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!
The Royal Panopticon, which became the site of the Alhambra Theatre. Illustrated London News, January 1852. Image property of Westminster City Archives
Ordnance survey map showing the Alhambra, 1916
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.
Alhambra playbill for 1874 featuring Kate Stanley in a production of The Black Crook. Image property of Westminster City Archives.
Obituary for Evangeline Estelle Gazina Kennedy (Kate Santley) in 1923
Theatre portraits of Kate Stanley circa 1880, featuring her various acting roles for the Alhambra. Image property of Westminster City Archives
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
1893 ordnance survey map showing The Royal Aquarium
Postcard showing the façade of The Royal Aquarium in 1897. Image property of Westminster City Archives.
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
Census return for 1871, showing the Beckwith family.
1882 theatre playbill from the Royal Aquarium advertising William Beckwith. Image property of Westminster City Archives.
Aquarium Theatre programme for 1884 featuring Professor Beckwith amongst the acts. Image property of Westminster City Archives.
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.
Posted in Archives Centre
Tagged 1837, 1850s, 1854, 1856, 1861, 1872, 1876, 1892, Agnes Beckwith, Alhambra Theatre, archives, Beckwith Frogs, Brighton, Brunswick Square, building, circus, ET Smith, Evangeline Estelle Gazina, Frederick Beckwith, history, Imperial Theatre, Kate Santley, Kennedy, La Belle Hélène, Leicester Square, local history, Lockhart Mure Hartley Kennedy, Methodist Central Hall, music hall, Odeon Leicester Square, Royal Alhambra Palace, Royal Aquarium, Royal Aquarium Theatre, Royal Panopticon of Science and Art, Royalty Theatre, Summer and Winter Garden, swimmer, swimming, theatre, Theatre Collection, Tothill Street, William Beckwith
Staff and readers at Westminster Reference Library are well used to their evening studies being accompanied by the screams of movie fans and the occasional celeb – or indeed fully-garbed Imperial Stormtrooper – passing by in Leicester Square. On Wednesday it was the turn of the Superman fans to line the red (actually blue) carpet route in the pouring rain as the latest re-imagining of the now 75 year old superhero got its first UK outing.
One of the key features of the new film is its cutting-edge visual effects (“You’ll believe a man can fly!”) including the creation of Superman’s planet – Krypton, his home town – Smallville, and his city – Metropolis. Location is often fundamental to the mood of a superhero’s story – think Batman without Gotham City, Thor without Asgard or The Fantastic Four without Latveria. While apparently most of the comic book superheroes have visited London at some point in their stories (probably due to the preponderance of British comic book artists), in the main if you remove a superhero from his or her city a great deal of atmosphere is lost.
Research for Man of Steel’s Metropolis involved effects artists scaling the perilous heights of Chicago’s skyscrapers, held only by ropes and harnesses. But what might the less well-funded comic book artist or aspiring film maker do to find inspiration for their own superhero city? They could do worse than visit the library! In fact, popping around the corner from the excesses of the premiere would have afforded a range of resources to inform and delight.
They could begin with a look at the precedents: Film Architecture: set designs from Metropolis to Bladerunner might be a good place to start. This exhibition catalogue is held within the library’s amazing Performing Arts collection – a browse along the nearby shelves would reveal several more books on this and related topics. Moving over to the Art & Design collection they could browse books on the buildings of Chicago, New York and other cities around the world, plus books on different architects, architectural styles and movements.
Of course, there are not enough superheroes based in our own beloved city (in fact, are there any?). A bit of research into London’s architecture would seem to be in order.
Airborne heroine? London High might come in handy.
Lycra-clad hero? Take a look at The architecture of London 2012.
If you’re not planning to imagine your own city, but want to become immersed in the imaginations of the best of the comic book artists, then you can visit one of the city’s lending libraries and borrow some of our brilliant range of graphic novels and comics.
Just as Man of Steel is intended as a ‘reboot’ of the Superman films, so DC comics have recently rebooted all their classic characters – including Superman – with ‘The New 52‘, many of which we have available to borrow. We also have Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise, source of the “Look it up!” Librarian (yes, we all think we’re superheroes).
If you get really hooked, don’t forget you can meet with like-minded souls at the Marylebone Library Graphic Novel Club which meets monthly on a Wednesday.
[Ali, Clint, Psyche]
Posted in Books, Marylebone Library, Special collections, Westminster Reference Library
Tagged architecture, art & design, book groups, Chicago, comics, DC Comics, films, graphic novels, London, Man of Steel, Marylebone, Metropolis, movies, New 52, Odeon Leicester Square, performing arts, premiere, Superman, Westminster Reference
On Saturday 8 October at around 9.20am, there was a large crowd of excited children with their parents and carers gathered outside the Odeon Leicester Square, waiting for the doors to open. All the children had been invited to a special screening of Disney/Pixar’s ‘Cars 2’ because they had completed this year’s Summer Reading Challenge, ‘Circus Stars’.
The children were welcomed by the Right Worshipful Lord Mayor of Westminster, who delivered a short speech congratulating the children on thier achievement, and thanked both the Odeon Leicester Square and Disney Pixar for their continued support, which for many years now has made this annual celebratory event possible.
Over 2,500 children joined the challenge in their local Westminster library and 1,300 completed the challenge of reading 6 books or more. Over 8,200 books were borrowed from Westminster Libraries and read by the children taking part. Not only did they enjoy reading the books, but many may have avoided having the ‘summer dip’ in literacy levels that many children experience over the long break from school.
For the first time people were asked to volunteer as Summer Reading Mentors this year, and there was a fantastic response, with over 90 people volunteering – over 80 of whom were under the age of 25! They were fantastic – spending nearly 2,000 hours helping to deliver the challenge and being ‘reading ambassadors’ in the community.
As ever this was a great event, the children thoroughly enjoyed the film and the experience and are already looking forward to taking up the challenge next year… and another trip to the Odeon Leicester Square.
The final event of this year’s Space Hop Summer Reading Challenge took place on Saturday 16 October at the Odeon Leicester Square. Over 1,300 tickets were given out to children who read six or more books over the school holidays (and their parents or carers) to see “Toy Story 3”.
Councillor Nick Yarker (Deputy Cabinet Minister for Children’s Services) opened proceedings praising the efforts and achievements of the children and thanking the Odeon Leicester Square and Disney/Pixar for the free showing of the film. Toy Story 3 was enjoyed by all and got its own round of applause as the credits rolled.
During the summer over 2,600 children joined the challenge with nearly 1,338 children reading 6 books or more. Over 131,000 children’s items were borrowed from Westminster Libraries over the summer holidays. A staggering 141 events and activities were held for children in the libraries during the holidays, with over 2,700 people attending.
Summer’s well and truly gone but the reading goes on – and there are events to make the most of half-term and Hallowe’en throughout the next week.