Tag Archives: Mayfair

Cousins in Mayfair

Cousins by Salley VickersMayfair Library Reading Group met yesterday to discuss Cousins by Salley Vickers.

May 1994: Will Tye, a student at Cambridge, falls from the tower of King’s College. This event is the starting point for a story running through three generations of the Tye family, told from the view point of three different women: Will’s sister Hetta, grandmother Betsy and his aunt Bell. The group felt that this device was sometimes confusing, they weren’t always sure who was speaking.

All agreed that the ending (which we won’t give away!) was the best part of the book, when the story really picked up. They saw it as interesting rather than shocking or surprising.

Salley Vickers is probably best known for her first novel, published in 2000, Miss Garnet’s Angel. You can find her other books, including Cousins, in Westminster Libraries.

Miss Garnet's Angel by Salley Vickers  The Boy who could see Death by Salley Vickers  The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers

The group meets at the end of March to discuss their next book, Cartes Postales from Greece by Victoria Hislop. Come and join in!

[Debra]

From woof to tra la la la la

Mayfair Library held two heartwarming events last week.

Dodger Dog balloonOn Monday 28 November, Karen Gee read her book, ‘How I Became Dodger Dog!’, which is based on the true story of how an unwanted little Staffie puppy found his ‘forever home’.
Around 30 excited children came to Mayfair Children’s Library after school to hear Dodger’s story and to receive stickers and balloons.

The reading was warmly received by children and parents alike and was both entertaining and educational, promoting responsible dog ownership. Signed copies were available to buy, with 25% of the profits going to dog charities throughout the world.

Mayfair Community Choir at Mayfair Library, November 2016

The next day, Christmas started early when the Mayfair Community Choir performed their Welsh-themed Christmas concert. There were readings from A child’s Christmas in Wales, interspersed with verse and carols. The evening finished with wine and welsh snacks.

Mayfair Community Choir at and their 'I love my librarian' badges at Mayfair Library, November 2016The choir all wore badges proclaiming ‘I love my Librarian’ and made a rousing plea to all present to express their support for librarians in Westminster.

[Katrina]

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]

“It’s a lovely job – I’ve been so lucky”

Jennifer, library assistant at Maida Vale LibraryMeet Westminster Council’s longest serving staff member:
Jennifer is a Library Assistant at Maida Vale Library and has worked for the council for 46 years.

Having grown up in Weston-super-Mare, Jennifer was working in Bristol Libraries until a friend got a job with Westminster City Council in 1970. Inspired to write “on the off chance” that there might be library work available, she was offered an interview in Marylebone and then a job, returning to Bristol to work out her notice. That done, she moved to London and started work at Mayfair Library the very next day.

While the change from Bristol to London took some getting used to, Jennifer found being in the centre of the capital with all its opportunities really exciting and has never looked back. She soon moved from Mayfair Library to Maida Vale Library and there she has stayed.

Maida Vale Library“Maida Vale Library is so full of character, it used to be a Methodist Church and has appeared on television in Minder, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em and lots more”.

Of course, working life was quite different 46 years ago. One of the main changes that Jennifer has noticed is a more egalitarian environment:

“I remember how formal it was. There was no calling anyone by their first name,  we were all Miss, Mrs or Mr and then our surname”.

And libraries themselves have changed and grown.

“The job has changed significantly from when I first started. Back then it was just books. Now we are a one-stop shop, social centre, we offer pension advice, English classes, toddler groups and we are the only council department where anyone can come and see us.”

Books by Ruth Rendell in Westminster LibrariesOf course there are still books too, and Ruth Rendell, who visited Jennifer’s former workplace of Mayfair in 2013 and lived locally until her death in 2015, is a particular favourite.

“She describes her characters so well and the places she sets her books are ones I know.”

When talking to Jennifer her enthusiasm for her work and workplace is palpable. It’s great to know that the library service can inspire such dedication that we have the longest serving employee in the whole of the council.

“Do I enjoy it? Well I would have to, to stay this long! I love the work, the people, and the environment. I love seeing my regulars and having a chat whilst building relationships within the community.”

Thanks Jennifer.

I need to get rid of the Ferrari

Yellow Diamond by Andrew Martin A great discussion took place in Mayfair Library last week, at the end of author Andrew Martin’s talk about his latest book Yellow Diamond – a crime of the super rich.

The book is set in Mayfair and Andrew has included in it many comments overheard as he wandered the streets and smoked in the cigar shop. One brilliant example was “I’m going to have the change the Ferrari – it’s no good for my back”!

The audience, made up of residents and workers in Mayfair, became passionate about how the area has changed. Some believed it was for the better and others thought it was for the worse. We were queuing up to buy the book from him at the end of the evening, especially to see if we recognised any of the characters in it (although I am sure Andrew will have a disclaimer at the front saying it is not based on any living person).

Author Andrew Martin at Mayfair Library, November 2015

Andrew took us down memory lane to his childhood in York when riding the trains of his youth was a joy rather than the painful experience of commuting many of us take now, and this was a real insight into the creation of his historical crime novels featuring Jim Stringer, railwayman and detective. We’ve previously featured Andrew’s books in a blog about railway-themed crime writing – read more.

“Super interesting … loved the chat at the end.”

“Fantastic, fascinating- could have listened to Andrew and the Q&A all night.”

[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!

The Mayfair Treasure Hunt!

Mayfair LibraryOn Thursday 4 June, Deborah Javor of the Friends of Mayfair Library and Susie Johns joined forces to raise money in support of Mayfair Library.

The evening kicked off with drinks and canapés for 120 people at the Grosvenor’s head office. Participants were sent off with a map and a series of clues to hunt for treasure in the mean streets of Mayfair. The Millennium Hotel was hosting a “pit stop” for the journey serving tea, coffee and savoury snacks.

Deborah Javor of the Friends of Mayfair Library welcomes participants in the Mayfair Library Treasure Hunt 2015

Deborah Javor welcomes participants in the Mayfair Library Treasure Hunt 2015

The final destination was the Porsche showroom on Berkeley Square, where Porsche kindly offered their space to host a buffet dinner and an auction. There was also a band and prizes for winners – and even for losers.

The Daniel Benisty Band performing at the Porsche Centre - Mayfair Library Treasure Hunt 2015

The Daniel Benisty Band performing at the Porsche Centre

This was a great opportunity to bring residents and local businesses together.

Prizes were kindly donated by local businesses such as The Beaumont Hotel, the Connaught Hotel, Watches of Switzerland, Le Gavroche, Thomas Goode, Langan’s Brasserie etc… (too many names to mention!)

This was an amazing night and it is estimated that the Friends of Mayfair Library were able to raise £10,000 through ticket sales, donations and the auction. The money raised by the Friends will be used to pay for a range of initiatives to promote literacy and also to extend the range of library activities for the people who live and work in Mayfair.

Thank you to all our sponsors, donors and supporters.

[Frederic]