Loves of the Famous

In honour of Valentine’s Day, this month’s Biography Store display at Kensington Central Library is on the theme of Loves of the Famous.

Many couples have walked on the world stage as separate individuals in their own right – but what of the more intimate stories of the relationships between them?

How have the relationships between Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip, between Bill and Hilary Clinton or between Gilbert and George helped inform the work they do?

What was the experience of the partners inhabiting the shadows behind their more famous significant others – sometimes, as in the case of Alice B. Toklas, made the subject of the other’s art?

Then there are the private passions which became part of the mythology and iconography of some of the biggest Hollywood stars – Burton and Taylor, Bogart and Bacall, Hepburn and Tracy.

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor

Amongst the biographies of the famous which focus on all aspects of their private and public lives are those which concentrate on marriages, affairs and liaisons, sometimes official, sometimes clandestine, and show that the same passions and problems recur in all human love stories.

Jackie and John F Kennedy

Some of the most intimate records of relationships are love letters by the famous – though sometimes famous for very different things than their romantic passions (who knew Ramsay Macdonald, the first Labour Prime Minister, was such a one for sweet nothings?


Or that Albert Einstein called his first love “my little everything” and worried constantly that he might have upset her?)


Henry the VIII could be pretty risqué and was not backwards in coming forwards in his letters to Anne Boleyn.

Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII

Some of the love letters included are intensely private, and the writers would never have imagined they would be read by anyone other than the addressee.  Some have become famous as works of literature and historical testaments in their own right, like Oscar Wilde’s “De Profundis”, his letter written to his former lover Lord Alfred Douglas from Reading Gaol, which shows that the intimate minutiae of feelings come before the retrospective resonance of socially significant moments.

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas

Some – like the correspondence between Abelard and Heloise in the 12th century – are classics of world literature, and prove that whatever the forms of expression used, human emotions are still very recognisable across the centuries.

Wallis Simpson and Duke of Windsor (King Edward VIII)

One of my favourites is one of those many books in the Biography Store Collection which give an intriguing insight into previous times – it’s Royal Love Letters, a collection from 1911.  The publisher is none other than Mills and Boon, and it seems not only the content of their books but their presentation has definitely been spiced up in the last 108 years.  This is a decorous volume – although maybe the deep purple binding hints at the passionate content – and the illustrations are of various royal personages looking very correct, not a steamy clinch in sight.  A list of other available titles doesn’t quite set the pulse racing, and apparently Mills and Boon didn’t only produce romantic titles in the Edwardian era: “Rambles in the Black Forest” and “Nerves and the Nervous” were amongst its non-fiction offerings.

Barack and Michelle Obama

We hope you enjoy our Valentine’s selection of the romances of some of our most celebrated figures.


Reality more astonishing than fiction

This is an epilogue to the Chelsea reading event – Reality more astonishing than fiction, where attendees asked me to recommend the WWI books about women that I used for my research.

We read extracts from letters and diaries – which were sad, feisty and funny.

Elsie Bowerman captured everybody’s imagination.  In the style of Indiana Jones, Miss Brown and Miss Bowerman clambered onto a moving train and saved the Scottish Women’s Hospital’s equipment.

Mabel Dearmer, author and illustrator, kept a diary and sent letters home from Kragujevac (Serbia) in spring 1915. She joined the Mabel Stobart’s Hospital unit. Her husband, Percy Dearmer served as a chaplain with the unit. Several women – nurses, doctors, orderlies – from various British medical missions died in Serbia during the typhus epidemic in 1915. Mabel Dearmer was one of them. See the extract from her letter from 6th June 1915.

Finally, if you would like to hear more about Scottish Women’s Hospitals and Dr Elsie Inglis, come to my talk at Women’s Library, LSE, on 9th November, 1-2pm.

Our next Reading event is on Tuesday, 11th December at Chelsea Library, (contact the library for more details), where we will visit Mr Scrooge. Come and join us reading extracts from “A Christmas Carol”.

Zvezdana Popovic


 My recommended  book listWomen and WWI / Suffragists and Suffragettes

  • Kate Adie, Fighting on the home front. The legacy of women in World War One.
  • Lucinda Hawksley: March women march
  • Simon Webb, The Suffragette Bombers. Britain’s Forgotten Terrorists.
  • Elisabeth Shipton, Female Tommies: The Frontline Women of the First World War

About Flora Sandes:

  • Louise Miller, A Fine brother. The life of Captain Flora Sendes, Alma Books, 2012.
  • (Book translated by LAGUNA “Naš brat”)

About Dr Elsie Inglis and Scottish Women’s Hospitals:

  • Leah Leneman: In the Service of Life. The story of Elsie Inglis and the Scottish Women’s Hospitals. Edinburgh: The Mercat Press, 1994.
  • Leah Leneman, Elsie Inglis. Founder of battlefront hospitals run entirely by women, NMSE, 1998
  • Eileen Crofton : Angels of Mercy: A Women’s Hospital on the Western Front 1914 1918, Birlinn Ltd, 2013.
  • Mikic, translated by Dr. Muriel Heppell: The Life and Work of Dr. Katherine S. MacPhail
  • Eva Shaw McLaren: Elsie Inglis. The woman with the torch.
  • Monica Krippner, The Quality of Mercy. Women at War. Serbia 1915-18.
  • Isabel Emslie Hutton: With a Woman’s Unit in Serbia, Salonika and Sebastopol.
  • Mabel Stobart, The Flaming Sword in Serbia and Elsewhere

Most of these books can be borrowed in local libraries and some of old ones can be read online, on the Project Gutenberg Free Books website.

Websites and documentary films


Searching the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Francis Serjeant, librarian, writes:

Warning! Searching the online resource the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) can be addictive as “all human life is here”. Most people use this dictionary to search for a specific individual. However you may not be aware that using the advanced search options and selecting other search criteria will create lists of names of the great and the good… and also, it must be said, the not so good.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - home page
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

To use the advanced search facility, click on one of the “More Search Options” displayed beneath the main search box.

Curiosity led me to check how many people there were with Kensington and Chelsea links by using these terms in the ‘place search’ category option. The result was over 3000! However this figure is misleading, as a casual check of a few entries revealed that the connection was often limited either to their unfortunate death in one of the borough’s hospitals or attendance at one of the borough’s schools.

I whittled down the 1975 Kensington entries to 122 by selecting the “Law and Crime” category from the drop down list of occupations (found in the “Fields of Interest” search category). Amongst the list of lawyers and judges I found John Christie, the Notting Hill mass murderer.

You may wonder why he is included. The DNB does not only include the great and the good. To quote the website “the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is the national record of men and women who have shaped British history and culture, worldwide, from the Romans to the 21st century”. In the case of Christie, the miscarriage of justice leading to the hanging of the innocent Timothy Evans, to quote Christie’s DNB entry, “played a significant part to the subsequent abolition of the death penalty in Britain”.

For further details of the case and posthumous pardon of Evans read the Ludovic Kennedy book 10 Rillington Place which can be found at Kensington Central Library, or borrow the DVD feature film version of the book, staring Richard Attenborough as John Christie.

10 Rillington Place, by Ludovic Kennedy
10 Rillington Place, by Ludovic Kennedy

Finally it is also worth investigating the “Themes” tab to display the large number of collective biographies brought together under such topics as climbers of Everest, British monarchs, First World War poets and significant military and political leaders involved in that conflict. Other lists include a number of founder members of institutions and other significant groups.

60 years of the Route Master

Owen Grey, Reference Librarian, writes:

In Earls Court’s sixty years ago on the 24th of September the Routemaster bus was unveiled by London Transport.

A brief story in the Times, Biggest Commercial Motor Show by our motoring correspondent from Friday 24 September 1924 speaks about its benefits-  but even then could not foresee how it would become what Transport for London describes as being regarded by many as an icon of London. Or indeed just how long it would live on…



It is I am sure missed in a lot of ways by nostalgic Londoners (although I am glad I do not have to get my buggy onto it), but equally I am sure they would never be allowed these days with the dangers they pose: crazy children (and adults) leaping onto and off platforms to catch or leave the bus, who cares about whether you are at a stop or not! I managed to survive these crazy antics (I remember I preferred the Routemasters to the “new” buses as they were always quicker to where you wished to get to) and was very excited with the bringing in of the new(er) Routemaster, feeling the need to catch it for just two stops when I first saw one on our streets! They certainly will be more popular than the bendy buses with Londoners but will they be as popular as the old Routemasters? And will they survive just as long?

Well, have a look online and find out more…

TFL have a lot to say, telling us about the old and the new Routemaster buses… Or why not view the article an article from the time (in the Times) from the Times Digital Archive.

So when did they finally go onto the streets of London? The Illustrated London News suggests it was not until July 1961.  But an experimental model went all the way from Golders Green to Crystal Palace on route 2 in 1956.

Finally, a few videos to keep you reminiscing and amused…

Farewell Routemasters

The Times Digital Archive, Illustrated London News, and much more, are all available in the Reference Library- come in to find out more!

Fashion on display- new images at Chelsea Library

Reference Librarian, Gillian Nunns, writes:

Chelsea Reference Library had a bit of space on the wall above our costume collection, and what better way to fill it than with some beautiful images from our fashion and costume periodicals?

Chelsea Fashion Collection & our new fashion images
Chelsea Fashion Collection & our new fashion images

Staff at the library were asked to pick their favourite images from a shortlist, and choosing was tricky! The images, depicting costume spanning the Regency and Victorian eras, were all picked from our own magazine archives of La Belle Assemblee, The English Woman’s Domestic Magazine and Les Modes Parisiennes. We like the fact that the winners show how the shapes and styles of fashionable dress changed over 5 decades:

La Belle Assemblee November 1808
La Belle Assemblee November 1808

Classical Greece influenced dress was at the height of fashion in 1808, featuring a high empire waist line and long straight skirts. Woman dampened the muslin draperies so that they clung to their figure!


La Belle Assemblee November 1812
La Belle Assemblee November 1812

This evening dress from 1812 features a great turban – indoor caps for daywear weren’t that fashionable in this era but essential for evening wear and turbans were a very popular choice.


La Belle Assemblee 1828
La Belle Assemblee 1828

By 1928 a very different silhouette was in fashion –with so called leg-o’-mutton sleeves and skirts with tiny waists and wide bases. Check out the elaborate trimmings and hats!


Les Modes Parisiennes 1852
Les Modes Parisiennes 1852

By the 1850’s ladies skirts were so domed that they had to be supported by hoped cages called crinolines and lots of petticoats.


 English Woman’s Domestic magazine 1872
English Woman’s Domestic magazine 1872

And then by the 1870’s the fashion was to have a flat front of the skirt, with lots of fabric pushed to the back… called a bustle. This image features a popular style called the Dolly Varden (Charles Dickens fans will get the reference) – where you have an overskirt which is shorter at the front with the sides and back bunched up.

Here are a few other images that were on the shortlist but didn’t make the final cut. We hope you like our choices!

Les Modes Parisiennes 1852
Les Modes Parisiennes 1852
English Woman’s Domestic magazine 1872
English Woman’s Domestic magazine 1872
La Belle Assemblee 1828.
La Belle Assemblee 1828.


The colours of these prints are really vibrant even after all these years, but we also loved seeing some amazing pictures of the actual fabrics in one of the books that we have in our collection – Nineteenth-Century Fashion in Detail by Lucy Johnston published by Victoria & Albert Museum:

Promenade Dress made of silk plush. British 1855-57
Promenade Dress made of silk plush. British 1855-57
Woman’s dress of woven silk with applied plated trimming, lined with linen. British, about 1805.
Woman’s dress of woven silk with applied plated trimming, lined with linen. British, about 1805.
Day dress (sleeve detail) of block printed cotton.  British, 1825-30 (page 194)
Day dress (sleeve detail) of block printed cotton. British, 1825-30 (page 194)
Evening Dress made of machine-made silk bobbin net, hand embroidered.  British, about 1810
Evening Dress made of machine-made silk bobbin net, hand embroidered. British, about 1810
Women’s shoes made of silk and linen satin lined with kid and linen with a flat leather sole.  British, 1830s-40
Women’s shoes made of silk and linen satin lined with kid and linen with a flat leather sole. British, 1830s-40
Bustle made of horsehair woven with linen  British, 1870-75
Bustle made of horsehair woven with linen, British, 1870-75

To find out a bit about costume in this era we also read History of Women’s Costume by Marion Sichel. Come along to Chelsea Library to find lots more about the world of Costume and Fashion, or log on to Berg Online with your library card!


Who’s Who and Who was Who: Online resource of the month

Sandeep Dhaliwal, Tri-borough Reference Librarian, writes:

Who’s Who is a very popular resource both locally and nationally at public libraries. It is free for library members and what sets it apart from its competitors is that each entry is provided by the biographee which essentially makes it autobiographical. It has been published annually since 1849 and is the first biographical work of its kind with approximately 1,000 entries added every year.

  • Inclusion has always been by prominence in public life or professional achievement. Inclusion therefore carries a considerable level of prestige.
  • Once someone is included in Who’s Who, he or she remains in it for life, so for example MPs are not removed when they leave Parliament.
  • When someone dies, their biography is transferred to Who Was Who, where they are usually printed as they appeared in the last Who’s Who, appended with their date of death.
  • Accessibility: Free to use and available 24/7!

Below is an example of a typical entry which includes options to print, email and cite references as well as the first time the individual appeared in Who’s Who;

Who's Who sccreenshot
Who’s Who sccreenshot

A full list of online resources which the library service currently offers is available here:

For a demonstration of a particular resource at Kensington Reference Library please e-mail A member of staff will be delighted to help and set you off on your own journey of discovery.

Next online resource featured will be The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (DNB).

Wisden Cricketers’ Almanac 150 years (not out!)

Colin Clare, Senior Customer Services Assistant at Kensington Central Reference and Chelsea Reference Libraries is a huge cricket fan – so he didn’t need much persuading to write about Wisden Cricketers’ Alamanack.

Ahem, excuse the cricket pun – over to Colin….

England winning the Ashes
England winning the Ashes

 Some of you may be aware that England have been playing Australia at cricket this summer and doing rather well by winning the latest series of test matches again and therefore retaining the “Ashes” – so called after the England’s team were defeated for the first time on home soil. That defeat was in 1882 and this great sporting competition between England and Australia has been going strong ever since. The battle for the Ashes will continue in Australia this coming winter.

The Ashes
The Ashes

However, I wanted to use this blog post to write about a cricketing milestone that has been reached this year as 2013 sees the 150th edition of the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack. Affectionately known as the “bible of cricket” this is a book which is essentially an amalgam of cricketing topics, awards and key statistics about the game. With its distinctive yellow cover, a new edition of Wisden has been published every year since 1864 making it the world’s longest running sports annual in history.

Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 150th edition
Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 150th edition

The original Wisden, founded by the Victorian cricketer John Wisden, only had 85 of the 112 pages devoted solely to cricket – the rest was padded out with other subjects unrelated to cricket such as notable dates of battles of the English Civil War and the rules of quoiting! Nowadays modern editions have over 1,500 pages.

John Wisden
John Wisden

The first Wisden would have cost you a shilling to buy – the same book would now set a collector back £20,000. Fortunately, if you want to look at old editions of this book, you can, as Kensington Central Reference Library’s store has a very good collection of Wisdens going back virtually every year to 1896 (33rd edition).

Colin Clare
Colin Clare

Colin Clare

Senior Customer Services Assistant

Kensington Central Reference and Chelsea Reference Libraries

Kensington Central Library – August 2013

Kensington Central Library
Kensington Central Library

Hello from us all at Kensington Central Library! Our blog post this month has a pieces from our lending and reference libraries which perfectly illustrates we have something for everyone.

A wizard and ghosts in the children’s library!

As the school holidays are in full swing we’ve had some amazing events for kids in our children’s library to support this year’s Summer Reading Challenge.

Mr Wiz the Wizard came to see us last week – he needed help building his creepy house in the children’s library.  He had plenty of dinosaur eggs (Haribo eggs thankfully!) and balloon animals which he gave out to the children that helped him. The children had a great time as they also had the chance to spin plates, burst bubbles and sing songs.

We’ve been having a story and craft session every Thursday afternoon at 2pm since the start of the summer holidays. We’ve been reading some scary stories and creating some scary things which the children have loved. Last Thursday the children made ghosts by drawing round their hands and spiders from fingerprints. They also came up with some great names for their spiders – Vegeta and Ushar being two of them!

We’ve another story and craft session this Thursday (15 August) & we’ll be making witches – bring the kids along!

Jodie Green, Lending Librarian
Jodie Green

Jodie Green

Lending Librarian

Headlines and back issues


Did you know that we keep a range of current newspapers and magazines in our libraries? We also have a treasure trove in our historical and special collections of back issues of not only current titles but also newspapers and magazines that have long since gone out of print.


Our most popular titles include:

  • Illustrated London News – going back to 1842
  • Microfiche of The Times – 1785 – 1997
  • Punch – going back to 1841
  • Harpers Bazaar – going back to 1950
  • Vanity Fair  – going back to 1956
  • Vogue  – going back to 1923

A full list of all the newspapers and magazines that we have and how far back we keep them can be found on our ‘Reference and information and special collections’ web page. If you want to check we have issue – do phone us on 020 7361 3010 so we can confirm that the newspaper or magazine you need is available.

Did you know we have newspapers and magazines for children and young adults too? We have reorganised the young adult magazines in the young adult library at Kensington Central Library so that the current issues are in some sturdy green folders and the back issues are now kept in box files on the shelves just behind where the current issues are.  They now look a  lot tidier and more importantly are more accessible.

Sandeep Dhaliwal

Triborough Reference Librarian

By George – he’s here!

The birth of Prince George Alexander Louis inspired one of our Triborough Reference Librarians to take a look at our reference resources….

A New Royal Baby

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with Prince George
Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with Prince George

Gosh everyone was rather excited about the birth of Prince George recently. Not just in the lead up to his birth as well but the naming, first glimpses and photos as well.

Of course Prince George isn’t the first royal baby by any means. I had an interesting time looking through our Illustrated London News for images of our current Queen, Elizabeth II at around the time of her birth in 1926.

Princess Elizabeth with the Duchess of York (The Illustrated London News, 25 December 1926)
Princess Elizabeth with the Duchess of York (The Illustrated London News, 25 December 1926)

I run a Family History Group at Marylebone Library and we were recently talking about what the day of the week we were born on and what these days mean.  If you don’t remember it the rhyme (usually referred to as ‘Monday’s Child’) can be found in the Oxford Reference Online database (you’ll need a Kensington and Chelsea library card to access this from home) and it originally went…

Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace,
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go,
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for its living,
And a child that’s born on the Christmas day Is fair and wise and good and gay.
1838 A. E. Bray Traditions of Devon II. 287

I think that Christmas day refers to Sunday in this instance but it would become the Sabbath day in later versions.

If you’re not sure what day of the week you were born on – you can check on the brilliant website Time and Date.  I was born on a Wednesday so apparently I am full of woe!

So –  Prince George was born on a Monday (22 July 2013) and the newspapers are indeed saying that he is fair of face. Perhaps more traditionally we would say he looked like Winston Churchill though?

Owen Grey

Triborough Reference Librarian

Further information

Modern Publicity – cigarettes and alcohol

Debby Wale, one of our Triborough Reference Librarians has been looking through our reference store at Kensington Central Library and she’s found some interesting adverts.

Greys cigarettes advert
Greys cigarettes advert

This advertisement is from Modern Publicity 1937-38Modern Publicity was an annual publication that ran from 1930 to 1984  (it was renamed the World Advertising Review in the 1980s). It was published by The Studio group and covered posters, printed material, packaging and trade marks from around the world.

These annuals belong to the reference library at Kensington Central Library – they’re certainly worth a look!


I felt as if my children were slipping away from me…

‘Oh, children, you’re surely not going out? Why, I’ve just put out the cocktails and cigarettes!
‘Sorry, Mater, but we promised to go round to the Blenkinsops’
 ‘Phil and Gwen never stay at home now. What’s wrong with us?’
‘Frankly I’m both puzzled and worried. Why not consult Aunt Lydia?’

Next day

‘My dear it’s all a question of what cigarettes you give them. What they’re suffering from is smoke-dyspepsia. Give them Greys and it will all be different.’

A few days later

‘Oh Mum, it’s lovely having a quiet cocktail at home with GREYS!’
‘These topping Greys are the making of  your cocktail parties, Mrs Schofield!’

 And what about you?

Are you, like Mrs Schofield in danger of losing touch with your children? The best of parents are apt to forget that children need to be coaxed into taking their cocktails. For this purpose there is nothing to equal Greys. These specially prepared cigarettes are invaluable for preventing smoke-d. And if you don’t believe this – well, what on earth will you believe?

In the immortal words of Victor Meldrew… I don’t believe it! Advertising standards certainly have improved since 1937.

 My favourite ad of all time…

Smirnoff Vodka advert
Smirnoff Vodka advert

This amazing advert is in the volume published in 1983.

‘I was the mainstay of the Public Library until I discovered Smirnoff ’


Debby Wale
Debby Wale

Debby Wale, Triborough Reference Librarian

Chelsea Library