Last Friday we hosted the Chelsea Library Summer Reading Challenge party. We had over seventy completers and one hundred parents and children turned up to dance to Diane’s Latin American compilation and find Willy Wonka’s golden fridge magnet—the winner is yet to come forward! Please if you find the golden ticket nestling between packets of shrimp shaped haribos and some savoury crackers contact Chelsea children’s library! Continue reading “Party time at Chelsea Library!”→
Welcome to our new blog, where we hope to entertain and inform you about everything to do with Kensington and Chelsea’s libraries! Sign up for posts about fun things that that we do, events that we’ve organised, what our bookclubs think about their current read, and more. We’ll also be posting regularly about our special collections, so you can find out more about the treasures we have on our shelves…
So this year Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her 90th birthday. Or rather birthdays, as while her actual birthday is today, 21 April (she was born at 17 Bruton Street at 2.40am on 21 April 1926), her formal birthday with all the pomp and ceremony is on the second Saturday in June. This year there will be a weekend of celebrations, such as the Patron’s lunch on Sunday 12 June.
But as the title says – what was said and what happened on the day itself? Using our newspaper archives, both online and hard copy, it is possible to have a glimpse of the news as it would have been read by the people of 1926.
First of all, the time of the then Princess Elizabeth’s birth was important for the daily newspapers. Normally an event which occurred on the 21st would be reported on the 22nd once it has had a chance to be written and printed. However, because the event took place so early in the morning it made it into the headlines of the day!
Check the Times Digital Archive to see how the news was reported (log in with your library card number). You could limit your searches to just 21 and 22 April, or simply browse through each day’s newspaper. Then take a look at some of the other papers – different publications can give you different types of story and varying headlines.
Think about your search terms; which words will you use? Try out different ones. Remember that the baby born that day had not yet been named, was not yet Queen or even the heir to the throne. Here are a few tips for possible keywords: granddaughter, daughter, birth, Duchess of York, and royal are just a few.
From my searches I discovered that The Times managed to get an announcement into its 21 April ‘News in Brief’ section, and the next day mentions that the princess is third in line for succession to the throne (an important fact, as we would find out later on).
And take a look at our Illustrated London News collection for some images too. These are available in Central and Chelsea Libraries.
Lots of stories to explore! Why not go further and see what is written about each of the birthdays and life events over her 90 years? You can read more in one of the many books featured on our catalogue, and find dates and events to then research in the newspapers. Be imaginative with your search terms; you never know what you might discover!
We’ve got a marathon of John Byrne Cartoon Workshops today, starting right now at North Kensington Library, then moving on to Kensington Central Library (11.30am to 12.30pm), Chelsea Library (2 to 3pm) and then Brompton Library (3.30 to 4.30pm).
Marvel, as our cartoon workshop host flies from library to library… Gasp, as John leads the group through a fast paced and fun session which will get them copying his cartoons perfectly in the first five minutes… and doing their own cartoons by the end of the session!
Contact the library to book your free place for this National Libraries Day event!
Recently, Rachel Worth, Professor of Dress and Fashion at Arts University Bournemouth, delivered a presentation on the history of Marks & Spencer at Chelsea Library. This post is based on what we learnt about the high street giant from Rachel’s fascinating and insightful lecture.
From very humble beginnings in a Penny Bazaar stall at Leeds Kirkgate Market in 1884, Michael Marks and – from a partnership that began in 1894 – Thomas Spencer together built a company that would become Britain’ s biggest clothing retailer.
Today, Marks & Spencer is a company synonymous with quality, reliability and customer care, but do we associate it with fashion?
Well – yes! Marks & Spencer was at the forefront of bringing accessible and fashionable clothing to the masses, at the same time being a pioneer in using new textiles, displays techniques and marketing methods – including the use of “supermodels” before the word was ever invented.
In the 1890s most working class people made their own clothes, and initially the market stall sold haberdashery (dressmaking materials). The sales slogan of “Don’t Ask The Price, It’s A Penny” summed up the business model. By the outbreak of World War One the company had expanded considerably and had diversified into homewares, but clothing remained at the heart of the business.
Marks & Spencer revolutionised how we bought clothes and also how clothes were sold, focusing on ready-to-wear affordable goods; high quality, well designed and fashionable clothing. In the 1920s M&S was ahead of most other retailers in its marketing and retailing methods setting an upper price limit on clothes. It also accepted the return of unwanted items, giving a full cash refund if the receipt was shown, no matter how long ago the product was purchased, which was unusual for the time.
It entered into long term relationships with British manufacturers, and sold clothes of the “St Michael” brand, introduced in 1928. As the company dealt directly with manufacturers it was able to keep prices low and to maintain input in the design and quality of clothes sold in its stores. It was one of the first companies to introduce standardisation in sizing. It also aimed to cater for all members of the family; children’s clothing and ready-to-wear suits being particularly popular.
Pioneering methods included having its own textile laboratory to enable the testing of fabrics and dyes before mass production, and the use of rainmaking machines to test water repellent fabrics. New synthetic textiles were particularly popular between the 1950s and 1970s. These included Tricell which was first used in 1957. Another synthetic fibre called Courtelle was first launched, nationally, by Marks & Spencer during the 60s as was Crimplene and Terylene.
These fabrics were easy to wash, often drip dry, easy iron and held their colour or shape. Terylene, for instance, meant the fashionable 50’s woman could have a permanently pleated non-iron skirt. The introduction of Lycra in the 1980s revolutionised hosiery, swimwear and underwear because of its elastic properties.
Marks and Spencer has always been design conscious, and no more so than in the 1950s when designs were Paris-inspired with an interpretation of the New Look being all the rage. Colour coordinated clothing and jersey knitwear enabled the fashionable women on a budget to change her look , updating key pieces when on a tight budget.
Display and marketing was always a key element of the presentation of M&S fashion ranges. Before the days of mass advertising it was the window display that dominated; these were eye catching and innovative (see above). Early advertising concentrated on the opening of new stores, but post-war the company began to employ models in print media using the well know faces of the day, including Twiggy in the 1960s:
The heyday of this form of mass marketing was the 1990s when M&S began to use supermodels such as Linda Evangelista and Claudia Schiffer. Here is Vogue’s front cover of July 1996 with Amber Valletta wearing a Marks & Spencer shirt, which we found in our archives at Chelsea Library:
If fashion is a concept based around our attitudes to clothing then Marks and Spencer is part of its fabric: with its high quality/ good value ethos, innovative and strong relationships with customers, and its technological innovations it led the way in fashion for the masses. Our thanks to Rachel for revealing some of the secrets to the success of the company over the last hundred years.
Last week, Brompton, Chelsea, Kensington Central and North Kensington libraries had the pleasure of hosting Canela Fina! who ran their “Quiero Bailar Flamenco” interactive Flamenco storytelling session in Spanish and English.
We hear a lot of Spanish as we’re floor-walking, especially after school when the kids have come into the library, so we expected a good turnout for this workshop – and we weren’t disappointed!
Not all the attendees were Spanish speakers, but amongst those who were, some came along in their own beautiful flamenco dresses.
For the others, workshop instructor Maria brought along all manner of accessories to help them get into that Spanish spirit: flowers, hair combs, bracelets and shawls.
Although most of the children started off a little shy and hesitant, by the end of the session there was plenty of rhythmic footwork and ¡Olé!s coming through the walls and ceilings as the children (alongside their parents and carers!) gradually lost their inhibitions and really threw themselves into the spirit of the dance! And who wouldn’t move to the familiar sound of Bamboleo? (Not strictly speaking a well-known flamenco song but undoubtedly Spanish!)
Everyone learnt some Spanish words and were really pleased they’d come to the session.
We noticed some new trends on the King’s Road over the past week… garden inspired shop-fronts, beautiful floral dresses and new visitors to Chelsea Library, who are exploring the area whilst visiting the Chelsea Flower Show. Surrounded by so much floral beauty and enthusiasm, we’ve also caught the flower fever and been inspired to explore fashion and flowers in our Costume & Fashion collection.
The Chelsea Flower show in the 1920s:
And we love this image of the flower show in 1918, showing off the fashions of the time:
In our Vogue magazine archives we found lots of garden-inspired illustrations, fashions and adverts from the May and June issues in the 1920s. In May 1926, as well as checking out the flower show, here is what you mind find shopping along Sloane Street:
And from the same month, an illustration of a fashionable garden of the time:
And when it rains…
We liked this arty picture from Vogue May 1924, with the shadows of trees in the background, entitled Flowered crepe is a medium of the mode:
In June 1929, a model poses in a rock garden:
In fact, everywhere we looked in the May and June Vogue issues we found flowers and gardens. Here is Twiggy in May 1967 and on her dress is a “Pyramid Myriad of Flowers, triangles of tiny multi colored ones….”:
In the 60s Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell had a chic Chelsea boutique Quorum, and we found this great floral design of theirs from 1968:
Fast forward again to May 1988, a budding affair:
We hope you enjoyed taking a quick browse through the flowers and fashions at Chelsea Library. There is lots more to discover in the library and online, in the Berg Fashion Library Online, which you can access for free with your library card.
Have you ever looked at old family photographs from before 1940 and wondered what they could tell you? I found out that they can give a direct connection into the lives of the people portrayed in them through the clothes that people wore.
In an absolutely fascinating presentation at Chelsea Library in late October by the fashion expert and author Jayne Shrimpton, I learnt about history of fashion in ordinary family photographs.
In the nineteenth century photography was a cutting edge technology, but by the early twentieth century photography became more accessible with the advent of the Box Brownie camera. This meant that ordinary families could start to take their own photos and as a result pictures were more informal and can give us more information on the daily lives and fashion preference of our forebears. This eventually began to replace the more formal professional images often printed on postcards done in a studio setting.
Jayne showed us that by reading the fashions in a photograph correctly you can date images, but you can also study the history of fashion by looking at the images.
Fashion a hundred years ago was moving away from the formal and quite restrictive styles of the late Victorian era.The period between 1910-14 saw the development of a much more practical style with the introduction of shirts and ties for working women, and the gradual raising of hemlines. That fashion staple the pencil skirt first appeared. It was during this time the lounge suit for men began to appear and moustaches became all the rage.
Women of all classes would dress for formal occasions, and we saw some great images of women in afternoon dress of linen or cotton, wearing extremely large hats and gloves even when taking tea with their neighbours outside the back door.
Children’s clothing began to change: some of the photos we were shown had little boys still dressed as girls until they were of an age to be “ breeched”, when they would start to wear trousers or even shorts. By 1914 girl’s dress was moving towards a more boyish or more practical style, maintaining their femininity by wearing a huge bow on the side of their heads.
The development of more active life styles led to the development of sportswear and also influenced the introduction of knitwear for a more casual look. Jayne showed us images of specific clothing for cycling, golf, and tennis and for the more wealthy and intrepid ski-ing and skating outfits
During World War One women’s garments became shorter, they began to cut their hair shorter and the overall look was much looser. Many young women undertook war work whether in factories or in the Women’s Land Army (est. 1917), where for the first time women wore breeches or jodphurs, covered by an overall coat to maintain modesty. Of course after the war it was straight back to wearing skirts.
When dating your family photographs Jayne advise looking not only the rise and fall of hemlines, but also what people are doing and what is in the background, for example the modes of transport, so if there is a car you can often date the image from the make and model.
In the 1920s people still “Dressed to Impress” but studio images were in decline and these would only be taken for special occasions such as weddings, christenings etc. In these images as Jayne explained, you can see a history of fashion through the generations with older women still wearing black floor length gowns and their daughters and granddaughters in more contemporary clothes and hairstyles.
By the late twenties and early thirties the photos showed another shift for both men and women. This is particularly true of sport and leisure wear. During this period it became increasingly fashionable to have a suntan and as a result women’s bathing costumes began to change from the modest and concealing fashions of the early 20’s to the much skimpier versions with cutaway sections by the 30’s, and other beachwear clothes such as the introduction of beach pyjama’s.
Men’s swimwear generated some discussion after the presentation because men used to swim in the nude but with the introduction of mixed bathing this was no longer acceptable. By late Victorian times they were wearing trunks but with a vest section which everyone agreed was to hold the trunks up as they were of a knitted fabric . Most of us may have heard a story from our grandparents about their swimwear being so wet and heavy it fell down when they came out of the water!
During this time men’s began to wear informal styles, flannel trousers, sports jumpers, plus fours, and even on occasion shorts. Three piece suits became more relaxed, and had a boxier style; pinstripes were popular as was the Trilby hat.
Women’s and girl’s hemlines rose even further to knee length and their hair became shorter. Knitwear became an established part of dress and new fabrics such as jersey and rayon enabled more women to look stylish and modern and to keep up with the latest trends.
I went home after the talk and dug out some of the family photos and looked at them with renewed interest- large hats, hairstyles, hemlines, were all there and as a result of Jayne’s talk I was able to get a better idea of the dates.
If you are interested in fashion, or forthcoming fashion related events, why not join our mailing list by e-mailing your name and contact details to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, if you follow this blog, you will see regular features on our fashion and costume collection, and you can look at photographic images from our archives in our local studies Library Time Machine blog.
With thanks to Jayne Shrimpton, who allowed us to use her images here. You can find these photos, and much more, in her book Family Photographs & How to Date Them.
Shrimpton, Jayne. Family Photographs & How to Date Them. (Berkshire: Countryside Books, 2008) pp.123, 138, 161 and 163.