Tag Archives: newspapers

A Blue Plaque for a Marylebone Punk Rocker

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

Blue plaque for Joe Strummer

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

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

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

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

[Francis]

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]

Interesting times (1)

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

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

Owen writes:

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

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

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

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

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

[Owen]

Read all about it! The Observer

“It is a fact, however disgraceful to human nature, that an old harpy living in a  court near Exeter Change has not less than five little girls in her hovel who she dresses out with all the frippery of meretriciousness and upon whose prostitution she supports an uncertain and even wretched existence – yet such is the force of habit she prefers wickedness and misery to honest labour and competency”

Not the opening of a Gothic novel but a story in the first ever edition of The Observer – the oldest Sunday newspaper in the world – first published on 4 December 1791, 225 years ago last Sunday. As you can see, even then, scandal was what people wanted to read with their Sunday breakfast – one wonders how many people went straight to Exeter Change in order to check the veracity of the piece…

Other stories in the first issue included the Duke of Bedford laying the foundation stone for the new Theatre Royal Drury Lane (it burned down in 1809) and a gentleman who died after being gored by ‘a tormented over-driven ox in Cheapside’. Plus the tantalising snippet that

“The unfortunate man who was driven so inhumanly by the mistaken mob a few days ago proved to be, not Oxley the mail-robber, as was supposed but a poor lunatic who had escaped from his keeper.”

They had a major coup in 1812 when their reporter Vincent Dowling was present at the assassination of the Prime Minister Spencer Perceval in the lobby of the Houses of Parliament and was able to give a first-hand account:

‘The deed was perpetrated so suddenly that the man who fired the pistol was not instantly recognized by those in the lobby, but a person passing at the moment behind Mr Perceval promptly seized the pistol and which the assassin surrendered without resistance.’

The ‘person’ was in fact Dowling himself.

While The Observer is now regarded as a Liberal newspaper, it was anything but in its early days and was the last newspaper to accept subsidies from the secret service. It still maintained some editorial independence though, defying an injunction to report on the trial of the  so-called Cato Street conspirators. The proprietor William Clement was fined the enormous sum of £500, which he refused to pay, but the precedent was then set for newspapers writing about ongoing cases.

Another precedent was set in 1891 when The Observer employed its first woman editor, indeed its only woman editor to date. Rachel Beer was not just the first woman to edit the Observer, she was the first woman to edit any national newspaper. She was born into the wealthy Sassoon family (the poet Siegfried Sassoon was her nephew) and married Frederick Beer, whose father had bought The Observer in 1870. Frederick suffered from ill-health and Rachel eventually took over as editor.

Painting of Rachel BeerIn 1895 she bought The Sunday Times and edited this too for several years, becoming the first and perhaps the only person to edit two rival Sunday papers at the same time. As an editor her major coup was exposing the forgery at the heart of the Dreyfus case.

Beer continued to write for both papers, having leader columns written in indecipherable handwriting delivered at the last minute by her footman, no doubt much to the annoyance of the sub-editors.

Another pioneering woman who worked for The Observer was CA Lejeune, employed as a film critic from 1928 (having previously worked for the Manchester Guardian) at a time when it was fashionable not to take the art form seriously. Other celebrated writers for the paper have included the spy Kim Philby, who used his post as their Middle East editor as cover for his work as an MI5 agent, and George Orwell who reported on the end of the war from the Hotel Scribe in Paris.

You can look back at past issues of The Observer and read articles by Vita Sackville-West, Arthur Koestler, Kenneth Tynan and many others – the full Observer archive is available online with your Westminster library card. And very fascinating they are too! Don’t forget we also have the archives of The Guardian, the Times, the Illustrated London News and many other periodicals.

[Nicky]