Tag Archives: travel

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.


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!



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!



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

Author Spotlight: Q&A with Dr Beverley Duguid

Writer and historian Dr Beverley Duguid will be at Paddington Library this evening, 10 November, as part of Paddington Book Festival.

She will be discussing the exciting and uWriter and historian Dr Beverley Duguidnusual life of Amelia Matilda Murray (1795-1884), a Royal lady in waiting who wrote extensively about her travels in the Americas. In 1854, nearing the age of 60, Amelia travelled around the United States, Cuba and Canada, and subsequently expressed strong opinions about the institution of slavery. Rather than suppress her opinions to remain a court official, Amelia quit her duties as a lady-in-waiting to publish her writings.

This promises to be a fascinating talk, for anyone interested in travel writing, social history, feminism and adventure!
Below, Beverley answers some questions about travel, feminism and identity.

What is it about travel writing that appeals to you personally?
My research into women travellers is based on my family’s own history of travel from the Caribbean to England in the 1950s and my own personal racial combination of Barbadian and Scottish heritage. The realisation at a young age, that I am connected to other places apart from the one I live in, has led me to develop a keen interest in the movement of people and how this movement can lead to change in the individual or further exploration of the ‘self’.

Do you think women travellers brought a unique perspective to European views of the world in the nineteenth century?
I believe women travellers brought (and continue to bring) a different perspective of the world. Through my research I have determined, without meaning to be deterministic, that there is a distinction between the genders in the way they wrote about ‘abroad’. There were certain travel writing conventions which both genders followed, however, women often discussed their ‘feelings’ about a place and were empathetic to people and situations they found themselves in, such as the conditions of slaves; and, at a time when women had to follow distinct norms of behaviour, were vocal for and against the slave trade. This adds a dynamic voice to European views of the world.

Why do you think gender and inequality is so important to a modern audience?
Debates about gender and inequality highlight our differences in the world. Our dissimilarities aren’t negative but can act as a marker for change or what needs to be brought to the surface- for example, sexism or political injustice.

As the American writer and feminist Audre Lorde wrote:

‘Refusing to recognise difference makes it impossible to see the different problems and pitfalls facing us as women.’

Paddington Book FestivalRead more on Dr Duguid’s blog The ‘Viajera’ – for women who travel.


A travelling companion, RIP

Thomas CookFirstly, a few footnotes:

  • Departs up to 15 minutes earlier Oct 22 – Nov 2
  • Sagliains station can only be used for changing trains
  • From Frankfurt Flughafen (Table 850). July 11-16 does not call at Köthen and arrives Magdeburg 2333
  • Uneven dates (daily July 1 – Sept 1; Dec 25 – Jan2). Even dates (daily June 30 – Aug 31)

These gems are from the July 2013 issue of the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable, with two boasts on the cover: “Celebrating 140 years”, and “Your travelling companion since 1873.” Which is all rather ironic, given that this is the penultimate edition.

No longer will you be able to sit, magnifying glass in hand (it has very small type), plotting your route from Les Sables d’Orlonne to Albano Laziale (‘changing at La Roche sur Yon, Bordeaux,, Toulouse, Marseille, Genova and Roma’), on a Wednesday, with First Class from Toulouse to Genova, and catching the Frecciargento high-speed train from Genova to Roma (‘supplement may be payable; tickets must be date stamped before travel’).

No longer will you be able to consult the list of especially scenic routes (Glasgow to Mallaig, Algeciras to Ronda, Jelenia Góra to Walbrzych…), or read about the Route of the Month, this month the slow train to Narva from Tallin (‘Table 1870; hard class only’).

From next month, there will be a sad gap on the shelves here at Marylebone Information Service, where the timetable used to be. The end, surely, of an era. Actually, the era of printed timetables has, arguably, been over for some little while. It may be fun to track your way across the continent using the “travelling companion”, but if you want just to make the journey quickly (or slowly) and cheaply (or luxuriously), lots of help is available – online, of course.

Try the Transport and Tourism (Rail) section of the Westminster Libraries Gateway to Websites. Look out for The Man in Seat 61 – he’s a hero.


Wish you weren’t here?

Spring sceneWith the Easter holidays coming up this weekend you might be thinking of going abroad for a Spring break…

That is, if you can still afford it after
a. The heating bills
b. Child care bills
c. Taxes to prop up the National Debt, Eurozone etc
d. Etc. etc.

For those of us stuck in Britain it looks like another cold/wet/snowy weekend on the way – more winter than spring. So even if you can afford to get away, expect travel disruption and cancelled flights because of ‘the wrong sort of snow’ or similar excuses. And if you are staying in Britain expect travel disruption and cancelled trains because of… you get the message.

So why not just stay at home, wrap up, settle down with a (library) book and gloat that there are others who are going to be even more miserable than you are.

You are awful (but I like you), by Tim MooreHere are some titles that might match the mood of a typical British Bank Holiday weekend…

You are awful (but I like you): travels through unloved Britain
by Tim Moore

“It began with an accidental daytrip to an intriguingly awful resort on the Thames Estuary and ended 3,812 miles later. This is one man’s journey through deep-fried, brownfield, poundshop Britain, a crash course in urban blight, deranged civic planning and commercial eccentricity.”

Crap days out by Gareth RubinCr*p days out
by Gareth Rubin
“From Land’s End to John O’Groats, this Sceptred Isle is riddled with what are laughably referred to as ‘attractions’. Rubbish tourism is a proud British tradition, and from Stonehenge to Madam Tussaud’s, Shakespeare’s birthplace to the Harry Potter Tour, and model villages to a museum dedicated to pencils, Crap Days Out is the quintessential collection of places that will ruin a perfectly good bank holiday.”

Bollocks to Alton Towers, by Jason HazeleyB*****ks to Alton Towers: uncommonly British days out
by Jason Hazeley
“The British Lawnmower Museum, Keith Harding’s World of Mechanical Music and Mad Jack’s Sugar Loaf. In a world of theme parks, interactive exhibits, over-priced merchandise and queues, don’t worry, these are names to stir the soul. Reassuring evidence that there’s still somewhere to turn in search of the small, fascinating, unique and, dammit, British.”

Far from the sodding crowd, by Jason HazeleyFar from the s***ing crowd
by Jason Hazeley
“Britons work longer hours than almost any other nation in Europe, taking fewer public holidays, laboring from Monday to Friday on the promise of a blissful weekend of fun. But how do we spend our precious days off? When asked what you did at the weekend, will you mutter something about shelves and how hard it was to park? Or will you regale them with a mighty tale of your trip to the Somerset Shoe Museum?”

To Hull and Back, by Tom ChesshyreTo Hull and back: on holiday in unsung Britain, by Tom Chesshyre
“As staff travel writer on The Times since 1997, Tom Chesshyre had visited over 80 countries on assignment, and wondered: what is left to be discovered? In a mad adventure that took him from Hull to Hell (actually a rather nice holiday location in the Isles of Scilly), Tom visited secret spots of Unsung Britain in search of the least likely holiday destinations. With a light and edgy writing style Tom peels back the skin of the unfashionable underbelly of Britain, and embraces it all with the spirit of discovery.”

Are we nearly there yet? by Ben HatchAre we nearly there yet? A family’s 8000 miles around Britain in a Vauxhall Astra
by Ben Hatch
“They were bored, broke, burned out and turning 40, so when Ben and Dinah saw the advert looking for a husband and wife team with young kids to write a guidebook about family travel around Britain, they jumped at the chance. With naïve visions of staring moodily across Coniston Water and savouring Cornish pasties, they embark on a mad-cap five-month trip, embracing the freedom of the open road with a spirit of discovery and an industrial supply of baby wipes.”

And finally, what we can only dream of:

Cream teas, traffic jams and sunburn, by Brian VinerCream teas, traffic jams and sunburn – the Great British holiday by Brian Viner
“The British on holiday: how can four simple words evoke so many vivid images – of raw sunburn and relentless rain, of John Bull’s Pub (in Lanzarote) and Antonio’s Tapas Bar (in Torquay), of endless queues to get through security at the airport and endless tailbacks on the motorway, but also images of carefree sploshing in Portuguese swimming-pools and lazy lunches in the Provencal sun? It is a story that connects Blackpool with Barcelona, Mauritius with Margate. It is a story, indeed, that connects us all.”

A Week in December, by Sebastian FaulksaulksStaying in London? You could read A week in December by Sebastian Faulks, set right here. In December. Which is, after all, what it feels like… It’s the Cityread London book and several of our book groups, including Text Tribe (the online book group) will be reading it in April – join in!

Get your library books for the Easter break today, as we’ll be closed Friday 29 March to Monday 1 April inclusive. See you next week!


Get lost

Map graphicA while ago my colleague Nicky described some of the excellent online sources of maps (“Describing the world with Gerardus Mercator”). I wouldn’t be without some of these electronic sources, but there is still a place for maps on paper, and here at Marylebone Information Service we’ve got a rather impressive collection.

Where to begin? Well, we have a complete collection of Ordnance Survey maps at 1:50,000 and 1:25,000 scales (the pink and orange ones, respectively, if you go by cover colour). If these are not the best maps in the world for leisure users I would like to see the better ones – they must be awesome! Footpaths and cycleways are clearly marked, with places of interest, viewpoints and a wealth of other details. We also have very large-scale maps of Westminster, but these are more useful for planning applications than for outdoor activities.

These Ordnance Survey (OS) maps are continually updated, but often people want to know what an area looked like before this housing estate was built or before that road was constructed. That’s where our collection of reprinted historical maps comes in. Cassini have reproduced OS maps of England and Wales from the 1920s, enlarged from the old “1 inch to 1 mile” scale to match the current 1:50,000 maps. And for London, we also have these maps from the 1800s, the 1890s and the 1940s. So you can follow the site of Auntie Vera’s house from being fields at the beginning of the 19th Century, a model village later in the century, a suburb in the 20s and 40s, right through to its current status as a service area on the M25!

What else?

  • Cycle maps – London ones to give away and others for reference.
  • Bus maps – we’ve got London covered.
  • Want a walk from Marylebone? We’ve got a lovely, clear map to give you.
  • Railways – past and present.
  • Rivers and canals – maps for boaters and maps for historians.

And then we get to our rather large collections of atlases and guide books… but that’s another post.


Describing the world with Gerardus Mercator

“What’s the good of Mercator’s North Poles and Equators,
Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?”
So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply
“They are merely conventional signs!

“Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!
But we’ve got our brave Captain to thank:
(So the crew would protest) “that he’s bought us the best–
A perfect and absolute blank!”

Find maps galore at Marylebone Information ServiceWhile the Bellman in Lewis Carroll’s Hunting of the Snark, may have been happy with a blank map, some of us are rather more demanding.

So, what better day to consider maps on the internet, than the 600th anniversary of the birth of Gerardus Mercator, born 5 March 1512? Mercator was the great Renaissance cartographer, whose map of the world has formed the basis for almost every subsequent atlas.

If you want a look at Mercator’s Atlas (compiled in 1570), you can use the British Library’s marvellous Turning the Page technology to browse it with a useful explanatory text (Great Britain is on page 15). Mercator’s Projection is a term many of us will remember from school geography classes and there’s a handy explanation of what it actually means, for the mathematically inclined, by a mathemetician at the university of British Columbia. For the rest of us, it’s probably enough to know that bearings on the globe are everywhere equal to bearings on the map; for example, north on the globe is always upward on the map and landmasses are exaggerated in size the further they are from the Equator – thus, Greenland is shown as the same size as Africa (in fact Africa is 14 times larger).

Despite Mercator’s failings, other world maps such as the Peters Projection have never quite caught on (despite being some heavy product placement on The West Wing) and it’s Mercator that is the basis for most online mapping systems.

There are some splendid atlases in Westminster Libraries. One of the most notable is the Times Atlas of the World, now in its 13th edition and available to gloat over at Marylebone Information Service. The Information Service has a large collection of atlases political, social and historical as well as three sets of Ordnance Survey maps. These come in several difference scales – most popular are the 1:50,000 Landranger series  (‘the pink ones’), which can be borrowed from the lending libraries,  though walkers often prefer the 1 : 25,000 Explorer series (the ‘orange ones’). Marylebone and Westminster Archives also both have a full set of Westminster 1 : 1250 maps which show every building and, handily, show where the tube lines go underground. Also held at Marylebone are the Cassini historical maps, fascinating for anyone interested in local history.

Those who like that sort of thing will want to visit the History section of the Westminster Libraries  Gateway to Websites and check out the MAPCO Map and Plan Collection Online which has a display of 18th and 19th century maps of London and the rest of Britain. Particularly fascinating is Stanford’s Library Map Of London And Its Suburbs 1864 which shows London from Streatham Common in the South to Crouch End in the North, and from Shepherds Bush in the West to the East India Docks in the West to a scale of 6 inches to the mile.

Check out the Environment & Geography section of the Gateway for some more contemporary maps such as Streetmap and Google Maps (no matter how often one plays with the Streetview option, it’s still really cool…). Don’t forget that the Westminster Council homepage also has a useful map of local services which you can use to find your nearest library or other organization.

Of course, maps aren’t just for looking at. They’re for plotting travel and adventure. Obviously it would be lovely if we could all be like the famed naturalist  Doctor Dolittle (the proper one, not the Eddie Murphy travesty, obviously) and plan our holidays by randomly sticking a pin in an atlas but there are worse ways of choosing a day trip (you might want to confine yourself to a map of Southern England for this one) or even a long weekend (the Rough Guide to England is your friend here).

Once you’ve chosen your destination, see what the Transport & Tourism section of the Gateway can offer. Transportdirect is excellent for planning your journey, whether by car or by public transport while the National Rail site will help you find the cheapest train ticket and Lonely Planet will give you some good tips for how to adapt to foreign parts (should you have inadvertently stuck your pin North of Watford).

Find maps galore at Marylebone Information Service

So, take a look at Mercator’s marvelous map and maybe wonder how we would see the world (and find our way anywhere) without him and other brilliant cartographers to describe it for us.