own library service. So there was some duplication of services which have been rationalised since.

Some of the other key changes that have happened to the library service in the last 40 years include:

1974 Pimlico Library opens in Rampayne Street. opposite the tube station. The station itself had opened in 1972, a year after the Victoria Line had been extended to Brixton.

1984 Charing Cross Library starts its specialised service to the Chinese community with the appointment of a Chinese librarian.

1987 Paddington Library basement opened up as part of the public area, allowing the integration of all the reference stock and the reading room which had previously been housed in two separate buildings.

1987  Charing Cross Library is the first Westminster library to lend videos.

1995 Westminster City Archives building opened by HRH Duke of Gloucester on 2 March 1995, bringing together the archives & local studies collections from old City of Westminster, St Marylebone and Paddington boroughs for the first time.

1997 Great Smith Street Library replaced by St James’s Library in Victoria Street, next to City Hall.

1998 The Open Learning Centre at Queen’s Park opened on 1st June 1998. It became the Learning Centre in September 2009.

2000  The Government launches The People’s Network programme to link every public library in the UK to the Internet. Public access computers were installed and staff trained through the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL).

2007  Marylebone Library moved into the Council House next door.

2008 St John’s Wood Library expanded, with the basement being opened up to public use.

2010 New enlarged Church Street Library opens, with a teenage zone and learning centre. The library had operated from a former butchers shop nearby for 2 years while the building work took place, financed by £1.1m lottery money.

2010 New Pimlico Library opens in Lupus Street, joint with Pimlico Academy and Adult Education Centre. This replaced the original Pimlico Library.

2011 St James’s Library closed and a new ‘Express Library‘ opens in the vestibule of the Archives Centre.

2012 Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham libraries come under a common Triborough management arrangement.

2013 New single library management system for Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham libraries with a combined catalogue, offering access to all three boroughs stock to all members.

2013 Marylebone Library moved to temporary premises in Beaumont Street after the Town Hall was sold to the London Business School.

Of course it hasn’t all been expansion. Over the years we have also had to reduce, rationalise or say goodbye to some areas of service. Sheet Music has been concentrated at Westminster Music Library, where staff have the specialist knowledge to serve the music community. The closure of the medical library at Marylebone was seen as a casualty at the time, although digital access to medical information is now available through the 24/7 Library.  A mobile library was introduced and operated for a few years but was not replaced when due for renewal.

There have also been proposals and ideas that never got off the ground. Among these were plans in the early 1980s to close Maida Vale and Queens Park libraries and replace them with a single library in Harrow Road at the former Paddington Town Hall. Another proposal was to move Paddington Library to a floor above the Whiteleys shopping centre in Queensway.

Library book borrowing may be in decline nationally, but our users come to the library for far more than books. They may come to study, to use the computers for a variety of purposes – social media, on-line purchases, job-hunting etc. They may come for reading or writing groups, author talks, computing or English classes, careers advice sessions, and a range of health promotions. In some libraries they can now collect goods ordered online at Amazon lockers. There may be children’s under 5s sessions, homework clubs, holiday reading clubs and craft events. Libraries provide work experience training for secondary school children. Adults can feed back into the community by volunteering in our libraries.

People have predicted the end of libraries in our present digital, connected world. Well they may have changed in ways unimaginable even a generation ago but they are still a thriving, valued part of the community. Who knows what changes another generation will bring, but I expect there will still be something people call a ‘library’. It may even still contain books – the death of the printed word has been predicted but it seems to be still going strong at present. And there to help them will be someone they will refer to as a ‘librarian’ whatever their official job title may be, or indeed whether they are employed staff or a volunteer.

[Malcolm]


Read more about library history in some of Malcolm’s previous contributions to the blog:

Parish Registers for Westminster

This is a little guide to the parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials held at City of Westminster Archives Centre.  On our website under “Researching your family history at the Archives Centre” you can find a list of our Information Sheets and other useful information.

Information Sheet 1 lists the registers we have for Anglican Churches in Westminster. Most of these are available to view on microfilm (for reasons of conservation) in our Searchroom, but they have also been digitised and are available to search and view online on the Findmypast website.
Registers for the Anglican churches in Marylebone and Paddington are available to view on microfilm copies here and on the Ancestry website because the original registers for these are at the London Metropolitan Archives.

Both Findmypast and Ancestry are available on the public computers in all Westminster libraries and on Wifi to users in libraries with laptops.  More detailed indexes to our holdings can be found in the Archives Searchroom.

The earliest registers date back to Henry VIII and the establishing of the Church of England. Thomas Cromwell issued an order to every parson, vicar or curate to register every wedding, christening and burial within their parish in 1538.

Title page of our earliest register for St Clement Danes 1558. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Title page of our earliest register for St Clement Danes 1558, volume 1. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

The oldest registers for Westminster are for St Margaret, Westminster starting from 1539 followed by St Martin in the Fields 1551 and St Clement Danes and St Mary le Strand in 1558.

Baptism entry for Robert Cicil (Robert Cecil, Statesman), 6 June 1563. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Baptism entry for Robert Cicil (Robert Cecil, Statesman), 6 June 1563. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

In 1597 paper registers were found to be deteriorating.  An order was issued for them to be on parchment or vellum.  Old register were to be copied from at least 1558. There was also an order for a second copy to be made and sent to diocese and these are known as the Bishop’s Transcripts.  This was to prevent the temptation of later tampering of the registers.  You can find these copies for Westminster registers on the Ancestry website taken from the copies sent to the Bishop of London.

Burial entry for Elinor Gwin (Nell Gwyn), 17 November 1687. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Burial entry for Elinor Gwin (Nell Gwyn), St Martin in the Fields, 17 November 1687, volume 17. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

The years 1642 – 1653 are sometimes known as the civil war gaps due to the upheaval of the monarchy. From 1653 a civil register was introduced which reverted back to the clergy when the monarchy was reintroduced in 1660. Another important date to point out is 1752 when the calendar changed. Before this date the year started on Lady’s Day, 25 March.

Marriage entry for Percy Busshe Shelly, 24 March 1814. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Marriage entry for Percy Busshe Shelly, 24 March 1814, from St George, Hanover Square, volume 23, showing an example of a marriage entry before introduction of civil registration. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

The Hardwicke Act for marriages was introduced from 1754. Marriages had to be registered in a separate register to baptisms and burials, before this one register could contain all three. It was also expected to eliminate clandestine and irregular ceremonies; only Jews and Quakers were exempt.  All others including Catholic were supposed to take place in licenced Anglican churches and printed paper registers were introduced. You could marry by Banns or Licence and needed the marks or signatures of two witnesses.

An example of a baptism entry page from St James, Piccadilly, showing the printed paper registers used after 1813. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

An example of a baptism entry page from St James, Piccadilly, showing the printed paper registers used after 1813. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Rose’s Act was passed in 1812 and introduced printed standardised registers for baptisms and burials.

An example of a burial entry page after Rose’s act of 1813 from St Martin in the Fields. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

An example of a burial entry page after Rose’s act of 1813 from St Martin in the Fields. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

From 1 July 1837 the civil registration for births, marriages and death starts in England and Wales.

Marriage entry for Theodore Roosevelt, 2 December 1886. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Marriage entry for Theodore Roosevelt, 2 December 1886, St George, Hanover Square, volume 85 (after civil registration). Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Parish registers still continues. The marriage entry in the parish register does correspond to the same format as the General Register Office certificate, but the parish register will have the original signatures of the groom, bride and witnesses, if they could write their own names.

[Cecilia]

Cuttings remarks

Westminster Music Library's newspaper cuttings collectionRegular readers of this blog may recall Hold the front page, in which I described my work sorting through and analysing Westminster Music Library’s Edwin Evans Press Cuttings Collection. At the time of writing that particular blog entry, I had made my way through approximately 20% of the collection.

Now, over a year later, the task is complete, and I am in some position to report on my findings.

My specific task has been to create an elementary catalogue of this collection, alongside recording some basic details against each person’s entry: discipline, gender, etc.

While the eventual aim of the entire project – the creation of a fully searchable digital archive of this collection – remains unchanged, this was deemed a suitable preliminary task to assess the collection’s value and potential. It seems remarkable that, for all the years that the collection has been in the Music Library’s possession, it had not been catalogued until now. The reasons for this, one may suppose, relate to its relative inaccessibility and its sheer size – both of which are motivating factors in the decision to create a digital record of this underappreciated collection!

In my initial blog post a year ago, I offered some statistics on the content of the collection which may have been of interest to those wishing to understand the shape of the classical music culture of the early 20th century.  The final breakdown of discipline and gender of subjects included in the Evans Collection is mostly unchanged from my initial report, but the most up-to-date version is summarised here for those interested:

  • A significant majority (66%) of subjects are Performers. Of these Performers,
  • 37% are singers
  • 29% are pianists
  • 17% are string players
  • 5% are conductors
  • 12% are ensembles
  • Just 2% are wind players of any sort!
  • Composers represent 26% of subjects, while “Others” come in at just 9%.
  • 57% of all entries are Male, 32% female (the remaining 11% accounts for non-individuals such as ensembles and festivals).
  • 38% of all subjects are featured in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (log in with your Westminster library card).

If you’re anything like me, a chart of percentages and statistics fills you with delight, but these data do indeed serve a useful purpose. The Evans Collection may be used to draw comparisons between historical music circles and today’s, to the interest of music fans and great benefit of historians. For example, over one-third of all performers reported on were singers, as opposed to a mere 0.2% being woodwind or brass players! (Speaking as a French horn player myself, I am grateful to report that today’s classical music culture is much more balanced in favour of wind players: trombonist Christian Lindberg, for example, or clarinettist Julian Bliss, are well-known names.)

My work with the Edwin Evans Press Cuttings Collection is, regrettably, finished for now. As previously mentioned, a digital archive of the collection is the goal, but for now, even with the publication of this catalogue, it is hoped that this will go some way in increasing the collection’s accessibility to all interested parties.

The newly-created catalogue is now available online, via the Westminster Libraries web pages – take a look.

Edwin Evans' Press Cuttings Collection online

[Jon]

The Silvertown Explosion

London's disasters, by John WithingtonWe live in a time of international terrorism. London is seen as a prime target and is on high alert for such an attack. There have been attacks and bombings in London before of course, especially during the IRA ‘Troubles’.

But it was one hundred years ago on Friday 19 January 1917 when occurred London’s largest ever loss of life through explosion. However, this was not due to enemy action, even though it took place during a World War – it was home grown and totally avoidable.

One of the main industries in Silvertown at the time was the Brunner Mond chemical factory, which produced soda crystals and caustic soda. However the caustic soda plant had been closed down in 1912 and was standing idle. In 1915, this was “practically requisitioned” by the Government agency, the Explosives Supply Department who wanted to use it to purify the explosive trinitrotoluene (TNT) for use in ammunition. This was despite the fact that the plant was located in a heavily populated area, which also had other volatile chemical and refining industries, a point stressed by the Brunner Mond directors who were opposed to the plans. The government thought that the production of TNT was safe as long as the purification process (to be undertaken here) was kept separate from the manufacture of raw TNT. Consequently the processes did not have to comply with the regulations of the 1875 Explosives Act.

Production started in September 1915 on a 24-hour basis, employing three shifts. The protracted battles of trench warfare were consuming vast quantities of ammunition (and lives), while making little tactical advance.

Silvertown Explosion Memorial, near Pontoon Dock station.

The memorial to the Silvertown explosion. This is located below the Docklands Light Railway near Pontoon Dock station.

On the night of 19 January 1917, the inevitable happened and there was an explosion at 6.52 pm. It is believed that this was caused by a fire in the melt pot room. The reason for the fire breaking out was not established, as the witnesses who raised the alarm were killed in the explosion. It should not have been unexpected though. Only in the previous month, the plant had been visited by a government inspector, whose report stated that

“It is perfectly clear that the management at Silvertown did not pay sufficient attention to the explosion risk attached to the handling of TNT.”

In particular he reported that there were no precautions in place against friction sparks. The explosion was so severe that it destroyed the factory, other local factories, the local fire station (which was opposite the factory and had only opened in 1914) and damaged thousands of homes. The explosion could be heard 100 miles away. Sixty-nine people were killed in the explosion with four more subsequently dying from their injuries. Another ninety-eight people were seriously injured and more than nine hundred suffered minor injuries.

Plaque, Postman's Park, City of London

A plaque in Postman’s Park in the City of London commemorates a policeman who was on duty outside the factory when the fire broke out. He stayed at his post to warn people of the dangers of explosion, but later lost his life in hospital from the injuries he received.

The loss of life in the Silvertown disaster would be treated as a major scandal today, but unfortunately then it was just another statistic among the countless lives lost already in the Great War and those still to die before peace came in 1918. With no radio, television, internet or social media in those days, it was far easier for the government to conceal bad news. There was postal and press censorship, designed to prevent contact with the enemy and to ensure that the conflict was presented to the public in a pro-Allied light.

This censorship is illustrated by using the usual research routes. To see how news was reported at the time of an event, one can search newspaper archives such as the Times Digital Archive (log in with your library card number). However, searching for Silvertown explosion or Silvertown disaster brings no results.  Neither does a similar search in The Illustrated London News. Even searching Gale News Vault for Silvertown 1917 only brings up an article in The Times from 1925, appealing for funds to rebuild St. Barnabas Church which had been destroyed in the explosion.

Searching the Times Digital Archive by date, on 20 February there is only a brief one line report that

“there had been an explosion in a munitions factory near London, and that considerable loss of life and damage to property were feared.”

A fuller report is given on Monday 22 February (on page 9) but again it refers to ‘The explosion near London’ and does not state the actual location or name of the factory concerned. There are no illustrations. It is interesting to note though, that while there is some ‘positive spin’ in the reporting the paper does make some critical comments about the slack enforcement of safety regulations by the authorities.

The dearth of contemporary reports, while interesting from an historical point of view, means that we have to look elsewhere for more information. One book that contains quite a bit about the explosion is London’s Disasters: from Boudicca to the banking crisis, by John Withington (pictured above), available from your library.

[Malcolm]

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]

“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.

[Rory]