Archives at Home, House history, Housing

Archives at home, part 19

The theme of this year’s heritage 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. 

One of my favourite tasks as an archivist is exploring the history of a particular patch of land – seeing how it developed over the centuries, what it was used for, and – if it became housing – who lived there.  I often undertake this sort of research for school workshops, as I find looking at the microcosm of a school and its surrounding areas helps children undertake very practical tasks, such as interpreting maps; as well as more imaginative tasks, such as thinking about the different experiences of those who lived and worked on their patch.

In the context of house history, one school I thoroughly enjoyed doing this for was Broomwood Hall, which is located in Ramsden Road, Balham.  Broomwood Hall’s year one pupils are taught in a building which was once the vicarage of St Luke’s.  I spent a delightful morning with their year ones exploring not only the vicarage, but what was there before.  (And they must have enjoyed it – as I’ve visited their year one intake for the same workshop for the last two years!).

I like to start with the Roque map, so called after the cartographer, John Roque, who created it.  This map was surveyed between 1741-5, and covers London and parts of what was then Surrey.  We don’t have an original of this map, but we have a 19th century Stanford’s copy:

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Copy of the Roque map of 1741-5 with the position of the school indicated

I like this map because it is beautiful, but also because it shows us how rural the area was.  The children think about what kinds of crops were grown in the area, and what kinds of sights and smells they might encounter if they were to travel back there.

We can see that there was certainly a house on the site prior to the vicarage by looking at the 1865 ordnance survey map:

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Ordnance Survey Map, 1865

A look at the census record for this property from 1861 tells us that there was a lodge attached to Old Park House which housed the Ling family (the head of which was Henry Ling, the gardener of Old House):

The house itself was home to the Dent family, a family of four consisting of Villiers Dent; his wife, Susan; and their sons, Douglas and Villiers.  What was particularly fascinating to the children was that this household of four had six servants.  One of these servants was Ann Ling, who was doubtless the daughter of the Dent’s gardener.  On the night the census was taken, we can see the family have four visitors staying with them.

The first time we see St Luke’s Church in our map collection is in the 1894-6 Ordnance Survey map:

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1894-96 Ordnance Survey map showing position of vicarage

But it is not until the 1913-16 ordnance Survey map that we see the vicarage on the map:

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Ordnance Survey map, 1913-16, with vicarage highlighted

The children were rather delighted to discover who had lived in the house from the 1911 census:

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At this point, the minister is John Erskine Clarke, born in Calcutta, aged 83.  He has a visitor staying with him, as well as a house keeper, servant, house maid, and kitchen maid.  One class is taught in what was an attic room, and were delighted to think that their classroom was perhaps where Georgina, Thomas, Alice, or Em[?] had slept!

We talked about the sorts of jobs Georgina, Thomas, Alice, and Em would have done, and what their lives would have been like.  And some of us shouted out their names – though we didn’t get an answer back!

If you would like to know a bit more about the history of your house, while we have limited access to our collections at the moment, we are still answering enquiries!  Get in touch at Heritage@gll.org! 

Archives at Home, House history, Housing, Women

Archives at home, part 16

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
Gilmore House, courtesy of Jeanne Rathbone

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 back garden possibly taken by Lewis Carrol
Lavender Sweep House,  courtesy of Jeanne Rathbone

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 worlda 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.

 

G.F.Watts, Jane Elizabeth Hughes - J.Elizabeth Hughes /Ptg.by Watts/ 1858 -
Jeanie painted by Watts Wightwick Manor, Staffordshire (The National Trust). 1858.  Image courtesy of Jeanne Rathbone

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.

 

The Shrubbery
The Shrubbery, courtesy of Jeanne Rathbone

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!

 

 

Archives at Home, Building history, House history, Housing

Archives at home, part 13

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.

When I got the job as archivist for Wandsworth Libraries & Heritage Service, I knew nothing about Wandsworth.  Luckily, my then-colleague Gillian and the local historians who accessed the collections were there to offer their knowledge and support. One of those local historians was Neil Robson.  Neil has been an enormous help to me over the last four years.  He is editor of the Wandsworth Historical Society’s journal, the Wandsworth Historian, which is invaluable for answering all manner of enquiries (not to mention an intriguing read!).  Twenty years ago, he wrote Roomy VIllas about his corner of Wandsworth – Southfields Grid.  You can access the book online here.   I am delighted that he agreed to speak to us about his experience of life there.

NR for Emma
Neil Robson

How long have you lived in the area, and what do you like most about it?

I moved into Southfields Grid just over thirty years ago.  ‘Location, location’ – that’s undoubtedly part of its magic.  Close to good shops, easy access to public transport, in normal times at least, and plenty of open space.  But it’s the people that make a community, of course, and here – perhaps because of the varied nature of the housing stock – we have an extremely healthy mix across the generations.  Our friends over the road have lived there since 1959; in contrast, some of our other neighbours are still learning the art of walking.  So, such a cross-section can’t fail to generate a good spirit within a neighbourhood.

You wrote ‘Roomy Villas’ twenty years ago – can you tell us how you got the title?

Right from the start of the project I was on the look-out for a catchy title.  It had to be short with a bit of a snap to it, and with luck slightly whimsical.  In Battersea Library one afternoon whilst browsing through a newspaper file for 1905 I came across a Wandsworth estate agents’ advertisement promoting ‘roomy villas’ in Southfields – and in a flash I knew I’d found what I was after.

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Replingham Road, Wandsworth Libraries & Heritage Service

Was there anything surprising that you uncovered in the course of your research?

There was indeed!  I was at one point looking at the issues of the Wandsworth Borough News from September 1939 when out of the blue there jumped a brief account of a court case involving a woman who lived in the very house I live in now.  Described as ‘a daily help’ she stole a sum of money from her employer on Skeena Hill ‘to buy clothes for her evacuated children’.  For that she was sentenced to one day’s imprisonment.  A naughty thing to do, obviously, but I can still recall the wave of pity I felt for her at the time.

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Brookwood Road, Wandsworth Libraries & Heritage Service

What did you find out about the people who lived in the houses when they were first built?

The Edwardian author May Sinclair haughtily described Southfields in one of her novels as a ‘paradise of little clerks’.  She was being sarcastic, of course, but it was pretty close to the truth.  Most of the early residents, on the Grid at least, seemed to have come from what we might primly call ‘the lower-middle classes’.  Almost all of them rented, rather than actually owned their own property, I mean.  They seem so different from us, and yet so very similar.  They knew how to get grumpy with officialdom just as we do, like the man in Replingham Road who wrote to the local paper in 1898 – no WhatsApp in those days – to complain that the smell from the nearby piggery was so appalling that you had to keep ‘all your windows and doors shut for fear of being sick’.

Jubilee Party A
Southfields Grid residents celebrate the Queen’s diamond jubilee in 2012, courtesy of Neil Robson

And, like us, they knew how to celebrate too.  On VE Night in 1945 people took to the streets enjoying the warm sunshine, with women in summer dresses and men in just their shirt sleeves.  This May the 8th, seventy-five years on, we did exactly the same (whilst maintaining a proper distance, of course), strolling around in similar weather, calling out good wishes to neighbours, and admiring the often home-made decorations hanging from the fronts of people’s houses.  Extraordinarily touching.

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Replingham Road, Wandsworth Libraries & Heritage Service

What are you currently researching and working on?

Next year sees the fiftieth anniversary of the Borough’s main heritage magazine, the Wandsworth Historian, and I plan to contribute an article on ‘Wandsworth in 1971’.  Even from my first tentative reading around the subject the era feels so far away and yet so close: anti-apartheid protests, the coming of decimal currency, civil unrest in Ireland, efforts to join the European Economic Community.  I can’t wait for lockdown to end; I’m simply itching to get stuck into those newspaper files again!

Thank you so much to Neil for sharing his memories and research with us!  You can learn more about the Wandsworth Historical Society and their journal, the Wandsworth Historian, here.

 

Archives at Home, Casualties, Hospitals, House history, Housing

Archives at home, part 12

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.

The word ‘home’ conjures up feelings of warmth and safety for many of us – particularly now when we are spending so much time in them.  Many of us have found a silver lining in our current situation as it has allowed us to spend time with those we love in the place we feel most comfortable.  Others are be so lucky, and ‘home’ is not a sanctuary for them.

Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum
The Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum

One of the buildings in Wandsworth which has always fascinated me is that of the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building (RVPB).  Now home to residential apartments and, of course, the restaurant Le Gothique, the building was erected in 1858 and opened in 1859.  It was funded by Prince Albert’s Royal Patriotic Fund, and was built as a an orphanage and school for around 300 daughters of soldiers and marines who were killed in the Crimean War.

All-focus
1865 Ordnance Survey map showing the position of the Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum

The building is in the Gothic style.  Like any building, there will be those who think its beautiful, and those who don’t.  But no one could suggest it was built as a sanctuary – the RVPB website contains a short history of the building which attests to the harsh conditions faced by the girls who lived there.   It’s hard to imagine how a child would feel approaching this building for the first time, but we have an account of this from Connie Buckley’s memoir, Bringing up the Rear, which describes how alienating the experience was:

‘After a short walk we came to the orphanage which looked huge and forbidding.  The heavy gates clanged behind us.  I felt trapped and afraid, and lagged behind…the Victorian building loomed over me…Sister Whitfield then took over combing my hair with disinfectant.  She said the doctor would give me my medical the next day, and that I would spend the night at the infirmary.  This was disappointing; I so wanted to see Ida.  She was all that was left of the family to hold onto.

Sister Whitfield then conferred with the nurse and decided my hair must be cut off, explaining that there was a ring-worm epidemic in the school and they feared I already had it.  I tried to tell them that I often scratched my head when upset, but it was no use.  The relentless clippers went over and over until I was bald.  My one and only claim to beauty, my waist-length corn-coloured hair, lay around me in twisted heaps on the white sheet.

It was too much.  The tears came at last.  The dam of my grief had broken, I was left alone to cry it out.  This was the lowest point in my thirteen-year-old-life.  Hours must have passed, and still the tears flowed.  They brought me food, which I refused, knowing I couldn’t swallow it.  Eventually the doctor came and gave me medicine that calmed me down.

I was put to bed and slept the sleep of exhaustion, waking up to the ringing of a bell.  It was still dark outside, and all I wanted was to sleep on and forget yesterday’s nightmare.  The nurse came and switched on all the lights, which hurt my red and aching eyes.  My head also throbbed and felt strange and bristly.  She put on medication that smelt like iodine.  It stung and I didn’t flinch.  My grief had drained away all emotion.’

Reading this account, its hard to believe that anyone could have viewed the RVPB as a place of sanctuary – but we have evidence which shows otherwise.  During World War I, the building was converted to a hospital for injured soldiers – the 3rd London General Hospital.  From this time, we have the hospital’s magazines and some photographs – and these tell a different story.

Decorated ward, 3rd London
3rd London General Hospital Ward

Both the magazine and the photographs show evidence of medical staff caring for the medical needs of the patients, as well as their emotional needs.

These sources document the activities patients participated in, such as boxing and football matches, drawing cartoons, writing poetry.

 

So for a short time in its history, perhaps this building was a sanctuary – a temporary ‘home’ from home, a place where soldiers could come to terms with the life changing injuries with the help of their fellow soldiers and nursing staff.

 In the next few weeks while our collections are inaccessible, I’m going to be sharing some of my favourite items and collections with you, telling you where they come from, what they tell us about Wandsworth, and why they are important to me.   I am sure I am not the only one missing our wonderful collections, and I hope you will enjoy hearing about them!

Archives at Home, House history, Uncategorized

Archives at home, part 11

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.

We might be closed at the moment, but we still want to hear from you, and we are still answering enquiries!  One of the most common enquiries we get is how you can use our resources to research the history of your house – and we thought it might help to have some handy tips for when we reopen again, and to direct you to some online resources in the meantime!

When your home was built

Depending on the date your home was built, you can start by looking at the street directories. These list people alphabetically as private residents and as trades people, as well as by street name and number. We have a good selection of these available in our searchroom dating from around the 1880s-1970s.  While we are closed to the public, Leicester University Special Collections has some directories for England & Wales digitised and available online.

1916
Kelly’s Commercial Directory, South London Suburbs, 1916

The next step is to ascertain if we have drainage applications. These are kept in store, so it is best to make an appointment to view these once we are open again.
Drainage applications were submitted by developers to the local authority to show how and where the houses’ private drains connected to the local authority’s main drains. Typically, they will give the builder or developer’s name and a brief summary of the project. They usually include drainage plans. As well as showing where the drainage of the house was located, the drainage plans can also show the original shape of the house and where the ‘water closet’ and ‘scullery’ were located, and indicate where the original walls were.


These sources won’t tell you exactly when your house was completed, but they allow you to make a far more accurate approximation.

If your home was built in mid 20th century as part of a council development (e.g. the Winstanley and Ashburton estates) it is possible that we also have building plans. If it was not, it is very unlikely that we will have building plans.

You can also look at Wandsworth Council’s planning portal from home to assertain if your house has been subject to alterations.
How the area around your home has developed
The best resources for this are maps. Some of these are available in our search room, while others are kept in store. Therefore, it is best when possible to make an appointment when we are open again.

Ordnance Survey map 1870-1879
1870 Ordnance Survey Map showing Tooting Broadway
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1741 Roque Map showing Battersea

The most useful maps in terms of scale and accuracy are the ordnance survey maps. These are highly detailed – they show the shape of all structures accurately including houses, greenhouses, extensions, and outhouses.  While we are closed, the National Library of Scotland has an excellent online collection of ordnance survey maps for the whole of the UK – you can view this here.
Comparing these maps with the street directories can allow you to see the purpose of individual buildings. The street directories also tell you something about the socio-economic make up of the street, indicating the existence of trade and cottage industries in each street.
We rarely have photographs of individual buildings. But what we often have are photographs of streets. Some of our images are available on our online image library.  Not all of our images are available online – so if you cannot find the particular street you are looking for, please get in touch!

Stanbridge Road 1906
Stanbridge Road, 1906

Who has lived in your home?
Census returns are the best source for this. The census began in 1801. census returns from this period are of limited use to historians – they contain little information about the occupants, and do not record all occupants. From 1841 onwards, the census returns list all of the occupants of an address on the census night, including children, visitors, servants, lodgers, and tenants; and give their age, place of birth, and occupations.

1901 census Replingham Road a
From 1901 Census entry for Replingham Road

Because the information in census returns is sensitive, it is only released 100 years after the census was taken. We hold the census returns on microfilm or microfiche for the following years: 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, and 1901. The census returns of 1911 are available on ancestrylibrary.com, but are only searchable via person name.

However, Ancestry can be used in conjunction with the electoral register to give you the return of the whole address. The census returns are available in the search room.
The electoral registers will tell you who was eligible to vote at the address.  We hold electoral registers for Battersea from 1885-2001, and from the rest of the borough from 1892-1900; 1907-2001. Electoral registers were not produced for the wartime years 1916-1917 and 1940-1944.

We hope this inspires you to visit when we are open again – we miss you!  For futher updates, check our website and follow us on Twitter @Better_WHS.  If you have any enquiries in the meantime, do get in touch at Heritage@gll.org – we love hearing from you!