Tag Archives: WW2

Art Book of the Month, December 2016

Title page from 'Shelter Sketch Book' by Henry Moore

Shelter Sketch Book by Henry Moore
London: Marlborough Fine Art, 1967

Limited Edition 80 facsimile collotype, each copy of which contains one specially designed lithograph by Henry Moore, pulled on the hand-press J. E. Wolfensberger, Zurich on handmade paper under the artist’s supervision, signed by the artist and numbered 1 – 180. This is No. 31.
Originally published as a portfolio of loose plates, now mounted and bound together.

Henry Moore (1898-1986), the son of a Yorkshire coalminer, is of course the most important British sculptor of the 20th century. But his expressive drawings of sleeping people in underground stations and air raid shelters during the London Blitz of the Second World War are an equally important part of his oeuvre. Moore produced them when he was appointed official war artist in 1940-42.

'Shelter Sketch Book' by Henry Moore

In the 1930s Moore had established himself as an avant-garde sculptor, but the horror of war changed the focus of his art. The war’s images of destruction and brutality would provide inspiration for many British artists. Kenneth Clark, then chairman of the War Artists’ Advisory Committee, tried to invite Moore to join the scheme. Clark was probably hoping to keep artists he cherished such as Moore, Graham Sutherland and John Piper in work and prevent them from being killed.  Sadly a few had already died or vanished.  Eric Ravilious was lost at only 39, while flying over Iceland, Albert Richards had died in Normandy and Thomas Hennell in Java.

Moore at first declined, feeling that he had seen enough of war during his spell at the front in 1917. But one night, during an air raid, he was trapped in the London underground. He was very moved by what he saw and began drawing the extraordinary scenes of people huddled together on the platform. The sight had been a revelation. He returned over the course of a year, producing 300 sketches. These would become known as the Shelter Drawings.

Since the Luftwaffe did not generally bomb London by day, Moore would sometimes spend an entire night in the Underground on his visits to London, returning to his Hertfordshire home at dawn, his mind seething with material. He soon became a connoisseur of Underground stations:

“Liverpool Street extension was the place that interested me most.  The new tunnel had been completed, and at night its entire length was occupied by a double row of sleeping figures”
– Roger Berthoud, The Life of Henry Moore

Moore also visited and recorded the ‘Tilbury’ shelter, part of the Liverpool Street goods station under Commercial Road and Cable Street. The officially designated shelter area rapidly became full and an adjacent warehouse was requisitioned. This damp complex eventually accommodated up to 14,000 people crammed beneath the railway arches in appalling conditions. As one employee of the government-backed Mass Observation project described it:

“There were thousands of people lying head to toe, all along the bays and with no facilities.  At the beginning there were only four earth buckets down the far end, behind screens, for toilets … The place was a hellhole, it was an outrage that people had to live in these conditions.”

In the early days of the Blitz, assailed by the terrible stench and wading through the effluvia of overflowing latrines, many refuge-seekers could not stand the primitive conditions in the shelters and preferred to return home. (Antony Clayton Subterranean City: Beneath the Streets of London, p.139)

To have openly drawn people dressing or sleeping would have been to intrude on their privacy and also to invite abuse or hostility. So Moore made a few notes in discreet corners. He spoke about the experience in a BBC interview:

“I had to make surreptitious notes in a little note book, and then next day when the sight of the scene was fresh in my mind, I began drawing from the note book.”

If anxious to retain a particular scene, he would walk past it several times, imprinting it on his excellent visual memory.

“What I was trying to show was my reaction to this dramatic suspense, the situation that you get of a tension between people and something about an impending disaster, impending doom, there‘s a drama in silence more than in shouting.”

The shelter drawings were a turning point for Moore. You can see in the drawings the beginnings of the themes that come to dominate his work in the years after the war, the mother and child and the family group. Antony Gormley said:

“Moore… believed that you could make art that talked to people universally, irrespective of creed, language and race and maybe invite them to look at the world in a new way.”

With their strong sense of compassion, these drawings are more than a documentary of suffering endured; rather they portray the ordeals of the victims of war as a whole. The sleeping women and children might be anywhere in 1940s Europe – and because of their actuality, in today’s war-torn Syria, the Gaza strip or Ukraine.

'Shelter Sketch Book' by Henry Moore

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

[Rossella]

Diving lessons with a difference

Some of the most popular posts on this blog over the years have been those relating to the history of the Marshall Street Baths and its more recent refurbishment, so we thought you might like to see a few more pictures from the art deco pool’s past.

Westminster City Archives holds an amazing album of photographs showing servicemen training at the Marshall Street Baths in World War Two. Among them were US Paratroops and Dutch servicemen.

Dutch servicemen at Marshall Street Baths c1939-1945. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

The collection includes three black and white photographs of US paratroops training at Marshall Street Baths, jumping into the pool whilst wearing full combat gear (1943-1945), and three black and white copy photographs of Dutch servicemen between 1939 and 1945.

 US paratroops training in full combat gear at Marshall Street Baths c1943-45. Image property of Westminster City Archives.US paratroops training in full combat gear at Marshall Street Baths c1943-45. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

These Grade II listed buildings, also known as the Westminster Public Baths, were built in 1850 and retained their original usage until 1997. Public funds financed the construction for the health and well being of local people; the institution provided hot and cold washing facilities for local people and their garments. The building is noted for its architecture and is Grade II listed.

Since 2010, the Marshall Street Baths has been a modern leisure centre, so you can still visit and imagine the space in this unusual incarnation as a military training zone. Training aside, those jumps look fun…!

[Michelle]

A brochure for Dolphin Square, 1937

The treasure from the Archives that we have unearthed for you today is a 30 page brochure produced by Richard Costain Ltd promoting the Dolphin Square flats to potential purchasers, with floor plans of different suites and colour illustrations.

Dolphin Square Cover (Acc 2518/2). Image property of Westminster City Archives

Occupying the site of Thomas Cubbit’s building works and later the Royal Army Clothing depot, lies Dolphin Square. This famous apartment block still exists today, standing tall on the banks of the Thames in Pimlico. Architecturally it blends with the style of modern constructions, but historically this building was foreign, speculative and state-of-the-art.

Dolphin Square was the brainchild of Fred French, an American real estate specialist known for speculative housing ventures and responsible for developments in New York’s East Side, of these the monumental art deco Fred F. French building on the corner of 45th and Fifth that still stands today. Designed by Stanley Gordon Jeeves and built by Costains Ltd, the building set the classical proportions of the art-deco and neo-Georgian style against the familiar domesticity of red brickwork and framed white windows.

Black and white exterior photograph of the flats in Dolphin Square, photograph by Sydney W Newbury, of Stockwell Terrace, London. 1930s. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

The social scene of the 1930s saw the great juxtaposition of prosperity and adversity in the UK. This was, as expected, most deeply felt in the cultural hub of London. The world was quickly moving forward with the advent of modern home technologies, changes in family dynamics, the Golden Age of photography and film in Hollywood, and the establishment of the Art Deco movement that would govern aesthetics until after the Second World War.

All the while, the “Great Slump” – the very British name given to the Britain’s equivalent of America’s Great Depression – was well underway. Falling prices, hire-purchase schemes and smaller families – all direct causes of the Slump – meant that those with access to some wealth had more money to spend on luxuries. Investors seized this opportunity, building apartment blocks which were able to contain a number of residents in an ever-crowded city and boasting ‘avant-garde’ technologies to lure the common man.

Illustration on the opening pages of the Dolphin Square brochure. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Illustration on the opening pages of the Dolphin Square brochure. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Dolphin Square was marketed as “Europe’s greatest residential landmark on London’s riverside drive” and “London’s most distinguished address”. It boasted squash courts, a swimming pool, gymnasium, private rooms for hire, a restaurant, laundry service and beauty parlour as well as state-of-the-art mechanised electricity, heating and plumbing that would make life “as effortless as modern science can make it”. The 1236 flats were to have different designs to suit a variety of family structures from the bachelor to the young couple or family unit.

Interestingly, the brochure subtly toys with the idea of independence and freedom, seducing the modern woman and her avant-garde spouse with amenities that will allow for “blessed relief from domestic improvement”.

'Effortless Home Life' at Dolphin Square. Image property of Westminster City Archives

On a different page, advertising a childcare facility named Toddler Town, the slogan appears again:

“Parenthood has not lost its sense of duty, nor motherhood its inherent love, but both have become sensible to the dictates of modern life – and seek conditions of life which minister to these new proportions”.

Ultimately, the execution of this ideal fell somewhat short of expectation for developers and tenants alike. When Dolphin Square was formally opened on the 25 November 1936, a large proportion of the leases had not been taken and rates were reduced.

Black and white photograph of Frobisher House, Dolphin Square. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Black and white photograph of Frobisher House, Dolphin Square. Image property of Westminster City Archives

The apartment block was hit in the war, though it was never demolished as a result of the bomb damage. The vast space previously allocated to the luxurious facilities was re-vamped as part of the War Effort as well, serving as a shelter and ambulance bay. Nevertheless, in its time, the history of the building and its inhabitants is interesting. Dolphin Square has shaped the cityscape and the riverside view, and featured prominently in the history of the area. The building has been home to many British politicians, provided sanctuary to young single women and same-sex couples, and even had known connections to espionage.

If you’d like to know more, visit our search room to peruse the collection of documents and read about it in our local studies collection. Besides this brochure and the Civil Defence files from which the black and white photographs are drawn, there are a number of other documents you might find interesting including photographs, postcards, architectural plans, and more brochures!

The buidings of England: London 6: Westminster, by Simon Bradley and Nikolaus PevsnerThe following books, available in the reference library of the Archives Search Room, are also a wonderful resource in learning about the history of the area:

[Michelle]

The 1939 Register on findmypast

Great news everyone: the 1939 Register is now available when you use findmypast in the library – without the need to pay!

Family group, circa 19391939 was the year that Great Britain entered the Second World War. At the same time the government was already almost prepared for the next Census, due to take place in 1941. The worry of the impending crisis and this coincidence meant that they chose to create a national register on 29 September 1939.

This Register was similar to a Census, but differed in a few ways. Most obviously, the date is not a Census date – the Census is held every ten years, the previous ones in the 20th century being 1911, 1921 and 1931. It was also not called a census but a register. The Register holds the details of 41 million people, each of whom would have been issued with an ID card at a time of rationing etc. The details they had to submit to get this ID card, including name, address, marital status, occupation and date of birth are held on this register. The register is described by Find My Past as “one of the most important documents in 20th century Britain”.

Having been scanned by findmypast it was made available on a pay per view basis in September 2015. However, it is not until now that it has become available to general subscribers, and this of course includes library users in Westminster. In some ways we are very privileged to be able to view the register. If it were a Census we would be unable to view the entries until 100 years after it took place. The 1921 Census will be the next Census available after the 1911 Census, this will not be viewable until 2021 at least. Nevertheless, findmypast has put in some regulations as to which records are available. The main limit is that you will be unable to view ‘records of people younger than 100 and still alive, or who died after 1991’; it is possible to challenge this on a case by case basis. More information is available on the Find My Past site.

Family group, circa 1939You can use findmypast in every Westminster Library and at Westminster City Archives, along with Ancestry.
These are just two of the many amazing online resources available to readers to help with their family history research and any other studies and research they wish to undertake.

[Owen]

Read all about it! The Times Digital Archive

NewspaperImagine if you could pick up a newspaper from over 200 years ago and see what people were saying. Wouldn’t that be difficult? I mean, you would have to find a good reference library with a pretty decent collection of backdated copies…
Surely there is no other way?

Of course there is, the clue is in the title of this blog!

A few months ago, my colleague Francis talked about how addictive searching the Oxford Database of National Biography can be. While I do agree, I am going to say that The Times Digital Archive will give him a run for his money.

Recently I have been visiting libraries and talking with members of the public about some of the Online Resources available to anyone with a Westminster library card. The Times Digital Archive (TDA) is a fully searchable database containing facsimiles of all of the Times newspapers from 1785 to 2009. Here are three points I like to show our customers while highlighting some useful features of the TDA:

Founding of the Newspaper

I like to start at the very beginning. Not only does it make sense chronologically, it also shows just how far back the Digital Archive goes. The Times was first released as The Daily Universal Register for 3 years until 1788 and would set you back 2 ½ pence for 4 very large pages of content (the very definition of a broadsheet newspaper).

The first entry in the TDA is actually the second edition of the paper, you can see under the left hand ‘Printed Logographically’ banner. I like to point it out when demonstrating the TDA as well as to show off this rambling explanation from the editor:

Snippet from The Daily Universal Register, 3 January 1785

“An unfortunate accident having prevent the publication of the first number of this paper in as early an hour as the proprietor intended, and the hawkers having taken away so many papers, that he was not able to supply his numerous friends and others, according to the promise, he thinks it proper to reprint his address to the public, that those who have not yet seen it may have an opportunity to form a judgement of his plan.”

On Tuesday 4 January 1785 the editor expands on what he intends to report in this fledgling newspaper. I’ve trimmed the text but you can read the whole paragraph in the image below:

“In this paper his readers will find regular accounts of the sailing and arrival of ships, of remarkable trials, debates in Parliament, bills of entry, prices courant, price of stocks, promotions, marriages and deaths &c. in a word, no expence [sic] will be spared that may procure useful intelligence and as next to having good intelligence is to have it early, the paper will be published regularly every morning at six o’clock, even during the sitting of Parliament.”

Snippet from The Daily Universal Register, 4 January 1785

Looking through modern day Times, I can’t decide if it is meeting its 250 year old aims or not.


Important Events of our Times

While it is mildly useful to search through the rambles of the early editors and peruse the advertisements, I do enjoy showing people events that still resonate with us today. While we all know that Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939, it must have been curious to read about it as the events are unfolding.

Here is one of the headlines from Monday 4 September:

The Times, Monday 4 September 1939

Today that would be the front page headline, but in 1939 before reading that the country was at war you had to skip past a couple of pages of advertisements, shipping news, sports results – association football, rugby, golf and racing all come first. Admittedly, the next several pages discussed it in depth, but I find it interesting that front page headlines aren’t commonplace at this time.

The majority of the articles related to the war’s outbreak are either very short or very long, making it difficult to find good examples, but here are a few from the same edition that I find interesting:

 

Let’s go back a little further to another war and another battle that we know through hindsight – the Battle of Waterloo:

The Times, 22 June 1815

I won’t copy the whole text now, but the dispatch is fascinating and I encourage you to go look it up.

Each description of what the army is up to has this immediacy to it – slightly ironic that you are reading about it days after the event. For example, before the Battle of Waterloo was reported you had the reports coming in regarding the minor skirmishes taking place on 16 June 1815 in the 21 June edition:

The Times, 21 June 1815

And it wasn’t until 23 June that reports of the actual battle started coming in, along with lists of dead officers (the rank and file had not yet been accounted for) and a report from Wellington himself. Here are his closing remarks:

The Times, 23 June 1815


Change of Image

The last point I want to show is not about the content of the newspaper, but how the newspaper was presented – and I might have already given it away. If you look back at the font from the Battle of Waterloo reports, to the font for the WW2 War Declaration you might see where I am going with this.

By the 1930s the Times was a 28 page broadsheet, very popular but being accused of not adhering to the times (irony?) and still using an antiquated typeface. In 1931 a new type was commissioned that would sound very familiar to you if you have used a Microsoft computer in the past 3 decades. I am talking about, of course, Times Roman.

So there we have it. There is far too much to talk about in one blog post, but I hope I have whet your appetite for the Times Digital Archive and all the history that it contains.

If you have an event in history that you would like to look up, it is simple to do so yourself if you follow these steps:

Helpfully, the Browse by Date function is on the front page.

Tome Digital Archive (TDA) header

Happy searching!

[Shaun]