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.


Art for Everyone’s Sake

Art books collage 1

Westminster Reference Library, home of the specialist Art & Design Collection, now has art books for loan. Visit us at 35 St Martin’s Street and browse through our growing collection of inclusive, engaging and expertly written books on a wide range of art interests. The publications shown here are just some of our most recent additions:

Hieronymus Bosch; The Complete WorksHieronymus Bosch; The Complete Works combines new research with superb reproductions to celebrate this unique and visionary painter. His fantasies, grotesques and drolleries, set in natural surroundings, appear as fresh and eloquent today as they were 500 years ago.

Menswear illustration, by Richard KilroyFashion students! The explosion of international sales in menswear means that drawing is no longer dominated by women’s fashions. Menswear Illustration is the first survey of this new trend and features 40 innovative illustrators of contemporary styles in menswear.

Natural histories: extraordinary rare book selections from the American Museum of Natural History library, by Tom BaioneNatural Histories presents selected masterpieces of scientific art from 16th century zoologies to 20th century treatises. Essays by experts in their field explain how these scientifically significant, richly illustrated studies played integral roles throughout the history of natural sciences.

The Craft Companion by Ramona BarryBeautiful or bonkers The Craft Companion offers 170 projects to learn 33 crafting techniques, with inspiration from 150 contemporary artists. Try working with traditional materials (wood, leather, gold leaf) or turn to page 378 and make a recycled Terrarium for your plastic dinosaurs.

Art photography, by David BateArt Photography provides a fascinating introduction to the crucial role of painting in the invention of photography, and the importance of photography in the development of modern art. Visual examples from the 19th – 21st centuries illustrate how global this field of art has become.

Bernard Leach by Edmund De WaalBernard Leach is the first biography and critical monograph of this renowned 20th century potter whose ceramics, writings and teaching hold a central place in the international history of the decorative arts.


Making sculpture from scrap metal by Peter ParkinsonMetal workers have recycled broken tools and other scrap since the Bronze Age, but only in the 20th century did artists start using such items to make sculpture. Making Sculpture from Scrap Metal puts this artistic practice into context, describes the concerns and techniques involved, and illustrates these with the work of contemporary sculptors.

Looking at pictures: an introduction to art for young people through the National Gallery collection, by Joy RichardsonWhat are paintings for? This and other topics including colour, light, symbols and techniques are discussed in Looking at Pictures, the National Gallery’s excellent introduction to art for young people. Don’t let this put you off: it’s an illuminating mini-history of European painting.

Contemporary design Africa by Tapiwa MatsindeContemporary Design Africa is the first book on the innovative and sophisticated uses of traditional crafts taking place across the continent.   Over the past 100 years communities have used manufactured “rubbish” to make footwear, household goods, even toys. This practice, alongside the cultural use of natural materials, is an inspiration for any designer.

Alfred Wallis by Matthew GaleAlfred Wallis fisherman and marine stores dealer, is now recognised as one of the most original British artists of the 20th century. In the light of new research, this book traces the development of his painting from when he started 1925, until his death in 1942 at the age of 87.

If you want to borrow these or other art books, bring in your membership card; or bring proof of your home address and join the library for free. We are off the south side of Leicester Square, behind the main wing of the National Gallery. For more information, contact the library.

Art books collage 2


Today we say goodbye

Today I write to remember and celebrate a treasured Westminster Libraries colleague, David Oldman, who died earlier this year while walking in southern Spain.

David Oldman

Customers at Marylebone Library will doubtless have their own memories of David, and many of you wrote in the Book of Condolence that has been held there. Users of Westminster Reference Library, especially the former customers of IfB (Information for Business), will remember David’s expert information seeking as well as his incisive sense of humour. Many others across the whole City of Westminster will have met him during his tireless sharing of skills and promotion of the library service on the 24/7 Library Roadshow, his Adventures on the Internet IT training sessions, as well as the exhibitions and talks he gave on the subjects of photography and his beloved walks. His enthusiastic stints on library stalls at various community events were symbolic of his constant championing of the customer point of view. And of course David wrote and illustrated many funny and erudite posts here on Books & the City (click to read them all), setting the tone for the blog in its early days (as well as providing the header image and our social media avatars) and always managing to spark an interest in what were often – on the surface at least – quite dry topics.

But it is as a colleague and friend that we remember him today. Many of us are attending his funeral and still others will be there in spirit. We have written, shared pictures and anecdotes and held his family in our thoughts. One staff member wrote:

“He was a colourful, playful one-of-a-kind maverick whose joie de vivre and sardonic turn of phrase could always be relied upon to call a spade a spade…  We feel his absence now especially in these times of change.”

Goodbye, David, and thanks. You are missed beyond words.

David Oldman


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.


The law’s an asset at Westminster Ref

Statutes at Large - Stephen at Westminster Reference Library, 2016Did you know that if you are doing legal research then Westminster Reference Library‘s Law and UK Official Publications Collection has an extensive range of printed legal and parliamentary resources, as well as online access to Westlaw UK?
A question I am often asked is “Why does your library advertise that you keep hard copies of case law, UK legislation, command papers and parliamentary reports, when all this information is available online?”

Case law

We hold printed copies of All England Law reports (1558 until 2005), Weekly law reports (1959 until 2015), Queens Bench reports (Family and Chancery), Immigration Appeal reports and Tax Cases.

All England Law Reports (19th century) at Westminster Reference Library 2016

Although we have access to modern law reports via Westlaw, sometimes case reports prior to 1980 may not have been digitised and consulting a printed report may be the only way to find a case that a customer has been referred to by their lawyer. Some people, especially older people, are more comfortable with consulting a printed report than looking for the online version. Sometimes there may be a precedent for a particular case in a judgment that was made in the 18th century and so it is vital we preserve historical case law. And finally, people are fascinated by the aesthetics of a printed law report from the 19th century, for example. As a library our remit is not only to hold sources of information but also to preserve them for future generations. It is important we do not neglect our duty of care to our heritage.

UK legislation

Although all UK legislation should be available online at, many users find it a difficult site to navigate, especially if they are looking for a specific act or Statutory Instrument. Often if a lawyer or the police have referred someone to a section of an act or Statutory Instrument then they want to see it in hard copy rather than online and since we have a comprehensive collection of historical legislation in our basement we can often oblige. The same applies to Parliamentary papers (House of Commons or Lords Debates and Committees, Command Papers and  Parliamentary reports). While it is true that they are available online, if the searcher has the option of searching online for hours or coming in to the library for instant access to the hard copy they will often choose the latter option!

19th century Local Acts available at Westminster Reference Library 2016

Westlaw UK

None of the above should be seen as downplaying the value of Westlaw as an online resource. It is popular with lay litigants and the legal profession alike. Westlaw is useful because it is updated every week so the Case Law, legislation and journal articles are contemporary.

Users can also use the site to email cases, which is very useful if someone is fighting a case and representing themselves.

A very valuable tool on Westlaw  is Insight. If a user wants to know about Power of Attorney, for example, they can type that phrase into Insight and it will give them a brief outline of what Power of Attorney means as well as legislation and case law pertaining to it.

Westlaw UK is one of our ‘In House Special’ resources – customers can use it at both Westminster Reference Library and in Marylebone Information Service. Ask staff for more information and help.


Art Book of the Month, July 2016

The Life of The Bee by Maurice Maeterlinck, 1911. Front cover

The Life of The Bee by Maurice Maeterlinck
(Translated by Alfred Sutro)
Illustrated by E J Detmold
George Allen & Co Ltd

Illustrated edition 1911

The Life of The Bee by Maurice Maeterlinck is a wonderfully eccentric book written in a variety of genres. It is informed by the author’s years of experience studying the complex behaviour of bees. Yet this intricate factual account is suffused with epic drama and wildly poetic philosophical digressions.
Maeterlinck, in telling the story of the bee, explores the subjects of life, death, truth, nature, humanity, and everything in between.

The story of the bee becomes almost a mystic parable to describe all human experience. It has the added charm of being one of the most beautifully illustrated books in our collection. Edward Detmold’s paintings perfectly reflect the sentiment and beauty of the writing.

The Life of The Bee by Maurice Maeterlinck, 1911. 'Founding The City', p72

Below I have gathered together some of Detmold’s illustrations and selected a few memorable passages from the chapter entitled, ‘ The Nuptial Flight’ which presents the tragic sex life of the heroic male bee. I hope you enjoy them.

‘Most creatures have a vague belief that a very precarious hazard, a kind of transparent membrane, divides death from love and that the profound idea of Nature demands that the giver of life should die at the point of giving. Here this idea, whose memory lingers still over the kisses of man, is realised in its primal simplicity. No sooner has the union been accomplished than the male’s abdomen opens, the organ detaches itself, dragging with it the mass of the entrail, the wings relax, and, as though struck by lightning , the emptied body turns on itself and sinks into the abyss.’
(Part V THE NUPTIAL FLIGHT 87 –page 166)

The Life of The Bee by Maurice Maeterlinck, 1911. 'The Duel of the Queens', p126The Life of The Bee by Maurice Maeterlinck, 1911. 'The Combs', p198

‘Nor does the new bride , indeed, show more concern than her people, (for the poor male Bee ) there being no room for many emotions in her narrow, barbarous, practical brain. She has but one thought, which is to rid herself of as quickly as possible of the embarrassing souveniers her consort has left her,…She seats herself on the threshold, and carefully strips off the useless organs…’
(Part V THE NUPTIAL FLIGHT 89 –page 173)

The Life of The Bee by Maurice Maeterlinck, 1911. 'Sphinx Atropos', p188 The Life of The Bee by Maurice Maeterlinck, 1911. 'The Queen', p20

‘Prodigious nuptials these, the most fairy-like that can be conceived, azure and tragic , raised high above life by the impetus of desire; imperishable and terrible, unique and bewildering, solitary and infinite. An admirable ecstasy, wherein death, supervening in all that our sphere has of most limpid and loveliest, in virginal, limitless space, stamps the instant of happiness on the sublime transparence of the great sky;…’
(Part V THE NUPTIAL FLIGHT 90 –page 174)

The Life of The Bee by Maurice Maeterlinck, 1911. Title Page

You can view this book in the Art & Design Collection at Westminster Reference Library.


An actor and a rare one

Stage whispers by Douglas WilmerIt is with a heavy heart that I turn to my keyboard to note the passing on 31 March of the actor who for many devotees of Sherlock Holmes, was Sherlock Holmes – Douglas Wilmer.

Wilmer portrayed Holmes on BBC television in 1964-65, with staunch support from Nigel Stock as Dr Watson.

While not so well known these days, Wilmer was a great character actor who featured in a number of very well-known films. Remember King Pelias in Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts?  Or Moutamin in El Cid?  Or Khalifa Abdullah in Khartoum?  Or Major General Francis de Guingandin in Paton?  Or, back with Ray Harryhausen again, the Vizier in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad?

The Art of Ray Harryhausen Ray Harryhausen: an animated life

As the Police Commissioner in The Revenge of the Pink Panther he even had to deal with Insp. Clouseau and with Fu Manchu when he portrayed Nayland Smith in the “Fu Manchu” series of films.

He appeared in numerous televisions plays and series over the years, including The Avengers and The Saint. Despite having retired from acting many years ago, he most recently appeared in a notable cameo role in Sherlock – as the old gentleman in The Diogenes Club who is horrified that Watson dares to speak in the club!

Born in 1920, Wilmer was educated at King’s School Canterbury and at the alma mater of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Stonyhurst.  He went on to study at RADA, interrupting this to serve in West Africa during the War. Wilmer wrote his autobiography a few years ago, giving some fascinating insights into his career, Stage Whispers.

Everyone has their own favourite television Sherlock Holmes – you can read up on most of them in the Sherlock Holmes Collection:

The Television Sherlock Holmes by Peter Haining The public life of Sherlock Holmes by Michael Pointer Sherlock by Valerie Estelle Canon

On a happier note, the Sherlock Holmes Collection was honoured in late May by a visit from the star of a current television Sherlock Holmes series.  No – not Benedict Cumberbatch – the puppet 15 year old schoolboy Holmes from the Japanese NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) series, which is sadly not yet commercially available in English. Written by Kōki Mitani, Holmes and Watson meet as boys at Beeton School, a school where James Moriarty is the deputy headmaster and Mrs Hudson is the housemother! Holmes was accompanied by Mr Bunta Inoue, the creator of the puppets, and his assistant and cameraman.  Holmes spent some time looking at treasures from the Collection and discussing our 1951 Festival of Britain website.

Japanese Sherlock puppet visits the Sherlock Holmes Collection, May 2016  Japanese Sherlock puppet visits the Sherlock Holmes 1951 website, May 2016


Irregular Observations is an occasional series of musings from the Sherlock Holmes Collection in Westminster Libraries.  The Collection started life in 1951 and is now one of the most comprehensive in the world. If you enjoy Sherlock Holmes and want to learn more, have a look at our website or get in touch.

Art Book of the Month, March 2016

In a new series on this blog, we’re shining a light on some of the treasures of the Art & Design Collection at Westminster Reference Library.

Toros y Toreros by Pablo Picasso
Toros y Toreros by Pablo Picasso
Texte de Luis Miguel Dominguin et une etude de Georges Boudaille

Thames and Hudson, 1961
Text in English and Spanish. Double Folio

“Yesterday, Pablo phoned me from Cannes. He had already told me he wanted me to do something for a book that was being published soon. So I spoke to him about it as we had already spoken before, without my yet being able to find out what the book was about or what he wanted me to do. I asked him if it was a preface, a text, a commentary that he wanted, whether he expected me to talk about art, about bullfighting or about the polar star. But he only answered that any one of these subjects would suit the purpose”

Toros y toreros is a book of drawings by Picasso, about bulls and bullfighting, published in 1961 with a written commentary by the celebrated Matador Luis Miguel Dominguin and an essay by Journalist and Art Critic,  Georges Boudaille. The frontispiece is a facsimile reproduction of the artist’s handwritten title page.

Picasso and Dominguin met in 1950, introduced to each other by Jean Cocteau.  They became close friends and apparently Picasso designed the famous matador’s chaquetilla and trousers. In the book there are a variety of sketches in both colour and black and white. Some of these are busy and detailed, others barely an outline.

On a cold March day, if only for a minute or two, you’ll feel transported to the hot terraces of a Plaza de Toros, your head in a tunnel of spinning colours and sounds.