Friday, June 17, 2022

Day 9 – Rotherhithe and The London Library

The Rotherhithe Picture Research Library is part of an extraordinary operation located in a former granary in the Southwark neighborhood of London. Established in 1975 as a nonprofit, the Library is available to anyone wishing to do picture research (see website).
Costume hats
Most of the materials are organized by subject and date in giant scrapbooks, binders, or boxes, which makes it relatively easy for researchers to find what they are looking for and reduces the need for staff, although that means relying on an honor system. The Library consists of one long ground-level room with many shelves and rectangular green tables in the middle. Most of the users are interested in design and are researchers working on personal or academic projects. The accessibility of the collection is a primary goal so that even a child would be able to find materials easily.
Layout of the Library
It was founded by Christine Edzard, who is French but has lived in England for many years, and was inspired by the Picture Library of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris. Edzard is a film director, writer, and costume designer, nominated for BAFTA and Oscar awards for her screenwriting. The Picture Library is funded by her other projects, an independent film company, Sands Films, which has its own production facilities in the building, including a costume department. Edzard produces her own films such as The Good Soldier Schwejck, which she wrote and directed in 2018, based on a novel of the same name by Jaroslav Hašek. Edzard is best known for her film adaptation of Charles Dickens's novel, Little Dorrit, for which she was nominated for an Oscar, a BAFTA Award, and a Los Angeles Film Critics Award.
1820-60, Seedy and Tough costumes
She also rents out the soundproof stage to other companies; someone was filming the day we visited so we did not see the stage. Neil, our whimsical tour guide, said it was for a show called Banged Up Abroad, about people who have been arrested while traveling abroad, usually for trying to smuggle illegal drugs out of a particular country.
We were excited to see they had worked
 on Bridgerton, which was is as popular
in London as in the US
What captivated our group was the costume department that is part of Sands Films and has an 18th-century focus. These costumes are hired by big-name productions that I have enjoyed, including The Gilded Age, Little Women (2019), The Young Victoria, and Wolf Hall. It was amazing to see rows and rows of costumes, organized by period: dresses, hats, undergarments, shoes – upper class and servants. We stopped at a room where three women and a young man were repairing items that had just been returned. One woman was delicately ironing a man’s doublet, one was refurbishing a hat, and another was sewing a dress. I asked what it feels like when they watch a film and see a piece of clothing they worked on. The young woman said when she went to see the Emma Watson/Dan Stevens Beauty and the Beast her friend kept saying, “Point out every costume that you did!” and it was great fun. Our guide told us that costume designers for films come to borrow and to get ideas. If they have plans for the costume (touring it or selling copies), the film company would create its own, rather than borrow one.
Desiree tries on Peter Rabbit's head
Back on the Tube. Several of us went to the Marks & Spencer Food Court and bought lunch with all the area workers, then had an impromptu picnic in Green Park. Then we whiled away some delightful time at a nearby Waterstone’s. There was a Buy One, Get the Second Half Off offer on a number of tables so it was necessary to look at every eligible book before I selected several, a time consuming but enjoyable process! I was very tempted by a Scotland Yard board game but it would have been a nightmare to carry home so I reluctantly put it back, and we headed to our late afternoon appointment, all laden with new purchases. You can certainly rely upon librarians to enjoy a bookstore!
In the stacks
The London Library, which we visited in the afternoon, is a historic, membership-only literary institution located in the City of Westminster, adjacent to St. James’s Park, and was founded in 1841 (see website). Our host was Amanda Stebbings, the Head of Member Services, who provided a tour and fascinating background information on the library and its illustrious former members. The library was inspired by Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish historian best known for his book on the French Revolution, as he was dissatisfied with the offerings at the British Library and offered his own collection to be lent out as needed. The library now possesses more than one million volumes and has been in its current building since 1845, although the building has been renovated several times to make room for the growing collection. It is the largest independent library in the UK but Leeds has one that is actually the oldest. The library has over 7,000 members who pay tiered fees ranging from £525 for a year to £20 for a day’s visit. There are 170 desks for members and 53 languages are represented in the collection. It is open every day except Sunday. In addition to lending privileges, the library offers access to eJournals, ebooks, and databases/online reference materials such as JSTOR. These can be accessed remotely by members. The library also holds literary events, some of which are open to the public for a fee.
Obviously, my favorite former member of
the London Library is Georgette Heyer
Our tour of the library revealed famous members, whose pictures decorate the hallways, and the idiosyncratic organization of books. The books are shelved by subjects that were chosen many years ago and do not represent current/most used classifications and are also shelved by size. While many need repairs, it is so expensive to rebind that it is often more practical to put a fragile book into gray box, then placed on the shelf. More interesting than the shelves were the stories of former members. Dracula was likely written inside the library as Bram Stoker was an active member. Current members include Simon Schama, Lady Antonia Fraser, Stephen Fry, Sarah Waters, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Claire Tomalin. I was surprised to learn that American-born T.S. Eliot (who became friends with Conrad Aiken – father of Jane and Joan – while they were undergraduates at Harvard) spent most of his adult life in London and was the president of the library between 1952 and 1965. This was subsequent to his receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature for Four Quartets. Our guide told us Eliot’s second wife was very generous to the library after his death. T.S. Eliot has a special place in my family’s lore as my grandmother asked her future husband to see Murder in the Cathedral on their first date.
Tuesday night, Desiree, Amanda, Erin and I went to see 2:22 A Ghost Story, a play that premiered in 2021 and now has Tom Felton (who played Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies) as the male lead. It’s about a young couple with a baby in a new home; when the wife starts hearing strange noises every night at exactly 2:22 am in the baby’s room she is convinced the house is haunted but her husband does not believe her. We really enjoyed it.
Miles walked: 4.2 (we love the Bakerloo line – takes us right to our destination!)
Books bought: 3


Lory said...

The picture museum with costumes looks fascinating. Edzard is certainly multi talented.

TracyK said...

I never knew there were so many libraries in one city and so many different types. The one that lent out costumes sounds very interesting. My husband would love that.

LyzzyBee said...

Wonderful reading! As a transcriber who works for ghostwriters and music journalists, I like to watch music TV channels or re-runs of Top of the Pops and shout "Done them! Done them" as people appear, much like the costumers!

CLM said...

Less happily, Liz, there used to be a discount book chain in the US called Buck-a-Book which one would find in odd places. My friend Heidi and I were book sales reps used to joke that we couldn't go in because we would see all the failures from the publisher we worked at. Editorial would blame Sales for these misses and Sales would blame Editorial for signing them up in the first place! One, in particular, was a book by musician Kenny Loggins called something like The Unimaginable Life. When the chapter they gave me to sell it was about his nude wedding I knew it would not sell. When they told me he wanted to come on a sales call to our biggest customers and play for them while they ate, I knew it would take pity from the buyers to get a decent order, let alone attend the lunch!