Archives at Home, Gardens, House history, Housing, Memories, Parks and open spaces

Archives at Home, part 22

We were delighted to hear from Ken Miles, who read Colin Allen’s blog post about the time he and his family spent living in a prefab in King George’s Park. Ken was a neighbour of Colin’s, though he now lives thousands of miles away in Australia. He very kindly shared his memories of living in King George’s park with us, and agreed to us publishing them here. The result is a very happy read – perfect for a gloomy Autumn day! Thank you, Ken!

My parents Cissie and Arthur Miles younger brother Derek and myself moved onto the estate in the same year as Colin Allen 1947. I was 6 years old and Derek was one year old. Like Colin we also lost our house in the blitz and were rehoused into a prefab, the address was 37 West Greenway. The prefab was located at the top end of the estate adjacent to King Georges Park and the Cul de Sac end of Brathway Road.

The Mullard Valve factory was at the end of Brathway Road providing valves for the new sensation television. We were very fortunate to have a tv and it soon became apparent to the rest of the kids on the estate.

Ken in his front garden in 1959 (image courtesy of Ken Miles)

All of a sudden I gained lots of new friends.

One of the early highlights on the estate were the cartoons shown by one of the families on East Greenpath. They were a weekly event and we all crammed into their living room to watch Mickey Mouse, Popeye, no colour just black and white.

This was before tv started to become readily available in everyone’s lives.

As Colin described in his blog the prefabs were well appointed internally. My close friend David Finlayson (and still is after all these years) was very envious of our internal WC and bathroom he only had an outside dunny and no bathroom, as was the case with many homes at that time. Gardens on the estate were of adequate size to grow a few veggies or a flower bed, plus each prefab had its own coal shed with a curved roof rather like the old Nissan huts.

This was in the time of solid fuel fires with a coalman carrying a large bag of coal on his shoulders delivering it into the coal shed. We always had a friendly Hedgehog take up residence in ours during the winter. I can still recall the screams from my Mum when she picked up a scoop of coal together with the Hedgehog!

Our prefab was in a good location with an entry to the park via a set of stairs nearby, the prefab was elevated above the park approx. 2.5M with an alleyway at the base separating us from the park. We could either walk across to the swimming pool and swings area or walk around the alleyway which went over the River Wandle and led out to Garratt Lane adjacent to Benhams ( I think that’s how you spell it) the sheet metal factory. Later in life a few of my friends became apprentices there. I doubt it exists now. Night time walking down the alleyway was always a bit scary not much lighting and it seem to attract the bad elements which were around even then.

As I and my brother Derek got older the park was always the go to place, it was well maintained with plenty of opportunity to play football, cricket or tennis and of course the swimming pool in summer. I could never pluck up the courage to jump off the top board but I did manage the second highest.

Christmas was always a joyous time in the prefab all my Mum’s family would come up to us for the big Christmas dinner and stay overnight. Beds were at a premium so us kids and the men would bed down on the floor in the living room or in our big old soft armchairs and couch. It was the job of the men to keep the fire going all night which they shared, well some did. Derek and I always enjoyed Christmas plenty of food and lots of laughs.

Ken’s family – he’s newly engaged in this 1961 photograph and pictured behind his fiance Valerie! (Image courtesy of Ken Miles)

One thing that was noticeable as I got older on the estate was that our living environment on the estate was much better than living in the high rise flats that were being built around the Wimbledon Common area. Some of my school friends moved into that area and the lack of recreation facilities were very apparent. As history has shown us high density living does not work especially for families with young children.

My parents and Derek remained in the prefab until 1964, they were then rehoused into a two bedroom first floor flat in Sutherland Grove near West Hill Road. Derek got married in 1969 and moved out. Dad passed away in 1984 and my Mum in 2010.

I moved out from the prefab in1962 when I got married to my wife Valerie (nee Beard) and we have remained happily married to this present day. The prefab had a lot to do with me marrying Valerie because she was best friends with Diane Shepard who was our next door neighbours daughter at 39 West Greenway. Our romance blossomed over the chainwire fence that separated our prefabs. Valerie and Diane have remained friends from then until the present time. The advent of the Internet has made contact so much easier especially when you live on the other side of the globe.

Ken and his lovely Mum in front of the coal shed (sadly the hedgehog didn’t make an appearance)! (Image courtesy of Ken Miles)

Valerie myself and two very young children Julie and Keith migrated to Australia in the sixties, we now live in Perth Western Australia after spending the first 12 years living in Sydney where our third child Ross was born in 1973.

I do recall there were a few other families on the estate who migrated to Australia, one was a friend of mine called Ernie, he lived at 41 West Greenway next to Diane Shepard.

On our first trip back to the UK in 1986 with our family we took a trip down memory lane and although the prefabs had been demolished by then and had now reverted to parkland the surrounding streets and houses were still intact albeit some were renovated from what I remember of them.

We have only been back twice since then the last time in 2010 when my dear old Mum passed away aged 95.

Its been very pleasurable thinking about mine and my families time living in a prefab, as you grow older nostalgia seems to grab at you.

My memories are one of joy and happiness and I appreciate the opportunity of being able to tell my story.

Archives at Home, Young and Co.'s Brewery, P.L.C.

In the ‘black book’ at Young’s Brewery

In the first of two blog posts this month, we will be taking a look at one of the items in the collection that was used to record information about employees at the Ram brewery, a narrow volume bound in black known as the ‘black book’ by Young’s employees, or as we like to call it, ‘the Book of Shame’!

The records in the book date from 1870 and it seems to have been the brainchild of the head brewer at the time, Herbert Leigh, who would have been in charge of all the men who worked on the brewing side of the business. The book records the names, date of joining, age at joining, marital status, previous employer and any minor offences committed by the workforce.

The book was used to keep a record of men who had been fined for misdemeanours such as stealing beer and poor timekeeping as well as noting any promotions or change of duties during their time at the brewery. The image below shows the record of one of these men, Henry Osborn, who joined the business in January 1870 as a drayman. He was 31 years old at the time and was married with 6 children. His first offence was committed in February 1880 where he was fined 5 shillings after being suspected of stealing beer. His second offence was in June 1881 where he was fined 20 shillings for taking out a riding pulley. He was then fined 2 shillings and 6 pence in August 1882 for ‘incivility to customers’. It was not until April 1884, after committing his sixth offence (for trotting horses), that he faced the threat of dismissal from the company. The book shows that other men also managed six offences before being threatened with dismissal although some were discharged after just two or three offences if they were more serious.  

Entry for Henry Osborn. The diagonal red line indicates that the employee no longer works for the company.

Other common offences included smoking in the brewery and playing cards in the firm’s time. The book also provides evidence of how seriously management took cruelty towards horses in the charge of employees as there are numerous examples of men being reprimanded or dismissed for poor treatment of the horses.  Attitudes towards men caught drinking or in a drunken state were somewhat more relaxed as drunkeness was seen as an occupational hazard and the brewery tended to be more lenient at least towards  first offenders. However,this leinency did not extend to those who  took stolen beer outside the premises as this offence was almost always punished by dismissal. The practice of filing entries in the Black Book was continued by successive head brewers up to the early 1950s. The book gives a revealing insight into the indiscretions of workers at the brewery during the period it covers and how these men were dealt with by senior management.

Source – Britain’s Oldest Brewery: The story behind the success of Young’s of Wandsworth, Helen Osborn, 1999

The project is very generously funded by the William Allen Young Charitable Trust, a charity funded and run by Young and Co.’s Brewery, P.L.C.  In the course of the project, records from Young & Co.’s Brewery and subsidiary companies will be appraised, catalogued, conserved, repackaged, and made accessible to researchers.

Archives at Home, Horses, Young and Co.'s Brewery, P.L.C.

Diaries, horse shows and birthday wishes: Horsekeeper records from the Young’s collection

This month’s post focuses on the horsekeeper records kept by Young’s. The main component of this series is a collection of diaries kept by the head horsekeeper covering the period from 1934 to 1969. These diaries record which horses were used for deliveries each day, which draymen were on duty or were absent as well as other issues that may have occurred during the day such as illness among the horses, adverse weather conditions and incidents that happened  to staff and the horses such as collisions caused by horses ‘bolting’ while on duty.

Youngs019 - diary entry
An example of an entry from the 1942 diary

This series also features records of the horse shows and parades that Young’s were a participant in. These records cover the period from 1923 to 1970 and provide details of the horses and draymen that took part in each event and also the prizes that were won. The shire horses entered by Young’s enjoyed great success at these shows. It was estimated that more than 2,000 prizes had been won by the horses between 1924 and 1967. There were also several periods where the Young’s horses went unbeaten in any show ring further reinforcing the brewery’s reputation as one of the most successful brewery teams at horse shows.

Youngs015 - Bucks horse show 1968
Four horse team at Bucks County Show, 1968


The series also contains registers of horses bought by the brewery. Dating from 1910 to 1950, they provide details of horses at the stables, where the animal was purchased from and whether it was later sold on or gifted. In addition to these records, there is also some more unusual material in this series.

Youngs016 - birthday postcard for Steve
A letter to Steve!

Most of the diaries have various bits of ephemera tucked into the volumes such as correspondence and notes relating to entries in the diaries. Readers of a previous blog entry about the Young’s collection might recall a section on a dray horse called Steve who received a lavish 21st birthday celebration from Young’s in 1966. The article mentioned that Steve received numerous birthday cards and letters on that occasion and those cards are featured inside the horsekeeper diaries for 1965. You can see a few examples of Steve’s birthday wishes below!

Steve birthday cards
A selection of birthday wishes for Steve!

Archives at Home, Parks and open spaces, Railways

Parks and open spaces: Wandsworth Common

Wandsworth is rather spoiled for choice when it comes to our parks and open spaces – and many of us have been especially grateful for them these last few months.  In the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at some of our parks and open spaces and how they are documented in our collections.

Wandsworth Common 1909
Postcard of Wandsworth Common, 1909, Wandsworth Libraries & Heritage Service

Today is the turn of Wandsworth Common.  Wandsworth Common isn’t one of the open spaces in the borough I am particularly familiar with, but we have had visits from two lovely researchers from the Friends of Wandsworth Common recently, and their enthusiasm is infectious.  So I decided to have a good walk around the common yesterday (lovely!) and a look through some of our wonderful photographs and maps.

PC-WC-36 Wandsworth Common outside the station
Postcard, ‘Outside Wandsworth Common Station’, c1900 (our ref: PC/WC/36), Wandsworth Libraries & Heritage Service

The 1741-5 Roque map (so called after its cartographer, John Roque) shows the common as one distinct space:

1741-5 Roque map showing Wandsworth Common, Wandsworth Libraries & Heritage Service

In contrast, the 1865 and 1896 ordnance survey maps show the scale of the development which took place around and within the common:

Ordnance Survey map, 1865, Wandsworth Libraries & Heritage Service

Ordnance Survey map showing Wandsworth Common, 1896, Wandsworth Libraries & Heritage Service

There are some elements in the landscape of the common shown in these maps which we are still familiar with  – such as the Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum (which I have written about previously here), Wandsworth Common station, and of course the railway.  Others are long gone, such as the large sand pits shown in the 1865 ordnance survey map (definitely not for playing in!), and the ‘Black Sea’ in the 1865 ordnance survey map.

Slide from our collection showing a watercolour painting of the ‘Black Sea’ (Our ref: WHS1578), Wandsworth Libraries & Heritage Service

According to one of our many scrapbooks (Wandsworth Notes volume 9, p. 159), the Black Sea ‘was dug by a certain Mr Wilson, who was the founder of Price’s Candle Works at Battersea.  Every time he had an addition to his family, he built a small island in the lake.  In time, the number reached thirteen.  The old windmill, the remains of which can still be seen, used to pump water into this pond’.  I was unaware, however, that the Black Sea had a rather darker side than this charming story might suggest until a researcher brought Amelia Alfrey’s story to my attention.

In 1844, Amelia Alfrey attempted to end her own life and the life of her two children by attempting to drown them in the lake.  the Times report of 6th August 1844 shows some compassion towards Alfrey, describing her as ‘deathly pale’, ‘very weak’, and having ‘a vacant look’.  Just two years later, another woman tried to end her life in the Black Sea.  Again, the Times reported on the incident:

‘After the poor woman became sensible, Police Constable Daly questioned her , and ascertained that her name is Amelia McDougal Pringle; that she is the wife of a plasterer, who is working at Kensington.  She was in her 29th year, and she had only been married four months.  She said she was very wretched and did not wish to live.’

By the time the 1896 ordnance survey has been undertaken, the lake had been filled, and Spencer Park and the surrounding houses built on its site.

‘Common’ land was not owned by the people – Wandsworth Common was owned by the Spencer family.  But there were some rights those who lived around the Common could expect to have, which included grazing cattle.

Wandsworth Common with sheep, lake and general figures c.1900
Postcard of Wandsworth Common, c1900

By the 1860s, there was a great deal of public pressure to preserve the common – factors such as the 4th Earl Spencer selling off parts of the common and the increasing development in the area  resulted in the Wandsworth Common Act of 1871, which protected the Common and the rights of those who would use it.  The poster below issued by Wandsworth Common Preservation Committee indicates that, amidst growing urban development and increasing industrialisation, the value of open spaces for health and enjoyment was not underestimated:

Wandsworth Common Preservation Committee 1870
Poster advocating the preservation of Wandsworth Common, Wandsworth Libraries & Heritage Service

The work of the Wandsworth Common Preservation Committee resulted in the Wandsworth Common Act 1871, which protected the Common as an open space.  Our local history collections show the efforts that local organisations have made to preserve the character, ecology and wildlife of the Common since.

Today, like all commons in the UK, Wandsworth Common is protected by the Commons Act 2006 and is a much loved and well used open space.

If you would like to know more about Wandsworth Common, you can get in touch with us at  The Friends of Wandsworth Common’s website is also an excellent source of geographical and historical information, as well as providing up to date information about the Common:


Archives at Home, Memories

Archives at home, part 21

Many of our regulars have been documenting this period of lockdown in their own way.  Hilaire and Stephen, a poet and an artist respectively, have been working together (apart!) during lockdown to produce an illustrated poetry pamphlet which documents their experiences of lockdown in Battersea.  We were delighted to receive a copy of the pamphlet, and even more so when Hilaire and Stephen agreed to answer a few of our questions, and let us share some poems and illustrations from the pamphlet!

How important is observation to your work, and what sort of things do you notice that most of us don’t?!

Stephen: I now see what birdwatching is about. The singing – they respond to whistles. The various flights and featherings, and their learnt fear of humans.

Hilaire: It’s often a small detail that will start me off on a poem. A sound, an odd juxtaposition, and perhaps an attention to the linguistic or personal associations that the detail may prompt.

How has nature reclaimed your part of Battersea while we are all indoors?

Stephen: The air is much cleaner. There is a partial loss of that horrid dirty thick layer of filthy air spread over the capital!

Hilaire: I hear much more birdsong. The skies have been beautifully clear, though recently I’ve noticed more planes flying overhead again. Also parks and open spaces are looking less manicured. I love how nature quickly asserts herself when given half a chance.


How does Stephen choose the style of font for each poem?

Stephen: The font is one things, calligraphy another. If your heart is in it, you are free to follow your own zeitgeist & inspiration.

Haiku and Tanka – can you tell us a bit about these forms?  What made you choose them?

Hilaire: These are both Japanese forms. Haiku, in English, is traditionally three lines containing 17 syllables in total, spread over the three lines as 5/7/5 syllables. Tanka is like an extended haiku, of five lines, the first three the same as a haiku, and the last two lines both seven syllables. Usually a haiku or tanka will contain a reference to the season or elements of nature. I chose these forms because they are short – which felt manageable, especially as I was aiming to write one every day – and also as I like the challenge of trying to say something new or different in a condensed way.

How has this creative outlet helped you both during this time?Stephen: An apple a day… a little art can make you happy all day

Hilaire: It’s been great to have a focus, to realise that even in restricted circumstances I can create a small poem that didn’t exist until I sat down at my desk with a mug of coffee. And then to see that transformed by Stephen into a striking visual version has been really exciting. Working together gave it a momentum I’m not sure I’d have been able to maintain on my own.


 Stephen was a theoretical physicist in a past life!  How does this influence his art?

Stephen: I cannot be a happy and peaceful person except through creativity and invention, but even in those pursuits I cannot be rid of intellectuality. The plus side is that not many do art in my way!

Lastly, where do we get a copy?!

You can order a copy from Hilaire’s blog:

Or contact Stephen on: 07955 400682

We are now open on an appointment only basis – if you would like to make an appointment to visit us, we’d love to see you!  Contact us at