Tag Archives: Blackheath

Suffragette City – Blackheath

Running Past has been celebrating the centenary of (some) women ‘getting the vote’, looking at some of the awe inspiring women that were involved in the struggle in Lewisham as well as a number of posts about the branch itself and area based actions within Lewisham, Hither Green and Lee.

Blackheath, as has already been covered, was active during the late 19th century attempts to advance women’s suffrage including bills by local resident  John Stuart Mill and various petitions including one in 1866. Blackheath also had a moderately active branch of the non-militant National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, which was looked at a few weeks ago. Also covered have been one of Blackheath’s most famous suffragette daughters, Emily Wilding Davison, who died after being trampled over by the King’s horse at the Derby in 1913; as well as May Billinghurst. May was a well-known, and visible, figure in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) through her invalid tricycle who was imprisoned for a pillar box outrage on Aberdeen Terrace. This post looks at other WSPU activity within Blackheath.

Perhaps the most important element of Blackheath for WSPU activity was the Heath itself and notably, Whitefield’s Mount. It offered the opportunity for large meetings in a location that was free.  The Lewisham WPSU branch was able to attract many of the leading lights nationally to speak on the Heath.

One of the early meetings there was in May 1908 (1). when Jeannie Bouvier, Caroline Townsend and Nancy Lightman (who spoke several times around Lewisham – including at Lee a couple of months later) (2). They should have spoken at Whitefield’s Mount but were attempts to take over crowd by a group of male Young Socialists – so the WSPU moved to a different ‘mound’ – it should be remembered that before World War 2 the surface of the Heath was much more serrated.

Greenwich resident, Edith New (left – on a Creative Commons) spoke on 17 May 1908 and kept ‘unruly elements’ in check by ‘her ready wit and cleverness of repartee’ in a meeting designed to help publicise a demonstration in Hyde Park that summer (3).  She was to smash windows at 10 Downing Street a couple of weeks later and, along with Mary Leigh (see below) was one of the first suffragettes imprisoned for damage like this.  By August 1908 ‘Votes for Women’ noted that attendances were growing for the meetings and that women of all walks of life were attending the Sunday afternoon meetings on the Heath. Winifred Auld was ‘quite a favourite’ as a speaker (5).

The first reports of organised disruption were reported in November where ‘rowdy elements’ tried to disrupt a meeting where Evelyn Sharp was the speaker on child labour to a crowd of 2,000 (7).

Helen Ogston, who used a whip to try to prevent her removal from the Albert Hall following heckling when Lloyd George refused to make a pledge on votes for women in early December 1908. She spoke about events at Albert Hall and gave a passionate defence of militant action a couple of weeks later at Whitefield’s Mount (8).

Mrs Tanner (pictured, centre above – (9)) spoke at a rally at Whitefield’s Mount on Sunday 20 June 1909 as a part of the building for the mass deputation to attempt to present a petition and speak to Asquith on 29 June 1909 (10).  She had been arrested the previous year during a suffragette ‘raid’ of the House of Commons. There were also meetings at Lee Green, which Eugenia Bouvier and Grove Park resident, Lizzie McKenzie, spoke at, as well as in Lewisham Market where a Miss Smith provided the encouragement which was to mark the start of more militant activity around Westminster. Over 100 were arrested including Emmeline Pankhurst.

Mrs Tanner, who was secretary of the Brixton WSPU, was the speaker again at the last Sunday afternoon meeting of 1909 on 21 November 1909. ‘Several thousand’ came to hear her and Eugenia Bouvier, although there were again attempts as disruption by ‘rowdy youths.’ (11)

The biggest meeting on the Heath, again at Whitefield’s Mount, was in the summer of 1912 when around 30,000 attended a rally attended by Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst, Flora Drummond and Georgina Brackenbury.

Christabel Pankhurst in her report of the rally made parallels with previous rallies of rebels on the Heath – particularly with the speech of John Ball delivered at Whitefield’s Mount.

Wat Tyler and his men were defeated by fraud. They went home too soon. We women must continue to demonstrate until the charter of our freedom is on the statute book. (12)

Hundreds of young men from Guy’s in white boaters came to disrupt the rally, they congregated in front of the lorry stage that Christabel Pankhurst was due to speak from. Jeannie Bouvier, and other Lewisham WSPU members held the fort there, whilst Pankhurst spoke from a different lorry, much to the annoyance of the students. Georgina Brackenbury, Miss Tyson and Flora Naylor spoke at the other three lorries (13).

Whitefield’s Mount wasn’t the only open air local location on the Heath used by the WSPU, Mary Leigh (arrested and imprisoned with Edith New, see above) and Emily Davison held a ‘successful’ open meeting on Blackheath Hill, presumably either at The Point or in front of the Green Man (pictured (15)).

The most badly disrupted meeting was at Blackheath Concert Halls (below) in October 1909 where the speakers were Emmeline Pethwick Lawrence, editor of Votes for Women, and Constance Lytton, one of the more aristocratic members of the WSPU. It was an important meeting for the Lewisham WSPU and the branch had been selling tickets for a couple of months (16).

The meeting was chaired by Jeannie Bouvier but the police had to be called when medical students broke up seating and let of stink bombs and fireworks (17). While the branch had to pay £12 for damage to furniture and fittings caused by ‘rowdies’ at the meeting, they still made £15 for the group’s funds from the meeting (18).

There was a physical presence in the Village – the WPSU branch had a shop for a while  at 72 Tranquil Vale which served a useful purpose in terms of propaganda however seemed rather ill equipped, lacking table and enough chairs (19).

Source – eBay (Sept 2016)

The branch was later to use a shop at 5 Blackheath Village, previously used by the NUWSS (pictured above) opposite the station – in 2018 the ‘home’ of Winckworths.

Notes

  1. Votes for Women 30 July 1908
  2. Votes for Women 28 May 1908
  3. Votes for Women 21 May 1908
  4. On a Wikipedia Creative Commons
  5. Votes for Women 20 August 1908
  6. On a Wikipedia Creative Commons
  7. Votes for Women 5 November 1908
  8. Votes for Women 17 December 1908
  9. Photograph via Museum of London who own the copyright, but usage in non-commercial research such as this is permitted.
  10. Votes for Women 18 June 1909
  11. Votes for Women 26 November 1909
  12. Votes for Women 21 June 1912
  13. ibid
  14. Votes for Women 21 October 1910
  15. From Greenwich Photo History Wiki
  16. Votes for Women 10 September 1909
  17. Kentish Mercury 15 October 1909
  18. Votes for Women 5 November 1909
  19. Votes for Women 11 June 1909
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Blackheath’s Suffragists – From John Stuart Mill to a ‘Pilgrimage’

During 2018, Running Past has been celebrating some women getting the vote in 1918.  The focus so far has largely been on the Lewisham Branch of the Women’s’ Social and Political Union (WSPU).  This post looks at both those who came before the WSPU and some of those who disagreed with the approach of the WSPU in terms of direct action including damage to property –the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) – they were the suffragists rather than suffragettes.  As there was a clear Blackheath link to the early campaigning for votes for women, we’ll look at the Blackheath branch of the NUWSS too.

One of the earliest proponents of women’s suffrage in Blackheath was John Stuart Mill.  He seems to have moved to 113 Blackheath Park soon after his marriage to Harriet Taylor in 1849.  He was to live there for around 20 years – including much of the time that he active in work on women’s suffrage and other issues around the emancipation of women.  Although after Harriet’s death in 1858 her daughter, Helen Taylor acted both as his housekeeper and secretary, living at 113 Blackheath Park – she worked with his on his treatise The Subjection of Women.

The house is still there, a Grade II listed building, although very secluded by trees

Mill stood in the 1865 General Election as the Radical candidate for the Westminster seat in Parliament and was elected. Once in the Commons Mill campaigned with others  for parliamentary reform and in 1866 presented the petition organised by Barbara Bodichon, Emily Davies, Elizabeth Garrett and Dorothea Beale in favour of women’s suffrage.  The petition was the first mass petition for Votes for Women presented to Parliament – it contained just over 1500 signatures – including around 10 from Blackheath and neighbouring parts of Lewisham.

  • Dean, Ellen – Blackheath
  • Laird, Ellen – 22 Woodlands Terrace Blackheath S.E.
  • Laird, E. B. – 22 Woodlands Terrace Blackheath S.E
  • Lindley, Caroline – Kidbrooke Terrace Blackheath
  • Strahan, Elspet – Eliot Lodge Blackheath S.E.
  • Taylor, Helen – Blackheath Park S.E.(Mill’s Stepdaughter)
  • Drayson, A – 17 Essex Terrace Lee S.E.
  • Ellis, L – 17 Essex Terrace Lee S.E.
  • Lewin, E. – 12 Blessington Road Lee Kent
  • Harman, Emmeline L. – 2 Limes Grove North Lewisham

The petition, pictured below, was defeated but Mill added an amendment to the 1867 Reform Act that would give women the same political rights as men, this too was defeated.

There is a slightly tenuous women’s suffrage and Blackheath in a link to Millicent Garrett Fawcett (pictured below); along with her sister Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was educated at an odd little school in Dartmouth Row run by the Browning sisters who were aunts of Robert Browning who lived from 1841 in New Cross.  It was known as the  College for the Daughters of Gentlemen; Millicent Garrett Fawcett attended from about 1845 to 1854.

Millicent’s  mother, Louise, seems to have taken the sisters to hear John Stuart Mill speak on the issue of Women’s Suffrage in 1865, probably in relation to his Parliamentary campaign.  Millicent was clearly impressed by Mill – “This meeting kindled tenfold my enthusiasms for women’s suffrage.”   Millicent Garrett Fawcett remained active in the struggle for votes for women throughout her life with involvement in the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, disagreeing fundamentally with the approach taken by the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).

A statue of her was unveiled in Parliament Square in April 2018.  She remains one of the tiny number of suffragists and suffragettes with a blue plaque (in Gower Street in Bloomsbury).  English Heritage although at the time of writing (November 2018) English Heritage were considering an application for the Blackheath born May Billinghurst.

The Blackheath and Greenwich Branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) informally formed in mid-1909 with several meetings published in the NUWSS newspaper, ‘The Common Cause.’  It wasn’t formally constituted until October 1909 (1).  By its first Annual General Meeting in December, held in Jobbins Tea Rooms at 21 Montpelier Vale, it had 115 members (2), it had already held several   drawing room’ meetings mainly at the home of Constance Duckham at Red House, Dartmouth Grove (3).

The activities of the Blackheath NUWSS branch in many ways were similar to their more militant counterparts in Lewisham WSPU who had public meetings in Lewisham town centre most weekends, a series of shops and offices and well as some bigger public meetings in halls.  Despite the level of membership probably being higher than the WSPU branch, the number and scale of activities was always much lower.

The Blackheath NUWSS meetings were much in the form of ‘At Home’ events – these continued throughout the period that the branch was active – Red House was used frequently, such as ones in 1910 (4) and (1913 (5), Jobbins Tea room often used to during 1910 (6), with St German’s Lodge, Shooters Hill Road, home of Helen Ward, being added as a venue in 1911 (7).

There were a couple of meetings in Blackheath Concert Halls (above) – in late 1910 Millicent Garrett Fawcett returned to Blackheath and saw the Halls ‘quite filled… and the audience most enthusiastic.’  She and a Mr Cholmley gave ‘witty and convincing speeches.’ (8).   Maud Pember- Reeves and Rev Llewyllin Smith were due to speak there on 29 February 1912 (9).

There were a small number of open-air meetings in open meetings, although nothing like the volume of those undertaken by the WSPU.  Maude Royden (pictured, on a Creative Commons) spoke at Whitfield’s Mount in July 1913 (10).  There were also a couple of open air meetings at unspecified locations on the Heath in June 1910 (11).

 

Source – eBay (Sept 2016)

There was briefly a shop at what was then 5 Blackheath Village, now occupied by Winckworths Estate Agents, opposite the station (pictured above from a postcard of a similar era).  It opened in February 1910 and the branch sold The Common Cause from outside there (12).  An edition from soon after the shop opened is pictured (13).

The branch seemed to go through a steady stream of branch secretaries – it was initially Miss Duckham from Red House (see above) (14); by 1911 the incumbent was a Miss Theobald from 49 Micheldever Road; she had been replaced by a Miss Bowers from 38 Boyne Road by March 1912 (16) closely followed by a Miss Peppercorn from 97 Blackheath Park by July 1912 (17); a Miss Frood from 14 Royal Parade had taken over the reins by October 1913 (18) and finally handing over to a Mrs Shuttleworth from Crooms House, Crooms Hill – her tenure lasted through much of the Great War (19).

One of the best known names in the Branch was Florence Gadesden (Gadsden) She was born in Paris in 1853, her mother Ester (nee Atlee) was from Lewisham, her father was a Professor of Music.  After attending Girton College she taught at several fee paying schools before becoming Headmistress of Blackheath High School in 1886. She became president of the Association of Head Mistresses (AHM) for 2 years from 1905 to 1907 and backed a resolution demanding women’s suffrage in terms which avoided support for militancy.

Her support for women’s suffrage was always non-violent – she was one of the signatories of the Clementina Black’s Women’s Franchise Declaration Committee’s petition demanding the vote (20), which was signed by 257,000 women.

She retired to Norfolk from the school in 1917.

The most significant activity that the Blackheath NUWSS branch were involved with is the Pilgrimage in July 1913 which was organised in order to show Parliament how many women wanted the vote but also in reaction to the increasingly militant activities being carried out by the WSPU both nationally, and as we have seen in various posts, locally as well.  There were pilgrimages from several parts of the country.

The Kentish Pilgrims had congregated at Lee Green, something covered in the post on Lee and Hither suffrage activities.  They were met by the Blackheath NUWSS and marched to Whitefield’s Mount (pictured above) where speakers included Maud Royden (see above) and Ruth Young (21).

The following day the Pilgrims marched down the A2 to another meeting in Pepys Road, New Cross before heading to the Kings Hall at Elephant and Castle (22).  On July 25 the various pilgrimages walked from various locations around central London, the Kentish Pilgrims from Trafalgar Square (23) with around 50,000 converging on Hyde Park.

Notes

  1. Common Cause – 30 December 1909
  2. ibid
  3. ibid
  4. Common Cause – 5 May 1910
  5. Common Cause 04 July 1913
  6. Common Cause – 5 May 1910
  7. Common Cause – 25 May 1911
  8. Common Cause 17 November 1910
  9. Common Cause 22 February 1912
  10. Common Cause 18July 1913
  11. Common Cause 30 June 1910
  12. Common Cause 10 March 1910
  13. ibid
  14. Common Cause 30 December 1909
  15. Common Cause 05 October 1911
  16. Common Cause 28 March 1912
  17. Common Cause 4 July 1912
  18. Common Cause 03 October 1913
  19. Common Cause 29 May 1914
  20. From information board outside Lewisham Archives March 2018
  21. Common Cause 08 August 1913
  22. Ibid
  23. Common Cause 18 July 1913

Picture Credits

 

The Ghosts of Hillyfields & Blackheath Prefabs Past

The prolonged spell of dry weather in June and July 2018 dried out the top soils in many areas and made visible archaeological remains of past buildings. It has enabled the likes of the flooded village of Mardale Green to be visible again, along with various ancient settlements in Wales.  A little more recent, and a lot nearer to home, are footprints of prefabs that appeared in Hillyfields and possibly on Blackheath too.

The Blitz and the later V-1 and V-2 rocket attacks had destroyed thousands of homes in south east London. – thousands were homeless, staying with families and friends. The main plank in trying to deal with this was the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act 1944, which planned to deliver 300,000 prefabricated homes.The old Borough of Lewisham put up 1,610 prefabs by 1948 and a further 1,088 by 1955. While many went on quickly cleared bombsites – such as those in Fernbrook Road and Lenham Road – parks and open spaces were often used. On the Greenwich side of Blackheath, open space on Pond Road in Blackheath was used but more significantly several parks saw significant concentrations of prefabs. Notable in this was the Excalibur Estate (pictured below) which was built on part of the Forster Memorial Park – the estate partially remains although a stalling redevelopment programme is underway. The Excalibur estate (below) was covered in an early post in Running Past. There were also big concentrations around the edge of Hillyfields as well as in a couple of locations on Blackheath.P1040344.JPG

Hillyfields Bungalows

As the 1949 surveyed map that included Ladywell shows, the open ground of Hillyfields was circled with prefabs – Hillyfields Bungalows – with a double row along Adelaide and Montague Avenues, and a single broken line on Hillyfields Crescent.  A number of different types of prefabs were used – the ones here were Arcon bungalows – somewhat different in shape and design to those at Excalibur.

They were certainly there until the early autumn of 1962 as there is cine film footage of them, although there are suggestions that residents may have been moved out before the winter as there are recollections of playing in the remains of the prefabs in the harsh winter of 1962/63.

The extent of the compaction of the ground caused by the foundations means that the ground dries out more quickly than the surrounding around and so sometimes makes the footprints of the prefabs visible from the air.  The Google maps satellite images, probably taken in the dry spring or early summer of 2011. – the top one of Adelaide Avenue, the lower of Montague Avenue.

IMG_0393.PNG

IMG_0515.PNG

They may have been visible on the ground at that point but the 2018 has made them a lot clearer than in previous years as the set of photographs below shows – the top pair are of the Adelaide Avenue prefab bases, the bottom trio are of Montague Avenue and Hillyfields Crescent.

Before leaving Hillyfields, the Ordnance Survey map above indicates a series of Nissen huts close to the tennis courts.  They probably related to search lights (there were search lights there in World War 1 too).  There was nothing visible on the ground in the drought conditions – a combination of post-war trees and play equipment have disturbed the surface too much.

St German’s Place, Blackheath

Alongside St German’s Place on Blackheath there was a double row of prefabs as the photograph from Britain from Above shows the edge of in the bottom left corner,

IMG_0514.JPG

The extent is clearer from the 1949 surveyed Ordnance Survey map.

Unlike the position at Hillyfields, the post demolition outlines never seem to have been visible from the air – Blackheath has seen more more earth movement over the years than Hillyfields (apart from the former brick works around Hillyfields Crescent).  Non-natural soils have been added to the edge the grass, while the mounds look impressive in flower they will cover some of the remains of the prefab footprints.

A recent drain edges the Heath a metre further west than the mound and then beyond is a tangle of long grass. There are a couple of outlines that might be the base of a bungalow but it could easily be something else.

Hollyhedge Bungalows

In the top corner of the aerial photograph above another, larger, group of prefabs is present at the south eastern edge of the Heath, adjacent to what is now the Territorial Army Centre at Hollyhedge House – looking  beyond them is Lewisham, almost unrecognisable without the tall buildings.

The bunglaows were know as Hollyhedge Bungalows – their extent is clearer from the map below

There appeared to be nothing obvious visible on the ground when visited – a combination of lots of earth movement on the Heath in the relatively recent past and confusion of lines caused by tyres – no doubt due to the obstacles of the Race for Life Pretty Mudder race the Sunday before – the grass will recover quickly from that, once it rains.

Not every bomb site was developed immediately for prefabs – as Running Past has already covered , sites at Campshill House and Lewisham Hill were developed for new council housing almost straight after the War – the final photograph below shows both Lewisham Hill estate (2/3 way up on the right) as well as Hollyhedge Bungalows at the top.

Notes

The modern aerial images are from Google Maps – copied during 2014

The older aerial images are all from Britain from Above and on a Creative Commons

The map images are on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland – the full images are via links for Hillyfields; St German’s Place and Hollyhedge bungalows

 

The Cade Rebellion & South East London

Cade Road on Blackheath is a small one way lane, skirting the edge of the escarpment, without houses, but always full of cars – attracted by the absence of parking restrictions.  The name relates to a rebellion in 1450 where Kentish rebels, led by Jack Cade, camped on the Heath twice before marching on London.

Jack Cade was the leader of a popular revolt against the almost bankrupt government of Henry VI in 1450. The backdrop was the near end of the Hundred Years War which was seeing defeats for British Forces, the loss of British Territory in France and occasional forays of French soldiers into Kent.

Distrust of the Crown came to a head with a corruption scandal and the murder of the Duke of Suffolk for which the people of Kent were blamed.  There was an earlier uprising in Kent at the beginning of 1450 but this had been quickly put down.  However, the rebels didn’t disappear and became more organised in the county in the late spring; Cade had emerged as the leader by early June.  Little is known of Cade, who sometimes adopted the name Mortimer – suggesting a linkage to one of Henry’s rivals for the throne – the Duke of York.

By 11 June 1450 the rebels were camped on the Heath – with suggestions that they may have numbered as many as 20,000.  Initially Henry VI didn’t confront them, sending a series of messengers, who seem to have been presented with a series of demands.  Sometimes referred to as ‘The Blackheath Petition,’ but more generally known as ‘The Complaint of the Poor Commons of Kent’, the demands included inquiries into corruption and to ‘punish evil ministers and procure a redress for grievance.’

Shakespeare depicts the scene on Blackheath in Henry VI Part 2 (Act 4 Scene 2) with a degree of artistic licence, but the offer of a truce seemed to have happened through two messengers.

Sir Humphrey Stafford

Rebellious hinds, the filth and scum of Kent,

Mark’d for the gallows, lay your weapons down;

Home to your cottages, forsake this groom:

The king is merciful, if you revolt.

William Stafford

But angry, wrathful and inclin’d to blood,

If you go forward.  Therefore yield or die.

When the offer was refused, the King sent a large force to put down the rebellion.  The rebels may have been tipped off as by the time the Royal forces reached the Heath, the rebels had gone.   Cade’s men were followed into Kent by a small part of the Royal forces; knowing the territory better the rebels ambushed the Royal forces just to the south of Sevenoaks, close to Knole at Solefields, they defeated the Royal forces killing the leader, Sir Humphrey Stafford – Shakespeare’s speaker in the scene above.

Cade returned to the Heath towards the end of June and then marched on London in early July.  This was depicted in a recently listed mosaic mural (see above) on the former Southwark Town Hall. The scene was also portrayed by Shakespeare  in Henry VI Part 2 (Act 4 Scene 6)

Come, then, let’s go fight with them; but first, go and set London bridge on fire; and, if you can, burn down the Tower too. Come, let’s away.

The rebels seemed to be in control of the city for several days, executing several,including the Lord Chancellor – Baron Saye and Sele – the then occupant of the forerunner of Knole House.  He is pictured below, being brought to Cade (Creative Commons via Wikipedia) . There was much looting and the citizens of the City appear to have turned against the rebels and, on 9 July, after the rebels had spent the night outside the city, they were defeated on London Bridge.

Pardons were issued to the rebels, but the one to Cade himself was quickly revoked and he fled the City.  There is a suggestion that he briefly hid on the island in the mill pond that was later to become Peter Pan’s Pool – sadly, it is almost certainly apocryphal.

If it happened at all, the sojourn in Southend was a short one; Cade fled further south, but was eventually caught and seriously wounded in Lewes.  He died on the journey back to London but his death wasn’t enough to prevent him being subject to the fate that was de rigour for traitors of the era and he was hanged, drawn and quartered.

In addition to the road on the Heath and the ‘island’, Cade’s name is lives on in a couple of other locations – there is a cavern named after him the on the Heath, and apparently he is the ‘Jack’ in the Brockley Jack pub and theatre.  Sadly, there seems to be no more credible evidence of him visiting the cavern and drinking in Brockley as there was of a stay in Southend village.

Forty years later rebels from Cornwall had pinned hopes on the Men of Kent still being rebellious, but the next generation failed to support the Cornish rebellion which was crushed at the Battle of Deptford Bridge – covered in the very first post on Running Past.

Mass Observation in Blackheath and Bolton, 80 Years On

6 Grotes Buildings is an impressive looking Georgian house, it is part of an even more impressive terrace tucked away in the corner of the Heath close to the ‘village’.  In the 1930s it was home to one of the most important social research ‘movements’ of the era – Mass Observation.

Before looking at Mass Observation, it is worth covering a little about the terrace.  It was developed by Andrew Grote in the 1760s on land leased by Morden College to fund a chaplain (1). Grote was a speculative developer and banker, who had made his wealth as a ‘merchant’ trading with enslaved estates in Maryland, no doubt he traded elsewhere too. Grote lived on the opposite corner of the Heath at Point House.

 

The idea behind Mass Observation was that it was ‘no longer tolerable for the nation’s working classes to be as unknown to the middle and ruling classes as (so one of them put it) the inhabitants of the Trobriand Islands.

There were two main strands to Mass Observation, one of which was based at Grotes Buildings.  This was led by Humphrey Jennings, a film maker, and his friend Charles Madge, a poet and journalist, who was later to become a professor of sociology. They recruited hundreds of volunteers to write accounts of their daily experiences.  The first time this happened was on 12 May 1937, the day of George VI’s Coronation. Participants told their own stories of what they had done from waking up to going to sleep, the resulting diaries provided a wonderful glimpse into the everyday lives of people across Britain, and the narratives have been used as a resource for those researching aspects of the era.  Later similar work included amassing a collection of diaries by over 500 home front civilians.

The second strand, in its simplest terms, can perhaps be described as organised people watching – it was a wide ranging inquiry into the views, customs and daily routines of ordinary people. One of the researchers behind it, Tom Harrisson had made his name as an anthropologist, studying people on remote Pacific islands. Along with Jennings and Charles Madge he requested volunteers via the ‘New Statesman’ to participate in a new research project, which would be ‘anthropology at home . . . a science of ourselves’. This part of the project was based in Bolton and became known as ‘Worktown’.  Unsurprisingly, given the location of the advertisement, the volunteer researchers tended to be left-leaning middle-class students, artists, photographers and writers who were ‘watching’ northern working class people.  They observed and recorded behaviour and conversations in the shops, pubs, churches and mills of Bolton. Observation was done without the subject’s knowledge and was criticised in the local press

“an unequalled opportunity for the pettifogging, the malicious, the cranky, the interfering and the mildly dotty”

Nonetheless, many experiences were recorded often as anthropological type readings of ‘rituals’ of round-buying along with consumption rates, the presence and absence (mostly the latter) of women and what was discussed. Some of his was published in John Sommerfield’s 1943 book, ‘The Pub and The People’ and the more recent ‘Worktown’, written by David Hall, and published in 2015.

Some of the photographs became widely used, such as the one by Humphrey Spender which was used as an album cover by Everything But The Girl, for their 1985 release, Love not Money.

Artists too worked on the project including, William Coldstream, who had also worked with the East London Group of artists, and Humphrey Jennings.  Jennings painted several scenes of life in Bolton, including this one of terraces, which, like many of the images collected, is held by Bolton Museum and Art Gallery.

Jennings, Humphrey; Bolton Terraces; Bolton Library & Museum Services, Bolton Council; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/bolton-terraces-163155 (See notes below)

Jennings was much better known as a film maker and was later to work with the GPO Film Unit, which was based in Bennett Park in Blackheath, and was covered in Running Past a couple of years ago.

Mass Observation effectively finished by the end of World War 2, but was relaunched in the early 1980s at the University of Sussex, where he archives had been relocated in the previous decade.  Initially, there were requests for feedback on specific areas, the one in the autumn of 1981 asked for views on shopping, the SDP-Liberal Alliance, unemployment amongst other things. The following year participants were asked to focus on the Falklands War – part of one randomly chosen post is below (on a On a Creative Commons, via the University of Sussex) – there are lots more which make for fascinating reading.

May 12 2017 will make the 80th anniversary of the recordings of experiences of the Coronation of George VI, and as has happened for several years, Mass Observation have replicated their annual call for day diaries, capturing the everyday lives of people across the UK. The written diaries will be used by a wide range of people for research, teaching and learning. Do participate! There are details of what to do on this link.

Notes

1 Neil Rhind (1987) The Heath – A Companion Volume to Blackheath Village & Environs, p66

Painting credit

The painting is owned by Bolton Museum and Art Gallery, but has been made available on line through the wonderful on-line public art gallery – Art UK, and can be used for non-commercial research such as this.

The Lewisham Hill V-1 & the Post War Re-Building

Lewisham Hill was an old route up to the Heath from the Ravensbourne valley and was captured below as a print around 1810 (source on a Creative Commons), the only currently recognisable features being St Mary’s Church in the middle distance and the hills of Forest Hill and Sydenham which provide the background.

With the coming of the South Eastern railway in 1849 large, desirable houses for the wealthy of Victorian London were built up the hill towards the Heath.   Looking at a sample of the houses in the 1871 census, all were single household properties, all with several servants – a pattern largely repeated in 1901.  An Edwardian postcard (source eBay Nov 2106) ‘paints’ the street scene of a well to do street.

By the outbreak of World War Two, while the buildings were the same, most of the houses had either been divided into flats or were home to several households – the wealthy seem to have largely moved-on.  Lewisham Hill was the site of one of the bigger single losses of life in Lewisham through a V-1 rocket, better known as doodlebugs; one hit Lewisham Hill on Saturday 17 June 1944 – thirteen died as a result of the attack.  The V-1 attacks had started four days before on 13 June 1944 – a week after the D Day landings – and were to go on until October 1944 when the last V-1 site in range of Britain was captured, although there were a small number of later air launched attacks.

As was noted in a post a couple of years ago on the attack on Lewisham town centre, there appear to have been some attempts to use double agents to persuade the Germans that the V-1s were over-shooting their targets and landing to the north west of London, this may explain the reasons for the volume of V-1s that hit South London. The old boroughs of Croydon (171), Wandsworth (122), Lewisham (115) and Woolwich (77) were the 4 locations hit the most. The City of London and Westminster only received 17 and 29 attacks respectively.

The scale of the devastation is clear towards the top of an aerial photo taken during July 1944 by Stanley Devon an official photographer with the RAF (source Imperial War Museum on a Creative Commons).  In the foreground is a site cleared from another V-1 attack 9 days later at the bottom of Granville Park.

Of the 13 who died, eight were living at 25 Lewisham Hill – including a couple, Doris and Albert Pilgrim and their two young sons.  None of the thirteen were living in the homes that they died in when the 1939 Register was compiled, although Minnie (73) and Samuel (75) Rowe and their daughter, Maud (48) were probably relatives of Henry and Edna Rowe who were there in 1939.  Ernest Kinnear, who died at 21, was a retired compositor who had lived three doors away at 15 with his wife Alice in 1939.  The rest had lived elsewhere, including Cicely Rackstraw who was living in Battle in Sussex and was still a student in 1939.

One of the survivors of the attack was the 16 year old John George Dormer, who in 1939 at least was living at 3 Lewisham Hill with the rest of his family, including his father Sidney, a factory messenger and his mother Eve. It was a house that they shared with the mother and son, Jarrolds, and Florence Jule.

V-1 attacks had only started three days before, so there was yet to be the recognition of their sound or the significance of the engine cutting out. Sidney had assumed when the sound stopped that it was an enemy aircraft which had been shot down – “We got the bugger!”

The V-1 exploded a little further up the Hill but blast wave rippled out back down the street, smashing the windows at the Dormer household, briefly hospitalising John and his father for a little longer. Both survived to tell their story, but John recalled seeing neighbours bodies being brought out of destroyed houses.

The site was one of the earlier ones developed by the Borough of Lewisham after the Second World War, Running Past covered another  development from those years – what was formerly known as the Heather Green Estate during 2016.  A larger area than the initial bomb site was cleared, including several other houses lower down the hill where damage had been limited (1).  By the time site was photographed again in 1949 (see above – source – Britain from Above on a Creative Commons), building work seems to have been near completion – the new Lewisham Hill Estate is 3/4 way up on right edge of the photograph.  Amongst the other interesting features in the photograph are prefabs at Holly Hedge Terrace (top right), the Lewisham Anchor Brewery (now the site of Tesco), and in front of it Elliott Brothers (London) Ltd Century Works (next to the railway).

From the outside, at least, the estate seems to have stood the test of time quite well as a comparison of the soon after building (2) photograph and the 2017 one show – it has been refurbished with the pitched roofs added, these weren’t possible immediately after the war due to restrictions with building materials.

As for the view from near the top of the Hill, well, it has changed quite a lot since 1810 …..

Notes

  1. Lawrence Ward (2015) The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945
  2. The immediate post war picture has appeared several times on social media without credits – I am more than happy to add credits or delete from the post, if preferred, if you are the owner of the image.

Census and 1939 Register data is via Find My Past

Many thanks to Paul Dormer (see comments below) for sharing the memories passed down by his father of the attack.

A View From The Point

Time series of images make for interesting viewing – it is a technique that many have used, such as the Chilean-born photographer Camilo José Vergara who recorded changes in particular buildings over 40 years and fellow blogger Bobby Seal who recorded the same view at the same time of day over a year and created a video.

On Twitter, the Barnsley Bard, Ian McMillan, creates 140 character poetic ‘images’ of his (very) ‘Early Stroll’ of around 40 minutes, that includes a visit to the paper shop – it is one of the joys of twitter .

The Point is perhaps my favourite view of London, it was the starting point for my first post on Running Past  – there is an uninterrupted vista over the city in an arc from around Battersea in the south west to glimpses of Orbit in the Olympic Park to the north east.

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Oddly, it isn’t a well-known panorama, often I am the only one admiring; it doesn’t have the impressive Inigo Jones foreground of the view a little further around the escarpment in front of the Observatory which draws in the tourists.

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It is a place of solitude, despite the proximity of the often pollution laden A2, frequently the only sounds are the birds in the quite dense shrubbery that flanks the viewpoint along with the more distant rumble of the DLR.

In places, the horizon is truncated by the hilly landmasses of north London – Hampstead Heath and Highgate along with their relatively near neighbour which Alexandra Palace sits atop.  All the tall London landmarks are visible – St Pauls, Telecom Tower, the ‘Cheese Grater’, the ‘Walkie-Talkie’, the ‘Shard’, the ‘Eye’, and the tops of the Canary Wharf towers – the number of stories depending on the level of pruning.

On a clear day the Wembley arch is visible in a way that the Towers never were – it sometimes glints in the sun – it is about 10 miles away as the crow flies; on a really clear day there are views beyond to what appear to be the tiny undulations of to what must be the Chilterns to the south and Harrow on the Hill to the north of it.

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I first discovered the view from The Point on a run in the mid-1990s and have been frequently drawn back, although only started taking photographs a couple of years ago.   The camera can never pick the level of detail of an eye scanning the horizon – the clarity of the view on a frosty autumn morning or after a summer afternoon downpour are hard to replicate, particularly with a smart phone camera with no optical zoom.

Some of the changes would need a much longer time series of photographs to become apparent – most of the larger landmarks of the cities of London and Westminster have appeared in the time that I have been viewing – it is a gradual evolution of the view, almost imperceptible from visit to visit.  Over longer time periods the view has changed more – I bought a 1940s photograph of the view (taken slightly lower down the hill), while fascinating, its slightly blurry image is almost unrecognisable compared with those 70 years later, with considerable bomb damage around Deptford Creek.  Only St Pauls Deptford seems constant – its steeple particularly clear.

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The middle distance has evolved considerably – the Pepys Estate and other ‘regeneration’ schemes that have brought high specification private housing, but little genuinely affordable social housing, to the riverside and in the process have driven traditional Thames-side activities away from the waterfront.  Deptford Creek, the mouth of the Ravensbourne, around a mile away, is much altered – it is no longer visible but now seems lined with glass and steel, including the  impressive Laban Centre.  The changes are even greater to the north – when I first ‘discovered’ the view, 1 Canada Square was there but little else on the Isle of Dogs, the Barkantine Estate towers on the east of the ’Island’ were still fairly dominant, they are now dwarfed by everything around them.

There are lots of other changes too, which it is easy to forget.   Helpfully the viewpoint has a guide to the view provided by the old Greater London Council, which predated many of the now landmark buildings that dominate the skyline, less helpfully , most of the time those in charge of the grounds maintenance have allowed shrubs to block the view it described although an early January pruning has restored the view.

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Other changes are more obvious – seasons, weather, cloud cover, pollution levels, times of day and foliage growth.  The seasons make a surprising difference – the winter sun with its much lower angle casts a very different light to its midsummer counterpart – the former is clearer, brighter and crisper but the contrast is greater. My visits are often on a Sunday morning, more recently I have frequently laced up my running shoes in the afternoon. In the summer, I sometimes eschew the Wednesday evening ‘club run’ for a run nearer home – decisions that are often based around the timing of the sunset or the weather.

I only tend to visit in daylight, it is uneven under foot and ill lit at night, although there are exceptions, and rarely when it rains, although where there is a choice I would tend to avoid running in the rain and the phone stays firmly in the pocket.

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But perhaps that is the key point, I am one of the variables, perhaps the single biggest influence on the series of pictures – it depends on me being there to be captured – it isn’t just the wet days, I may ‘skip’ the loop to The Point if I know the visibility is poor – the clarity of the view towards the spire of Our Ladye Star of the Sea on Crooms Hill from my emergence onto the Heath– is often the bellwether of adjustments to my run.  I also decide on the angle of the photograph, the amount of zoom, while my eye is drawn more towards the horizon, the lens is drawn west-north-west towards the City, towards the glimpses of the River.

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