Tag Archives: ODNB

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]

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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]

A Bear of Very Little Brain

Commuters reading the London Evening News on Christmas Eve 1925 would have seen a new children’s story called ‘The Wrong Sort of Bees’, featuring the first appearance of a honey-loving bear. What the readers wouldn’t have known is that this wasn’t the last they would hear of this particular bear. Ten months later, on 14 October 1924, Winnie-the-Pooh was published and everyone’s favourite bear appeared between hard covers for the first time.

Opening page of Winnie the Pooh by A A Milne

Pooh’s creator, AA (Alan Alexander) Milne (1882-1956) grew up in Kilburn, where his father ran Henley House school. The school boasted HG Wells as one of its teachers and for a time Wells did teach the young Milne. He then went onto Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge where he made the right contacts and was able to get a job working on Punch. As well as writing comic essays and sketches he found success as a a novelist and as a playwright (The Dover Road was recently revived at Jermyn Street Theatre) but it was as a writer for children that he found lasting fame.

In 1921 Milne bought a teddy bear at Harrods for his baby son Christopher Robin which was soon named after Winnipeg, a Canadian bear in London Zoo. Winnipeg was a female bear which presumably accounts for the nickname Winnie. Young Christopher’s toys also included a donkey, a kangaroo and a piglet and later a tiger (but no owl). These toys, along with Christopher Robin himself found themselves appearing in Milne’s stories. The initial 1925 publication in the London Evening News was followed in 1926 by Winnie-the-Pooh, with The House at Pooh Corner following in 1928.

The books were instant successes. Christopher Milne found himself a rather unwilling celebrity and the subject of much teasing at school. Eventually he left London and spent many happy years running a bookshop in Dartmouth, Devon.

Incidentally, you can see Winnie, Piglet, Kanga and friends on display in the New York Public Library, where they are kept in captivity and much appreciate visitors from home… [see post script below]

Map inside cover of Winnie the Pooh, by A A Milne

For many of us, our enjoyment of the stories owes as much to the charming pictures as to the text. And these were drawn by another Londoner – EH (Ernest Howard) Shepard (1879-1976), who spent much of his life in St John’s Wood. He was born at 55 Springfield Road and in the 1930s lived in a splendid house in Melina Place with his son Graeme, whose own bear Growler was the model for Shepard’s drawings of Pooh. Shepard, of course, also drew the most famous set of illustrations for The Wind in the Willows (which AA Milne dramatised as Toad of Toad Hall) and he wrote a charming memoir of his St John’s Wood childhood called Drawn from Memory. This includes his memories of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and the famous 1887 fire that completely destroyed Whiteley’s department store (then in Westbourne Grove) which could be seen from Highgate Hill. You can see a plaque to EH Shepard at another of his Westminster homes – 10 Kent Terrace, Regents Park.

EH Shepard illustration from Winnie-the-Pooh

You can find out more about AA and Christopher Robin Milne and EH Shepard in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log in with your library card number). You may also wish to look at the splendid bound volumes of Punch held by Westminster Reference Library.

Christopher RobinWinnie the PoohAnd of course, you’ll find plenty of Disney DVDs in our children’s libraries though you’ll have to try to ignore the American accents and the incongruous Gopher – we all know the real Pooh was a true Londoner!

[Nicky]

Post script: Catherine Cooke of the Sherlock Holmes Collection has paid several visits to Pooh and friends in their New York home, and sent these great pictures to share:

Winnie the Pooh and friends in the New York Public Library, January 2015. Picture credit: Catherine Cooke  Winnie the Pooh and friends in the New York Public Library, January 2015. Picture credit: Catherine Cooke

Who Lived Where: The London Blue Plaque Scheme

William Ewart's blue plaque at Hampton Public LibraryWith over nine thousand plaques mounted on buildings scattered throughout the capital, the London Blue Plaques scheme is well known. In some streets of central London, almost all the buildings display a plaque, or even more than one. What you may not be aware of is that the interesting scheme celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. Here’s a short history:

William Ewart, a Liberal MP, suggested that the government should start this scheme to honour significant London residents in 1863. The idea was rejected due to cost, but three years later in 1866 the Society of Arts (later the Royal Society of Arts) took the scheme on.

Napoleon III's blue plaque in Kings Street, St JamesThe first two plaques were erected in 1867. The first commemorated the poet Lord Byron at his birthplace, 24 Holles Street off Cavendish Square, but was later destroyed with the demolition of the house. The second plaque in Kings Street, St James was erected to the exiled French emperor Napoleon III London residence.  This has survived.

William Ewart is in the select group who are commemorated with more than one plaque. English Heritage, the current custodians of the scheme, now restrict the scheme to a single plaque per person however many addresses that individual had. William Ewart is commemorated in central London but also his former house which is now Hampton Public Library in south west London (see picture above). This is a particularly fitting commemoration as, whilst an MP, William Ewart introduced a bill that became Britain’s first Public Library Act setting up a network of free public libraries..

The London Blue Plaque Guide by Nick RennisonI think it is fair to say that for many years this scheme has favoured establishment figures and there has been a definite bias towards males. Currently only 13% of the total commemorate women. Recognising this, English Heritage is making concerted efforts to get proposals from the public for female candidates.
Westminster is home to plaques for several ‘non-establishment’ figures, including Crimean war nurse Mary Seacole and, unusually, one commemorating an event rather than a person: The Cato Street Conspiracy, which was a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister and Cabinet in 1820.

Mary Seacole's blue plaque in Soho Square, London   Blue plaque for the Cato Street conspiracy, 1820

Biographical details for these and other blue plaque entries can be found on the English Heritage website. You can find out more in one of the many Blue Plaque guides available from your library. However, for a more comprehensive, detailed biography why not use your library membership to consult the Oxford Dictionary of  National Biography online? Nearby, Kensington Central Library also holds a Biographies special collection of approximately 80,000 books, to which annually over 1,000 new titles are added.

[Francis]

A month in Rome

The story that draws our attention today begins beautifully:

‘Thursday April 6th

Cover of James Knowles diary, April 1854. Image property of Westminster City ArchivesYesterday morning early the Neapolitan Company’s boat “Calabre[s]e” (300 horse power) brought us into the picturesque harbour of Civita Vecchia after a most tranquil night of passage from Leghorn. The moon and stars had added to their beauty the interest of a rare guest & a small comet with a nucleus of great brightness was visible during the first hours of the evening. After some idle time of waiting whilst passport formalities were in progress we were admitted to land […]’

James Knowles diary, 6 April 1854. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Inspired by the daily updates and podcasts of Nathaniel Bryceson’s diary of 1846, we have turned our noses internally to seek out similar items in the Westminster City Archives‘ collections. There are a number of manuscript diaries in the deposited archives and even more in the printed collections.

The object in question is James Knowles’ account of a month spent in Rome in April 1854 – just eight years after Bryceson was detailing his daily life in London. There is great enjoyment to be found in Knowles’ vivid descriptions of a tourist experience eerily familiar yet so far removed for the lucky ones among us who have seen Rome. Examining its content superficially, this detailed narrative paints the experience of the travelling Englishman which we can cross-reference with what is known of the time. The Neapolitan boat arriving from Leghorn, for example, was part of a longer route leaving Marseilles and travelling through Genoa, Leghorn, and Civita Vecchia on the way to Naples over 4 days (see bibliography below). Knowles comments upon recognisable works of art and tourist sites also:

‘We looked again into the Cathederal but liked it none the more. The dome less & less. The size of the place tho’ grand, it seemed wonderfully great today.

Passing the Pantheon, look’ again into it for a few moments and liked it better, especially the Portiico seemed finer than at first sight […]’

James Knowles diary, 8-9 April 1854. Image property of Westminster City Archives

But the value of this item is manifold, for it opens a space in which to briefly consider the diary as a historical source. The value of diaries as sources for social research is one which has been considered widely with both school-level and scholarly learning in mind and is one which we hope to touch upon at a later date. Pervasively though, it is agreed that one must start by addressing preliminary concerns, ie: by questioning by whom and when a diary was written, its purpose and its intended audience, and of course, its subject.

This diary is that of a young man, but Sir James Knowles (1831-1908) (log in to the ODNB with your library card number) was to become a key figure in nineteenth century London.

Whilst this is, generally, a travel diary, it is particularly the voyage of a learned man whose knowledge of the classics and the arts is scholarly and well-established. Following the life and literary output of Knowles’ work allows us to place it in a wider context of acquisition and use of knowledge. In the “Papers of Sir James Thomas Knowles, Architect and Editor, 1850-1908”, the deposited collection held here at the Archives Centre (Ref no: 716), it is one in a set of diaries of a tour of Italy and Sicilly. The only other one of our collection is “No.3” – a daily account of travels in and around Naples and in Sicily that ends in mid-sentence of description of journey from Salerno to Amalfi. Whilst the diary of the month in Rome cannot linearly be traced to another item in our collection, diary no. 3 can, for we hold a volume of lecture notes on travels to Rome and Sicily for a lecture delivered to the Clapham Literary and Scientific Institute in January 1856.

Sir James Knowles was an architect and journal editor, with humble origins editing the Clapham Magazine to becoming an associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1853, and a fellow of the institute in 1870, founding and editing the Nineteenth Century journal and being a key member of the Metaphysical Society, a representative ‘theological society’ to discuss the bases of morality founded 1869.

Besides the diaries in question, the deposited papers in Acc 716 include letters to notable persons and the Royal Family, papers relating to the Metaphysical Society and Nineteenth Century journal including manuscript drafts, photographs and papers relating to the knighthood and death of Sir James Knowles and other examples of speeches papers and poems.

We hope that this has inspired you to visit and peruse these treasures more closely!

[Michelle]


Bibliography:

A handbook for travellers in southern Italy : being a guide for the continental portion of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies : with a travelling map and plans” (Paris, 1855), accessed 27 April 2016

Sidney Lee, ‘Knowles, Sir James Thomas (1831–1908)’, rev. H. C. G. Matthew, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sept 2010, accessed 3 May 2016

The Fairytale of Leicester City

King Richard IIILast week saw the rather unexpected news of Leicester City clinching the football Premier League title. Was this really as significant as many newspapers described? The most uplifting story in British sporting history, or perhaps the biggest upset/shock? The team’s odds were 5000 to 1 at the beginning of the season having narrowly avoided relegation last year, after all. It was that and more, according to the papers.

To compare this victory with other surprise wins and ‘rise of the underdog’ stories, we should first take a look at how Leicester City’s story was reported last week:

  • Go to the library to look at the recent newspapers held there
  • Use NewsBank to search through all the stories about Leicester City being champions – you can even read Leicester’s local paper The Leicester Mercury. You could go further, following how the story unfolded throughout the season, starting all the way back in August 2015.
  • Read through more stories and see the papers themselves on Library Press Display – the Foxes’ victory was reported as far afield as Thailand, India, the US and more.

But why stop there? Have a look through other resources we have to see whether other sporting shocks had comparable headlines. Explore the tabloid newspapers on UK Press Online and take your search back further and further using the Times Digital Archive or The Guardian and Observer archive. Have a look at some of the suggested shocks mentioned by others: Boris Becker winning Wimbledon in 1985, Denmark winning the European Championships having not qualified, Nottingham Forest’s winning of the league and then European cup just after being promoted from the second division, Wimbledon’s crazy gang’s rise to prominence and FA cup glory in 1988… the list goes on. The headlines and stories are fascinating.

Football stories almost always involve a heroic manager, amazing team work and  notable individuals (Leicester’s stories even discuss the importance of Richard III!). Whatever the sport you will see that the English press – and people – always love an underdog; often more than their own team!

The above is just an illustration of how library resources can help you dig deep, research and analyse a story through looking at how it was reported in the media. The same principles can be applied to any story for personal interest, school projects or other research.

You can find free access to all these great databases – and much more – in the Newspapers and magazines section of our Online resources by subject page. Just log in from wherever you are using the number on your library card. In the Biography section you can also find out more about many of the people involved in the stories mentioned above by looking at Who’s who and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[Owen]

Computer Pioneers: The Westminster Connection

Spurred on by spotting Charles Babbage’s (1791–1871) Green Plaque on a building at 1a Dorset Street, Marylebone, I began to investigate the life of this computing pioneer, who began working on the idea of inventing automatic calculating machines at this address from the 1830s. This work followed his invention of a ‘difference engine’, a fixed-function calculator which used existing mathematical formulae to calculate an answer.

Charles Babbage & his calculating engines, by Doron Swade In contrast, the analytical engine was designed to calculate virtually any mathematical function using programmable numerical data, in any sequence, to find the answer. It would have been programmed by using punched cards, a technique used by loom operators at that time to control the patterns of the woven thread.

Punched holes on cards remained as the means for programming computers in many of the IBM and other early 20th century computers. In fact, immediately before the rise of the personal computer, I remember using hole punched cards denoting chosen subject terms as a means of searching for article references.

Babbage’s use of punched cards is important as it would enabled the operator to repeat the same sequence of operations and also choose alternative actions depending on the value of a result. A landmark in Babbage’s continuous development of his design came with a significant change of the machine’s internal organisation. He separated the stored numbers (data) from the section which processed it, thus laying the foundation for modern computers’ storing data together with a processor to manipulate this data.

Unfortunately Babbage never persuaded the British government or private investors to finance the construction of his machines. Luckily his notes and plans together with his correspondence with Westminster’s next computer pioneer have meant that physical reconstructions are possible. You can see examples of reconstructions at London’s Science Museum.

A female genius : how Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter, started the computer age, by James EssingerBabbage’s great supporter and an important contributor to his work was Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace (1815–1852), the daughter of Lord Byron. Her residence, 12 St James’s Square SW1, displays an English Heritage Blue Plaque celebrating this contribution to computing history.

Lovelace is credited with understanding Babbage’s machine perhaps even better than he did himself, and with devising the first complex computer programme. In a letter to Babbage dated 10 July 1843, she suggests

“I want to put in something about Bernoulli’s Number, in one of my notes, as an example of how an explicit function may be worked out by the engine, without having been worked out by human head and hands first”.

She is posthumously celebrated for this achievement with a modern programming language named after her: Ada. Without the contribution of both parties the design of the analytical machine would not evolved as one of the first programmable computers. In this partnership Babbage was the engineer and Lovelace the programmer and visionary who saw its potential.

The final pioneer, Alan Turing had a much more tenuous link with the borough, being born in Westminster at Warrington Lodge, 2 Warrington Avenue, Maida Vale before being ‘shipped out’ aged one to the to the care of relations when his parents left for several years in India. However fleeting this connection he is also recognised with an English Heritage Blue Plaque on this house.

Prof: Alan Turing Decoded, by Dermot TuringPosthumously famous for his WW2 code breaking efforts at Bletchley Park, about which we have written before, Alan Turing is also widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence, providing a formalisation of the concepts of algorithm and computing with his design of the Turing machine in the 1930s and his postwar research.

Alan Turing’s work and life is also the subject of the recent feature film ‘The Imitation Game‘.

With pleasing symmetry there is a link between Turing and Lovelace. In the 1930s, whilst working on artificial intelligence and computing, Alan Turing rediscovered her notes on programming and this had a significant influence on his research.

Further biographical details for all three pioneers can also be found using the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log in to all of these subscription sites for free with your library membership card). It’s worth looking to the newspaper archives for further insight too – I found several further references to Charles Babbage in The Times Digital Archive as the newspaper published several of his letters relating to various scientific topics. He also wrote to the Illustrated London News describing, with illustrations, a devise which is similar to an early example of a periscope. This was designed for artillery troops to safely line up guns from beneath a parapet. (ILN Saturday, August 18, 1855; pg. 210; Issue 757).

More information about these pioneers and the wider history of computing can be obtained from two further 24/7 reference resources. Credo Reference and Oxford Digital Reference Shelf are both searchable resources which use a number of dictionaries, textbooks and encyclopedias as source material. Just type in the relevant search term, eg: Ada Lovelace, to display a number of links to original text relating to this search.

A brief history of computing by Gerard O'ReganReturning to print, on the shelves of Marylebone Information Service is an useful guide to computing history: A Brief History of Computing by Gerard O’Regan.
The book begins with early civilizations such as the Babylonians and Egyptians, who developed mathematics, geometry and astronomy using methods such as a counting board (an early form of abacus) and algebra to make theoretical calculations, and leads right through to modern computer programming and the internet revolution.

And the computer revolution goes on. Will the next pioneer come from one of our Code Clubs for kids? There are currently regular clubs meeting at Charing CrossChurch Street, Maida Vale and St John’s Wood libraries, but more are planned – ask in your library for details.

[Francis]