Friday, 28 September 2018

A loss to Croydon’s understanding of its history

The closure of Croydon Citizen is regrettable because the loss of its publishing contributions on aspects of the Borough’s history and events. 

The wide range of short essays, the promotion and discussion of events, and debate on the contemporary threats to Croydon’s heritage, have  helped increase understanding of aspects of Croydon’s development, and what of the past is of value and of relevance today. This has been particularly important in a period of considerable change and with a big annual turnover of population.

First World War

In June 2013 I discussed the inadequacy of the Government’s plans to commemorate the First World War, because they ignored the enormous social and political cost of the conflict in Croydon and elsewhere. In subsequent contributions I examined life in Croydon in 1914 and 1917, Croydon’s wartime Canadian links: the Halifax explosion, December 1917; and the controversy over memorialising the soldiers traumatised by combat who were treated in Cane Hill Hospital.

Robert Ward reflected on his grandfather as a result of visiting the Whitgift School exhibition Remembering 1916. Emily Lansell has written on The Museum of Croydon’s centenary commemorations: First World War hospitals and Wallacefield.

In addition to reporting on the Grade II* listing of the former airport building, Ian Walker of the Croydon Airport Society wrote about how its Heritage Lottery Fund grant  was helping to unveil the secrets of Croydon’s wartime history, leading to the birth of the aviation industry.

The Museum’s placement student Samuel Ali’s has contributed articles on Croydon and the Sinai & Palestine Campaign, Croydon and chemical warfare, and although he has now left the Museum, on the Trinidadian VignalĂ« brothers.

The Second World War

There have also been pieces on experiences in the Second World War: the local Scouts, and some of the war veterans. Paul Dennis reviewed 98 year old resident Eric Sanders’ autobiography Secret Operations.

Histories of Local Areas

The Citizen helped Kake start her series on the history of London Rd, which is now on her website. It published my three articles on aspects of South Croydon’s history under the title Keen as Mustard, and two on the Selhurst area, my obituary of the life of local resident Alex Elden From the SS Windrush to Croydon, and  The Edwardian library legacy of an Anglo-Pole. Mark Wadsworth wrote a Tribute to Darcus Howe who had lived in Pollards Hill.

Black & Asian History

The Borough’s Black/African and Asian history have featured in many ways. In 2013 my Does Croydon need its own Martin Luther King? was triggered by the showing of the film Freedom Riders. My Remembering Paul Robeson’s musical activism was contributed because of Tayo Aluko’s Call Mr Robeson, the last show at the Warehouse Theatre. Talks were held in the Heritage Festivals, and in the African History+@Croydon 2014 event organised by Kwaku of Black British Music who published a preview, while I contributed How far have we come? Slavery, civil rights and contemporary racism?  In 2015 I discussed some films on aspects of black history shown at the David Lean Cinema.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

A particular emphasis has been given to Croydon’s  local composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. In addition to pieces by me, Gareth Endean discussed whether Coleridge was a victim of racism, and Samuel Ali his boosting civil rights campaigning.

Croydon’s slavery connections

Nick Draper of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project gave talks during two of the Festivals.  Ann Giles reported on the first one. Other contributions on the history included Ola Kolade on the talk by Paul Crooks on Secrets of the 1817 Slave Registers Uncovered, and Jonny Rose’s How a meeting on a tree stump near Croydon led to the abolition of slavery in Britain, and my contextual review of the film 12 Years a Slave,

Croydon Minster

David Morgan contributed three articles, including about the Minster’s organ and choral music, and whether  Mendelssohn played that organ. Karen Ip wrote about the 150th Anniversary of the fire that destroyed the Minister, while Liz Sheppard-Jones reviewed the Fire’s commemorative concert.  

Importance of Archives

In late 2013 and early 2014 there was a threat to close the Croydon Local Studies Library and Archives Service. James Naylor explained why the Citizen supported keeping it open, and I wrote on The Importance of Archives. In Fortune Favours the Archives Brian Lancaster of Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society, explained  how the Service was saved.

Croydon Museum

Back in 2013 I pointed out that Croydon’s art collection was a forgotten resource. Since the Labour administration came to office in Mya 2014 the re-organised Museum and Archives service research room on the ground floor of the Clocktower has been a hive of activity and initiatives since 2014. Works from the art collection are now regularly displayed. Volunteers have been working on projects including sorting and cataloguing collections. The Fairfield (Halls) Collection project was discussed by  Angela Lord and myself. The many exhibitions at the Museum included one on the artistic and musical family of the Pethericks, about whom I contributed a piece in the Citizen.

The Citizen is itself a historical archive. Its  print archive will be deposited with the Museum, and plans are under way to ensure that the internet site remains as a digital resource.

Threat to Croydon’s Heritage

Many residents and others were outraged by the then Conservative Council’s decision in 2013 to sell items from the Riesco porcelain collection displayed in the Clocktower. The Citizen reviewed the arguments for and against, while David White discussed whether the Council had the legal power to sell.

In September 2014 I explained the Council Planners’ admission that the Borough’s heritage had been significantly compromised over recent decades. The threat to historic assets is always present. The future of SEGAS house was discussed through the Citizen in 2014. My August 2016 Will Croydon Council sell off more of its historic assets? remains an open question.

Other Topics

Contributions have been made on a range of other topics by PhD student Dan Frost, Clare Walker, Holly Bernstein and myself on Croydon and Agincourt, Taras Shevchenko (the Ukrainian poet who fought for the freedom of his country using words), the 1968 Council elections and the student occupation of Croydon College of Art, the life of legendary folk singer and activist Pete Seeger, the 90th anniversary of Croydon Soroptomist International women’s organisation, and events organised in this year’s Women’s History Month. Given this year’s commemoration of Votes for Women the Citizen published my introduction Historical heroines: meeting Croydon’s suffragettes and suffragists.

The Citizen’s demise will make it more difficult to promote new writing and share knowledge about Croydon’s history.


The above text was written and submitted to Croydon Citizen. Unfortunately it was too close to the closure deadline for the team to be able to post it up. James Nayor, the Editor in Chief says on this and the previous  posting on this blog site: 

It's a real pity because these were excellent - thank you for your kind words and serious tackling of the issues the town faces with the losing the Citizen. I am very grateful for you writing this. 

The Citizen was able to post up the latest contribution by Samuel Ali adding to our knowledge of Croydon's slavery links.

It has also managed to publish the last of my articles on the history of peace and anti-war movements in Croydon.

A blow to debate - the closure of Croydon Citizen

Suburban Design Guide Roadshow Farce

Yet another Council engagement farce took place on Thursday 22 September at Upper Norwood Library in relation to the current consultation of the draft Suburban Design Guide. I arrived just after 6pm, the first person since the session opened at 4pm. A few minutes later Councillor Jason Perry, his son and a colleague came. No one else came while we were there, and no one was entering as we left about 7pm.

Is this a failure of publicity or an expression of disillusion that there is no point attending such events because the Council does not listen? Staff on duty said that comments made while the draft document was being prepared had been taken into account, but they could not say which ones. Residents Associations have been informed but it now appears that the list used is not the complete list known to the Council. At least 3 Associations registered by the planners were not notified. 

Of course the title ‘Suburban’ may put people in the North off who probably regard themselves as urban and the South as suburban. Its ‘suburban’ because it does not apply to the Town and district centres. There is no meeting organised to discuss the draft with Associations. Cllr Perry is holding one of the continuing series of Conservative Group meetings with Associations on planning issues, which were very helpful during the Local Plan consultation process. 

The regrettable closure of Croydon Citizen means that there will be no opportunity to debate the design guidance and its potential effect in changing the character of neighbourhoods. This has been a very important aspect of the Citizen’s contribution. It has provided a platform reflecting a wide range of opinions on the Borough’s arts and culture, community initiatives, economy, environment, heritage, housing, planning,  politics, and ‘re-generation’.

Contributors do not always agree with each other, which has allowed readers to make their own judgements. There are no substitutes for this valuable function. Twitter simply encourages knee jerk reactions and trollism, while Facebook is limited and fragmented across a large number of sites about aspects of the Borough. Inside Croydon supplies a news and investigative journalism approach, but is not a vehicle for broad debate.
The closure of Croydon Citizen is evidence of the vulnerability of voluntary effort. Lack of funding, hinders the sustainability and development of community and welfare initiatives and organisations. The high population turnover, the number of grandparents involved in child care, the high levels of low income and poor housing, and the growth in the number of organisations trying to make a positive difference, means there is an enormous shortage of people who have time and energy to spare to be actively involved in in running organisations and the services and activities they provide.

Value of Residents Associations and Collective Organisation

Many residents do not understand the value of their local Residents Associations and therefore do not even join even if they do not become active. Others living in  neighbourhoods without Associations have no collective voice.

National political issues, like Brexit, erode further the sense of the value of collective solidarity based on social justice.

It is not just the community sector that faces these challenges. The trade union movement, one of the major historic vehicle of collective solidarity since the 18thC, is weak due to legislative restrictions, employers hindering unionisation and the gig economy. Retail workers have always been notoriously difficult to organise. New thinking is under way about how to turn the tide.

Croydon TUC and its linked Croydon Assembly does its best to contribute to debate in Croydon,  as has been reflected in some of my contributions to the Citizen, for example, on the local economy, housing, Brick by Brick, and the Council elections. While there will be growth in the number of trade unionists working in Croydon as the Home Office moves its workforce from Central London, most will probably live elsewhere and try and be active in their local communities rather than Croydon.

Parliamentary Boundary Reorganisation

The ability to develop stronger collective working and solidarity will be severely damaged by the proposed Parliamentary boundary changes, which will mean that some of the wards in Croydon North will be linked with wards with in  Lambeth and Merton in new constituencies cutting across Borough boundaries. The Party branches in these new constituencies will have to spend time on the affairs of the new constituencies dealing with multiple Councils, detracting from their ability to focus on Croydon.

The Quick sands of Croydon's economy

Croydon’s economy rests on two pillars in quick sands: property development and the gig economy. Not having an embedded diverse economy, the Borough has no resilience to cushion the large number of less well off residents, including working families, from the next phase of Government austerity welfare cuts, the further reduction in Government funding of the Council, the predicted global economic crash, the collapse of the development boom or any adverse effects from BREXIT. The retail and leisure jobs that are promised with the Westfield development are now years off from when they were first promised. Retail is in the process of collapse under the sledge hammer effects of Amazon and on-line shopping. If more businesses close, then the business rate revenue coming into the Council will fall.

It you think this is very gloomy, and it is, then consider this comment I have received:
‘I wonder if Westfield will ever happen at all. I speak to a cross section of people, neighbours and friends and one of the opinions emerging is that the socio-economic profile of Croydon has changed sufficiently to make it no longer a suitable place for a John Lewis and a mega shopping centre. There just isn't the disposable income available amongst the local population and the road infrastructure just could not cope with more shopping by car and there is also of street crime and even the possibility of riots again. Such a shopping centre will be totally reliant on people coming from outside the town, the town itself could not support it.’

The sadness about closure of the Citizen is the loss of a platform for debate about what can be done to mitigate the worst, and to explore the potential positive initiatives that keep bubbling up. How are we going to fill the resultant gap?


The above text was written and submitted to Croydon Citizen. Unfortunately it was too close to the closure deadline for the team to be able to post it up. James Nayor, the Editor in Chief says on this and the next posting on this blog site: 

It's a real pity because these were excellent - thank you for your kind words and serious tackling of the issues the town faces with the losing the Citizen. I am very grateful for you writing this. 

Since the 22 September roadshow event mentioned above Steve Derrington, the lead officer for the consultation, has told me that there was a good attendance at the event in Kenley. 

See also my report on the latest Conservative Councillors convened meeting with Residents Associations discussing the consultation, including the text of the resolution agreed on my proposal at:

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Wandsworth - 18thC Powerhouse - Part 3

The Slavery Business

There were  dozens of people involved in the slavery business. Thomas Pilgrim settled in Putney in 1701 after coming from Barbados where he had owned a plantation with 20 slaves. Thomas Pitt a London merchant held stock in the Royal Africa Company until his death in 1699. City of London Alderman Sir Jeffrey Jeffries was involved in the Company in the 1680s and 1690s. Sugar refining had started in Battersea in the 1670s, and in 1713 and 1715 there were two sugar houses near York Place. These may have been connected with Sir John Fleet, an Alderman and MP, and Director of the East India Company who died in 1712.

Christopher Baldwin, a West India merchant and slave-owner in Antigua and Dominica, moved  to England sometime before 1751 and settled on Clapham Common West Side. He still owned the plantations when he died in 1806.

Connections before Emancipation

Putney owners of slaves on Antigua included Sir George Thomas, a former Governor of the Leeward Islands at Gifford House from 1768 to 1770, Godschall Johnson at Bristol House between 1787 and 1792, and Archibald Cochrane at North House 1804-14. There was also Alexander Willock at Dover House 1782 to 1792, who was an executor and trustee of the will of Michael White of St Vincent.

The Aguilers, Portuguese Jews with Jamaican interests built The Keir on Wimbledon Common Westside in 1789. It was purchased by the McEvoys in 1812 who had 3,000 acres and 1,000 slaves in the Danish West Indies.

Between 1802 and 1808 Putney Park was lived in by Alexander Lindo the former slave factor, and then until 1814 by Alexander Anderson a former slave-trader.

In 1812 Joseph Marryat moved into Wimbledon House with its 100 acres, and purchased it in 1815.  He was a  West Indies merchant and slave owner,  Chairman of Lloyd’s from 1811, and a member of the West India Committee, until his death in 1824. He published pro-slavery pamphlets in 1816 and 1824.

Recipients of the  £20m compensation were paid as direct awardees, Trustees and Executors. There were some who would benefit from it under annuities provided for in. 

Recipients of Compensation

From 1822 James Bogle Smith lived in The Chestnuts in what is now 22-28 Mossbury Rd. He was a West India merchant sharing in the compensation on 5 estates on St. Vincent and British Guiana. The banker John Deacon at Broomfield House was awarded five amounts of compensation for slaves in Jamaica  and Trinidad.

Those involved in slave ownership on Dominica included Abraham Wildey Robarts who lived for 30 years from 1827 at Manresa House, and Dr. James Laing of Streatham Hill who had died by the time of compensation.

William Matthew Coulthurst who died in Streatham in 1877 was a joint Trustee receiving £40, 376 for 2,206 enslaved people on  7 Jamaican estates.

Rev. Thomas Harrison, a Wesleyan missionary who died at 6 Albion Terrace on Wandsworth Rd in 1851 was involved in receiving just over £2,645 for 308 enslaved people on 4 estates on Anguilla.

Hibbert Almshouses

William Hibbert who lived at Chestnut Grove off Southside Clapham Common between 1810 and 1844 received just under £48,126 for 2,654 enslaved people on 12 Jamaican estates. His non property estate was worth £100,000 when he died. His daughters paid for the almhouses in his memory on Wandsworth Rd.

William King, the son of a former leading slave trader, lived on East Hill in 1828 and West Hill in 1841 received just over £48,118 for 1,035 enslaved people on 6 estates in British Guiana, an estate on Dominica and one on Trinidad. His non property estate was worth £140,000 when he died in 1861.

There were many who received much smaller sums because their ownership was not as large. Ambrose Moore who lived at St Ann’s House in Wandsworth in 1871 received just over £2,810 on 113 enslaved people, Georgina Prentice who lived at Coombe Lodge in Inner Park Rd between 1881 and 1888, just under 16/- for 2. Ann Swift who died at the Grove in Wandsworth had received nearly £101 for 5 enslaved people. Charles Cheveny who lived at Chantry Villas on Balham Rd received just under £480 for 14 enslaved people.

Mayor of Garratt
One of the responses of local people to the enclosures of land to create the new estates across the area was the establishment of the Mayor of Garratt mock elections  between 1747 and 1775 and three between 1781 and 1796 with an attempt at a revival in 1826. The candidates were usually tradesmen and politically radical. In 1781 it is thought that up to 100,000 people took part. What is not clear is why at Garratt and not elsewhere around London.

Political Reform

The area was part of the Surrey Parliamentary Constituency and was subject to bitter contest in 1774 when Joseph Mawbey, the brewer, parliamentary reformer,  supporter of the campaigner for reform and the freedom of the press John Wilkes, stood against the pro-Government sitting MP.  In 1789 it was the only County election fought on party lines with active intervention by the Government.

Later residents and landowners in Wimbledon and Roehampton were involved in the controversies over Parliamentary reform, the slavery business and the French Revolution such as John Horne Tooke and William Pitt in Wimbledon Pitt. Pitt was Prime Minister from 1783 to 1801 and 1804 to 1806. He was a frequent guest in Wimbledon of William Wilberforce at Lauriston House until the latter moved to Battersea Rise, and then of William Grenville and Henry Dundas. He died at Bowling Green Cottage on Putney Heath in 1806. His Home Secretary Dundas lived at Warren House.

John Horne Tooke and Treason Trials

At the nearby Chester House lived the radical cleric John Horne Tooke  from 1792 to 1812. He and others were acquitted in one of the Treason trials of 1794. Among Tooke's visitors were Thomas Paine, author of the Rights of Man, Thomas Hardy, a leader of the London Corresponding Society and Sir Francis Burdett, a radical MP, who also lived in Wimbledon.

In Roehampton lived  Sir Edward Law. the Crown Counsel in the Horne Tooke trial, and 
defence counsel for Warren Hastings in 1795, He became Attorney-General in 1801,  Lord Chief Justice and Baron Ellenborough in 1802, and a Cabinet member in 1806 and 1807.. He  prosecuted Colonel Despard in 1803 and  James Watson and William Hone in 1817. His estate was sold after his death in 1818. From 1824 Robert Gifford lived there. He had prosecuted the Spencean conspirators in Cato St trial and involved in the Queen Caroline affair lived there.

The Spencers
Wimbledon’s Lord of the Manor George John Spencer, Viscount Althorp, and 2nd Earl Spencer from 1783 was Home Secretary in the Ministry of All The Talents from 1806 to 1807, which enacted the legislation abolishing Britain’s official involvement in the slave trade.

As Viscount Althorp his son John Charles was Leader of the House and Chancellor of the Exchequer in Lord Grey’s Government from 1830 to July 1834. He took a leading role in achieving the Reform Act of 1832, which enabled the legislation that abolished slavery in the British West Indies.

James Perry & Morning Chronicle

Finally there is James Perry, owner of the pro-reform Morning Chronicle from 1789 until his death 1821. He was editor until 1817. He not only lived in the area, but also owned a mill and was one of those supporting the Surrey Iron Railway.

Questions Arising

This introductory review generates a lot of questions which existing research studies do not seem to answer.
1.       How much wealth was created by the local industrial operations?
2.       How much of that wealth was invited locally and how much spent or invested elsewhere?
3.       What were the sources of funds for the accumulation of the landed estates and the building and up-dating of the many mansion houses?
4.       How much profit from the slavery business was invested in the area?
5.       What were the sources of financial resources invested by the bankers who settled in the area?
6.       What were the economic, family, political and social networks operating between those who owned land and property or lived in the different districts?

Roehampton Estate, Jamaica

Finally I conclude with the destruction of the Roehampton Estate during the Jamaican slave revolt of 1831, a key factor in convincing more people to support the end of the slave ownership system. What I cannot tell you is why it was called Roehampton. Although its owner had died in 1832 the £5,745 0s. 3d compensation on  322 enslaved people was given to his Executor. 


Wandsworth -18thC Powerhouse - Part 2

East India Company Connections

There were  connections with the affairs of the East India Company and its politics.  In the first half of the 1740s Wimbledon House was leased by Stephen Bisse,  a former MP and Company Director from 1732 to 1741.

Robert Clive of India owned the Mitcham Grove estate until he gave it to the lawyer Alexander Wedderburn in recognition of his support. Clive’s cousin George was in India with him until 1760. He became an MP in 1763 until his death in 1779, and from 1764 was a  partner in the Sir Francis Gosling and Co. bank. He had Mount Clare in Instead Gdns built in 1772-3.

Other residents connected with the Company were Colonel Adam Hogg and Stephen Lushington, Director and Chairman, in Wimbledon and Lt Colonel Sir Henry Oakes who leased Mitcham Hall from 1811 until his suicide in 1827. Charles Mortimer of Streatham who died in 1840 had been the Company’s Treasurer.

Wandle Mills

Over the century the Wandle River was further developed for industry. Merton Abbey became a major centre starting in 1724. Technological and process improvements aided the growth of the industry from the 1750s. The corn mill in Morden Hall Park was converted to snuff in 1758.  Phipps Bridge and Ravensbury Mills  became other centres. The calico businessmen built homes: The Willows 1746 by Thomas Selby, jnr, Tamworth House by Isaac Hillier  in 1785 and Wandle Villa about 1789 for John Rucker. Mr. Gardiner's calico printing works in Mapleton Rd in Wandsworth employed 250 men in 1792, which is a quarter of the total estimated number across the area.

Garratt Mill was a copper one. From 1777 James Henckell ran an iron mill just north of Wandsworth Town, which was  converted to papermaking in 1836. Henry Hoare of Mitcham owned  3 mills.
The Wandle River ran through the Town and then through an area of creeks to flow into the Thames. As well as the Wandle this part of the Thames frontage was industrialised. Up to 1764 John Spence’s works undertook scarlet dying for the East India Company from  premises near where Wandsworth Bridge now is.

Young’s Brewery and Surrey Iron Railway

Wandsworth’s Town’s brewery on the High St and along the Wandle was purchased in 1786 by Thomas Tritton, his family selling it in 1831 to the partners whose business became Young’s Brewery.

Off the road linking Wandsworth to Putney was the Point Pleasant area along the Thames. From 1771 Gatty and Waller set up their works for making vinegar and chemicals for dyers and calico printers. By 1790 there was also a brewery.

At the beginning of the 19thC a group of businessmen agreed to lobby for the Surrey Iron Railway which opened in 1803 along with a canal in the final stretch north of the Town’s High St.

By 1806 there were 40 industrial operations along the River along it employing an estimated 2,000 people, 300 people at Merton Abbey in 1810. It was called ‘the hardest worked of any river of its size in the world.’

Nine Elms 

Industry in Battersea parish particularly developed at York Place and Nine Elms. By 1741 York Place had warehouses, granaries, a still house, millhouse and stables. By 1762 the distillery was fattening 1,000 pigs from the residue of distillation. The owners operated the water mill on Falcon Brook nearby. The former  Battersea Enamels works was moved into by Fownes glove makers which employed 600 workers.

Further towards the Village along what is now Lombard Rd was the works  of  Price, who made chemicals and pharmaceuticals from 1749. By 1834 the works was being run by John May who then went into partnership as May & Baker.

There were wharves near the Village and in 1788 a Horizontal Air-Mill was built next to the Battersea Parish Church to prepare linseed oil, then corn and then malt for an adjacent distillery. Grains from the distillery were used to fatten 4-5,000 bullocks for the London market. Another  distillery, Benwell’s was used to fatten 3-4,000 hogs a year.

The Nine Elms  district was low and swampy district with osier beds and windmills. Its riverfront became a place to locate new industrial premises, including by 1724 a copper works and later Edward Webster’s turpentine manufactory. There was a barge building yard next to Randalls  Mills in the late 1820s and early 1830s.

The Wars with France between 1793 and 1815 appear to have acted as a stimulus for further industrial development, especially in Battersea parish. Isambard Brunel’s father Marc added mass production waterproof boot making to his veneer saw-mill. Most of Wellington’s troops were wearing them at the Battle of Waterloo.

Clapham Common Area

The area around Clapham Common became a desirable one after the former slave plantation owner Christopher Baldwin persuaded others to invest in draining and improving  the Common in the 1760s. Bankers, men involved in the slavery business like the Hibberts, as well as members of the anti-slavery Clapham Sect such as Henry Thornton Granville Sharp and William Wilberforce lived in the area. Bankers seem to have been particularly attracted to the Clapham Common area. The bankers included Thomas Martin of Martin’s, the Barclays, the Roberts Dent and Lovelace of Child’s and William Willis of Willis Percival Bank. Dent built Old Park House off Battersea Rise in 1776, and Willis expanded the estate to 64 acres.  The Willis family’s  acquisitions included Grove House which in 1807  became the residence of Alexander Champion, whaler, merchant, and Director of the Bank of England, who died there in 1809.

After Wilberforce left Broomfield House it was passed to William Henry Hoare and then to John Deacon of Williams, Deacon & Co., the bank into which Pole, Thornton & Co. was merged during the bank crisis of 1825.
The area to the south of the Common was farmland, including the Black Hill Farm Estate which Thomas Cubitt purchased in 1824 and later built the Clapham Park Estate.

Battersea Bridge

Battersea’s attraction improved with the opening of the bridge in 1771 led by a consortium led by Earl Spencer. Streatham was helped by the spa at Streatham Wells. Part of Balham began to be developed with mansions houses and parkland as an extension to those along Clapham Common's southern edge by men such as the silk merchant John Whitteridge who built Balham House, the millionaire draper James Morrison on Balham Hill later lived in by George Wolff, a timber merchant and friend of Wesley. Bedford Hill Farm was purchased and a mansion built by Richard Borrodaile, Chair of the Hudson Bay Company and East India Company merchant.


Streatham was mainly an area of farming estates leased from the Duke of Bedford, specialising in wheat, beans, root crops and potatoes because of the gravelly soil. The Duke’s agent Daniel McNamara purchased a house in 1782, renovated it and persuaded the Duke to buy it for him to live in. He was frequently visited there by the Prince Regent. The Streatham Park house and estate was owned by the brewing family the Thrales, and was famous as a cultural gathering venue including Dr Samuel Johnson. Streatham became popular as a spa because of its natural springs, known as Streatham Wells, at the top of Streatham Common, with Wells House being built in 1783, later renamed The Rookery. They lost their popularity as the waters became contaminated.

In 1819 J. G. Fuller, a wine merchant and owner of Boodle’s gambling club, purchased the Leigham Court estate and built a house, which became a meeting place for his clientele. In 1820 Stephen Wilson set up a silk mill using the latest French Jacquard loom. In 1821 there were 235 families engaged in agriculture, but this had dropped to 189 in 1831.

Wandsworth - 18thC Powerhouse - Part 1

The Wandsworth area of modern day London was an economic and political powerhouse in the long 18th Century. Its riverside industries and mills were an early indication of what the Industrial Revolution could be, while it was a near London rural retreat for the economic and  politically powerful elites.

In  exploring some of the aspects of this area powerhouse, I have drawn on my own research, the Survey of London team on Battersea, the local historians such as Dorien Gerhold, Keith Bailey, Patrick Loobey and Richard Millward and the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project.
With their concentration on individuals, buildings, industries and events and sub-areas local history studies often lack of the broader regional, national  and international context. As a result the significance of an area can be underplayed.

The 18thC Wandsworth area includes  the current London Borough the Clapham, Merton, Mitcham, Streatham and Wimbledon districts of the current London Boroughs of Lambeth and Merton. The area was part of North East Surrey and divided into parishes and manors which were not co-terminus.  It was predominantly agricultural.

What do I mean by the area being a powerhouse?
  • Its agricultural and market gardening activities helping to feed growing London.
  • The River Wandle’s water powering  mills.
  • Thames riverfront industries bringing raw materials up river and finished goods down river.
  • The mansions, houses and parkland for members of the business, political and aristocratic elites.

Lords of the Manor

Major land owners were the Lords of the Manors, who played important roles in national politics like Thomas Osborne , Duke of Leeds in Wimbledon, which included Putney and Roehampton, followed by the financier Theodore Janssen, then Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, and John and John Charles Spencer. In the second half of the century the Spencers purchased other Manors, Durnsford from the Brodricks in the 1750s, Battersea from the St Johns in 1763, Downe from the Duke of Bedford in  1792, and Allfarthing in 1816. The Manor of Streatham and Tooting Bec was owned by the Dukes of Bedford, and the Manor of Leigham in north Streatham by Lord Thurlow until much of the land was sold in the 1830s.

When the 3rd Earl Spencer got into financial difficulties he sold the freeholds which made up about one-fifth of Battersea. 87% of the land sold was agricultural as well as the large vitriol manufactory at Nine Elms, and the silk factory at York Place.

Putney Bridge 

The attraction of Putney, Roehampton and Wimbledon for the aristocratic, political, financial and industrial elites  had been helped with the opening of Putney Bridge by a consortium which included the First Minister Robert Walpole in 1729. By 1807 Roehampton had become one of the most aristocratic neighbourhoods in the country.
Putney had some industry including a boatyard. The former mansion house Putney Palace was leased as a factory until 1826 when it was pulled down and smaller houses built on the site.

French Huguenots

Whether they lived in Wandsworth parish or not the French Huguenots and their descendents were important developers of the Wandle industrial revolution in the 1690s to the 1720s.

Kathy Chater’s research shows that several of the newly arrived Wandsworth Huguenots  in the 1680s and 90s had known each other  while in prison together at Rouen.  Along with Janssen as Lord of the Manor of Wimbledon several Huguenots involved in the financial revolution and the South Sea Company had their out of town mansions across the area: including Peter Delaporte, James Doliffe, Ambrose Crowley, James Bateman, Edward Gibbon and ‘Vulture’ Hopkins.

Huguenots included the merchant and brewer Peter Paggen, Peter Dubuisson, the calico printer, and the wine merchant Pierre Reneu who invested n£7,500 in the Bank of England,  the East India Company and  the Million Bank.

The Van Necks
Huguenot descendants continued to play an important role through the century, Theodore Janssen’s son Stephen ran  Battersea Enamels at York House from the 1750s to 1770s with the engraver Simon Ravenet. Gerard Van Neck frequently entertained George II in Putney House before  moving to Roehampton in 1780. His brother Sir Joshua lived in Lime Grove off Putney Hill, and his  son built Grove House.

Mansion houses and estates
The elites were also settling in the area. The owners and tenants of Roehampton’s Great House estate across the 25 years from 1690 included the Countess of Northumberland, then Jeffries who was  unofficial paymaster to English troops based in New York from 1702.  

Wimbledon’s Old Park Estate of nearly 300 acres was bought by the London merchant William Browne  in 1705. He had Westside and Warren (now Cannizaro) Houses built, living in  Westside and leasing Warren. Thomas Cary, the London merchant born in the Virginia colony lived at the Warren before moving to Roehampton House in 1712 which he had built. Thomas Walker, MP. George II’s Land Revenue Surveyor General bought Old Park Estate in 1738.

Parksted House
An estate purchaser in 1751 was  William-Anne Keppel, 2nd Earl of Albemarle, a member of the Courts of George 1 and II. In 1759 George Pitt, later Lord Rivers purchased 41 acres of freehold farmland and built West Hill House. In the early 1760s Parksted House was built for Lord Bessborough with a park. A later occupant was the former diplomat David Murray, Viscount Stormont, then 2nd Earl of Mansfield, becoming Lord Justice General between 1778 and 1795.

The lawyer  Dudley Ryder. who settled in Tooting in December 1733, became Solicitor-General, Attorney-General 1737 to 1754 and then Chief Justice of the King’s Bench until his death in 1756.

The Sister Houses
Businessmen who were Aldermen of the City of London included Sir John Grosvenor who died in Putney in 1735 and Sir Henry Bankes at Wimbledon House. Isaac Ackermann had the Sister Houses (Gilmore – 113 Clapham Common Northside and Alverston) built in 1753. John Walter the founder of The Times lived in Alverston between 1774 and 1784. In 1787 John Lubbock purchased one of the houses.

Wimbledon and Roehampton Houses

In the 1770s Thomas Thyme, Viscount Weymouth, Secretary of State in Lord North’s Government lived  at Eagle House in Wimbledon, followed by Sir Walter Draper, who had conquered Manila in 1762. Downshire House in Roehampton Lane was built around 1779 for General James Cholmondeley. He became a member of the House of Lords in 1783 and Lord Steward of the Royal Household from 1812 to 1821.

From 1787 to 1789 Eagle House was occupied by Hon. William Grenville, a cousin and friend of William Pitt who was a regular visitor. It then became a private school run by Revd Thomas Lancaster, a friend of Nelson who moved into Merton Place estate with Emma Hamilton in 1800.

Note: this series of postings is based on a talk on 30 May as part of the Wandsworth Heritage Festival. An earlier version was given at the January 2016 Annual Conference of the British Society for 18thC Studies.

Note: This series of postings is based on a  talk on 30 May in the Wandsworth Heritage Festival. An earlier version was given at the January 2016 Annual Conference of the British Society for 18thC Studies.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Diversity among the documents - Part 2

I have been involved in discussions before on the interaction between academics and communities. Back in 2009 I took part in the Sharing Knowledge symposium. I have also been involved in the issues of the digital divide which flowed from previous involvement with the telephony divide. Historical geographers at Newcastle University and telecoms access specialists (e.g. Claire Milne in Public Utilities Access Forum, which I was Secretary of, now Essential Services Access Network. were crucial in developing that work (

Digital debate on the long-18thC

Given the growing number of specialist historical digital projects. e.g. the Old Bailey trials, and the London Electoral History 1700-1850, I tried to set up a roundtable discussion about the topic for the British Society for 18thC Studies (BSECS) Conference in January 2016. BSESC has an annual award to the best digital history project at its Conference. The aim was to review:
(a)    the big projects to-date and what we are learning from them;
(b)   what needs to be done next. e.g. petitions to Parliament
(c)    the loss of material generated by previous projects whose websites have been taken down. e.g. the former Centre for Research into Freemasonry at Sheffield University
(d)   non-academic resources which contain 18thC material, e.g. North East Popular Politics Project
(e )   dangers on short-life of digital formats

I was unable to identify people involved with projects who would be able to  attend. The theme was picked up for the 2017 Conference with Stephen Gregg organising the Round Table: The Future of Digital Humanities and BSECS and his participation in the 2018 Conference panel entitled Recovery and Reinvention in the Digital Archives. I was unable to take part because it clashed with one of the other panels I was involved in. I chaired an experimental session in which artist Ros Martin presented and discussed the collaborative artist installation Daughters of Igbo Woman, comprising a trilogy of digital films for the Georgian House Museum, Bristol.

Digital Humanities and Community EngagementBecause of this background, and because we have previously worked together on the histories of black, Battersea and Wandsworth freemasonry and friendly societies, Andrew Prescott invited me to take part in a workshop on 18 April to examine issues involved in digital humanities and community engagement.
  • ·       How do we ensure equal partnerships between researcher and communities in developing shared projects?

  • ·       What represents best practice?

  • ·       What barriers prevent such partnership?

  • ·       How do we ensure a diverse range of stakeholders and community partnerships in the development of digital services?

  • ·       Are communities being excluded from digital possibilities?

  • ·       What does a shared digital research community look like?

Andrew is Professor of Digital Humanities at Glasgow University and Theme Leader Fellow for the AHRC’s Digital Transformations strategic theme. He used to work for the British Library, and then ran the Centre for Research into Freemasonry at Sheffield University. After he left there the web site he set up with a mass of material was taken down by the University. This is not an untypical story when funding ends. One of the stark illustrations of this was a visual shown at the workshop of the British Library web archive project which showed how much web material has disappeared. Andrew has his own blog site at

The presentations at the workshop were extremely wide ranging with Simon Popple from Leeds University talking about YARN and Pararchive, Mark Cote and Jennifer Pybus from Kings College talking out their work on how much data is collected about us as individuals, Christie Walker of the Royal College of Art, Helena Byrne of the British Library web archiving team, and Catherine Grout on the digital work of JISC, the not for-profit company which support post-16 and higher education, and research, by providing relevant and useful advice, digital resources and network and technology. Ruth Gatlow of the Futurefield project based in Finsbury Park spoke about arts, technology and social change online and in the Park. 

Key Questions

The key questions being addressed were:

Sharing Knowledge

The  issues were similar to those at the 2009 Sharing Knowledge, Shaping Practice Knowledge Transfer in the Arts and Humanities symposium in May 2009, and the many debates I have been involved in over the years on ‘community engagement’. The symposium was organised by the AHRC with other partners as part of its work to encourage researchers to disseminate and transfer their knowledge to areas beyond academia where it can make a difference. ‘Arts and humanities subject domains have a huge contribution to make to the economic, social and cultural life of the UK, so one of the key elements of AHRC’s  role is to ensure UK businesses and other non- academic organisations can benefit from the research it funds. One of the main ways the AHRC does this is through Knowledge Transfer, the process in which knowledge is co-produced through interactions between academic and non-academic individuals and communities.’

Key concerns

Key concerns expressed at the workshop included:

The difficulty of defining ‘community’.

The banality of a lot of ‘community engagement ’techniques.

Problems with who in the community is able to take part given the time and costs involved.

The digital divide.

The way real life changes people’s involvements in projects.

Suspicion of academic researchers given past experiences.

Finding out about what ’community’ needs are.

The importance of objects that can be handled, rather than digital images.

Institutional, research and funding problems within Universities.
The problems of funding allocation decisions.

The need for funding for archives to complete digitising their catalogues and complete the listing of uncatalogued material so that existing paper archives are more publicly known about and accessible.

The loss of digital archive material as websites are replaced e.g. when Government Departments and Quangos are shut down or have their names changed. Fortunately after the Museums, Libraries & Archives Council was wound up, The National Archives took over its resources, including the useful report of the Archives Task Force, Listening to the Past, Speaking to the Future.

It occurred to me after the workshop that a major problem in both academia and community is the continual changes of personnel, re-structuring, funding criteria and the disruption that follows to network connections. There is a danger of constantly seeking to re-invent the wheel. That also was something that struck me during the Alymer Seminar.