Monday, June 27, 2022

Days 18 and 19 – Marylebone Library and Museum of Docklands

Our visit on Thursday was to my friend Nicky Smith’s nearby Marylebone Library, which is a public library affiliated with the Borough of Westminster.
The Children's area at street level
As Nicky was on vacation in Bologna, her colleague Stephen provided the tour and did his best to answer our many questions. The library is located in a small two-floor converted store off the Marylebone High Street after its previous, much-larger facility was closed in 2018. A new building is planned but there is no official date for the beginning of construction. The library is open seven days per week and its website, available here, provides the hours and some of the services offered.
Book sales make me happy!
Due to the very limited space, the library’s primary outreach and programming is for children, although it is hard to find information on these events (or anything else) on the library’s website. According to the librarian, he often gets more than 30 children at events for preschoolers so in-library signage must be the way parents and caregivers learn what is being offered. In addition to the children’s area and an information desk at street level, there is a fiction area that is full of recent releases and a used book sale. The level below contains nonfiction, graphic novels that seem to be mostly for teens, and computers that can be used by patrons for one hour. The staff at this library work more than 7 or 8-hour shifts: Stephen had arrived at 9:30 to prepare for us and was going to work until 8. Some of my staff at home would flat out refuse to do that.
The Museum of Docklands is in an old warehouse
My colleagues seemed to be a little restless and bad-tempered today. I know it is disappointing that the final week of the program is not in Edinburgh as we had hoped, but there is still so much to do in London, and as Samuel Johnson once said:
"Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."
Best known for having compiled the first Dictionary of the English Language, Samuel Johnson spent part of his life in a townhouse that is now a museum off Fleet Street. On Friday, I decided to stop by and erroneously concluded it was shut because of all the workmen blocking the way in. As consolation, I made another trip to the nearby Shoe Lane Library where I bought five more paperbacks for £1. I told the librarian about visiting Green Knowe as I was returning my copy and she said she should read the book, looking at it dubiously. “Is it horror?” she asked. Seriously? A Stranger at Green Knowe won the Carnegie Medal – don’t librarians need to know these things?
Churchill visiting the docks during WWII
Next I went to the Farringdon Street tube station which opened in 1863 and is one of the oldest surviving underground railway stations in the world. I wouldn’t have paid that much attention except that in the book I just finished, The Last Bookshop in London, the characters uses this tube station as a shelter during the Blitz. It’s now been refurbished for the Elizabeth Line which I took to Canary Wharf.  I am so glad that Cath Russell recommended a visit to the Museum of London Docklands, which was tricky to find due to construction but wonderful when I got there. I arrived just as a special talk was beginning on the Blitz and I hustled to find the group, which was sitting in a replica of a shelter built for dock workers. A staff member named Iona shared her family’s WWII experience and described how the population of London had been cut in half by the end of the war due to bombing, evacuation, and other factors. The material on WWII in the exhibits was focused on the docks and area nearby which suffered greatly during the war because the Germans knew it would be demoralizing to destroy shipping, so kept sending bombers there.
An exhibit on the slave trade was fascinating and revealed how deliberately the slave owners tried to isolate enslaved people by separating families, keeping slaves apart who spoke the same dialects, administering brutal punishments, and giving privileges to some so they would help enforce discipline. During the 1700s Britain was the leading slave-trading nation and half of all Africans transported across the Atlantic were carried in British ships.
Air Warden memorabilia
I was very impressed by the diversity of the exhibits. There were several school groups visiting and I thought it was a great place to bring children as many of the exhibits were simple and entertaining. One startling thing: in an exhibit of Black Londoners, I saw the same picture I had seen at Kenwood House the previous week of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the daughter of a naval officer and an enslaved African woman, who was raised at Kenwood House by her uncle, the Earl of Mansfield. Unlike the exhibit at Kenwood House, which made it seem as if Dido and her cousin were besties, the text here states that Dido was never treated as an equal member of the family. I am not surprised but seeing both representations so close together was interesting.  It was also interesting to learn that Phyllis Wheatley was published in Britain before she was published in America.  I would have liked to stay for a later lecture on the famous Frost Fairs on the Thames but had to rush back to Marylebone. I may try to go back next week.
Query: in what book does someone tell the heroine not to sound like a Billingsgate harpy? The Billingsgate Fish Market still exists and is located near the Museum of Docklands.
Billingsgate Fish Market
Thursday - Miles walked: 2.6 miles
Friday - Miles walked 6.2 miles
Books acquired: 5


Davida Chazan (The Chocolate Lady) said...

I didn't know about the Docklands Museum. I must go there next time I'm in London. Thanks!

Cath said...

'Really' pleased you liked the Docklands Museum, Constance. You recommend places and you can never quite be sure it'll suit the person you're recommending them to. Very pleased it all worked out.

Anonymous said...

I have been so much enjoying your posts about this trip, especially the Green Knowe visit, but everything, I remember visits to England and also special libraries like the one at the Art Institute in Chicago. I hope you continue to enjoy and to stay healthy.

I can understand being disappointed by missing out on Edinburgh, I believe it is my favorite city in the world. However, when traveling often one must concentrate on enjoying what one CAN do rather than worrying about what one can't.

LyzzyBee said...

You've been on the Elizabeth Line before I have! I'm glad the Museum of the Docklands is doing so well, I must get back there soon, too.

CLM said...

That is good advice - to concentrate on enjoying what is happening now. My group has got too cliquey and I am finding I just go off on my own more. Of course, then I get to do what I want instead of wasting a lot of time deciding.

There were a lot of appealing-looking eating options at Canary Wharf near the Docklands Museum so it is a good place to spend time. Cath, I emailed the Docklands to ask if they were going to do their Frost Fair talk again but have not heard back. I probably won't make it back, however.

The Elizabeth Line is so new and shiny, Liz, that it would have been my choice for a taking shelter during a Blitz. However, the tour guide said because of the fuel used during the war the tube stations would have been extremely dirty/sooty.