Tag Archives: local 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 When new books were added or old books withdrawn the cards had to be manually filed or removed.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:

Citizens in Marylebone, for International Women’s Day

The St Marylebone Women Citizen’s Association arose out of a meeting convened by the local branch of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage. It was decided to form an association to promote ‘citizenship’ among the women of St Marylebone.

St Marylebone Women Citizen's Association - draft constitution, 26 September 1918. Image property of Westminster City Archives

St Marylebone Women Citizen’s Association – draft constitution, 26 September 1918. Image property of Westminster City Archives

A draft constitution dated 26 September 1918 declares that the Association was to be non-sectarian and non-party-political, with membership open to all women from the age of eighteen upwards. Other societies with women members could affiliate to the Association. The initial subscription rate was a minimum of 6d for individual members, 3s 6d for the first fifty members of affiliated societies and 1s 6d for each succeeding fifty. The Association was to be run by a Committee of twelve members to be elected annually each spring by the method of proportional representation. Following strict democratic principle,

“[o]rdinary members of the Committee shall serve for three years – four shall retire each year in rotation and shall not be eligible to serve again until the following year”.

Meetings were to be called upon written requisition of 30 members of the Association, or by 2 members of the Executive Committee.

St Marylebone Women Citizen's Association - entry ticket. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Promoting citizenship meant advancing women’s understanding of social, political, and legal issues, thus encouraging their greater involvement in decision-making and the electoral process. During the first year, members of the association gave lectures to the Girls’ Friendly Society, the North and South Marylebone Schools for Mothers and Church Army Girls’ Club. External speakers were invited to speak on such subjects as housing, women’s working hours and the Ministry of Health Bill.

St Marylebone Women Citizen's Association - schedule of meetings 1921-22. Image property of Westminster City Archives

St Marylebone Women Citizen’s Association – schedule of meetings 1921-22. Image property of Westminster City Archives

The Association was always keenly interested in local government and women candidates for both St Marylebone Borough Council and the London County Council often came to address meetings. Speakers covered subjects like ‘Finance of Government’ (23 February 1921), ‘Criminal Law Amendment Bill’ (16 March 1920), ‘Abolition of the Death Penalty’ (16 November 1925), and ‘Suffrage of Women in India’ (18 December 1931) – topics which, at least at the Association’s early beginnings, would have been unusual conversation topics for even the most learned women whose interests had been frequently confined by social norm to the arts and philanthropy.

The Association also organised visits to the Palace of Westminster (13 January 1923) and to the new Public Library (2 November 1923) before it opened a month later on 18 December.

The first meeting took place on 1 July 1918 and the first Chairman was Mrs Lauritson Shaw. She was succeeded in May 1919 by Miss E Bright Ashford who remained as Chairman until 1938 and who also served for many years as a Councillor on St Marylebone Borough Council.

St Marylebone Women Citizen's Association - event invitation. Image property of Westminster City Archives

By May 1919 the Association had attracted 40 individual members and around 192 members in affiliated societies (Catholic Women’s Suffrage Society, Women’s Liberal Association, Women’s Local Government Association and the Women’s Section of the Labour Party).

In 1928 the Association had 89 members, a number which had declined to 66 by 1933. In that year a circular was sent to members seeking their opinion as to whether the Association should continue to function. This seems to have been provoked by falling membership and poor attendence at meetings. Only 15 members expressed a positive opinion that the Association should continue and there seems to have been little activity between November 1933 and April 1938 when the Association was finally wound up. It is clear that throughout its existence the Association played an important role in helping to educate the women of St Marylebone and encouraging them to take an active role in local government.

[Michelle]

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]

Guided walks from Paddington Library

Amber the walk guide promoting her walk in Paddington Library, July 2016

Staff from City Lit have been leading free, well attended local walks for the local community, starting at the library. The most recent walks began at Paddington Library and took in places of historic and architectural interest such as Little Venice, the area around Paddington Station, Whiteleys of Bayswater and Kensington Palace.

Participants helped themselves to free refreshments at the library before embarking on the tour. Many greatly enjoyed the tour as they got some exercise, met up with people with similar interests and got plenty of fresh air on warm sunny days.

The next walk starts at Marylebone Library on 16 September. Keep an eye on the Forthcoming events page or follow @WCCLibraries on Twitter for news on any future walks and other events.

[Laurence]

“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]

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.

[Abby]

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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[Abby]