Tag Archives: research

How Westminster Libraries’ resources helped me to trace an elusive artist

'A view from the artist’s studio', print by Jessie Beswick

‘A view from the artist’s studio’ by Jessie Beswick

Recently I found this engraving in a junk shop. The print was crudely held in place with a sheet of cardboard and peeling masking tape. The frame was immediately recycled, the backing replaced with acid free mount board. However I must thank the anonymous framer for their work in keeping the print in its frame but also more importantly for scrawling in ballpoint ink biographical and geographical information about this print titled ‘A view from the artist’s studio’.

The writer also stated that the artist – Jessie Beswick – was a sister of their grandfather. Without this information this would have simply been a pleasing anonymous town view from a window.

Not so useful was the difficult handwriting which made interpretation difficult. Luckily from this text there was no ambiguity in interpreting the picture’s location, King Street Chester. What were more problematical to read were the artist’s maiden and married surnames which meant using possible name variations in any search for this artist!

With no stated date on the print it was not a just a case of Googling a name and finding her. Even if I was confident with the surname spelling of Beswick I found a number of alternative individuals with this name. I suspected that ‘my’ artist was active before 1945, on the basis that the writer was two generations younger than the artist and had written the information relatively recently – ballpoint pens did not come into mass use until the late 1950s. Another fact which proved to be a red herring in an initial search for her in Chester Street directories (located in the City of London’s Guildhall Library) was to assume that the King Street studio was her residence. In fact it turned out from census and other evidence that Jessie Beswick resided at other addresses in Chester.

It was time to bite the bullet and use Westminster’s ‘In House’ online resources for family history, Ancestry and Find My Past.

Having two surnames to deal with, I first checked marriage records using Find My Past. Success: after several false hits I found the marriage of Jessie Beswick to Walter W White (Walmsley-White) in Chester in 1914. The record usefully included her parents’ names and her age, thus narrowing down by date any census searches for further information. The 1901 census found her, aged 15, residing at her parents’ house. The 1911 census entry usefully reminded me that the census is a record of household occupation on a specific night which is not necessarily the home address. A Jessie Beswick was staying with friends in Lancashire but I am convinced that this is the same person as her occupation is listed as an artist and the birth year and place of birth matches the previous census entry.

I have mentioned my problem of reading original handwriting. Transcribed entries from the census enumerator returns can also provide evidence of transcription errors. Jessie’s name had been transcribed as ‘Lessie’ in Ancestry’s 1891 census entry for the Beswick household.

Find My Past also has a useful facility to search selected local newspapers. An October 1915 issue of the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette reports on a local art exhibition which was

“strengthened by the contributions of some new members, and a new feature is collection of etchings by … Jessie Beswick (Mrs. Walmsley White), the latter lady being also represented in the oils section by two excellent studies of Brittany”.

Confirmation of the move was found when I used print resources at Westminster Reference Library’s Art & Design Collection. Post 1914 entries all list Jessie Walmsley White with a Devon address and prior to marriage her maiden name together with a Chester address. With this information it is reasonable to date this print between 1900 and 1914.

Royal Academy Exhibitors, 1905-1970The first resource I used was Royal Academy exhibitors, 1905-1970: a dictionary of artists and their work in the Summer Exhibitions
Vol. 6: SHERR-ZUL. 

This dictionary revealed that she had paintings exhibited in three separate exhibitions. Unfortunately the dictionary does not include illustrations but listed the botanical subjects of these works.

On a previous visit to Westminster Reference Library I had noticed a long run of annual directories: The Year’s Art: a concise epitome of all matters relating to the arts of painting, sculpture, engraving and architecture. 

The Year's Art, volumes 1908 - 1913

The Year's Art, 1915At that point I had not discovered her birth date and confirmation of her surnames, so I hadn’t plunged in with a systematic search of these volumes. Now, armed with this information, I returned to consult this series. Her first entry occurs in the 1909 edition. Usefully, an artist’s entry includes their home address together with the location of any exhibited work in public galleries. Her address details from the 1915 edition confirm the permanent move to Devon.

Find My Past was also used to find her death record. Luckily my assumption that she had remained in Devon was correct and I found her death record. Jessie died in 1961 aged 75.

Having tracked down this artist my next quest is to find further examples of her work, either in a gallery or improbably lurking in another junk shop.

[Francis]

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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]

How Business Information Points can help you get the job you want

Westminster Libraries Business Information PointsWestminster Libraries have four Business Information Points (BIPs) which are aimed at helping people start up their own business by providing access to a wide variety of online resources, books and magazines. However, have you ever thought about how these resources could help you not only start up a business but also find and gain the job you really want?

In Westminster Reference Library we have witnessed just some of the ways in which it can be done. To start with, library users are afforded that extra bit of time they need on the library’s BIP computers to find and apply for jobs as well as do their business research, administration and planning. And the online resources – both the In House Specials and the 24/7 resources – have come in handy as well. Indeed, just a few days ago someone used Marketline to help prepare a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis on a company with whom he had an upcoming interview.

Careers 2017COBRA the Complete Business Reference Advisor (log in with your library card number) shows people how to start up and run a successful business. However, it is also helpful in showing which qualifications you may need, organisations you could contact and what to do in order to start out on your own or find a job in a particular area. Similar to this is the yearly careers directory, a book which explains in brief which qualifications you will need to begin and progress in certain careers as well as what each job entails, how much you will be paid and what the future prospects are.

Market research databases such as IBISWorld, Marketline and Mintel can all help you to research the best sector to aim for. This is important as it might take time to prepare for a career through gaining the necessary experience and qualifications.

You can use Experian and Marketline to find out which companies you can approach and look at to find the job and experience you wish to gain. Experian can also help you learn about key names and connections, this can also be done with Who’s Who UK (log straight in with your library card) which is searchable by keyword as well as just name.

Use these databases to learn about companies and markets, plus the experience and qualifications you will need to help you in any applications you make. When it comes to actually applying for jobs they can help you prepare for those tough interview questions. Most libraries also have books to help you do any tests which you may need to perform during the application process.

How to pass professional level psychometric tests by Sam Al-JajjokaHandling touch job interviews by Julie-Ann AmosThe interview book by James Innes

The BIPs in Westminster are located in Westminster Reference Library, Paddington Library, Church Street Library and Pimlico Library – come and see us, and keep an eye out for BIP events that might be of use in your career planning.

[Owen]

A working day at the Archives Centre

I’m Cecilia and work as an Archives and Local Studies Assistant at the City of Westminster Archives Centre in St Ann’s Street.

Stained glass celebrating Westminster's history and architecture (Jane Campbell 1995) at Westminster City ArchivesMy daily work is varied and is split between staffing the reception desk on the ground floor and the enquiry desk in the search room on the fifth floor, plus some time off the desk for back office duties.

Reception duties include looking after the meeting room we hire out, the Express Library and the small local history bookshop. I register all new archives and library visitors, answer all the incoming calls for the building, monitoring bookings and statistics etc.

Work in the search room means helping archives users find appropriate sources for their research.

The search room at Westminster City Archives

Most of our users are looking for their family history and will look at the parish registers, census records, historical maps, prints and photos and electoral registers for Westminster. They can also access many more records for a wider area through the libraries subscription to family history websites such as Ancestry and Findmypast. Many of Westminster’s parish registers and early rate books are available to search by name and view on Findmypast. They are also available on microfilm in the search room as are other parish records, local newspapers etc.

Finding Aids at Westminster City Archives

Other users are looking at building history and use our large collection of council drainage/architectural plans. All original and unique records are kept in our strong rooms and are available by request slips. Descriptions and finding numbers can be found by searching our online catalogue WESTCAT or by using one of our finding aids in the searchroom, such as the print and photo card index or one of the printed volumes of indexes. On the Archives website there a wealth of information to help, for example our Information Sheets found under Family History and a guide to the General Register Office indexes. Most of these records are only available to view in person by visiting us. We also have a large collection of printed material, such as reference books, pamphlets, periodicals and London directories, which have listings of trades and streets etc.

Doing research at Westminster City Archives

One of the most interesting aspects of the job is answering the email enquiries we receive – I often learn something new about the history of Westminster while answering. It’s great to have all this information collected in one place.

[Cecilia]

Come on in, the door’s open

Access to Research‘Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications’. There’s a snazzy title for a document that I’m sure all of you have pored over. Or maybe you know it better as the Finch Report. Or maybe you don’t know it at all?

To be honest, it doesn’t matter – all any of us need to know is that it’s a Jolly Good Thing because it recommended that publicly funded research should be available to the people who paid for it: the public. Us, in fact. So Proquest (who some of you may know as the publishers of Ancestry, the fantastic online genealogical resource) were signed up to provide the ‘Access to Research’ front-end, which is about as user-friendly as it’s possible to be, and various publishers were brought on board. The current “offer” is impressive – 8,000 journals, many with long back files, containing 4 million freely-available articles. And these are from top academic publishers, 17 of them and counting, including big names like Oxford University Press and Wiley.

The range of subjects is extraordinary – some of the topics are obscure (Journal of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, anyone?) but there is plenty of more mainstream stuff (Journal of popular film and television for example). The point is that if you need access to research, esoteric or otherwise, and don’t belong to an academic library or have an awful lot of money at your disposal, you now have it.

So how does it work? You simply visit your local library – access is available in Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham libraries, as well as many other participating library services across the UK. Log onto a library computer and, in Westminster, go to our Online Resources. The interface couldn’t be simpler. Just enter your search terms (as with Google, you can use inverted commas around the term if you want to search for an exact phrase,  so “joan crawford” will return 102 results and joan crawford 1494). You will be asked to accept the Terms and Conditions (don’t worry – you only have to do this once each session). Do have a look at them – the most important condition is that users can’t save documents electronically although they can print out one copy of each article.  Accept the T&Cs and then look at the results.

When you click on an article, it will open up in a new tab so your results list remains open. You can read most of the articles as HTML format (like a straightforward webpage) or as a PDF (probably better if you intend to print it out ).

You don’t have to do a keyword search – you can Browse All Journals, using a drop-down menu to choose a subject. Or if you choose Advanced Search you can search by Author and narrow down your results by date.

Don’t forget to return to the original search screen to make each new search. The search results pop up on the websites of the various publishers, but if you stay there and use their own search boxes, you may find that you reach areas which are not part of the scheme, and get asked to pay unnecessarily.

This is all material that has previously not been available to The Public, only to those attached to academic institutions. So we should certainly make the most of it. Happy researching!

[Nicky]

An ExCel-lent opportunity to show off our wares

Eveleen and I visited The ExCel Business Show last month to promote Westminster Business Information Points (BIPs). This event is organized every year  to create stimulus for budding entrepreneurs and business people.

BIP staff at the ExCel Business Show 2013

After a brisk tour of the many exhibits and saying hello to colleagues from The City Business Library, we set about promoting the BIPs and telling people the business benefits of a Westminster Libraries membership card – chiefly the opportunity to access fantastic online resources, free.

Zsuzsanna and the lizard at the ExCel Business Show 2013While this lovely Bearded Dragon lizard was unable to join, we signed up more than 50 professionals and enthusiasts. They included Blondell, who is keen to set up a business in the motor industry, and Guru, who knows he wants his own business but is not sure which path to pursue.

We were able to advise Blondell that she would be able to research the motor industry market using MINTEL, Keynote and Marketline reports, and Guru that he may find it easier to narrow down his business idea by first reading “20 tips to help you choose a business idea” from COBRA and then exploring the Business Opportunity Profiles which are available for pretty much every start-up you can think of – and many you probably can’t.

At the ExCel Business show 2013Whilst inside, one was overwhelmed by the sheer number of stands – there were more than 150 exhibitors, including business giants like Lloyds TSB Bank, PC World, IKEA etc., as well as small startups run by one or two people. The whole place was buzzing with deals being made, products and services being explained, people being enticed into buying, understanding, selling and networking. It was a frantic adrenaline rush for anyone entering the arena, with very inspiring and motivating lectures and seminars from famous speakers like James Caan.

At the end of day with tired feet and dry throats we came out, leaving behind the exciting world of the Business Show. We met many people at the event who were delighted – and astonished – to discover that there is a free service out there, with no hidden costs for their business research. Most found it hard to believe that thousands of pounds worth of invaluable market reports and more are available to use, free, from Westminster Libraries. We’re proud to host one of the best and most comprehensive ranges of online business databases in the country.

[Zsuzsanna]