This fortnight would have been the Wandsworth Heritage Festival. Wandsworth Libraries & Heritage Service coordinates the heritage festival each year – but it only happens because so many of our local societies, organisations, and members of the community give up their time, knowledge, and enthusiasm so willingly. The theme of this year’s festival was to have been Wandsworth’s homes and housing. Luckily, the work our contributors took in researching their walks, talks, exhibitions and open days will not go to waste, as this year’s events will be postponed until next year. However, we thought it might be nice in the meantime to explore some of the items in our collections which tie in to this theme.
Jeanne Rathbone has been a resident of Battersea for many years – she worked in the laboratory of Gartons Glucose factory at one point, so was more familiar with the unique aroma dubbed ‘the Battersea Smell’ than most! Jeanne has many hats (literally as well as figuratively!), including local historian, campaigner, and humanist celebrant. She is passionate about Battersea’s history – specifically its historical women. For the Wandsworth Heritage Festival, we were looking forward to hearing Jeanne’s talk on some of Battersea’s most interesting homes and their occupants. Jeanne will be doing this talk next year, but for now she has very kindly agreed to tell us a little about four 18th century houses around Lavender Hill and their occupants.
Gilmore House 113 Clapham Common became the deaconate established by Deaconess Isabella Gilmore 1842-1923, widowed sister of William Morris, requested by Bishop of Rochester to serve in impoverished Battersea. Deaconesses were a mix of nurse, social worker and policeman. Her brother said of her that ‘I preach socialism, you practise it’ The house was one of a pair built 1750 called the Sister Houses overlooking Clapham Common. As the house had to be in her name this prevented it from demolition. She added a chapel designed by Philip Webb which has a Burne-Jones window. She is commemorated in Southwark Cathedral and listed among the Calendar of Saints.
Lavender Sweep House was home to Tom Taylor 1817-1880, editor of Punch, playwright wrote Our American Cousin watched by Lincoln when assassinated, and his wife composer Laura Barker. They attracted visitors like Dickens, Tennyson, Clara Schumann, violinist Joachim to their house and musical soirees. Lewis Carroll took the photos of the house and Ellen Terry said Lavender Sweep was a sort of house of call for everyone of note… a mecca for pilgrims from America and from all parts of the world … a home from home for people from all the walks of literary, artistic and theatrical life
Tom inherited a Stradivarius violin that Laura played with Paganini and Louis Spohr.
Elm House Lavender Hill now the site of Battersea Town Hall was home to Jeanie Nassau Senior, the first woman civil servant. Jane Hughes was known as Jeanie, and her brother Thomas wrote of their early life in Tom Brown’s Schooldays.
She was appointed government Inspector of workhouses to report on the education of “pauper girls”, was co-founder of the British Red Cross, and founded the Metropolitan Association for Befriending Young Servants
Friends included Florence Nightingale, Octavia Hill, Carmen author Prosper Mérimée, Anny Thackeray, Kate Dickens, George Eliot, Tom Taylor and Marie Spartali. George Eliot wrote about her, Millais and Watts painted her, Jenny Lind sang with her, and Clara Schumann played with her.
As a trained soprano she tested the acoustics of the Royal Albert Hall. She is due to have a Battersea Society plaque.
Marie Spartali 1844-1923, a prolific Pre-Raphaelite artist lived in The Shrubbery Lavender Gardens, an Italianate villa which overlooked Clapham Common, now behind St Barnabas Church. She sat for numerous paintings by Ford Madox Brown with whom she trained, for Burne-Jones, Rossetti, Whistler, Stanhope, was photographed by Julia Cameron and was friends of William and Jane Morris. She exhibited at the Royal Academy. She married American William Stillman a widower with three children and they had another three, lived in Florence and Rome and was the only Pre-Raphaelite artist to work in the United States. She featured in the recent Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. An application for an English Heritage plaque to her has been successful.
Many thanks, Jeanne!