Baby’s first library card – inspiring a lifelong love of reading

It’s never too early to start reading to your baby – so all newborn babies in Hammersmith & Fulham are being given their very own library card to help inspire the love of reading. This new scheme will see parents automatically given a library card when they register their baby’s birth.

Twins Shilah and Gabrielle were the first babies to get their library cards when their mum, Chenelle came to register them last week.

Twins Shilah and Gabrielle with their mum, Chenelle and older sister, Amaia.

Why is this?

Well, reading aloud is one of the simplest and most important activities you can do with your new baby.  Newborns are calmed by the rhythmic sounds of lullabies and nursery rhymes and, as your baby grows, they will delight in turning the pages of books and looking at the pictures.

Regular reading also:

  • Increases vocabulary, curiosity and memory
  • Creates positive associations with books and reading
  • Builds listening skills
  • Improves academic achievement at school
  • Helps babies bond with parents and carers.

On your first trip to one of our libraries with this card, please speak to a member of staff who will activate it for you.

What else can we offer?

Baby bounce and rhyme time sessions

It’s never too early to bring your baby along to a library and new mums and dads are encouraged to come along to our free weekly rhyme time and baby bounce sessions. For more details about these sessions, see info on under 5s sessions

Check out our children’s centres

Our children’s centres support families with children aged five or under. Services include stay and play sessions, baby massage, sleep workshops and much more. For more details, see info on our children’s centres or you can contact the Family Information Service on 0845 313 3933 or email

If this has inspired you to join the library, there’s more info on our Membership and joining page





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London Salt-Glazed Stoneware | Spitalfields Life

The Gentle Author, who writes for Spitalfields Life, has very kindly given us permission to share his recent piece on London Salt-Glazed Stoneware as it features Fulham Pottery.

If you’re interested to know more – pop into Archives and local studies.  They even have some Fulham Pottery on display.

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The Olympia Exhibition Centre

The Olympia Exhibition Halls have recently been sold and new plans drawn up for their future use. It seems a good time to look at their past.

The National Agricultural Hall Company was set up in 1884. The following year the company bought the freehold of the Vineyard Nursery, established in 1745 by James Lee and Lewis Kennedy, and The Grand Agricultural Hall opened on 26 December 1886.

The owners, who included the Earl of Zetland as President and the Lord Chamberlain, Lord Lathom, as Chairman, originally planned for it to be used for “cattle, horse, poultry, dog and implement shows and other agricultural displays” but even then it was also intended for “national and international exhibitions, military tournaments, sports and theatricals.”

Later it was renamed Olympia and its purpose was to “provide healthy amusement and reinvigorate by brilliant demonstrations the national love of athletic exercises and contests of skill; to raise the tone of popular taste by entertainments and displays which shall be of the purest and highest character to educate the masses, aye, and even the ‘classes’ by exhibitions of art, science and industry.”

The Hall’s architect was Henry Edward Coe and its key features are a vast arching roof and a huge domed window supported by ironwork.


During the war, when property prices were cheap, the company took the opportunity to buy West Kensington Gardens which lay between Olympia and Hammersmith Road. The National Hall, on the corner, was completed in 1923 in a similar style to the main hall. The Empire Hall (along the main road) was built in 1929 and was designed by Joseph Emberton. It is a more modernist design, configured much like a department store, and indeed Emberton went on to design Simpson’s in Piccadilly.

The complex had by now become one of the largest exhibition centres in Europe.

The Olympia exhibition halls were listed as Grade II in February 2003.The listing includes all the halls and it notes that “Olympia has played an important role in the history of exhibitions and has been a venue for many important exhibitions and events, notable equestrian shows.”

The first exhibition to be held at Olympia, on 26 December 1886, was a gigantic show by the Paris Hippodrome Circus. Since then, there have been numerous exhibitions and a large collection of show programmes can be found in the library’s Archives and local studies.

There are also some old photographs of these famous shows –

The world’s first major Motor Show took place in 1905. This was perfect timing as the ‘Red Flag Act’ had been abolished days before the show opened. Automobiles could now proceed without a flagman walking ahead. At the time the fastest recorded speed was 10 mph. This photograph was probably taken in 1924.

1906 saw the first performance of the Royal Tournament.

The Ideal Home Exhibition was first held at Olympia in 1908.

The Bertram Mills Circus ran from the winter of 1919/20 to 1965. After the First World War when the Grand Hall had been requisitioned as a temporary prison camp for German nationals, then become an army clothing store, it was the traditional Christmas circus that reopened the Halls.


In the Second World War, Olympia again became a civilian internment camp, then De Gaulle’s assembly point for what became the free French Army, a clothing store and lastly a demobilisation centre.

The exhibitions attracted large attendances and were immensely popular. The Royal Family were regular visitors –

The King and Queen in the Royal Box in 1924

The Duchess of York and the two princesses arriving for the Horse Show in 1934

The Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh at the Royal Tournament in 1950

Churchill in 1958

The present owners, Yoo Capital and Deutsche Finance, announced in 2017 that Heatherwick Studio, in collaboration with SPPARC Architects, would be leading the architectural enhancement of Olympia London. The aim is to create “a world-leading arts, entertainment, exhibition and experiential district whilst staying true to its original heritage as an exhibition business”. In addition, the estate could include a new hotel, theatre and entertainment venues, as well as museums, co-working spaces and innovative new restaurants.

For a full account of Olympia’s history and some wonderful pictures of the exhibitions and artefacts, have a look at John Glanfield’s Earls Court & Olympia: Buffalo Bill to the Brits (2003) in the Archives at Hammersmith Library. It also includes photographs from Keith Whitehouse’s collection of Fulham artefacts.

Fiona Fowler
Hammersmith & Fulham, Archives and Local Studies  volunteer


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Wartime memories – in the post-war years

I was a 1950s child of the ‘Baby Boomer’ era, and as I write this on my computer it’s hard to believe that I was born in a time when most households had no phone, television or fridge. We listened to programmes on a war time wooden utility valve radio, sitting in front of a coal fire in a room with lino on the floor, surrounded mismatched furniture.

Having recently written about the war time memories of my late parents I thought that I would recount a few of my own memories. You might think that this doesn’t makes sense, but in fact reminders of the Second World War were all around us, even though the war had ended over five years previously.

My brother was born just before VE Day in 1945 and was too young to remember the communal air raid shelters being demolished in 1947. But he can remember the bombed out houses in our road being rebuilt.

Demolition of the communal air raid shelters

In some areas smaller shelter existed in back gardens, decades after the war ended. My grandmother had one in her back yard which was made of strong engineered bricks with a heavy re-enforced concrete roof. It was just big enough to take a small camp bed or one or two chairs. Before she could afford to buy a fridge the shelter was her larder. Things like cheese and butter were kept in a wooden framed container covered in metal gauze to keep the flies out. I remember the shelter was dark and always very cold inside.

The post war population was still subject to food rationing, and worse for us children, sweets were on ration until 1953. I remember we were given small bottles of highly concentrated orange juice from a clinic in Becklow Road and free 1/3 pint bottles of milk at school to supplement our basic diets and help our development.

There was some seasonable fruit, but perishable ‘exotic’ fruits from overseas that had not been available in the war started to appear in Shepherds Bush Market. I remember being in the market with my mother when one of the stall ‘spielers’ was throwing out bananas to the crowd. Amazingly I managed to catch one; it was so tiny, not much bigger than my finger, but it was the first one I remember seeing.

I am standing in front of this group; my brother is in the middle of the third row

When not at school the streets were our playground, but there were still war time dangers lurking around every corner. I remember one day we found a live bullet lodged between the pavement and a wooden fence post – maybe it had been dropped by a careless soldier. We started throwing it at the ground trying to make it explode. Luckily a neighbour saw what we were doing and he took it off of us before we injured ourselves.

When we ventured further afield, the bombsites became our secret dens. One of our favourite dens was a partly demolished house between Becklow Road and Askew Crescent. Eddie (seen holding a puppy on the left in the photo) thought that he would set a trap for any strangers coming into our den. He placed a piece of old rug over a hole in the upstairs floor, but unfortunately he forgot and on a later visit actually fell though his own trap.
One day we managed to find a way in to the bombed out St Katherine’s Church on the Westway. As I was still quite young at the time I must admit I found it a little scary as the shell of the church was overwhelming and when we spoke it echoed just as if ghosts were talking.

There were ‘Fly Pasts’ for both the Coronation in 1953 and the 10th anniversary of the end of World War Two in 1955. I’m not sure which event it was but I do remember looking up and seeing wave after wave of Lancasters and Spitfires flying east to west over Shepherds Bush.

One surreal memory was regularly seeing a barrage balloon and soldiers parachuting over Shepherds Bush in the 1950s. Wormwood Scrubs was still used by the military and the Parachute Regiment had a barrage balloon, to which was attached a basket capable of holding four or five soldiers. The balloon would be winched up several hundred yards, and one by one the soldiers would parachute out.

Photo from the LBHF Archives: parachutists on Wormwood Scrubs 1950

Whenever we saw the balloon in the sky we would make a beeline for the Scrubs. Not only was it great fun to watch the parachutists but after they left we collected up hundreds of elastic bands, that they had used when packing the parachutes. We tied them together to make stretchy ropes or bound them around to make very bouncy balls.

And finally, another eerie reminder of the war occurred in the 1960s. With the serious threat of a nuclear attack during the cold war period the government tested the old air raid sirens as a possible early warning system. Also more locally we heard them across Shepherds Bush when they were tested as a warning in case the River Thames broke its banks. I remember one siren being on top of a pole at the eastern end of Shepherds Bush Green and another on top of the police station in the Uxbridge Road. Shortly after these tests the embankments were raised throughout London, and of course much later the Thames Barrier was built.

Written in memory of my friend Eddie, who left a wife and four children, when he was brutally murdered in the early 1970s.

Peter Trott
Hammersmith & Fulham, Local Studies and Archives volunteer

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Fulham Floods of 1928 and the heroism of Madge Franckeiss

This beautifully decorated award was recently donated to the  Hammersmith & Fulham archives and local studies. It commemorates the heroism of Madge Franckeiss in rescuing two residents of Hurlingham Court in the disastrous floods of 7 January 1928, almost exactly 90 years ago.

A combination of strong winds, heavy rain, an exceptionally high tide and melting snow resulted in the flooding of many riverside areas in the early hours of Saturday 7 January. Near Lambeth Bridge, the embankment gave way sending a wall of water through a generally poor and run-down area where 9 people drowned, another two people died in Hammersmith, and two more in Fulham. A further 4,000 Londoners were made homeless as water filled the streets to a depth of four feet.

The floods were described by the West London Observer the following week (13 January 1928):

[The water] burst through the river walls and banks as if they were made of paper, and inundated all the surrounding districts. The plight of the people living near the river can be better imagined than described, the calamity occurring in the pitch darkness of early morning. The flood carried all before it, breaking down all barriers and rushing into the basements and rooms on the street level, doing inestimable damage and imperilling the lives of all those who happened to be sleeping in the inundated rooms.

The two Fulham victims, cousins Dorothy and Irene Watson, both 23, were sleeping in a basement flat in Hurlingham Court. They were trapped when the river burst through the Hurlingham Club banks. There would have been more deaths except for the bravery of their friend, Madge Franckeiss, who was staying in the flat with them. She rescued Mrs Watson, the mother of Irene, and her son Billy, swimming for over an hour in the pitch darkness, in and out of the rooms in the flat, in the “bitterly cold and filthy” Thames water as it reached nearly to the ceiling. She eventually had to stop as her feet and legs were badly cut and she was taken to Fulham Hospital.

Madge described what happened to a reporter of the local paper, the West London Observer:

The coroner, having heard her account, praised her “coolness, courage, resource and presence of mind” and concluded that two more people would have died without her actions. She was helped by other residents of the flats who lowered sheets and hauled up the survivors and the coroner paid tribute to the role of Mr Gilder from flat 2 although, unlike Miss Franckeiss, he was not in any personal danger.

The river burst its banks in the Hurlingham Club, flooding the grounds of the club to a height of six feet and then running into Broomhouse Lane and west to Ranelagh Gardens. The Hurlingham Club has kindly allowed us to use some images of theirs which show only too clearly the extent of the water:

According to the Chief Engineer of the LCC, Sir George Humphreys, the Hurlingham Club had done major work in 1883 to its banks under his supervision and had made further repairs as recently as March 1927. His conclusion was that the banks failed because the water was so high that it spilled over the top, causing the banks to give way. The coroner therefore concluded that no one could be blamed for the tragedy.

The Mayor of Fulham, Alderman W J Waldron, opened a testimonial fund in recognition of Madge Franckeiss’ bravery and there was a generous response from all parts of the country.

The beautifully illustrated citation described the rescue:

The donors were all listed and included not only the mayors of most of the London boroughs and many named individuals but also entries such as “4 office girls”, “an elderly admirer”, “a Chelsea housemaid”. More than £134 (over £7000 in today’s prices) was raised in just a few weeks and the citation, the money and a bronze medal from the Royal Humane Society were presented to Madge on the 10 February by the Mayor of London.


Fiona Fowler
Hammersmith & Fulham, Local Studies and Archives volunteer

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Shepherds Bush Library’s ESOL group celebration

Shepherds Bush Library’s  Wednesday ESOL conversation group decided to celebrate the holiday season with a ‘bring and share’ lunch. The group members are from all parts of the globe – Syria, China, Italy, Spain, France and more.

Everyone joined in with sing-a-longs in their native language as well as a joining in with a hearty rendition of Jingle Bells. I spoke to them all about their group and here are some of their comments.

Anais from France has attended the group for four months and she says that she loves it because it does not cost anything as learning English can be very expensive. She said that she has made friends from different countries and that the tutor is kind and really motivates the group.

Hala Al-Jafan from Syria said that John is a very good teacher and that she is happy with him and the class.

John Baker is an ex-colleague and friend who now volunteers weekly to support those learning English. He says that he has found the experience enriching and that he is gaining as much as the group members are.

Mandy, Shepherds Bush Library

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Robert Gillespie at Hammersmith Library

To anyone who watched TV in the 1970s Robert Gillespie would be instantly recognisable for his appearances in such shows as Porridge, Rising Damp, Secret Army, Butterflies, and The Professionals amongst many others; (and as the long suffering police sergeant in Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads!)

Hammersmith Library was very lucky to host a talk by Robert last week, coinciding with the publication of his first volume of memoirs, “Are You Going to do That Little Jump?”

Robert read passages from the book covering his extensive career on stage, film and TV, from his early experiences at RADA to his most recent role in director Mike Leigh’s upcoming film “Peterloo”.

Along the way we heard stories about such personalities as Richard Burton, Gilbert Harding, Spike Milligan, and Leonard Rossiter (in particular the classic “Gasman” scene in Rising Damp; a perfect example of great comedic timing!)

Thanks to Robert for his wonderfully entertaining talk from all of us here at Hammersmith Library.

David, Hammersmith Library

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