In September 1962 an unmarried woman received this colourful postcard of Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester from a male friend.
The message on the reverse of the card read:
Here I am in the middle of the Derbyshire Moors, very flat and featureless on top but deep, steep sided valleys are fairly impressive. I came out here for a breath of fresh air, Manchester is oppressive; the top of the moor really is unbelievably flat, and certainly doesn’t reward the climb.
Last term I ran a short course for adult learners called ‘Tourist London Since 1800’ at Bishopsgate Institute. As with all the courses I deliver, I selected a range of original sources from the Institute’s library and archive collections to direct the learning process and each week students explored a different theme using tourist guidebooks, restaurant guides, and so on.
The final week’s theme was ‘Nights Out in London’. As I gathered materials for the session, I stumbled upon this slim pamphlet.
This was an item I hadn’t seen before. Attracted by the cute jester on the front cover, and overlooking the rather dog-eared appearance otherwise, I popped the pamphlet on to the top of a set of materials on pubs, clubs and dining out at the very last minute – and started to deliver the class without having looked inside this one item. Honestly, this is not how I usually plan my sessions.
As the group started to explore the sets of archive materials laid out for them, one student called me over to share an incredible find. On every page of ‘Tabarin Club’ someone had annotated the illustrations with droll remarks. With the kind permission of Bishopsgate Institute, I’ve reproduced this fabulously acerbic set of marginalia here for your enjoyment over the bank holiday weekend.
These scribbled lines smartly undermine the formal, almost pompous, tone of the printed content that outlines the facilities offered at the Tabarin Club (‘special care has been given to the proper ventilation to ensure a refreshing and invigorating atmosphere…’). They also offer insight into popular catchphrases and comic conventions of the 1920s.
I would like to thank my eagle-eyed student Jacqui Ross for bringing these previously overlooked notes to my attention – and now also to yours. As is often the case with original historical sources, this item asks more questions than it answers. Most obviously, who wrote the comments? Were they based on personal experience of nights out at the Tabarin Club (“why do we do this?” “you’re not going home yet sweetie…”)?
And what else can we discover about the Tabarin Club? Street directories from the 1920s give the club’s stated address of 31 Tottenham Court Road as the Rector’s Club rather than the Tabarin. Yet the production of a high quality brochure of this type suggests a degree of permanence or longevity as opposed to a short-lived residency. This useful website mentions the Tabarin in the body of a longer piece of writing on London’s interwar jazz clubs but otherwise I’ve been unable to find out more about the club. Anyone able to provide fresh insight is invited to comment below. Similarly, anyone wishing to get their hands on this and dozens of other original sources on the history of ‘London at Play’ is encouraged to sign up for my next archives-based course at Bishopsgate Institute, starting on Monday 9 May. This annotated pamphlet will also be featured in a session delivered as part of Duckie’s Quite a Lot of Balls weekender on 7-8 May.
Most regular users at the British Library have a favourite seat. It appears that this has always been the case. In 1928 the mysterious ‘W’ sent a postcard from the British Museum in London to a female friend or relative in Ireland, in which he explained where he usually sat to carry out his research. The front of the card shows the Reading Room with its distinctive circular layout. Since the mid-nineteenth century, the British Library had been located in the great court at the British Museum but it 1997 it moved to purpose-built library premises near Kings Cross.
The rear of the postcard is covered in cramped handwriting and signed Y.E.L. W; that is, your ever loving ‘W’ (William? Walter? Wilfred?).
The message is dated 23 January 1928. It includes a description of the British Museum reading room (‘a beautiful, large, roomy place, well-warmed…’) as well as some incomplete data on ‘W’s research topics and processes. In full, the message reads:
Many thanks for sending the Gazette, which I was glad to receive; the report of Mr Hammond’s Dublin Anniversary address has raised one or two interesting new lines to me. I shall be glad of any help, and thank you for thinking of it. I have most of the literature now; but if any old magazines (July 1927; or before October 1926) are available (without trouble), I should be happy to receive them. I see in the leaflet “Who is sufficient…” the snap of nine of the Lisburne family. Olive seems quite happy with her companions!
Liley [?] says, in a note, that, if I write to you before she does, I have to say thank you very much for the photo. They are evidently very pleased.
Thank you for your letter of Saturday. The “idea” you raise is just the very thing, and I hope that it will be possible. HBR returns this week – he is away in the South – and perhaps we can get things fixed up more definitely soon. The weekend or so will be to me much more than “restful”! I am really glad, too, to come and see the works.
We had rather a quiet Sunday evening, with 14 in; but it was nice to have it quieter and less crowded.
This is P.P.C. [picture postcard] no.7 (I think!). The Reading Room is a beautiful, large, roomy place, well-warmed and well provided with splendid desks. It holds about 400 or 500 seats. The picture is taken from the entrance (the passage under the clock is the Inner Library). I usually sit on the left of the entrance. The round shelves in the centre hold the Catalogue. The room is usually crowded. I am hoping (despite 2 or 3 meetings this afternoon and evening) to write a short letter and to post it tomorrow. D. sends her love (and W.D., too!). Y.E.L. W.
The postcard recipient is a Miss Dodwell. Her address is given as Manor House Home, a children’s home in Lisburn near Belfast in Ireland. Manor House Home opened in 1927, the year before this postcard was written. ‘W’ expresses an interest in coming to ‘see the works’ a hope that suggests Miss Dodwell is involved in managing the home in some way. But there is no way of knowing this for sure from the message, just as there is no way of discovering, without further research, whether ‘W’ and Miss Dodwell were sisters, cousins, comrades, friends or sweethearts.
East Ham Public Library opened in east London on 2 January 1899. More than 1,400 borrowers’ tickets were issued within a fortnight of the opening date. By the end of the month, chief librarian William Bridle (1868-1927) was growing concerned about the dwindling numbers of books remaining on his library’s shelves.
On 27 January 1899, he submitted a report to his library committee managers that included the following urgent appeal for more stock:
The result of starting with an insufficient supply of books is that within a month I have had to refuse further admittance, and practically close the Library to all but the fortunate 1,500 readers who were able to make early application [for tickets], thereby causing disappointment, even disgust, among the large numbers of people who are now patiently awaiting their turn to become members [of the lending library]. To meet our pressing needs, the stock of books should be doubled at once. We cannot do less than this and keep faith with the public. We are, by our action in opening the library, inviting them here, and we must be prepared to keep pace with their increasing demands.
This story of immediate, almost unmanageable, demand for reading matter was repeated in new public libraries across London at the turn of the twentieth century. From Hither Green in south-east London to Chiswick in west London to Willesden in north-west London to Lambeth in south London, chief librarians struggled to keep pace with borrowers’ needs. Many became resourceful in their efforts to secure additional stock. Some librarians circulated begging letters to local businesses or authors for books and others got up fund-raising events to secure money to buy additional stock – all to ‘keep faith’ with a reading public whose appetite for literature appeared limitless.
Here are four reasons that suggest health and safety actually ‘went mad’ some time ago:
(1) In 1897 two whole pages of a short guide to the diamond jubilee celebrations in London were given over to advice about ‘staying safe’ during the day (don’t smoke, don’t faint, don’t fall off tall buildings, don’t buy flimsy and flammable decorations manufactured abroad) under this dramatic sub-heading:
(2) In January 1894, the City Press reported that more than 40 Liverpool Street station staff had been successfully examined in the principles of first aid.
(3) In 1851,’ due care and attention’ was paid to the load-bearing capacity of the new gallery flooring ahead of the public opening of the Great Exhibition in a purpose-built Crystal Palace in Hyde Park.
(4) In 1893, the architect employed to design the new Bishopsgate Institute and Library implemented structural safety measures to facilitate prompt evacuation of large numbers of people from the lecture hall in the event of a fire.
A more systematic overview of the history of health and safety legislation is available here.
‘Tyneside has never since loomed so large in the library map as it did then [in the 1880s]. London was awakening to the call of the public library and the North-East rained librarians on the opening posts. Inkster at Battersea – appointed in July 1887 – Burgoyne at Lambeth, Welch at Clapham, Everett at Streatham, all, curiously enough, neighbours, formed a sort of settlement on that side [of the] Thames, with much social to-and-froing amongst the members of it.’ (1)
The impetus behind this informal cross-regional professional network can be traced back to the influential figure of William Haggerston (1848-1894), chief librarian of Newcastle Public Library in the north-east of England from 1879 to 1894.
By the 1890s, Haggerston was viewed as an energetic chief librarian with a particular aptitude for training promising junior librarians, some of whom went on to enjoy long and successful careers outside the North East:
‘Mr Haggerston was very helpful to his assistants, and about a dozen of them hold prominent positions in libraries in London, Birmingham, Croydon, Norwood, Belfast, Darlington and other places. Many of these gentlemen have testified to the valuable assistance which the…librarian had rendered them. It was well known by his assistants that Mr Haggerston was always ready to speak a good word for them, and whenever his influence would benefit a young librarian…[the Newcastle chief] was never averse to giving the needful aid.’ (2)
I have blogged about the so-called ‘Haggerstonian Geordies’ for the Four Nations blog. Following a research trip to Newcastle last year, I have also started to document my library findings on pinterest as part of an ongoing programme to reconstruct and analyse the careers of around fifty chief and deputy librarians in late-Victorian Britain, with an emphasis on the London experience.(3) The occupational lives of the first generation of library managers in the capital reveal much about wider trends; for example they provide an opportunity to explore social and geographical mobility among the working and lower middle classes at a micro- or human scale, including the informal and submerged professional network that stretched from Haggerston’s Newcastle library in the North East to London libraries such as Lewisham, Battersea and Clapham in the South East.
The Libraries Act of 1850 had allowed local authorities or vestries to establish free libraries using moneys from the rates; but as the quotation at the start of this post suggests (‘London was awakening to the call…’) London was slow to respond to this opportunity and only began to open rate-assisted libraries in meaningful numbers in the 1890s. Newcastle and, to a lesser extent, other major metropolitan centres such as Birmingham and Liverpool were able to ‘rain librarians’ on London by this time because they had already trained up dozens of young librarians in their better-established library services. Put simply, London’s new free libraries were able to fish for qualified managers from a well-stocked national pool and a significant majority of the capital’s first chief and deputy librarians were both born and trained outside the city. Here were ‘incomers’ from Swansea, Worcester, Liverpool, Wigan, Weymouth, Hereford, South Shields and elsewhere. The implications of this for our understanding of cross-cultural exchange between British regions c.1900 are intriguing – and will be explored another time, along with the above-mentioned ‘social to-and-froing’ that took place between the cohort of Newcastle-trained chief librarians who had seemingly formed a sort of settlement on the south side of the Thames.(3)
(1) ‘Obituary of Laurence Inkster’, Library Association Record, July 1939, p.398
(2) ‘Death of Mr W. J. Haggerston,’ 5 May 1894, Newcastle Library Cuttings, Volume 1, p.45, Newcastle City Library.
(3) This research trip was funded by a James Ollé Award from the Library and Information History Group, part of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.