Post-war British actors

This month the theme of our Biography Collection display at Kensington Central Library is ‘Post-War British Actors’.  From the iconic glamour of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton to the compelling stories of more recent stars like Emma Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch, we have a range of fascinating biographies which give an insight into the worlds of film, theatre and TV as they have evolved over the last seven decades.

It’s a huge field, but we are putting particular emphasis on actors who have written their own memoirs – several, like Dirk Bogarde, were gifted writers whose reminiscences have become classics, and Rupert Everett’s beautifully written memoirs contain some of the funniest scenes I’ve ever read! As it is Oscar season, we’ll also be including as many UK actors as possible who have been honoured with one of the world’s most famous trophies.

If reminiscences of stage and screen interest you, you are sure to enjoy hearing actor Robert Gillespie read from his new memoir ‘Are You Going to Do That Little Jump?’ A hilarious, poignant, and at times provocative assessment of the profession that has been his life’s work. Join him on Tuesday 20 March 2018, 6.30 to 7.45pm at Kensington Central Library. Book your free place via Eventbrite

The Biography Store team at Kensington Central Library


Vote 100 2018

This month’s display of books at Kensington Central Library from our Biography Collection is to mark that 100 years ago today women got the vote for the first time.


On 6 February 1918, royal assent was given to the Representation of the People Act, and for the first time over 8 million British women were entitled to vote. The original legislation enfranchised only those women who were over 30 and owned property above a certain value, or who were university graduates still living in the constituency of their university. (It took another decade for women’s eligibility to vote to be based on the same terms as men’s.) It was widely considered to be a recognition of women’s role in the First World War (as almost thirty years later, their role in the Second led to women being given the vote in France), but the change in the law was also preceded by several years of increasingly militant protest and agitation by women determined to end their exclusion from the democratic process.

This month, we mark the centenary of this momentous legislation with a special display of suffragette and suffragist biographies from our special Biography Collection in Kensington Central Library. From the most famous names of the movement, like the Pankhursts, to working class women like Annie Barnes, campaigners for the female franchise left fascinating accounts of how they struggled and why. Picking up the resonance of the bitter conflicts of a century ago, we can also hear the voice of Mrs Humphry Ward, a passionate opponent of women’s suffrage.

I was unable to put down, amongst others, the memoir of Lady Constance Lytton, who created an alter ego, complete with physical disguise, so as to serve her sentence in Holloway Prison without deriving any benefit from her aristocratic status. Her intimate, immediate account of the conditions of the suffragette prisoners as they were force fed, tortured by being hosed with water, and degraded with filthy clothes and bedding, is a deeply shocking reminder of how much was endured for the cause.

To tie in with this display, we are delighted to be marking the service to that cause of a local woman, Kate Parry Frye, with a talk by her biographer Elizabeth Crawford . Elizabeth Crawford will be focusing on the biographies of this Kensington activist and of some of her fellow suffragists, and author Sonia Lambert will be reading excerpts from fictionalised accounts of women’s experiences that she has created based on extensive reading of the testament of suffragettes. The event will take place at  Kensington Central Library on Monday 26 February, 6pm – 7.45 pm. Book your free place via Eventbrite

One of the challenges we face with our Biography Collection displays is that some of our most fascinating books are hiding behind some of our least alluring bindings! Although we’re all familiar with the adage “never judge a book by its cover”, we are always looking for ways to entice potential readers to overcome their resistance to borrowing these less than beautiful-looking volumes. This has proved particularly true this month, with some of our truly compulsive suffragette memoirs looking, frankly, a little unglamorous. Our solution is to enhance these with a wrapper showing a picture of the author, and a quote from the text which will hopefully whet your appetites.

The Biography Store Team at Kensington Central Library

Musical anniversaries 2018

This month’s display of books from the Biography Collection at Kensington Central Library showcases musicians with significant anniversaries in 2018. Those we have most books on in the collection are Leonard Bernstein (born 1918), Claude Debussy (died 1918), and Gioachino Rossini (died 1868), but we include many others.

Gioachino Rossini

Other hard copy resources for music in our libraries are:

• Scores in at Kensington Central Library’s store

• CDs at Kensington Central Library

• DVDs of operas, shows etc and books on music, across all all our libraries

• A special collection of music reference books at Kensington Central Library

All these can be looked for on our library catalogue

We also have resources online:

Naxos Music Library – we have a workshop about using this music streaming service, more details below

Biographical and newspaper online resources useful for musician biographies and performance and recording reviews

Naxos Music Library workshop

Naxos Music Library workshop
Friday 26 January
2 to 3pm
Kensington Central Library

Come along to our workshop to find out more about the Naxos Music Library, the music streaming service which is free for library members. You will be shown how to:

  • Access the service
  • Find the sort of music you are interested in
  • Find multiple recordings of a work, or all the recordings available on the site by one recording artist or composer
  • Put together a playlist of your favourite music
  • Share your favourite tracks or albums

This event is free, no need to book – just turn up.

The Biography Store Team at Kensington Central Library

The Reformation

In the run-up to the major Christian festival of Christmas, the display of books from the Biography Collection at Kensington Central Library is focusing on the period of rapid change in Western European Christianity known as the Reformation, in the year that marks 500 years since the events traditionally taken as being the starting point for the process.

Martin Luther

The main emphasis, inevitably, has to be on Martin Luther and other dissident thinkers in the German-speaking world, the traditional starting point for the Reformation being the nailing by Luther, to the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, of his Ninety-Five Theses. This notwithstanding, it does appear that, although nailing notices to church doors was a regular practice at the time, there is no direct evidence that Luther actually did do this in this particular case. What is certain is that the theses were circulated in the context of debate at a private university (i.e. not a church institution) which was supported by Luther’s local secular lord, and that Luther’s personal arc and the Reformation more widely were partly given impetus by local and wider conflicts between church and secular state.

This factor is arguably even more straightforwardly to the fore in events in England: the conflict between state and church authority over the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon; the dissolution of the monasteries; the establishment of what amounts to a national catholic church in England, i.e. one which on the one hand does not acknowledge the international authority of the Pope, but on the other maintains the episcopal system and stops short of the much wider structural and theological changes that characterise Lutheranism, Calvinism, and other nonconformist denominations.

Whatever your belief system, the Biography Collection team wish you celebration and recuperation over the period of holidays following the northern-hemisphere winter solstice.

A love of reading

You’re never too young to enjoy a good story, and at your local library children are welcome to join from birth. It’s absolutely free and for children there aren’t any fines for returning books late.

Did you know that all families with babies aged 0-12 months are eligible for a free Bookstart baby pack?  Each pack contains two books, a rhyme sheet and a booklet of tips and ideas for sharing stories with your child. Pop into your local library to pick yours up today.

If you’re interested in getting involved in your local reading community, check out the fun under-fives activities on offer at your local library.

And remember, we understand that children can be noisy (and sometimes messy!) so don’t worry too much about being quiet; we love to see young children enjoying our libraries and welcome their enthusiasm!

By taking out books and reading with your child every day you can help their physical, mental and emotional development as well as language and listening skills. Plus, you get to enjoy some fantastic stories!

“A love of reading is more important in academic achievement than a child’s social or economic background.” –Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, ‘Reading for change’ 2001

Happy reading!

Harriet Skinner

Libraries Children’s Officer

Revolution at the library

This month’s display from the Biography Collection display, in the foyer of Kensington Central Library, commemorates the centenary of the Russian Revolution with a selection from our enormously wide range of books on the key figures of that event.

Finding books for this display was one of those occasions which reminds us how rich and diverse our biography collection is – scholarly biographies analyse the minutiae of developments in political thought amongst revolutionaries, while collections of deeply personal letters highlight the intimate relationships of those caught up in this epic drama of history.

We can get a sense of the eccentricities and excesses of the Imperial elite by reading the memoirs of Prince Felix Yussoupoff, best known for murdering Rasputin, which we have in an opulent violet covered hardback produced by the Folio Society in the nineties. Frances Welch’s Rasputin: A Short Life is a compulsively readable and at times very funny profile of one of the most bizarre and controversial figures of the period, and proves that fact can indeed be a lot stranger than fiction.

How did Trotsky choose to remember Lenin? We can find out by reading his famous essay from 1926. What was the 28 year old Joseph Stalin’s role in the revolution? Simon Sebag Montefiore’s scrupulously detailed Young Stalin answers this and numerous other fascinating questions that afford glimpses of alternative histories. Robert H. McNeal’s Bride of the Revolution: Krupskaya and Lenin reveals the intertwining of personal relationships and political imperatives.

Also from the collection, When Miss Emmie was in Russia by Harvey Pitcher allows us to glimpse the revolution through the eyes of English governesses working for aristocratic families as their world collapsed – often very young women whose previously narrow, parochial lives had not prepared them for front row seats in an arena of earth-shaking change.

These titles are just a tiny sample of what our collection holds, and we thought the range of our Russian Revolution-related books was so impressive that we would make them the subject of an event. If this is a topic that interests you, come along to Biographies and the Russian Revolution, on Wednesday 15 November, 2 to 3pm at Kensington Central Library. After a brief introduction to our Biography Collection, we will be seeking to answer the question “Is there such a thing as an unbiased biography of any prominent figure in the Russian Revolution?”, by looking at biographies written throughout the last century, and asking how their view of their subjects was influenced by their authors’ time, place and political standpoint. We’ll also be showing you how our online resources can enrich your knowledge of this period, and what the British journalists and cartoonists of 1917 made of events.

Also, if you have not yet discovered the treasures of our Naxos free online music streaming, we’ll be using music from revolutionary Russia to invite you into it.

Book your free place via Eventbrite 

The Biography Store Team at Kensington Central Library

Black History Month – writers

Our Biography Collection at Kensington Central Library display for October marks Black History Month with a showcase of writers from around the world. From literary giants like James Baldwin and Langston Hughes to unjustly neglected writers like Bessie Head, our display is a starting point from which to explore black voices.

Among many from the Americas we have: Zora Neale Hurston, who portrays the harsh realities of life in the Deep South in nevertheless rich poetic language; Ralph Ellison whose prose urges the reader to confront the painful truths of political struggle; Maya Angelou and Alice Walker whose appearance on the literary scene in the 1980s offered a view of black women’s lives written from the inside.

African writers like Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe and more recent British voices like those of Aminatta Forna, Colin Grant and Jackie Kay investigate cultural dislocations and rediscoveries of heritage across continents.

We have interspersed our biographies this month with the works of some of these writers and hope you will enjoy both.

We are inaugurating a new strand of our displays this month, which will link some of the books in our Biography Store Collection to current film and TV, and also commemorate those famous people who have recently died. So this month, as the film “Goodbye, Christopher Robin” comes out, we have books on A. A. and Christopher Milne, and on Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe who are portrayed in the film “Borg vs. McEnroe”. Sad news of the death of Liz Dawn prompted us to display her autobiography.

The Biography Store Team at Kensington Central Library

Midnight’s Parents – The Partition of India in 1947

This month’s display of books at Kensington Central Library from the Biography Collection store comprises works by and about figures who shaped events leading up to and during Partition.

While many of us will be familiar with major actors such as Gandhi, Jinnah, Mountbatten, and Nehru, staff researching for the display this month discovered that, for example, in 1905 Curzon, as viceroy, divided Bengal into two administrative divisions along roughly religious lines, though the resulting political crisis led to re-unification in 1911.


Also on the British ‘side’, a new viceroy, Minto, took over in 1906, and Kitchener was also involved in events around this time as British military chief in India.

Edwin Montagu, as Secretary of State for India, was responsible in 1919 for several reforms that gave Indians more influence in India.

Atlee and Cripps of the post-War Labour government were also involved, the former having been a supporter of Indian independence for years.

There were also many less well-known politically active individuals from the Indian ‘side’ at the time, including one woman, Sarojini Naidu, a poet, and the first woman to become the governor of an Indian state (United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, 1947-49).

Maulana Azad, the senior Muslim leader of the Indian National Congress, promoted Hindu-Muslim unity, secularism, and socialism, and was prominent in the development of education in India after independence.

Subhas Chandra Bose, another senior Congress politician, later fell out with other Congress leaders and tried to end British rule in India with the help of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan during World War II.

The Biography Store Team at Kensington Central Library

Anyone for tennis?

To get us in the mood for next month’s Wimbledon Tennis Championships, our Biography Collection display for June (in the foyer of the Lending Library at Kensington Central Library) features stars of the Wimbledon courts from the distant and more recent past.

One of the most interesting features of our unique collection is that its huge breadth and scope (over 80,000 volumes spanning more than two centuries) allows the opportunity to rediscover names that have receded over the decades, as well as those we grew up with (who in the 50-ish age group can forget the flowing hairstyles and theatrical tantrums of Wimbledon in the 70s?!) and those we’ll be hearing a lot of again over the next few weeks.

So, we’ll be displaying a fascinating book on Maud Watson, who was the first ever Ladies’ Singles champion in 1884 (though the MBE she eventually received was not for her tennis glory but for her work as a nurse during the First World War).  Victorian modesty prevailed even on the courts, and it is difficult to imagine how she played at all in a floor length skirt over corset and petticoats. Alongside her will be much more recent, glossily illustrated books on the likes of Andy Murray and Serena Williams.

I have to admit my knowledge of tennis could be written on a ticket for Centre Court, but the stories in these books cover universal themes of ambition, glory, struggle and how emotions and relationships are managed in the glare of publicity and the rigour of remorseless training from a very young age.  And that thwack of ball on racket, against the cheers and groans of the crowd, must be one of the most evocative sounds of this time of year.

If you would like to learn more about our special collection of biographies, we will be having an event on Wednesday 14 June, from 2 to 3pm as part of the Festival of Learning. We will be giving an introduction to the collection and then a chance to look at some of our most interesting books.  Book a free place at your nearest Kensington and Chelsea library.

And we have more info here about our other Festival of Learning events.

The Biography Store Team at Kensington Central Library

Mental Health Awareness Week – Surviving or Thriving?

Read, learn and connect with us during this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week –

Libraries’ positive contribution to the mental well-being of the population is well documented – see the Arts Council’s publication on ‘The health and wellbeing benefits of public libraries.’ 

I say population and not just customers or residents as it has been said that living near a library and, indeed, just walking past a library has a positive effect on one’s emotional and mental well-being.

Of course we in libraries are keen to invite people to come through the doors and experience the well-being benefits first hand. The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is ‘Surviving or Thriving’ which encourages us to look at our physical and mental well-being.

Some of our offers are more obviously health focused, our health information displays encourage us to feed our brains with the right food and suggest ways to be more active, as well as giving information on managing and living well with chronic conditions.  Poor physical health can be a drain on our mental and emotional strength and poor mental health can lead to inactivity, poor diet and so the cycle continues.

One way to break cycles of unhelpful thoughts and behaviours is cognitive behavioural therapy and in the West London Clinical Commissioning Group area there is Time to Talk, a free psychological therapy service.

In order to help people decide whether this service is for them or for support while waiting for a referral, or during, or after therapy, the libraries’ Reading Well Books on Prescription collections are recommended by GPs and health promotion specialists. A new collection put together to support those living with chronic conditions will be launched in July this year.

The Reading Well Books on Prescription initiative is part of our Bibliotherapy offer. Our libraries host read aloud groups in partnership with The Reader Organisation. These facilitator led Book Break groups meet every week and give members the opportunity to join in reading aloud from good literature and discuss what has been read over a cup of tea or coffee or just sit back, listen and enjoy the company.

It is encouraging to look at how we in libraries contribute to what is called ‘the wider determinants of health’  All the things in our lives that support us, family, work, employment, housing, finances, education, lifelong learning, English classes, coffee mornings, knitting groups, activities for children and teenagers, employment advice, business information points for entrepreneurs old and young, all these available in libraries.

Libraries have always been inspirational and aspirational encouraging us to ask for more learning and knowledge and skills to create meaningful lives for ourselves and our families.

There are also some very good enjoyable fiction books available free to borrow hard copy or online! See our new book displays or see what eBooks and eMagazines we have. Did you know that reading for as little as six minutes can improve mental well-being?

See what you can do this Mental Health Awareness week to look after your own mental well-being, eat well, sleep well, go for a walk in one of our gorgeous parks and yes, visit your local library.

Kate Gielgud
Health Information Co-ordinator