December 2004 – Bulletin 152
Photographic Record Project – D Roe
The Oxford Movement in Mitcham – R A M Scott
A War-time Childhood in Raynes Park – I Lawrence
William Nicholson – J A Goodman & R Ninnis
Wandle in Literature: Camden, Drayton, Pope – J A Goodman
A Conundrum from the Past – L Green
Rhodes-Moorhouse and Whalley – J A Goodman
A writing family of Cannon Hill (Edna O’Brien) – J A Goodman
and much more
PRESIDENT: J Scott McCracken BA FSA MIFA PRESIDENT: J Scott McCracken BA FSA MIFA
VICE PRESIDENTS: Viscountess Hanworth, Lionel Green and William Rudd
BULLETIN NO. 152CHAIRMAN: Peter Hopkins DECEMBER 2004
Saturday 4 December 2.30pm Morden Baptist Church
‘sherlock Holmes in Streatham.
John Brown, who produces the useful Local History Reprints series, is a well-known member
of and speaker to the Streatham Society, and is also one of our own members. The subject he
has chosen certainly sounds intriguing!
Morden Baptist Church is in Morden town centre, on the corner of Crown Lane and Grasmere
Saturday 15 January 2.30pm Martin Way Methodist Church Hall
.The History and Development of the London Underground.
Neil Lloyd’s slide talk on this big subject will include explanations of the presence of
cars at Baker Street; the brick wall of Leinster Gardens; and the Metropolitan Railway’s
into the building industry!
Martin Way Methodist Church is a 10-minute walk from Morden town centre.
It is on bus routes 164 and 413, and there is a car-park.
Saturday 5 February 2.30pm Mitcham Library Hall
.Brickwork in Surrey to 1850.
A .hands-on. expert on bricks of all periods, Ian West BSc ARICS will give an illustrated talk
on the history of the manufacture and the use of bricks in Surrey until the early Victorian
Mitcham Library is in London Road and is served by many bus routes. There is a small car-park.
Monday 28 February 7.00 for 7.15pm Park Place, Commonside West, Mitcham
Annual Dinner for Members and Guests
Please see enclosed application form
Saturday 5 March 2.30pm Martin Way Methodist Church Hall
.The Evolution of the English Manorial System.
A fully illustrated talk by Lieutenant-Colonel J W Molyneux-Child, himself a lord of the
manor. He will relate the story of the English manor from its beginnings, and describe how
some ancient traditions are kept alive today.
See above for location of Martin Way Methodist Church.
The Society’s events are open to the general public, unless otherwise stated.
You are invited to make a donation to help with the Society’s running costs.
A VISIT TO DENNIS SEVERS. HOUSE, SPITALFIELDS
In September a group of 17 members of the Society enjoyed The Experience of visiting this
house, which is a
time capsule created by Dennis Severs, an artist who lived in the house in much the same way as
occupants might have done in the early 18th century.
Dennis Severs, who died in 1999 aged 51, was born in Southern California, and as a child
books and photographs the .English light., which was warmer and richer than the clear light of
his home country.
He was determined to come to England and discover it for himself. Through watching old black-
adaptations of Dickens. stories he also became fascinated with the English way of life of that
He first visited England in 1965, and then in 1967 when only 18 he came to live here as a
student, and it was .love
at first sight.!
Once settled here he looked for a house of his own, and also commenced collecting objects from
and salerooms to put in his house.
He bought 18 Folgate Street in 1979, not with the object of restoring it, but to bring it to
life as his home. Armed
with a candle, chamberpot and bed-roll he moved in and started sleeping in each of its ten
rooms, to get the feel
of the place. He then set out over time to create a different mood or atmosphere for each room,
to reflect the spirit
of the various ages.
He decided to create one room at a time, starting with the basement kitchen, which still
contained an original
dresser, fireplace, lead plumbing and sash windows.
Gradually the objects collected over the years were positioned on walls, dresser and table.
Dennis Severs, as a
foreigner in a host country, could not apply for renovation grants, and had very little money.
Food was often
found abandoned by the stalls in the nearby market, and fires made with wood from pallets left
behind by the
stallholders. Friends would come along and stay and enjoy the .experience., and often lend a
hand with household
Eventually Dennis decided to invent a family of Huguenot silk-weavers by the name of Gervais .
to Jervis . to be the imagined inhabitants of the house. As you visit each room in turn, lit by
fire and candlelight,
you are invited to look and listen for evidence of the Jervis family. In the kitchen there is
food on the kitchen table
waiting to be cooked, the remains of a half-eaten meal by the sink and freshly baked cakes on
Listen and you may hear creaking floorboards when no-one is present, chiming clocks, and a
faint sound of
muffled voices in another room. This is what Dennis Severs called a ‘still Life Drama..
From the kitchen and cellar in the basement the visitor passes upwards through the house to
dining-rooms and bedrooms, all furnished with the appropriate furniture, ornaments and
paintings, and all with
evidence of and clues to the existence of the fictional family, the Jervises.
One particularly atmospheric room is the Smoking Room, where
the ‘still Life Drama. re-enacts a version of Hogarth’s picture
A Modern Midnight Conversation, which is on the wall above the
fireplace. Smashed glasses litter the hearth. Opposite the painting
is the table with the remains of the previous night’s drinking for all
to see. The punchbowls, the upturned glasses, the puddle of wax
from the fallen candlesticks are all there.
We as visitors are invited to tour this house as respectful observers,
and silence is expected as you move slowly from floor to floor
drinking in the atmosphere. The house has not been set up as a
heritage site, nor a museum, but as a unique experience which
requires you, the visitor, to be transported into another world . if
you want to be!
As Dennis Severs says at the end of his book,
.And, dear visitor, take this as the motto of the house:
AUT VISUM AUT NON!
(Oh, for God’s sake!) You either see it or you don’t..
[For those wishing to visit 18 Folgate Street, it is open to the public on the first and
third Sundays of the month 2.00-5.00pm. £8 per head. Tel: (020) 7247 4013.
Dennis Severs. book 18 Folgate Street published by Vintage and Chatto
& Windus 2001 costs £10.99 in paperback.] Sheila Harris Photograph by Desmond Bazley
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 152 . DECEMBER 2004 . PAGE 2
VISIT TO THE MORDEN MOSQUE
On Thursday 7 October no fewer than 35 members and friends of the Society met in London Road
Baital Futuh mosque. The striking complex of buildings was gleaming beneath the blue sky of a
morning as we were greeted by Mr Nasser Khan, Vice-President of the UK branch of the Ahmadiyya
Association. He was our principal guide for our tour, though three of his colleagues also
accompanied us, including
the imam, who is from Ghana. We learned that, though there are Ahmadiyya communities in 170
strongest support is in the Indian sub-continent and in Africa. We were also told (but not by
him) that Nasser
Khan had given up his job, and three years of his life, to see the Morden project through. It
inaugurated in October 2003.
The Ahmadiyya are a branch of Islam who follow the teachings of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad
who was born in Qadiyan in rural Punjab, and whom they believe to be the true Messiah. As a
small sect within
Islam they often encounter prejudice, but they are a peace-loving community with a creed of
.Love for All,
Hatred for None., and for them the jihad, or .holy war., is one of example and teaching, not
The Morden building, once a ‘state of the art. bottling plant for Express Dairies, on a big
site next to Morden
South station, had been standing empty for years when acquired by the Ahmadiyya. Inevitably the
suffered, and there was also a large squatter population of pigeons. However the structure was
built and remained sound, and its new owners have most ingeniously adapted the old building to
for all kinds of use. The mosque itself is new.
At Muslim gatherings, such as weddings, it is the custom that men and women eat separately. So
there is a very
large dining-hall for women and one not quite as large for men! A third hall, marked out with
courts, also has a stage, and is used for a variety of activities. This last is at basement
level, where there is also a
large library under construction, and where the old plant-room serves its original function,
but with more
sophisticated machinery nowadays. There are schoolrooms too where children from the age of
about six learn to
recite the Qur.an in classical Arabic. Higher up in the building a new mezzanine floor has been
inserted, but also
some of the old accommodation has taken on a new life, and there is now ample space for
classes and conferences.
No expense has been spared on the mosque, which is behind the old dairy buildings. We all, I am
sure, found it
a most beautiful and impressive building . very simple, and very well thought out. One of the
minarets is the old
works chimney ingeniously disguised, but the rest is entirely new. (The minarets are symbolic
only . they are not
used to summon people to prayers.) It is mainly clad in reconstituted marble, and the dome is
stainless steel. The approach is up a wide flight of steps, beside which water flows over a
inscription . a reminder of the streams of Paradise.
The women’s prayer hall is below ground, and, as there is a high water-table in the locality,
the building team
faced some technical problems . but these were solved. It receives daylight, but preserves
privacy, by means of
hi-tech translucent plastic wall panels at ground level. The floor is covered with deep carpet
(American) in broad
stripes of restful green, and at one side, behind a glass wall, is a crèche. The men’s prayer
hall above has as its
ceiling the great dome with windows all round. The same striped carpet is on the floor, so that
range themselves tidily. The mihrab, a simply decorated niche, indicates the direction of
Mecca. Off the vestibules
of the building are beautifully equipped washrooms for the worshippers, who are required to
Friday prayers from the mosque are transmitted by television all
round the world, with simultaneous translation into seven
languages. The translation room is at the London Mosque in
Gressenhall Road, Southfields. This opened in 1924, its
construction having been funded by women of the Ahmaddiya
movement, many of whom contributed their jewellery to the cause.
One of the traditions of the Ahmaddiya is loyalty to and support
of the community in which they live, and in Morden they are keen
to be friendly and considerate neighbours. We were certainly made
most welcome, our questions were fully answered and we felt that
our interest was valued. At the end of our visit there was a lavish
spread of sweet and savoury nibbles, soft drinks and tea, before
we were taken to the comprehensive bookshop near the gate. We
finally came away impressed, touched, and better informed. Judith Goodman
Photograph by Desmond Bazley
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 152 . DECEMBER 2004 . PAGE 3
.THE MILLS AND GARDENS OF THE UPPER WANDLE’
There was a large audience for John Phillips, Sutton’s Heritage
Projects Officer, when he spoke to us in October. He explained that
the retreat of the Ice Age had shaped the River Wandle. This had an
influence on the flow of the river, making it ideal for the numerous
mills which over the years have lined the river.
Grand houses also grew up along the Wandle. Carew Manor was
built in the 16th century. As with other houses along the Wandle, Carew
utilised the water in the landscaping of water gardens. A moat once
surrounded it. In the 18th century the moat was filled in and replaced
by a lake in front of the house. There was also a lake at the back.
Carshalton village had examples of houses where the water had been
used in landscaping. Lower Pond formed part of the landscape of Stone
Court (now the Grove Park). Sir John Fellowes laid out formal gardens
around Carshalton House (now St Philomena’s School). Water was used
in Carshalton Park to form the grotto canal. As the name suggests the
canal (now usually dry) leads from a once elaborately decorated grotto.
The upper Wandle was home to a variety of mills. For instance there
were several leather mills along the river. At Butter Hill and Beddington
there were snuff mills. One of the most interesting mill owners was
William Kilburn. His mill was in London Road, Wallington, opposite
The Grange. He experimented with natural dyes and produced some
beautifully patterned printed fabrics. Examples of his work can be seen
in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Advances in technology were the reason for the decline of the Wandle
mills. The coming of the steam engine meant that there was no longer
any need for water power.
John Phillips had some excellent slides and, entirely without notes, gave us a fascinating and
PHOTOGRAPHIC RECORD PROJECT
I am pleased to report that following discussion at a special meeting on October 29, and
agreement to the
proposal at the AGM, the Society has agreed to proceed with a Photographic Record Project. The
(1) To establish and archive a photographic record of buildings, scenes, activities, events,
people, etc. in the
Society’s area of interest, which will be of value to current and future local historians and
members of the
Society. The Surrey History Centre has kindly agreed to accept photographs for professional
(2) To keep copies of the photographs for perusal by members of the Society, e.g. in albums at
and for possible use in exhibitions, Society publications, etc.
(3) To liaise with other organizations and individuals to encourage or persuade them to provide
photographs of potential historical interest for archiving.
These objectives are a challenge, and it remains to be seen whether they can all be achieved!
Much depends on
the efforts of members who will take photographs . thanks to those who have have volunteered so
Society has established a budget to cover the costs of film, and the printing and storage of
photographs. We have
set up a Committee to manage the project, chaired by myself, and the first tasks are to
identify and prioritize the
subjects to be photographed, and to establish the procedures for recording, cataloguing and
One priority will be to record subjects that are known to be about to disappear, or events that
will not recur, so we
welcome information on these cases . e.g. locations to be re-developed, .one-off. future
events, a retail or
industrial activity of historical interest that is coming to an end. Our volunteer
photographers all live in the
Merton/Morden area, and we would welcome the involvement of somebody who lives in the Mitcham
would be better qualified to identify subjects of interest in Mitcham.
If any members have photographs that they are prepared to lend or donate for purposes of
telephone me, so that we can make arrangements to receive the photographs along with as much
possible about the location, the date, etc. Don’t forget, photographs of the local area and its
taken in the last twenty years or so, as well as older ones, will be of value to the historians
of the future!
(Rectangle comment XPMUser
Carew Manor in a print of c.1830,
showing one end of the western lake
(Rectangle comment XPMUser
Black Swans at Culvers, CarshaltonIllustrated London News 27 Aug 1859 p.203
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 152 . DECEMBER 2004 . PAGE 4
TONY SCOTT relates the story of a family drama that had important and lasting implications for
spiritual life of Mitcham:
THE INFLUENCE OF THE OXFORD MOVEMENT IN MITCHAM
In the 1830s and 1840s a .wind of change. was blowing through the Anglican Church. It has been
a revival of the conservative, patristic, sacramental form of Anglican piety, and its immediate
cause was the
supposed menace to religion of the contemporary religious and political liberalism. It was
nurtured against a
background of the .Broad Church. theology, the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 and the Reform
1832. All of which were quite revolutionary for their time.
It is somewhat surprising that a religious revolution originating in faraway academic Oxford
should have had a
significant effect in Mitcham a decade or so later.
The start of the Oxford Movement, as the religious revival movement was called, is usually
ascribed to a
sermon preached on 14 July 1833 by John Keble from the pulpit of St Mary’s University Church in
Keble sought to arouse the Church to the dangers of the liberalism then thought to be
prevalent. This ideal was
taken up by other leading Anglicans in Oxford, notably Edward Pusey* and the vicar of St
Mary’s, John Henry
Newman. Newman published the first Tracts for the Times in September 1833, and by 1841 90
tracts had been
published, a large proportion coming from Newman’s own pen. Newman’s studies of the writings of
Fathers of the Church eventually led him to believe that the Catholic Church was the .One Fold
of Christ.. In
1843 he resigned his post as vicar of St Mary’s, and two years later became a Catholic. He was
ordained a priest
of the Oratorian order in Rome in 1847. On his return to England he founded the Birmingham
later, the one in Brompton Road, London.
In Mitcham at this time the Simpson family were pre-eminent. William Simpson (Jun.), born in
1819, was the
eldest son of William and Emily Simpson. Before her marriage the previous year his mother was
a member of the family who had been lords of the manor of Mitcham Canons since 1656. The role
of lord of the
manor fell to William (Sen.) upon the death of his brother-in-law in 1828.
The Simpson family were all members of the Anglican Church, and William (Jun.), the eldest son,
went up to
Trinity College, Cambridge. There he became interested in the Catholic faith, possibly as a
result of the Tracts
of the Oxford Movement. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1843, together with his
much to the disgust of his parents.
The next son, Richard, went up to Oriel College, Oxford, in 1839, where he must have heard
vicar of the University Church, preach virtually weekly. Richard Simpson graduated and became
clergyman of the Church of England. He returned to Mitcham in 1844 at the age of 24 to become
Mitcham, a post under the patronage of his parents. Probably as a result of his years at
Oxford, and contact with
Newman’s preaching, Richard Simpson resigned the living soon after Easter 1846, and within a
received into the Catholic Church, together with his wife. One can imagine the gossip and
the parish church in Mitcham at that time. Virtually immediately after his resignation Richard
and his wife left
Mitcham and embarked upon the .Grand Tour. of Europe. When they returned they set up home in
The youngest son, Robert, was born in 1825, and in 1842, at the age of 17, went up to St John’s
Oxford, where he too became influenced by the Oxford Movement, and Newman in particular. He
Catholic in 1845, the same year as Newman’s conversion. He left Oxford before graduation, and
studied for the
Catholic priesthood, subsequently being ordained in Rome in 1849.
The only daughter of William and Emily Simpson, and the youngest of the family, was also named
was received into the Catholic Church in 1848 at the age of 22. Four years later she entered
convent at Taunton, where she remained until her death in 1883. Her parents stayed Anglican all
The Catholics had further reason to thank the Simpsons and the Oxford Movement.
In 1853 William Simpson (Jun.) and his wife Winifred set up a small school and a
Catholic Mass centre in their house, Elm Lodge, Cricket Green. It is from this that
the present SS Peter and Paul Catholic church and the school of the same name at
the Cricket Green have grown. The site of the original chapel, which is now a
small part of the present school site, was donated by William Simpson (Jun.) in
1861, and the site of the present church was given by Winifred Simpson in 1880.
*For an account of Edward Pusey as a young schoolboy see Lord Monson’s
Schooldays: Reminiscences of Mitcham 1804-1809 published by this Society.
John Henry Newman preaching at St Mary’s church, Oxford 1841
(Picture taken from S Foister Cardinal Newman 1801-90 National Portrait Gallery 1990)
(Rectangle comment XPMUser
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 152 . DECEMBER 2004 . PAGE 5
LOCAL HISTORY WORKSHOP
Friday 13 August. Five present. Peter Hopkins in the chair
!!!!!Lionel Green, who is working on his book on Merton priory, discussed, mainly with Cyril
many courts there were at the priory. It was agreed that there were three . Great Court, Middle
Still on the subject of the priory, Cyril Maidment had brought along for discussion the 1866
revision of the
1805 Merton Abbey estate map (copy in the Local Studies Centre). Lionel and Peter joined in.
!!!!!Judith Goodman reported on the John Innes centenary celebrations in Merton Park [see
In a 19th-century history of British ceramics (a subject she is interested in) she had by
chance come across the
full text of the William Knight indenture of 1690 relating to .Merton Mill.. William Knight was
in St Botolph without Aldgate, London. Judith thought that the fact that the mill was then
being used .for
Grinding Colours for the Glazeing of White Ware. would have meant special grindstones, as these
mineral materials. She didn’t know of any other Wandle mills that had been used for this
!!!!!Don Fleming pointed out that on this very day 300 years ago the battle of Blenheim was
fought, and won by
John Spencer Churchill, Duke of Marlborough. Therefore his subject would be Lady Diana
who, before her first marriage, was Lady Diana Spencer. The Spencers always named the first
girl child of
each generation Diana. Lady Di, as she was known, lived for a time in the late 18th century at
where she may have painted or drawn scenes of Mitcham? She died in 1808 at Richmond, where she
house. She was 73.
!!!!!Peter Hopkins had found references in the account rolls of the Rectory of Morden, among
Abbey muniments, to .Estbury. and .the manor of Westbury., both within the medieval parish.
names appear from the middle of the 14th century. Peter suggested that .Estbury. would appear
to be that part
of Mordenwhich was within the manor that, later that century, became known as Ravensbury..The
Westbury. could only be the Abbey’s manor of Morden. There is also mention of .the court of the
Morden., referring to Merton Priory’s Spital estate between Green Lane and modern Farm Road
in question being Spital Farm).
THE THREE KINGS . from the postbag
Lionel Green has another suggestion for the derivation of this pub name [seeBulletin No.151
page 4]. The year
1066 was known as theYear of the Three Kings! What an inn sign that would make . Edward, Harold
John Pile cites Larwood and Hotten’s English Inn Signs of 1866 (rev. 1951), which links signs
with Three Kings, and the Magi.
THE NATIONAL MONUMENTS RECORD REVIEW
In the autumn of 2003 we were sent a long and very detailed questionnaire by the National
which is part of English Heritage. They were seeking the views of a whole range of societies,
other bodies, and
also some individuals, about the future priorities of the NMR. Committee members took some time
to fill in their responses, which we averaged out (there was quite a range) and returned. And
now we have been
sent a 36-page brochure and a letter from none other than Sir Neil Cossons, Chairman of English
which he thanks us for participating in the survey, to which there had been 898 responses.
The brochure outlines the NMR Review’s conclusions and recommendations. The proposed mission
NMR is for it to be put in place as the national archive of England’s historic environment.
Online access to
archives, resources and services; partnership with other bodies, including the voluntary
sector; education at all
levels; and a positive approach to marketing are all seen as key areas to be developed.
The full report is at www.NMRreview.org or can be obtained from Pauline Gallaher, NMR, English
Kemble Drive, SWINDON, SN2 2GZ.
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 152 . DECEMBER 2004 . PAGE 6
LOCAL HISTORY WORKSHOP
Friday 8 October. Five present. Cyril Maidment in the chair.
!!!!!Judith Goodman had recently bought a copy of W G
Bell’s Where London Sleeps: historical journeyings
into the suburbs (1926), which has an interesting
description of Merton Abbey of 80 years ago and a
brief account of Lieut.-Col. Bidder’s excavations,
together with a photograph.
She mentioned that there was to be a retrospective
exhibition at the Royal Academy of the work of Sir
William Nicholson, a one-time (admittedly brief)
resident of Mitcham [see page 11].
On the trail of sculptor R J Wyatt (1795-1850) she
had been to Leeds to see an unpublished thesis on the
life and work of this neo-Classical sculptor with
Merton connections . he carved the Smith monument
in St Mary’s church, and his father owned Merton
Cottage. Wyatt had been born when the family was in
Oxford Street, next door to the Pantheon (site of a
Marks and Spencer store).
!!!!!Peter Hopkins had brought along a letter from Richard Milward to the local press about
and its persistent myths, in which he pointed out – once again – that it is a mid-18th-century
earlier); it was two houses until well into the 20th century; it was never lived in by the
Penningtons; and it
was not visited by the Prince of Wales in 1850. At least the owners no longer claimed that
Nelson and Lady
Hamilton used to visit!
Peter would be attending a session at Surrey History Centre on 16 October called .Manorial
Unmasked., which he expected to find useful. John Pile, a postal member, but once of Morden,
Peter had also been mapping properties in Surrey linked with Merton Priory, both those
and others further afield.
There had been an e-mail enquiry to St Mary’s Church, Merton Park, from a descendant of Sir
Burnett, of gin fame, and once of Morden Hall, and he had been able to pass on some references.
It was the history of her own house in Cannon Hill Lane that Sheila Harris spoke about. An
had bought a batch of photos at a car-boot sale, which included some, dated 1955, of the back
of the house
and the garden, and had taken the trouble to send them to her. And she herself had found in the
two old letters which cast a rather shameful light on the personal life of one past resident!
unusual in design, dates from 1913 and stood surrounded only by fields for more than a decade,
Whatley estate was built.
!!!!!Cyril Maidment introduced a discussion about the exact nature and location of the tunnel
passage. that connected Nelson’s Merton Place with its pleasure grounds on the other side of
road (see Peter Hopkins. A History of Lord Nelson’s Merton Place pp.31-2). Or were there two?
to one being .made. later on . or it could have been a rebuild. References in Chamberlain,
Laughton etc (all
much later, of course) suggested that it slanted under the main road from SW to NE, towards
!!!!!Bill Rudd spoke about distinguished correspondents from Te Awamutu, New Zealand, who are
of Richard and Eleanor Howard, once of Mitcham, but whose monument is in Morden. He had
sent them Monty’s book Textile Bleaching and Printing in Mitcham and Merton, which has much to
about the Howards. They had also been helped by Rosemary Turner, and her late husband Steve, of
Surrey Family History Society. Bill had now met the New Zealanders and taken them to Richard
Wandle Villa, at Phipps Bridge, which they had photographed.
Dates of next workshops: Fridays 28 January and 17 March at 7.30pm at Wandle Industrial Museum.
(Rectangle comment XPMUser
Uncovering the north wall of the churchfrom Where London Sleeps (1926)
The man in the picture is probably Col. Bidder’s gardener.
One of the stone coffins is also visible.
All are welcome to attend.
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 152 . DECEMBER 2004 . PAGE 7
DR IAN LAWRENCE, who now lives in Dorset, has sent us his memories of
A WAR-TIME CHILDHOOD IN RAYNES PARK
In Evelyn Jowett’s admirable Raynes Park – A Social History (Merton Historical Society, 1987)
there is a gap
between chapter 9 (.The inter-war years, 1919-1939.) and chapter 10 (.Epilogue: 1945 and
after.). It is, perhaps,
a gap which needs filling, covering as it does a period of intense social upheaval, physical
environmental destruction. Personal memories of my childhood in Raynes Park could fill only a
tiny element of
such a chapter, but may help to suggest some of the themes which further local history research
My family lived in a house in what is now often called .The Apostles., although this was a
used in the 1940s. These twelve streets running between Kingston Road and Approach Road in the
(what later became) Bushey Road in the south had mostly been started between 1890 and 1907 and
were at that
time collectively called the Bushey Mead Estate. By 1939 this was a well-established community
3000 and 4000 inhabitants. It was locally served by a variety of small shops in Kingston Road
Road which included (see Kelly’s 1938 Directory) grocers, greengrocers, butchers, tobacconists
combined with confectioners and newsagents), a post office, boot repairers, bakers,
drapers, clothiers, a wool shop, off-licences, a hair dresser, chemists, a dairy, a furnishing
store, an optician, a
doctors. surgery and a welfare centre or .clinic. as we called it. There were also .dining
rooms. and .tea rooms.
(not cafés) available and at least two laundries. Throughout the war being able to walk (or
run) to local shops
within easy reach of our home was very important, particularly during the worst periods of
bombing. Milk and
coal were delivered to households, mostly by horse-drawn vehicles.
Food rationing meant that we had to register with certain shops for supplies, but there were
also serious wartime
shortages of goods that required more widespread searches. In addition to the shops on the
north side of the
railway line, there were also available the bigger shops in Wimbledon such as Ely’s and
by the 77a bus (via Merton) and the 604 trolley-bus along Worple Road. Ely’s was always
children because of its central cash-till system operated from each counter by aerial lines
carrying small containers
for cash and receipts. To me it seemed like a train set operating on the shop ceiling. The
attraction at Kennard’s
was a tea room with its own group of live instrumentalists, including for a time an all-female
band. There were
rarer trips to Kingston, but none, I believe, to Morden, less than a couple of miles away.
During the major London .blitz. of 1940-41 we mostly lived in just a couple of rooms during the
day and in an
Anderson air-raid shelter at night. This was situated at the bottom of our garden and equipped
with (I thought)
comfortable little beds, electric lights, a wireless (radio) and thermos flasks of hot drinks.
For me it was a
comfort zone in which I (apparently) could sleep through anything. We were supplied with canvas
replace broken windows in the house and tape to cover the cracks. The windows were heavily
thick curtains every night, providing us with a degree of insulation. Air-raid wardens (the
checked that no light could be seen from the streets and of course there was no street lighting
vehicles were allowed only minimally bright head lights. Apart from public transport and
vehicles, much of Raynes Park was at times almost traffic-free and children could play in the
streets of the
Apostles in relative safety.
During the middle period of the war, bombing in the
south-west parts of London became more sporadic and
families tended to return to sleeping in their houses. Many
children who had been evacuated to country districts
returned to Raynes Park and some notion of normality
was reinstated. I stayed with my parents throughout the
war but my school life was erratic. I was a pupil at Raynes
Park Council School situated in Whatley Avenue. This
was the school that had been built in 1909 in a (then)
green-site area at the end of Botsford Road. It was a three-
tier school with separate entrances to infant, junior and
senior sections. While I was there the infants and juniors
were in classrooms on the ground floor and seniors (by
then only girls of 11-14) were on the upper floor and
quite separate. This was the school that was later re-named
as the Joseph Hood School and later still, the Merton
Adult Education Centre. We all called it the Whatley
(Rectangle comment XPMUser
Trams and trolley buses at Wimbledon in the 1940s
(Merton Local Studies Centre)
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 152 . DECEMBER 2004 . PAGE 8
Early in 1940 we had received the following handwritten Memorandum to Parents:
H.M. Evacuation Scheme: School Parties
The following is a list of articles that is recommended by the Government for each child to
Warm clothing and overcoat or rain-coat should be worn.
Gasmasks should be carried complete with box, in a small haversack (Lefevre’s, Wimbledon, will
supply at 6 pence, Woolworth’s also supply a useful article at 6 pence). I recommend wrapping
container in grease-proof paper in addition to the outer covering. Names may be stitched on
piece of tape.
In their luggage children should be supplied with the following change of clothing: GIRL – one
combinations or pair of knickers, one bodice, two pairs stockings or socks, handkerchiefs,
cardigan. BOY One
vest, one shirt with collar, one pair of pants, one pullover or jersey, one pair of knickers
or short trousers], handkerchiefs, two pairs of socks or stockings. ADDITIONAL FOR ALL – Night
comb, plimsolls, towel, soap, face-cloth, toothbrush, if possible, change of shoes.
These things should be contained in a rucksack or haversack, leaving the arms free and avoiding
blankets or cutlery to be taken.
FOOD: The following is recommended for the day of evacuation: Sandwiches (egg or cheese),
nuts or seedless raisins, biscuits, barley sugar sweets rather than chocolate, apple, orange.
No bottles should
6. Stamped addressed postcard (to be forwarded after arrival).
One can only imagine the turbulence that this letter created. The emotional trauma may have
been greater for
the parents than the children for some of whom it may have seemed like a great adventure. But,
Waller has recently described in London 1945, the family dislocation caused by the evacuation
widespread, deeply felt and often long-lasting. For those that remained at school, the
classrooms became half
empty, classes were amalgamated and the lessons were often interrupted by the air-raid sirens
when we would
be guided down to the long concrete shelters in the school playing field. Strangely enough,
were usually a source of pleasure rather than terror, for our teacher used to read to us in the
semi-darkness – I
especially remember being enthralled with my first encounter with The Wind in the Willows. We
did, of course,
have to take our gasmasks with us. On one earlier occasion the school wrote to all parents as
The SURREY EDUCATION COMMITTEE have decided that in the children’s interest they should be
given Gas-Respirator drill in school. This is purely a precautionary measure and the co-
Parents is asked in the following ways:
Please allow the children to bring their gas-masks complete with container to school tomorrow
Please impress on the children the need to use every care when carrying the mask to and from
Kindly see that the child’s name is clearly marked on the top of the container: the mask itself
not be marked.
By 1942-43 the classrooms were all full again, often with 40 children to a class. It was only
in the autumn of
1944 that disruption returned to the school, with the arrival of V1 and V2 rockets which caused
a lot of parents
to keep their children at home. Raynes Park was, however, spared destruction on anything like
the scale that
London’s eastern boroughs had to endure and so life appeared to continue on much the same lines
previous two years. By this stage I was a very enthusiastic cinema-goer. For my parents, the
cinema seemed to
offer the only escape from an intensely pressured way of life, and so I was taken to the cinema
often twice a
week. The small Rialto cinema (at the corner of Pepys Road) was our .local., with a regular
change of programme
on Mondays and Thursdays. The air-raid alarm was situated just opposite the cinema and if it
the showing of a film a notice would appear in the middle of the screen informing us that an
.air raid was taking
place.. The format was usually a main film preceded by a news bulletin and a .B. film. They
were nearly all in
black and white, with occasional Technicolor films from the US, including the Disney fantasies
younger audiences. My own favourites were the original Tarzan black-and-whites which my
and I would dissect for weeks on end. For our parents there were filmstars such as Shirley
Power, Claude Rains, Myrna Loy, Margaret Lockwood, Deanna Durbin, Robert Taylor, Hedy Lamarr
Grant. Within relatively easy reach were also the Regal, Elite, Odeon and King’s Palace in
Wimbledon, and the
big Odeon at Shannon Corner.
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 152 . DECEMBER 2004 . PAGE 9
During the quieter periods of the war we made good use of the many open spaces that Raynes Park
had to offer. On the south side of Bushey Road (or the .Arterial. as it was often called) there
was easy access to
playing fields such as Prince George’s, Joseph Hood and Messines and to Cannon Hill Common
where I could
float my boat on the lake and watch the ducks and swans. Before the war Cannon Hill had also
delightful tea-room or pavilion in the middle of its well-cut grassy slopes, but this probably
closed sometime in
1940. In the northeast corner of Prince George’s (where the sports centre is now situated)
there was an Anti-
Aircraft (.ack-ack.) Battery with rapid-firing guns and search lights. It was very active
during the blitz and we
thought of it as our own personal defence system. We were also made aware of train-mounted
through Raynes Park Station at times.
Wimbledon Common added much wider and wilder expanses of open country. It had ponds (Rushmere,
Queensmere and Kingsmere), Caesar’s Camp and a windmill, all of which, in my narrow wartime
seemed like a wonderland. In the later years of the war my friends and I would go cycling there
for as long as
our parents would allow. Family outings on bicycles were also then a regular summer activity
and we shared
tandems with other families on trips as far as Box Hill. I suppose it could be argued that
plenty of outdoor
activity, combined with a diet cut down to its essentials (which included for me one-third of a
pint of school
milk daily), led to the creation of a fairly healthy generation. We certainly became generally
taller in later life
than our parents.
During 1944-45 the opportunities in secondary education created by the Butler 1944 Education
Act became a
challenge. My parents were offered many options: the new Secondary Moderns, Technical, Art or
schools in Wimbledon, and three grammar schools for boys, Rutlish, King’s Wimbledon or Raynes
It was the last of these that I joined in September 1945, then beginning only its eleventh year
of existence. From
my present perspective it still surprises me how little time it took for us to forget the war
and its many hardships.
What the 1945 intake could not take into account was the fact that many of our teachers had in
autumn just returned from active service overseas, perhaps after witnessing the most appalling
deprivation. To us everything seemed new and exciting, and even if rationing was to carry on
for another five
years, there were bright lights everywhere, cars in the streets, cricket at the Oval, holidays
at the seaside,
theatres reopening, the London Philharmonic once a month at Wimbledon Town Hall and all the
BOOKS FOR CHRISTMAS
Eric Montague’s latest Mitcham History is a companion volume to The Cricket Green, covering
Lower Green West. Chapters deal with the Green itself, The White Hart and the old buildings
adjoining it, the Cricketers, The
Vestry Hall and the fire brigade, the Sunday School and the National Schools, Hall Place, and
other old houses
around the Green. Readers are already familiar with Eric’s writing, so suffice it to say here
that at £4.80 to
members (£5.95 to others), it is available at meetings or by post from Peter Hopkins.
Two new books on Surrey’s history have recently been published. Roman Surrey by county
David Bird, is available from Tempus Publishing Ltd, The Mill, Brimscombe Port, Stroud,
GL5 2QG (01453 883300) at £17.99 + p&p. There are several matters of local relevance in the
traditional interpretation of the invasion of AD41 places the landing at Richborough in Kent,
followed by a
battle at a crossing of the Medway. However, it is possible to argue that the main landing was
in the area of the
Solent, and the famous river battle may have been on the Wey or the Wandle (p.23). On p.43,
the evidence for a Roman posting station at Merton. On p.50 he considers the significance of
flue-tiles found at
Merton which might suggest the prsence of a bath house and therefore perhaps an inn, unless it
building material from elsewhere! A little more support for the suggestion that the mound in
Morden Park may
have been a Roman burial mound comes from the identification of two other likely Roman barrows
line of Stane Street, at Ewell and at Pulborough in Sussex (p.134). David explores the
landscape and settlement in Chapter 6. Because of the high level of demand from London for fuel
and timber he
suggests that much of the London Clay region would have been used as managed woodland. Some of
and roadside settlements in clay area may have served as centres for the woodland industry.
The other recent Surrey book is Towards a New Stone Age: aspects of the Neolithic in south-east
edited by Jonathan Cotton and David Field, available from York Publishing Services Ltd, 64
Layerthorpe, York, YO31 7ZQ. at £28 + £3 p&p.
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 152 . DECEMBER 2004 . PAGE 10
WILLIAM NICHOLSON . OF MITCHAM
From 30 October to 23 January there is an exhibition called William Nicholson (1872-1949):
and Printmaker at the Royal Academy, the first major retrospective for more than 60 years of
this prolific but
elusive artist. Father of Ben Nicholson, and father-in-law of Ben’s wives, Winifred Nicholson
and Barbara Hepworth, he was the founder, with his first wife, painter Mabel Pryde, of a
dynasty of artists,
some of whom are better known today than he is. Perhaps this exhibition will re-establish his
As Eric Montague mentions in The Cricket Green (Merton Historical Society 2001) Nicholson lived
Elm Lodge, on the corner of the Green and London Road. He had eloped with and married Mabel
early in 1893,
and they had settled in Denham, near Bushey, where Ben, their first child, was born. Mabel’s
James joined them there, and he and Nicholson began a successful collaboration, as the
designing posters for plays and magazines. William and Mabel moved house more than once before
lease on Elm Lodge and moving in in 1897.
Mabel died in the .flu epidemic of 1918. William married again, but that marriage was not a
success, and the
couple parted. Marguerite Steen, a successful novelist in the 1930s, who became William’s lover
in his last
years, wrote a breezy biography of him in 1943. This is how she describes the Mitcham episode:
.Mabel, enjoying herself immensely, found the house, and one day brought him the lease, which
signed for five years. He was hardly conscious that the furniture was being carted out under
that he had only a chair and a table to work upon, when she informed him that the new house was
and that William was to catch an afternoon train, which she would meet, and take him to the new
.He missed the train, got involved with other matters, and ended by catching the last train,
which got in
at midnight of a black night, pouring with rain. His only companion in the railway carriage was
cheerful drunk, who declared he knew every inch of the common, and would show William the way;
after they had been stumbling about in the dark for something like an hour, and were soaked to
William’s confidence in his escort died.
.He and Mabel had had a signal whistle at Bushey, and at last, worn out with wandering, with
beating into his face and running down the back of his neck, he stood still and sent the thin
ringing into the darkness. At last came a faint reply, and, William whistling, and Mabel
some black hour of the morning he stumbled into his new home.
.There were trees, and some garden, and the common to wheel the perambulator on; but in spite
five years. lease, they were out of it within a few months of Tony’s birth on April 23rd,
Nicholson declined to be considered for membership of the Royal Academy, but served for five
years as a
Trustee of the Tate Gallery, and was knighted in 1936, probably on account of his portraits .
he painted about
250. Nowadays however these are considered secondary in importance to his many landscapes, and
to his still-lifes. He also did book illustrations, and in 1926 he wrote and illustrated Clever
Bill, a delightful
story for small children (recently re-issued). But some of his most attractive work is the
early woodcuts, and
these were what he was producing while at Mitcham. His Alphabet and his
Jubilee portrait of Queen Victoria were published to acclaim. Many of these
images are still familiar today, as is his painting of Miss Jekyll’s Boots of
1920, though not all of us can instantly name their creator.
There is a nice little story about the
young Nicholson meeting Whistler
for the first time. The great man
complimented him on his picture of
Queen Victoria, and Nicholson
modestly said that she was a
.wonderful subject.. Whistler,
known for his quick wit, and not
averse to a pun, responded, .You
know, Her Majesty might say the
A was an artist, published 1898
same of you.!
(This is a portrait of himself as a
Do go to the Royal Academy and get pavement artist)
to know this appealing and
N.B. There is a new biography by
Sanford Schwartz called William
Judith Goodman and Ray Ninnis Nicholson, Yale University Press,
(The authors separately but simultaneously thought a piece about Nicholson was timely.) New
Haven and London, 2004.
(Rectangle comment XPMUser
Queen Victoria, published 1897
(Rectangle comment XPMUser
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 152 . DECEMBER 2004 . PAGE 11
THE WANDLE IN LITERATURE . an occasional series by Judith Goodman
2. Camden, Drayton and Pope
William Camden (1551-1623) was educated at Christ’s Hospital, St Paul’s School and Oxford, and
undertook many years of antiquarian travel throughout much of the country. He became headmaster
Westminster School in 1593 and was Clarencieux King of Arms from 1597 until his death. His name
in that of the Camden chair of history at Oxford, which he founded, and that of the Camden
Society, which was
founded in 1838 to publish documents relating to the history and literature of this country and
with the Royal Historical Society. In 1586 Camden published the fruits of his antiquarian
labours as a long
prose work Britannia.1 He wrote, as was then customary for scholarly works, in Latin. There are
a few references
in this text to the Wandle, and for that purpose he latinised the name into Vandalis.
Apparently he was the first
to do so, but unfortunately this has led some people in later generations to imagine that an
original Roman name
had survived. Alas, this is not so. We do not know if the Romans had a name for this river at
all. Hlida burna or
hidebourne it was to the Saxons, and probably not until the 16th century did the Wandle acquire
name, which appears to be a back-formation from the name of Wandsworth.
Sadly, from our point of view, Camden did not really have much to say about the Wandle. As
Richard Gough in 1789 he wrote:
.The clear little river Wandle, full of excellent trouts, rises not far from [Cuddington] at
Cashalton, and passing
by Morden leaves on its west bank Merton, situate in a most fruitful spot .“
.The Wandle is after [Carshalton] increased from the east by a little stream rising at Croydon
And he mentions .Wibbandune, now commonly called Wimbledon. as standing on the west bank, as
well as the
.little town of Wandlesworth. at the mouth.
Britannia was reprinted several times in Camden’s lifetime, the sixth, greatly enlarged edition
1607. Though it was a prose work, it contained some fragments of an anonymous poem De Connubio
Isis (.Of the marriage of the Thame and the Isis.), which is now considered certainly to have
been written by
Camden himself.2 Interestingly, Edmund Spenser (c.1552-99) had planned by 1580 an Epithalamion
( a poetic dissertation on the .marriage. of the Thames), but this had not materialised.3
Not long after the publication of Britannia there appeared what the Oxford Companion to English
calls the .great topographical poem on England.. This was Poly-Olbion by Michael Drayton (1563
which was published in instalments between 1612 and 1622. Drayton was only one of several
writers to have
read and been inspired by Camden’s work. The Wandle duly makes its appearance, but now in
.The Wandal commeth in, the Moles beloved
So amiable, faire, so pure, so delicate,
So plump, so full, so fresh, her eyes so
And first unto her Lord [the Thames], at
Wandsworth doth appeare,
That in the goodly Court, of their great
There might no other speech be had amongst
But only of this Nymph, sweet Wandal, what
Of her complection, grace, and how her selfe
All of which is very flattering to our little local
Part of a map that accompanied
the first edition of Poly-Olbion
1 S Piggott .William Camden and the Britannia., British Academy
Proceedings Vol.37 (1951) pp.199-217 is an interesting discussion.
2 P Rogers .Windsor-Forest, Britannia and river poetry., Essays on
Pope CUP 1993 p.56
3 Rogers op. cit. citing J B Oruch, ‘spenser, Camden and the Poetic
Marriage of Rivers. Studies in Philology LXIV (1967) pp.606-24
(Rectangle comment XPMUser
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 152 . DECEMBER 2004 . PAGE 12
Alexander Pope (1688-1744) liked to make fun of antiquaries, but took some themes for his poem
Forest (1713) directly from Camden . and dignified the Wandle with the .Latin. name of
Vandalis, even though
he was writing in English. His only recorded comments on Drayton are disparaging, though
found several analogies in the river section of Windsor Forest to Drayton’s work.4 Compared
expansive and leisurely style Pope is pungent and crisp. Here is Pope’s Father Thames as a
classical river god
surrounded by his attendants:
.. First the famed authors of his ancient name,
The winding Isis, and the fruitful Thame:
The Kennet swift, for silver eels renown.d;
The Loddon slow, with verdant alders crown.d;
Cole, whose dark streams his flowery islands lave;
And chalky Wey, that rolls a milky wave;
The blue, transparent Vandalis appears;
The gulphy Lea his sedgy tresses rears;
And sullen Mole, that hides his diving flood;
And silent Darent, stain.d with Danish blood..
Pope has a more ambitious aim than his predecessors. In this very royalist poem he piles on the
detail as the swelling Thames rolls grandly towards the sea . and the Thames is the symbol of a
What could have been just a pastoral poem becomes a propagandist tribute to Queen Anne and her
4 Rogers op.cit p.55.
LIONEL GREEN has discovered
A CONUNDRUM FROM THE PAST
The following story has been extracted from a letter dated 18 April 1963 from our first
President, Colonel H F
Bidder, to Miss Evelyn Jowett, our first Secretary. He records that, while he was conducting
excavations on the site of Merton priory (1922-25), he went to stay with his wife’s cousin
Arthur Forman in
Scotland. The Formans had been practising a form of planchette called Ouija, whereby the
letters of the alphabet
are placed in a circle on a smooth table-top, A wineglass is placed upside down in the centre
and two or three
people place a finger on the foot of the glass.
The colonel and Arthur Forman guided the glass, whilst Vivian, the colonel’s wife, wrote down
the letters to
which the glass moved as they called them out. To make the planchette work, a subject has to be
questions addressed to the wineglass. If it reacts you find your finger being carried by the
glass, first in circles
and then to a letter.
The subject chosen by the colonel was, not unnaturally, Merton priory, and he asked, .Was there
that knew it?. Apparently the Ouija dislikes being stumped, and the answer was .Yes.! He then
questions about the buildings, and received vague but not wholly inappropriate answers. He then
was the Rule of the priory?., hoping to receive the reply that it was Augustinian. .. The glass
whizzed to letter
after letter, but appeared to be talking nonsense.. Colonel Bidder did spot the word lex, and
he addressed it
severely and asked for a repeat. .The glass started off at a great pace and we called out the
letters which Vivian
wrote down. I was very disappointed as it appeared to be talking nonsense again. But when we
came to examine
Vivian’s script the letters appeared in this order:
.Rex est Rex, et est Magister;
Hic est Lex, geret bene semper..
[The King is King, and he is Master
This is the Law; it always sustains well.]
The colonel states that he was certain he had nothing to do with directing the glass
consciously and that Arthur
Forman was not in the least a classical scholar and, conscious or unconscious, could not have
double rhyming couplet.
.It must, I think, have been invented by my subconscious self . rather cleverly, for it is very
close in form to
couplets on medieval tombs. But if it was my subconscious self that had taken charge, it was
informed. It had apparently thought that the Rule asked for was some sort of tag for the
canons. guidance, and
had invented this very plausible one on the old lines. The sentiment, I should think, was about
the last that
anyone connected with the priory at the time of the Dissolution would have expressed. I can’t
couplet had come into existence before. I certainly had never met it and I cannot imagine the
would have called it forth, other than Ouija’s mistaken view of the question’s meaning. It is
odd that the
subconscious should have access to parts of one’s equipment, and not to other parts..
Colonel Bidder was keen that this correspondence be put among the records of Merton.
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 152 . DECEMBER 2004 . PAGE 13
Recently I was devising a local history walk for the Sutton/Wandle Valley branch of the
The route I planned included a circuitous stretch between Morden Recreation Ground and Morden
way of the footpath past the allotments, taking us past Rhodes Moorhouse Court. Why and whence
the name, I
wondered? So, of course, I asked Bill Rudd.
This is what I learned.
These dwellings are part of the post-war extensions to the Haig Homes development for past
members of the RAF.
Flying-Officer William Henry Rhodes-Moorhouse was a peace-time member of the Auxiliary Air
Force, and was
with 601 Squadron, based at Tangmere, by July 1940. His outstanding fighting record including
a Junkers 88, a Dornier 17 and two Messerschmidt Bf 109, and a half-share in destroying two
Dornier 17 and a
Heinkel 111. He had already won the Distinguished Flying Cross. Then on the 6th September there
was a heavy
Luftwaffe wave over the south-east, and Rhodes-Moorhouse’s Hurricane was shot down in flames
over Kent one
of 26 RAF losses that day. They were heavily outnumbered, though the Luftwaffe losses were much
The name Rhodes Moorhouse Court however recalls not only William Henry, but also his father. In
William Barnard Rhodes-Moorhouse had won the Victoria Cross for his raid on Courtrai on 26
April. He died
of his wounds shortly afterwards.
Bill lent me F K Mason’s encyclopaedic Battle Over Britain, published in 1969 by the McWhirter
which covers the campaign day by day, and from which he extracted the above details. (Note that
spells the name with a hyphen.)
. AND WALLEY
It is to be hoped that the plaque to Sgt Peter K Walley, another Battle of Britain pilot,
survives the building work
at Merton College. He died on 18 August 1940. As the inscription states: .It is recalled with
pride that, knowing
he was about to crash, Sgt Walley bravely managed to guide his badly damaged aircraft over
thereby safeguarding the lives of the residents.. Walley, who was another Hurricane pilot, was
with 615 Squadron
based at Kenley. He was only 20.
An interesting article in Contract Journal of 8 September 2004, called .Hole lot of digging.
Wates, the contractors for Countryside Properties at Merton Abbey, have to work in co-operation
archaeologists. It includes an interview with David Saxby of MoLAS, who has been involved
Interest in Thomas Becket, educated at Merton priory, never fades. A new version of Jean
is on for a season at Theatre Royal, Haymarket, with Dougray Scott and Jasper Britton in the
The current exhibition at Merton Heritage Centre, until the end of January, is called .Tavern
in the Town..
With so many of our pubs disappearing, this celebration of the .local. is timely. The Centre is
Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays 10 am . 4pm. Tel: 020 8640 9387
THE SOCIETY’s STORE
Thank you to those stalwart members who helped load the archaeological archive into the van to
go to the
London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre, and still had the energy to take the
shelving apart! The rest
of our collections are to be moved to the Morden Park changing rooms, Lower Morden Lane, on
December. We will be clearing our room at The Canons from 10am. As much helpas possible would
SOUTHWICK . A CORRECTION
John Pile has recently visited the village of Southwick, Hants, and reports that its church
remains in use for its
original purpose. The building that is now a computer centre, as noted in our coach trip report
in the September
Bulletin, may have been a chapel, or perhaps a school, in its previous life.
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 152 . DECEMBER 2004 . PAGE 14
A WRITING FAMILY OF CANNON HILL
In 1960 there was a literary sensation when a first novel by a young Irish woman became a
with instant translation into several foreign languages . though it was banned in Ireland
itself, and also, if I
remember correctly (I was there at the time), Australia. This was The Country Girls by Edna
O’Brien, and it was
written, in the space of three months (or even three weeks), in Merton . at 257 Cannon Hill
Lane, to be exact.
Edna was 28 and had been married for six years to Ernest Gébler, who was 17 years
her senior and also a writer. He had been born in Wolverhampton, but grew up in
Ireland, where his father, a Jewish Czech, established himself as a principal clarinet
in a new orchestra. After a novel based on his Dublin childhood Gébler published in
1950 The Plymouth Adventure, about the Pilgrim Fathers, which became first a
bestseller and then a successful film of the same name, starring Spencer Tracy. He
had lived for a while in America, where there had been a failed marriage and several
affairs, before returning to Ireland and buying a farm in County Wicklow. Here he
had met Edna, .a girl in rubber boots and a feathered hat.. Gébler had charm and
lean good looks. It seems likely that the attractive .older man., Mr Gentleman, who
lured young Irish girls away from their families, in Edna’s early novels is modelled
on him. HisA Week in the Country (1958), which he described as a .powerful, psycho-
political novel. had done moderately well.
The Géblers, with their two small boys, Carlo (he was also sometimes Carlos,
sometimes Karl) and Sacha, had only recently arrived in England. Edna later said
that The Country Girls wrote itself . while she cried at having left Ireland.
An article in the Merton & Morden News of 15 January 1960 records an interview
with the couple, prompted by the imminent publication of The Country Girls.
Incidentally, both the reporter and the Géblers seemed to think they lived in Morden.
In fact their part of Cannon Hill Lane is well inside Merton, as is all of Cannon Hill
Common, which their house faced.
The News reporter apparently addressed most of his questions to Gébler, whose fourth
novel The Love Investigator was due out in June. The reporter wrote, .Leaning
backwards in his chair, with a smile on his handsome features, Mr Gébler said, .Yes
. It too will be a best-seller…
Only at the end of the article does Edna’s voice emerge. She had nearly finished her second
novel, to be called
The Lonely Woman (it was published as The Lonely Girl, later as Girl With Green Eyes). And she
said to the
reporter, .Of course, most women novelists who are now well-known have been rich or childless.
They had a
room of their own and a private income .My time for writing is limited to an hour or two hours
in the morning.
Often there isn’t any time at all..
When I re-read the third in the sequence of Girls novels, Girls in Their Married Bliss, in
which the girls have
come to London, and in which the word .bliss. is ironic, I was so struck by the setting of
Chapter 2 that I wrote
to Edna O’Brien to ask if it was indeed an evocation of a frozen Cannon Hill Common in the
bleak winter of
1962-3, and she confirmed that it was.
The Géblers. marriage broke up. Edna left, but Ernest and the boys (mostly) stayed in Cannon
Hill Lane until
about 1970. The Love Investigatorand Ernest’s remaining books, and plays, had only moderate
success. He died
in 1998. Edna of course is very much alive and has gone on to write many more novels, plays and
Their younger son Sacha is an architect. But Carlo Gébler, like his parents, is a writer. He
has produced novels
and also several works of non-fiction, including, in 2000, a highly praised and very readable,
though often bleak,
memoir, called Father & I. The dedication is .For my mother.. Quite apart from its literary
merit, and its portrait
of an unusual, and difficult, man, it has considerable local history interest for us, with its
account of childhood
life in Merton and Morden in the 1960s, especially his memories of school (probably Hillcross)
and of Cannon
Hill Common, though . you are warned . these scenes are sometimes chilling.
Merton & Morden News 15 January 1960, p.6 Carlo
Electoral Registers Gébler
R Pine .No Saint in Ireland. (obituary of Ernest Gébler) The Guardian 24 February 1998
N Roe .Country Matters. (profile of Edna O’Brien) The Guardian 2 October 1999
C Gébler Father & I: A Memoir Little, Brown 2000
(Rectangle comment XPMUser
(Rectangle comment XPMUser
Ernest Gébler from TheGuardian 24 Feb 1998
Edna and Ernest from
Merton & Morden News
15 Jan 1960
(Rectangle comment XPMUser
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 152 . DECEMBER 2004 . PAGE 15
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MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY . BULLETIN 152 . DECEMBER 2004 . PAGE 16