Black History Month: Celebrating Fashion Designers Willi Smith and Duro Olowu.

The Costume and Fashion Special Collection at Chelsea Library celebrates Black History Month this October.

Chelsea Library is home to the Costume and Fashion Collection, a treasure trove of books and magazines chronicling the history of Costume and Fashion. This also includes an archive of British Vogue dating from 1923 to the present.

The Costume and Fashion Collection is supported by the digital resource Bloomsbury Fashion Central (https://www.bloomsburyfashioncentral.com/library-card-log-in?linkPassUrl=https://www.bloomsburyfashioncentral.com/), a comprehensive research tool for students, professionals and anyone interested in fashion and is free to use online with your library card.

For this year’s Black History Month, we are featuring the work of two designers: Willi Smith (1948-1987), whose important legacy has often been overlooked and Duro Olowu, the Nigerian born, British designer, who in 2003 opened his first boutique in the North Kensington. Both featured in major exhibitions in 2020.

The cover of Willi Smith: Street Couture

Willi Smith

It has been over thirty years since Willi Smith’s death and last year saw the first retrospective of his work – Willi Smith: Street Couture at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York.

 Willi Smith was born in Philadelphia in 1948. Initially he studied fashion illustration but later went on to study Fashion at Parsons School of Design in New York. Early in his career he worked for Arnold Stassi, a designer known for his high society ball gowns. He then worked for Digit Inc. Sportswear, where he quickly made name for himself and was nominated for the prestigious Coty Award in 1972. After Digits Inc. went bankrupt in 1973, he unsuccessfully set up a company with his sister Toukie Smith and then in 1976 while in India, inspired by the cotton fabrics and street fashion, he and his friend Laurie Mallet came up with the idea of setting up WilliWear Ltd and by the time they return he had designed a capsule collection that was ready to go.

WilliWear quickly captured the interest of the fashion industry. His designs crossed over from sportswear to couture. His clothes were oversized, colourful and gender fluid. He was the first designer to unite womenswear and menswear under the same label. This is echoed in his unisex patterns for Butterwick and McCall’s, which still seem radical today.

Willi Smith’s design ethos was that his clothes should be functional, fun, affordable and cross boundaries of race, gender and social status. He was inspired by how people on the street dressed. He called it Street Couture for his seminal Fall 1983 Collection. It was urban not ballroom. He famously said, ‘Being black has a lot to do with being a good designer. My eye will go quicker to what the pimp is wearing than to someone in a gray suit and tie…Most of these designers who run to Paris for color and fabric combinations should go to church on Sunday in Harlem. It’s all right there’. (Vogue online July 2020)

Willi Smith was one of the few successful ‘non-white’ designers at the time to navigate the fashion industry on his own terms and by the time of his death in 1987, aged thirty-nine from an AIDS related illness, he had become the most successful black designer in history with annual sales of over twenty-five million dollars and selling in five hundred stores worldwide.

Willi Smith pioneered Streetwear which has influenced generations of designers. Throughout his career he worked creatively with artists, architects, filmmakers and dancers. Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer were amongst the artists who he worked with on his ground-breaking artist t-shirts in 1984 – now ubiquitous in the industry. He started collaborating with Christo and Jeanne-Claude in 1967 and in 1985 designed the worker’s uniforms for the wrapping of the Pont Neuf in Paris. The radical architects SITE created his urban street vision for his show rooms and with artists Nam June Pak and Juan Downey his fashion shows became more performance than catwalk.

So, it seems strange that his legacy has largely been overlooked. Perhaps it was because his career was cut short, maybe it was also due to ‘the negativity associated with AIDS at the time’ (James Wines, SITE, Surface Magazine Jan 2020). But it is also true, as Kim Jenkins, founder of the Fashion and Race Database says ‘…fashion history for the most part, has been white history. On the whole, we have designers of color missing from our textbooks’ (WMagazine Jan 2020).

The cover of Duro Olowu: Seeing.

Duro Olowu 

Duro Olowu is a Nigerian born British designer. In 1998 he opened his first boutique off  the Ledbury Road in Notting Hill with Elaine Golding, called Olowu Golding, where he showcased  his early designs  and Elaine Golding’s shoes. Then in 2004 he launched his womenswear label.  His  Spring-Summer 2005 Collection was an instant success and he was named New Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards, the only designer to receive the award prior to their first runway show. His empire line dress with flowing sleeves, dubbed the ‘Duro’ became a sensation, hailed ‘Dress of the Year’ by both American and British Vogue.

Duro Olowu punctuates designing with curating. He moves with ease between Fashion and  the Art worlds. Last year he guest curated Seeing at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, where he brought together over 300 works of art selected from public and private collections from around the Chicago area arranging them in thematic groups.

Previously in 2016 he curated ‘Making and Unmaking’ at the Camden Arts Centre in London. Mixing and placing works which included photographs, paintings, sculpture and fabrics. The exhibition was like wandering through his stream of consciousness. There was a sense of freedom, where seemingly unconnected work flowed from room to room in a kind of beautiful choreography. In the interview with Glen Ligon for the exhibition he explained, ‘…the process of discovery and experimentation is very empowering and that is what ‘Making and Unmaking’ is ultimately about’ .

Duro Olowu’s designs are a sophisticated  play of pattern, colour and cut, suffused with the influence of African textiles, with their symbolism and how they translate to the street fashion of a continent and then melded seamlessly with western couture to create designs that are both powerful and subtle at the same time.

The exhibition publications: Willi Smith: Street Couture, Alexandra Cunningham Cameron, Rizzoli Electa, 2020 and Duro Olowu: Seeing, Naomi Beckwith, Prestel, 2020  are on display in Chelsea Library during the month of October in the Costume and Fashion Collection.

For further information on Willi Smith, the Willi Smith Community Archive created inconjunction with Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum gives personal accounts and insights into the designer by people who knew and worked with him. https://willismitharchive.cargo.site/

You can also listen to Duro Olowu in conversation with Valerie Steele, fashion historian, who also curates  Bloomsbury Fashion Central’s fashion photograhphy archive. The conversation is from the Series: at home: Artists in Conversation, Yale Centre for British Art.  https://youtu.be/71ZdF_YVVbQ

Nadia, Chelsea Library.

Black History Month: Black Journalists

The inaugural issue of the first ever African American newspaper, Freedom’s Journal, appeared in March 1827.  Its stirring front-page editorial stated “Too long have others spoken for us. Too long has the public been deceived by misrepresentations”, encapsulating the truth that the experiences, needs and ideas of black people could only be expressed through the voices, pens and printing presses of black people. Black journalism has a fascinating and illustrious history, through which a rich tradition of brilliant minds sought to wrest the narrative of black experience from the dominant white commentators, fight the battle against racism and advance the cause of liberation.

As the earliest journalists recognised, no war could be waged – whether against the slave trade, which would continue for another four decades after the birth of Freedom’s Journal, or against lynching, the deprivation of civil rights, racist miscarriages of justice, institutional racism in the criminal justice system, government, and society generally – without a press created by and for black people. Newspapers were the way for individuals and communities to communicate with each other and challenge the racist misinformation that distorted the reality they knew.
Campaigns of huge political importance were carried out through their pages, debates shaped, and injustice exposed. They also fulfilled people’s need for entertainment and leisure at a time when black people could only find themselves depicted in stereotypical caricatures in white media. In this month’s display of books from our Special Collection of Biographies at Kensington Central Library, we mark Black History Month by looking at the stories of some of the most fascinating figures in black journalism.

Picture one

Some of the biggest names in 20th century black literature, whose stories can be found in our collection, worked as journalists – the poet Langston Hughes was a columnist for Abbott’s Chicago Defender (see below), and the novelist Zora Neale Hurston [pic 1] was also a reporter (one of her most famous pieces of journalism was her reporting of the 1952 trial in Florida of Ruby McCollum, the black woman convicted of murdering the white doctor and “pillar of the community” who abused her over many years).

Picture two

Lorraine Hansberry, [pic 2] the writer of the celebrated play A Raisin in the Sun wrote for the black newspaper Freedom, which was published by legendary singer and civil rights activist Paul Robeson. Claudia Jones [pic 3], who founded the Notting Hill Carnival, set up the UK’s first black newspaper, The West Indian Gazette.

Picture three

Anyone who has watched the wonderful Mangrove film in the Small Axe series of films by Steve McQueen will have seen the brief appearance of C.L.R. James, played by Derek Griffiths.

Picture four

James [pic 4] was one of the most important journalists and historians of the period; he immigrated to Lancashire from Trinidad in 1932 and subsequently moved to London, where he wrote for many newspapers and was a leading figure in Marxist politics.  In the late 50s James returned to Trinidad and became the editor of The Nation newspaper, though he spent the last years of his life back in the UK, living in Brixton. James was also an expert on cricket and was cricket correspondent of the Manchester Guardian (now the Guardian) in the early 1930s. Huge names of black history like W. E. B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey were also journalists, but in this blog post I would like to focus on a few names that may be less well known.

Picture five

Robert Sengstacke Abbott was born in Georgia, USA in 1868; his parents had been enslaved until not long before his birth. [pic 5]
After practising as a lawyer, in 1905 he founded The Chicago Defender newspaper, which went on to become the most widely read black-owned newspaper. Having himself made the journey from the South to Chicago, Abbott was passionate about what is known as “The Great Migration”, which saw many black people relocate from the Southern to the Northern United States to escape rural poverty and the horrific “Jim Crow” system of racial segregation.  (During the first wave of this, between 1916 and 1940, 1.6 million black people resettled in the North.)  Abbott used his newspaper to inspire others to make this journey, as he felt black people could have the opportunity to improve their circumstances only when they left the terrible conditions of the South behind. At the same time, he saw all too clearly that racism was also a huge problem in the North, and campaigned for equal civil rights, the end of discrimination in employment and education, and the end of persecution of mixed-race couples. Black railway porters, who in 1925 were to form the first official trade union led by African Americans, increased the paper’s circulation by distributing it on trains. It is estimated that at its most popular, the paper was read by four out of five of all black adults in the entire United States.  (The paper still thrives 116 years after Abbott founded it, though two years ago it became online only.) We have a rare early biography of Abbott, written in 1955 by another African American journalist, Roi Ottley, whose career took off in the 1930s and who went on to become the first African American correspondent to file reports on World War Two for major national newspapers.

Picture six

Born in Jamaica in 1941, Barbara Blake Hannah [pic 6] had been a TV newsreader and a contributor to a magazine run by her father Evon Blake (founder of the Press Association of Jamaica) before she arrived in the UK in 1964 and became a prolific journalist, her work being published in many national newspapers and magazines. In 1968 she became the first black reporter on Thames Television’s first regional news programme, London-based Today. Blake-Hannah interviewed many famous people, but what then transpired is a disgraceful indictment – viewers complained about having a black reporter on the programme, and rather than defending her, Thames Television dismissed her without explanation. She went on to work on a local news programme in Birmingham, commuting from London as no hotel in Birmingham would admit her. She also worked as a researcher on the BBC’s prestigious documentary series “Man Alive.”  In 1972, Blake-Hannah returned to Jamaica to work on the ground-breaking film The Harder they Come. She has written extensively about Rastafarianism and was the first Rastafarian senator in the Jamaican Parliament for three years in the 80s.  She is now the Chief Executive of the Jamaica Film Academy.  Her autobiography Growing Out: Black Hair & Black Pride In The Swinging Sixties came out in 2016 and describes her experience in the UK.

Picture seven

Una Marson [pic 7] was an extraordinary woman who dese. Born in 1905 in rural Jamaica, she escaped her strict upbringing (her father was a Baptist minister) and was already a prolific journalist, playwright and poet by the time she was in her early twenties (at 21 she was assistant editor of The Jamaica Critic and by 23 she had set up her own magazine, the first Jamaican woman ever to do so).  She came alone to the UK while still not yet 30 and threw herself into the world of black activism and feminism, travelled in Europe, the USA and Israel, and met such important figures as Paul Robeson and Haile Salassie. She worked alongside George Orwell as a BBC producer during the Second World War, the first ever black woman to be employed by the corporation.  From 1942 she produced the BBC radio programme Calling the West Indies; she recreated it as Caribbean Voices, which ran for 15 years and showcased the work of important literary figures including Derek Walcott and V. S. Naipaul.  She is considered to be the first major female Caribbean poet and a key voice in the development of feminism.

Picture eight

Finally, George Lamming, who is now 94 years old, was one of those who read Walcott’s poetry on Caribbean Voices produced by Una Marson. [pic 8] In 1951 he came to London from Barbados and began broadcasting for the BBC, and he wrote for the Barbadian magazine BIM. In the late 60s he embarked on an academic career in Jamaica and has been a visiting professor at universities throughout the USA and Australia.  His book In the Castle of My Skin was written during his first couple of years in the UK, and though often classified as a novel, it is included in our Special Collection of Biographies because it is considered to be an autobiographical evocation of Lamming’s childhood and youth in Barbados. It is an exquisitely written book, which gives a unique insight into his home island at a particular moment in its history.

This black history month, we hope you will enjoy finding out more about these and other unique individuals from the history of black journalism [pic 9], inextricably interwoven into the history of activism, literature, politics, and culture.

Picture nine

Don’t forget to check out our BioEpic podcast, available on all major podcast platforms- Claudia at Kensington Central Library.

A City Reads “Rivers of London”

“Good afternoon. My name’s Peter Grant, I’m from the police and this is my colleague Beverley Brook, who’s a river in south London.”

Rivers of London, p146

April in Libraries means CityRead, a London-wide book club, and this year’s book is the aptly named ‘Rivers of London.’ Part police procedural, part high fantasy complete with wizards, ghosts and vampires, Rivers of London is above all grounded in its setting – the grand, gritty, sprawling mass of London.

Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch
Get a copy free from your local library

On Monday, author Ben Aaronovitch visited Kensington Central library as part of his tour of ALL the London boroughs (do check out his highly entertaining blog, wherein he charts this heroic journey). The event was a roaring success and it was followed later in the evening by the Central Library Reading group, who met to discuss the book.

Ben Aaronovitch at Central Library
Ben Aaronovitch at Central Library

It’s still not too late to pick up a copy at your local library – we even have some free copies to give away – and join the biggest book club in London. If you missed your local reading group, you can always share your thoughts about the book with us in the comments below.

I canvassed my colleagues – many of whom read and loved Rivers of London – for their quick reviews and thoughts.

Mike, Director of Libraries, wrote:

Harry Potter grows up and joins The Bill. Subterranean excitement, with murder and supernatural goings on along London’s lost rivers… whilst Rivers of London isn’t something I’d have chosen for myself I was very glad I read it and can also see exactly why it works so well as a CityRead title.

Librarian Sandeep, said:

A gripping series of books with great touches of London which you must get round to reading. Surely the TV series cannot be far away where Peter Grant and co would be brought to life! Also, look out for the graphic novel, which Ben is drip-feeding via his blog and Twitter.

Community Development Manager Chris, said:

It’s the best fiction book I have read in a long time. Ben’s love of the West End, where a lot of the book is set, and of London generally underpins the book and sets the scene, but the main joy of the story is the fascinating characters he has created and who develop as the books progress through a  series of supernatural mysteries. When I first heard of the books I was doubtful I would enjoy them (I never liked Harry Potter for instance) but once you try them you are hooked!

Stock Librarian Sally said,

What I loved the most about Rivers of London was how, as a Londoner, I recognised so many of the places the story takes us – from Covent Garden to Wapping; the old school glamour of J. Sheekey Oyster Bar to the Bow Magistrates Court – but all with added little nuggets of history I never knew or suspected. This is a great book for Londoners; it made me love and appreciate my home city a little bit more.

And lastly, Adewale wrote:

A misleading title! I thought it was going to be a about the rivers of London! Was disappointed that  neither the Rivers Quaggy nor Ravensbourne were mentioned – very good read, though!

Click here for more information about what’s on this month at your local library.

The Cityread London website has more information about what’s going on around London, and how you can get involved.

Sloane Street 1919: the Peace Parade

We’ve struck gold this week: a guest blog by our Local Studies Librarian, Dave Walker, with some personal- and local- reflections of WWI.

Like many of the people who work in libraries, archives and museums I’ve spent time this year getting ready for the commemoration of the start of the First World War, looking through archive material, going to meetings and workshops, working on exhibitions and events and answering the first flurry of enquiries on the subject. I’ve never experienced any preparation for a centenary like it. Raising awareness of a profoundly significant historical event and getting people interested in history is never a bad thing. But the First World War is not like other historical events. It’s definitely not like the Second World War.

2022

World War 2 was an unambiguous struggle against evil. We may have had some allies we felt dubious about afterwards, and we may feel regret about some of the methods and weapons used by the Allies but it was a necessary war. That seems to be the general consensus. And I know it from my own family. Both my father and my mother were in the armed forces and believed in the cause for which they were fighting.

2023

But World War 1 is less clear cut. We fought an aggressor who was determined on the domination of Europe (and elsewhere). But the origins of the war are caught up in diplomatic machinations and expediency. And there are many areas of disagreement about the conduct of the war. Were our troops “lions led by donkeys” as Allan Clarke famously put it? Or were the allied commanders as competent as could have been expected given that the technology of warfare was changing so rapidly? Was the Great War a just war against an enemy of civilisation? Or simply the result of one gang of would be imperialists attempting unsuccessfully to supplant another? It wasn’t as it turned out “the war to end wars”. But was it just an accidental outbreak of unjustifiable blood-letting?

2029

It’s harder when the event being remembered is reaching the point of being almost past living memory. As far as my own family is concerned there are a few photos of men in uniform seen in old photo albums and I know about my great uncle John James Williamson who died towards the end of the war too late to travel home on compassionate leave when his mother died. (His brother George made it home and survived the war.)

2026

When it comes to what is being commemorated we can agree that it was the courage and sacrifice of ordinary men and women that we want to remember and the details of ordinary lives. The historians and politicians can argue over the rest.

There is no doubt about the suffering and trauma which ended the long Edwardian summer and propelled us into the 20th century. But if it feels disheartening to contemplate pain, misery and injustice we can remember that this is history. We have the whole span of the war to examine, which is why I have chosen these pictures.

2025

This was the Peace Parade of 1919. Men and women who served in the armed forces or in auxiliary forces are seen marching down Sloane Street (just a part of the whole route) to commemorate the end of the war.

We’re rightly avoiding the word celebration this year. But I think it is right to say that these men and women were celebrating one thing – their own survival. They marched in front of cheering crowds to celebrate the peace, proud of what they had done but glad it was finished.

2022a

Home at last. War is over.

 

You can follow Dave’s regular blog here

 

 

 

Coronation – customs and history

The Queen marks the 60th anniversary of her Coronation this month. Karen Ullersperger, Tri-Borough Reference Manager has taken a look at coronations using our varied collections.

Cecil Beaton's official portrait of Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation
Cecil Beaton’s official portrait of Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation

On 2 June 1953 Queen Elizabeth ll was crowned in Westminster Abbey. The coronation is the greatest of royal ceremonies and to mark the 60th anniversary of  this great occasion I will take a look at some of the customs and history behind the crowning of the monarch through the ages.

The origins of the coronation can be found in the pagan custom of installing their leader, usually warrior kings,  by seating them upon a stone and investing them with  symbols of their office  for example a spear. With the arrival of Christianity this ceremony then acquired a religious element and kings were anointed and consecrated. In the ceremony the King binds himself on oath to serve the people and in return the people pledge their allegiance to the King.

The ceremony last seen in 1952 is very similar to coronation  of King Edgar  in 973. For which there is a written record. Early coronations were held at Kingston upon Thames and you can still see the stone on which the Anglo-Saxon kings were crowned.

Coronation Stone, Kingston upon Thames
Coronation Stone, Kingston upon Thames

Coronations were not always held at Westminster Abbey and have also taken place  at Bath Abbey, Canterbury Cathedral, Oxford, Winchester Cathedral and St Paul’s Cathedral. It was only in the middle ages Westminster Abbey was granted the sole right to hold the ceremony and to date there have been 38 coronations there.

The ceremony in 1952 took 16 months preparation and looked spectacular on a cold, rainy June day even in black and white on the small  televisions then in use. Yet our books on coronations and their customs give us an insight into even bigger events in the past.

In the thirteenth century it became the custom for the monarch to spend time before the coronation at the Tower of London and then formally process through the City to Westminster Hall.  On the day itself a there was procession from the Hall to the Abbey and following the service the monarch returned to Westminster Hall for a lavish banquet. The procession was abandoned in 1685 and the banquet in 1821 as a cost saving measure, the pageant alone had cost a mere £243,000.

The Coronation Procession of King George IV from Westminster Hall to the Abbey
The Coronation Procession of King George IV from Westminster Hall to the Abbey

One custom which sadly no longer takes place is the arrival of the King’s Champion during the coronation banquet. Dressed in full armour with lance and shield  and  mounted on a horse – the champion threw down his gauntlet asking if anyone denied the rightful title of the King or Queen.  As a reward for performing the service the champion got to keep the horse, trappings, armour and was given a gold cup filled with at least 36 ounces of gold.

Sir Edward Dymoke throwing down the gage at King Edward VI's Coronation
Sir Edward Dymoke throwing down the gage at King Edward VI’s Coronation

We can see from this picture of the procession that there were  minor  roles including strewing fragrant  herbs before the King on his way to the Abbey. This probably originated as an antidote to the plague. This picture show the last named herb woman, Miss Fellowes leading her ladies in 1821.

Miss Fellowes and her ladies strewing fragrant herbs
Miss Fellowes and her ladies strewing fragrant herbs

A few chosen facts about coronations

William the Conqueror was crowned on Christmas Day 1066 but during the ceremony the noise of from inside the Abbey  alarmed the Norman guards outside who fearing a  revolt began to massacre the local Saxon populace  in the local area.

William the Conqueror being crowned on Christmas Day 1066
William the Conqueror being crowned on Christmas Day 1066

Henry lll was the first child to be crowned King at the age of 9 at Gloucester Cathedral in 1216. The ceremony could not take place at Westminster Abbey because London was occupied by the French who had invaded England. The regalia was still in London so Henry was crowned with his mother’s gold head circlet. He was crowned again  in 1220 in a full ceremony at Westminster Abbey.

Henry Vl was even younger becoming King at the age of  8 months  in 1422 but was not crowned until the age of eight in 1429. He remains the only King to also be crowned King of France, at Notre Dame Paris in 1431.

The Coronation of King Henry VI, 1429
The Coronation of King Henry VI, 1429

William lll and Mary ll had the first ever joint coronation in 1689. A duplicate coronation chair and regalia were made for Mary and William using the originals.

Two kings were never crowned, Edward Vlll who abdicated in 1936,and Edward  V who went into the Tower prior to his  coronation  in 1483  and  with his brother Richard, Duke of York  was never seen again.

In 1821 George IV’s estranged wife Caroline of Brunswick arrived expecting to be crowned Queen but was refused admittance to the ceremony – she was turned away from every door.

Central to the crowning of the  monarch is the regalia which has its own very colourful history. The most significant being the destruction of the original  regalia following the execution of  Charles l in 1649 on the orders of Oliver Cromwell. The gold and silver were melted down and the jewels were sold. At the restoration new regalia had to be made and this is what we are familiar with today which is on display at the Tower of London.

Karen Ullesperger, Triborough Reference Manager
Karen Ullesperger

Karen Ullersperger, Tri-Borough Reference Manager

Further information

  • You can find more information the lives of all our King and Queens in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which is available online on the library website (you’ll need a Kensington and Chelsea library membership to access this database) or you can borrow a book from the special biography collection at Kensington Central Library.
  • Books on the history and customs of the coronation through the ages  be found in the Folklore and Customs collection in Kensington Central Reference Library
  • More information on coronations can be found on the Westminster Abbey website.

Books that were used for this piece – all are available in the Folklore and Customs collection:

  • Shramm, Percy Ernst, A History of the English Coronation, Oxford, (Clarendon Press) 1937
  • Passingham, W. J, A History of the Coronation, London, (Samson Low Marston Ltd ) 1937
  • Brooke-Little,John, Royal Ceremonies of State, London, (Country life, Hamlyn press) 1980
  • Roe, F Gordon, Coronation Cavalcade,  (P. R . Gawthorne) 1937

 

Christmas in London For Kids

This is a guest blog post from Kensington Mums – they’ve put together a list of some fantastic things you can do with your kids in London this festive season. Many thanks to them! They’ll be blogging for us again in the New Year – all about themselves and how they use our libraries.

A quick reminder about the free Christmas children’s activities we have in our libraries:

  • Making Christmas Cards and Tree Decorations, Thursday 13 December, 3 to 5pm at Chelsea Children’s Library.
  • Christmas Crafts, Thursday 20th December, 3.45 to 5pm at Brompton Library.
  • Winter Story Telling, Tuesday 2 January, 2 to 3pm at Kensington Central Children’s Library.

What’s on this Christmas for you and your little ones

 If you are staying in the capital this Christmas, you will find loads of things to keep little and older ones entertained and happy this festive season. Just wrap up warm and enjoy the fun! Here is a run down on what’s on. Wishing you all a lovely Christmas and a prosperous New Year!

Keep Calm logo

Christmas with the animals!

Meet Santa and London’s reindeer herd at London Zoo.
Running until 24 Dec 2012. Come and visit Santa at his winter lodge, a custom-designed grotto built in the fairytale setting of London Zoo’s memorial gardens –and also visit London’s very own reindeer herd! Suitable for children 10 years and under.
Visit the London Zoo website for more information.

Christmas festive fun at Battersea Park Children’s Zoo.
More information click to download a PDF of the event.

Meet Father Christmas!

Santa’s Grotto at the Duke of York Square, SW3. 23 December 2012. FREE

Meet Santa at Whole Foods Kensington
The grotto is open Saturdays 11am to 7pm and Sundays 10am to 6pm. There are only six family slots per hour so book early!
Email kensington@wholefoods.com for more information.

Ice Skating!

Ice Skating
Ice Skating

If you and your kids fancy ice skating- there are lots of rinks in the capital for Christmas:

  • Westfield London (Shepherds Bush) and  Westfield Stratford City both have ice rinks and Santa’s Grotto.
  • Hampton Court Palace ice rink opens Saturday 1 December 2012 – until Sunday 13 January 2013. Great for a festive family gathering.
  • Skate at Somerset House. Celebrate the festive season in style at London’s most glamorous ice rink.
  • Natural History Museum’s Ice Rink is now open. Embrace winter in their 950-square-metre ice rink.
  • The Tower of London Ice Rink. London’s most dramatic open-air ice rink returns to this spectacular setting. Located in the moat, the ice rink is set against the magnificent fortress battlements!
  • Head to Canary Wharf  for their ice rink and during the festive season. They also have free festive activities for kids all weekends in December and Christmas Eve throughout Canary Wharf’s malls including art and craft workshops, festive face painting and a magical treasure hunt.  There’s also Santa’s Grotto.

Christmas in the Museums!

Winter Wonderland workshops at the National Gallery,
Friday 14 December. For more information visit the National Gallery website.

Horrible Histories Christmas Special at the National Portrait Gallery,
Saturday  15 December. Come and celebrate the festive season in Tudor style. Pop into the theatre to meet cast members from Horrible Histories – Barmy Britain and find out all about Tudor life.  For more information visit the Horrible Histories – Barmy Britain website.

Christmas workshops at Lauderdale House,
Saturdays 15, 18 20 and 21 December. Booking essential.
Visit the Lauderdale House website for more information.

Mirror Mirror’s Christmas Magic Lantern Show at the Museum of Childhood,
Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 December 2012. Join Victorian sisters Anna and Bea for their annual family magic lantern show – an atmospheric tale of mystery and adventure!
More information visit the Museum of Childhood website.

Jigsaw Japes at Bank of England Museum,
17  to 21, 24, 27, 28 and 31 December and 2 to 4 January.
Children of all ages can draw their favourite Museum object on a pre-cut jigsaw to take home. More information visit the Jigsaw Jape and the Bank of England website.

Santa vs. the Snowman 3D (U) at the IMAX, Science Museum.
Showing every weekend in December. For only £5 your little one will enjoy watching duck snowballs, elves and jet-propelled reindeers as Santa takes on a lonely snowman who wants nothing more than to take over Christmas and become the world’s most beloved festive character. For more information visit the Science Museum website.

Kids’ Zone at the National Army Museum.
Kids Zone is great for children aged 0-8 with forest and arctic themed climbing frames for kids to scale, slide and run through. There is also a soft play area for babies, toys, and arts and crafts. For only £2.50 per child this is a great way for little ones to let off some steam. Please note the Museum is not open on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. Adults are FREE. For more information visit the National Army Museum website.

Christmas Crafts and Seasonal Stories at Museum of Childhood,
Saturdays 15, 22 December, Sundays 16, 23 December. Thursday 27 December to Sunday 6 January Excluding New Years Day 10.30am to 4pm. FREE Find out how families celebrated Christmas 100 years ago! Enjoy a creative re-telling of The Nutcracker and create seasonal crackers, baubles, retro decorations and cards with help from the Retired and Senior Service Volunteers. For more information visit the Museum of Childhood website.

Festive Performance at Victoria and Albert Museum,
Saturday 29 December 2012 to Sunday 6 January 2013. Watch the dance of ‘The Nutcracker’ on weekends or see a fun gallery play during the week.  Create imaginative Victorian Christmas decorations. Suitable for ages 4+. For more information visit the Victoria and Albert Museum website.

Christmas Storytime at the Museum of London Docklands,
Thursday 27 December, 10.30 to 11am, 11.30am to 12 noon and 2 to 2.30pm. FREE.  Enjoy a festive story together, told using puppets, museum objects and music – then come and play in the Mudlarks children’s gallery if you have energy to spare! For more information visit the Museum of London Docklands website.

And the rest….!

Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park
Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park

Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.
This is probably one of my favourite winter events. It is absolutely wonderful, its got everything from roller coaster rides, circus, Santa’s land, Magical Ice Kingdom to name just a few and one of the best Christmas markets I have been to. This year’s ice ring is Ice Age 4. Just make sure you wrap up warm! Winter Wonderland is free to enter. However you will need to buy tickets for the attractions & rides. For more information visit the Winter Wonderland website.

Christmas at Kensington Palace,
1 to 23 December 2012. Prepare to be spellbound as Kensington Palace is transformed into a unique palace-sized Advent Calendar this December. For more information visit the Kensington Palace website.

LEGO’s countdown to Christmas with the LEGO advent calendar.
This is really impressive work. Head to South Hall of Covent Garden at 4 pm every day until Christmas to witness a special guest opening a door of the giant LEGO advent calendar.  While you are there, don’t forget to Meet a real life Rudolph every Saturday at Covent Garden Piazza from 12pm to 4pm. Kids will love to hand-feed and pet them.

London New Year’s Day Parade
This will be taking place on the 1st January 2013. The Parade starts at 11.45am on Piccadilly at the junction with Berkeley Street outside the Ritz Hotel and finishes around 3pm at Parliament Street. For more information visit the New Year’s Day Parade website.

Kensington Mums Christmas

To be kept in the loop with the local scoop with the latest in children activities, playgroup and family outings, join Kensington Mums where you get free updates with what’s on for you and your little one(s). You are welcome to connect with other Mums to share your tips and recommendation and capture all those invaluable word of mouth recommendations.  It’s a fantastic support network! Kensington Mums also organises Mummy and baby outings as well as Mums Night out and pamper events! Visit The Kensington Mums website for more information.

The Lord Mayor’s Show

City of London Royal Crest
City of London Royal Crest

Following immediately after Halloween and Bonfire night is another great spectacle that of the Lord Mayor’s Show.

Our collection of books on customs cover great ceremonial occasions and the Lord Mayor’s show is one of the best. It takes place annually on the second Saturday in November and this year it falls on 10th November – best of all its free!

The post of Lord Mayor of the City London dates back more than 700 years and it was in the reign of King John who needing the support of the city in 1215 against rebellious barons gave the citizens of London the right to elect their own Mayor.

As the choice of Mayor has to be approved by the monarchy, each year (he or she) proceeds through the city to swear and oath of loyalty at the Royal Courts of Justice.

Gog and Magog
Gog and Magog

Up until 1453 the procession went through the City of London and was a great public holiday. One of the highlights of the procession was a chariot containing the two fearsome giants, Gog and Magog, who normally lived at the Guildhall. They represent the ancient legend that London was founded in the year 1000 by Trojan invaders after they had been helped by the two giants. Apparently these were made of wickerwork and were frequently eaten by the rats in the city. Therefore in 1708 two wooden figure were carved which unfortunately were later destroyed in the Blitz – luckily another pair were made and can still be seen in the Guildhall.

River Pageant
River Pageant

After this date the Lord mayor travelled to Westminster by barge in a river pageant – similar to the one we saw this year for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Apparently some of barges were so big that in one report they could hold a dinner and dance for eighty people. There were musicians, flags and guns firing along the way and on some occasions there were boats with dragons casting fire over the water. Unfortunately the river pageant ceased in 1856 and it went back to the processional route along the streets.

Mansion House in London
Mansion House

The Lord Mayor now travels through the City from Mansion House the official residence of the Lord Mayor to the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand and returns in procession to Mansion House to hold a huge banquet. He travels in a richly decorated state coach. The coach was built in 1757 and cost the grand sum of £1065 0s 3d. It weighs over 3 tons and is 19.8 metres long (approx 65 feet).

Illustration of the Lord Mayors Coach
Lord Mayors Coach

The procession is held each year and there is great account in the Illustrated London News of 17th November 1883 describing all the floats. You can also find them on our online database Times Digital Archive which include such wonderful phrase as “the window of the houses were filled with persons mostly ladies of most respectable appearance” and in the procession an “ancient knight mounted on a charger armed cap a pie in suit of polishes tell armour and plumed”.

Illustration of Dick Wittington
Dick Wittington

Some famous Lord Mayors include Richard (Dick) Whittington who really was Lord Mayor three times and which I have found out was worth the amazing sum of £7000 at his death in 1423. Sir William Walworth, was the Lord Mayor who killed Wat Tyler during the peasants revolt of 1381. One of the more inept Mayors was Sir Thomas Bludworth who famously underestimated the impact of a small fire in Pudding Lane in 1666, the result of which was the burning down of most of London, more famously known as the Great Fire.

More information:

Bibliography for the above blog post, was done using the following references:

  • Roud, Steve, London Lore the legend and traditions of the world’s most vibrant city , London, (Random House) 2008
  • Brentnall, Margaret, Old customs and ceremonies of London, Norfolk, (B.T Batsford Ltd) 1975.
  • Hayward Girtin, T, The Lord Mayor of London, London, (Oxford University press) 1948

Karen Ullesperger, Triborough Reference Manager
Karen Ullesperger

Karen Ullersperger, Tri-Borough Reference Manager