Happy 40th anniversary Chelsea Library

Today, Thursday 12 April, marks Chelsea Library being in its current location on the Kings Road for 40 years. Over to the staff there to tell us more…

After having spent its youth and most of its middle years in Manresa Road, Chelsea, one fine spring day in 1978 a new library for the now “Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea” opened here at Chelsea Old Town Hall.

At the time of the relocation the King’s Road was arguably a much more diverse place and the vibrant and challenging, fashion and music scenes of the time were very much in evidence along the road.

Some local faces and places were captured for posterity by an ex-member of staff and quite a few of her images are included, with gratitude, in a display here at the library. Also included are some images of the library as it was when it was first opened.

To mark this anniversary we will be running a birthday card making workshop with 70s fashion theme in the style of designer Celia Birtwell as the library has an amazing Costume and fashion collection.

The workshop will take place today in Chelsea children’s library 3 to 5pm with some refreshments. We will also have some games, musical chairs, pass the parcel…come and help us celebrate!

Edited to add – if you’d like to see photos from the celebration, take a look at our Facebook page

Forty years young at Chelsea Old Town Hall!


Dame Vivienne Westwood

Debby Wale is back – with another fantastic blog post about  our Costume Collection at Chelsea Reference Library. Over to Debby….

In my previous blog about Zandra Rhodes (Zandra Rhodes – Unseen (and seen in Vogue and Harpers and Queen) I mentioned I had been to the ‘Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s’ exhibition at the V&A Museum.

Zandra Rhodes in The Art of Zandra Rhodes

1977 was the year I became the infamous High Princess of Punk – the darling and the damned of the media, but mostly the latter.  In fact what I was doing wasn’t Punk, but I can’t say that it was that it had nothing to do with it, I called Conceptual Chic – but the press as a voice hailed it as Punk and that’s where it stuck.
It was a journey into London street culture, that’s true,  but as in everything  I do there where many influences at work,  some lurking away in my subconscious, some  staring me in the face,  openly challenging me.

Another of the designers featured in the V&A’s exhibition was Dame Vivienne Westwood, a key figure in the Punk movement. Her partner was Malcolm McLaren, inventor of the Sex Pistols.

From Vogue, August 1987. Article by Liz Jobey

The Queen of the King’s Road arrived on a bicycle. She was wearing a dark grey botany wool twinset with matching sash from her latest collection, a thick cotton knee-length dirndl skirt in red and white, pale grey tights, a pair of square-toed triple tongued grey leather lace-up hip-hop shoes left over from the Hobo year of 1984, and a single string of pearls. She parked under the World’s End clock, it’s backwards whizzing hand stilled before opening time. She was sorry she was late.
Vivienne Westwood, Vogue August 1987
Vivienne Westwood, Vogue August 1987

Shops in King’s Road

A selection of Westwood shops from Vivienne Westwood by Catherine McDermott.

Vivienne Westwood shop fronts taken from Catherine McDermott's book
Vivienne Westwood shop fronts taken from Catherine McDermott’s book

Her first shop was Let It Rock, on the premises of Paradise Garage, further down the King’s Road.

[People] from all over the country, flocked to the shop. In the years that followed, they were replaced by punks fighting for bondage trousers in the mid 1970’s.
Before that it had been Sex, and Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die; after it became World’s End. McLaren had the ideas and Vivienne carried them through.
When she began designing, Westwood adapted existing styles. ‘One day I put a hole for the neck in a T-shirt just here’ – indicating just above the breast – ‘and I knew it would do something with the body in an extremely sexy way. All those ripped things came from picture’s we’d seen of film stars looking really sexy in ripped clothes.
Bondage trousers - image from McDermott's book
Bondage trousers – image from Catherine McDermott’s book

Above images from Harpers & Queens, February 1985

Six years later, in the October 1993 issue of Vogue, we see Queen Viv, (at that time she was an OBE – Westwood advanced to Dame in 2006 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II) when interviewed by Yvonne Roberts wearing:

check pyjamas, white socks, lots of gold chains, white blonde hair. She has a beautiful unmade-up face, long graceful fingers, pale orange eyebrows like delicate tracks in the desert and smokes enough Gitanes to kill off the entire Foreign Legion.

Way Out West

Queen Viv, Harper's & Queens October 1993
Queen Viv, Harper’s & Queens October 1993

Queen Viv is wearing a full satin skirt, matching fitted jacket, gold and diamante earrings and matching choker.

Shoes by Judith Miller

Her shoes are distinctive, and as well as high heels and platforms her bold imagination reinterprets classic forms. Take, for example, this ghillie – an exaggerated interpretation of a traditional Scottish shoe.
However such style can result in catastrophe – supermodel Naomi Campbell stumbled and fell on the catwalk while modelling a pair of super elevated ghillie platforms with 9-inch heels and 4 inch platforms at Westwood’s 1993 fall-winter Anglomania collection in Paris.
Wearing Vivienne Westwood’s high heels – combined with slippery cream rubber stockings they made this a show to remember.

Vogue August 1987 Classic Good Looks

Westwood is also well known for using classic British fabrics such as Harris Tweed, tartan and Scottish cashmere.

Vivienne Westwood, focussing on the admirably staunch image of the Queen, on Harris Tweed. Velvet collars and princess coats and liberty bodices, allows women to appear both part of tradition and romantically, rather sexily modern.

The author of the article, Georgina Godley, says

‘British women are beginning to see fashion subjectively, not dressing for men anymore, but for themselves and other women. They have been given freedom at last, a passport to doing their own thing.
Vogue, August 1987
Vogue, August 1987

Changing the guard: Vivienne Westwood’s about turn with that traditional British uniform, the suit, throwing a few contemporary curves with peplum and Peter Pan collar, scarlet Harris wool and black velvet, gilt buttons down the back, at World’s End, 430 Kings Road SW10.

Vogue, August 1987
Vogue, August 1987

Switch on traditional country clothes and colours: velvet-collared princess coat, new and not entirely well behaved, in Vivienne Westwood’s russet Harris Tweed, cut short to curve and flare out at the back, the velveteen collar and pockets flecked with Lurex, at Worlds end as before.

Westwood in Vogue, 1980s – 1990s

Looking at Westwood’s coverage in Vogue through the late 80’s and early 90’s, the collections continue to be very British and very sexy.

Further reading

If you want to find out more, Chelsea Reference Library’s fashion and costume collection has the above editions of Vogue and Harpers & Queen and an extensive collection of books.

In the library or the comfort of your own home, with a library card you can access Westwood’s design in the Berg Fashion Library online.

Further reading – all titles can be found in the Costume Collection at Chelsea Reference Library:

  • Vivienne Westwood by Terry Jones
  • Vivienne Westwood by  Linda Watson
  • Vivienne Westwood by Gene Krell
  • Vivienne Westwood by Catherine McDermott
  • Vivienne Westwood (VA) by Claire Wilcox
  • Shoes by Judith Miller
Debby Wale
Debby Wale

Debby Wale, TriBorough Reference Librarian

Chelsea Reference Library

London Fashion Week at the library

London Fashion Week logo
London Fashion Week logo

To celebrate London Fashion Week in September for the Spring /Summer 2014 collections we have some fantastic fashion events in two of our libraries.

Dressed to Impress: London Fashion in the 1960s

Archives for London logo
Archives for London logo

Wednesday 11 September, from 2pm at Chelsea Library

Join Archives for London to ‘get the skinny’ on the groovy threads and glamorous glad-rags that were worn by the Beautiful People in one of the most happening cities in the world.

2pm – A number of speakers from the Museum of London, Liberty and Central Saint Martins will be providing talks and reminiscing about influence of the King’s Road and Carnaby Street. There will also be a demonstration of the Berg Fashion Library –  an online resource which is accessible through the library service.

5.15pm – An opportunity to view a display of archival images from the period.

6pm – A walk conducted by Chelsea Walks along the King’s Road highlighting the location of pivotal boutiques such as ‘Granny Takes a Trip’, ‘Bazaar’ and ‘The Sweet Shop’.

To find out more information, prices and to book a place please contact Sarah Hale shale@stpaulscathedral.org.uk

Dressed to Impress: London Fashion in the 1960s – exhibition

Monday 2 September to Friday 13 September at Chelsea Library

'Granny takes a trip'
‘Granny takes a trip’

Come and see images from Archives for London and our Local Studies collection illustrating this exciting time in fashion in swinging London.

Fashion – Press the Fast Forward Button

Tuesday 24 September, 6.30 to 8pm at Kensington Central Library

Francesca Marcenaro
Francesca Marcenaro

Are you interested in the fashion industry? Thinking of starting a fashion business as a designer, retailer, importer or exporter? Then don’t miss this opportunity to hear from expert fashion management consultant David Jones and successful designer and entrepreneur Francesca Marcenaro.

David Jones has worked in the fashion industry for 40 years and for the last 15 years has run his own consultancy specialising in fashion. Born in Italy, Francesca Marcenaro is passionate about the ancient art of her country. She designs and crafts jewellery in her workshops in London.This session is in partnership with Colin Rutt from Portobello Business Centre.

Please book your free place to this talk at Kensington Central Library.

Explore the Berg Fashion Library

Wednesday 18 September, 2 to 4pm at Chelsea Reference Library

Berg Fashion Library
Berg Fashion Library

There’s fashion at your fingertips with our amazing database the Berg Fashion Library. We’ve a training session that’ll show you how to explore this resource which has fashion information from around the world and throughout history.

Places are limited so book you free place soon at Chelsea Reference Library on 020 7361 3010 or email libraries@rbkc.gov.uk

Gillian Nunns, Reference Librarian
Gillian Nunns

Gillian Nunns

Triborough Reference Librarian

Chelsea Reference Library

The May Queens of Whitelands College

Dave Walker, our Local Studies Librarian writes our weekly local studies blog, The Library Time Machine. We’re very lucky that he writes for us occasionally too! Over to Dave….

Following my recent post Rites of Spring: Mr Ruskin’s May Queen on the Library Time Machine blog, I was invited to visit the May Queen archive at Roehampton University. Whitelands College, a teacher training college  was one of the first educational establishments for women and was started at Whitelands House in the King’s Road in the 1840s.

The art critic John Ruskin, together with the Principal of Whitelands College John Faunthorpe devised the idea for an annual May Queen festival at the College. The first May Queen Ellen I was elected by her fellow students in 1881 and there has been a May Queen or (from 1986 when King Gary was elected) a May King ever since. Whitelands College left Chelsea for a bigger building in Putney in 1930 and subsequently amalgamated with a number of other colleges to form the University of Roehampton. The Whitelands campus is now in a part Georgian part modern building originally called Manresa House which is an odd coincidence as the other Manresa in London is Manresa Road home of the first Chelsea Library.

Whitelands College
Whitelands College

We were taken by the Archivist, Gilly King to the secure archives room in the old part of the building. I was expecting to see photographs and college records preserved in archive boxes which we did find but I hadn’t anticipated what you can see below: two racks on which were hanging the dresses of the May Queens.

May Queen's dresses and a May King's suit!
May Queen’s dresses and a May King’s suit!

The dresses (and one May King’s suit on the left) in the pictures are for the living May Queens and Kings who can come back to the festival each year. The archive boxes contain the dresses of the dead queens packed away carefully as they will never be worn again although a few of them are on display in the College. There was also the one below.

Queen Ellen II's May Queen dress (1898)
Queen Ellen II’s May Queen dress (1898)

This is the dress first worn in 1898 by Queen Ellen II which had been on display and was now waiting to go back in its box.

I was accompanied on the visit by an Australian archives student who was doing a placement with us. I thought it would be useful for her to see a small specialist archive as part of her programme but my main purpose in going was to see the scrapbooks of photographs which cover the history of the May Queen festival, especially the ones that cover the period when the College was in Chelsea. I’ve been trying to get an image of each May Queen and to identify the previous queens in the group photos like this one.

Queen Agnes II and former May Queens (1909)
Queen Agnes II and former May Queens (1909)

From the left: Mildred I (1904),  Florence (1906), Elizabeth II (1892), Ellen I (1881), Agnes II (1909),Dorothy I (1908), Elsie II (1907) ,Evelyn (1905), Elizabeth I (1886)(I think),Muriel I (1903), Annie II (1895), Edith (1883)

The archive at Whitelands College is a fascinating and significant collection. It’s not open to the general public but the College does take part in the annual Open House event and there are also group tours.

On our way out we saw some more May Queen dresses on display.

Queen Elsie's and Queen Edna's May Queen dresses
Queen Elsie’s and Queen Edna’s May Queen dresses

These are the dresses of Elsie II who you can see in the group photos and Queen Edna (1924).

Here, in the May Queen corridor you can see Queen Thyra (1890) on the far right.

May Queen corridor
May Queen corridor

I managed to get a decent picture of Queen Elizabeth II (1892) who was also in the group photo as she was seventeen years before in the year when she was elected.

Queen Elizabeth II (1892)
Queen Elizabeth II (1892)

I took plenty of other pictures in the archives which will form part of an extensive file on this fascinating part of Chelsea’s history. The final picture is one for Shari to send home.

Shari at Whitelands College
Shari at Whitelands College
Dave Walker
Dave Walker

Dave Walker

Local Studies Librarian

Further information