A History of Roehampton Parish
by Henry Elkerton and James McKinney
It was in 1935 that the Reverend Henry Elkerton published his pocket ‘History of Roehampton Parish’. He continued to serve as vicar until the end of the Second World War. However his history of the parish has never been amended or updated. Now, over seventy years later, it seemed appropriate to bring into focus some of the momentous developments that have taken place since Mr Elkerton’s ‘History’. The way in which this new version has been presented has been to incorporate the entirety of Mr Elkerton’s ‘History’, as it is a historical gem in its own right, and then to add a new chapter bringing the story of the parish up to date.
Roehampton has been well described as ‘the last village in London’. This may be because the boundary of the jurisdiction of the London County Council terminates at the boundary of the Parish, the Beverley Brook, or because the village still retains its rural look, while all other villages in the area have been urbanized. Certainly all will agree that the view of the wooden houses abutting upon the steps leading from Medfield Street to the High Street, and the view looking down the High Street to the King’s Head, retain the character of an English country town or village.
The village was formerly called Rokehampton and Roughhampton in the very distant past. In the reign of Henry VII the village contained only fourteen houses and was counted as a hamlet within the Manor of Wimbledon or Mortlake, which at that time included Putney. In 1617 it had thirty-three houses, including the two inns, the ‘King’s Head’, and the ‘Angel’, which are still in use. Roehampton was then but a little cluster of houses in the midst of wild open country, of which Wimbledon Common and Putney Heath and Richmond Park are the survivors. There was also Putney Park, whose boundary is marked by Putney Park Lane. Across this open country the deer would range freely under royal protection, for in the first year of Queen Mary’s reign, 1553, Sir Robert Tyrwhit was Keeper of Putney Park and Master of the Game.
James I made a grant of that office for life to Sir Charles Howard, with a special payment of ₤15 per annum to buy hay for the deer.
King Charles I in the second year of his reign granted the fee simple of this part to Sir Richard Weston, Lord High Treasurer of England, and afterwards Earl of Portland, who built a house in Roehampton to be his summer residence.
On May 26th, 1632, a chapel was consecrated in this house known as Roehampton House, by William Laud, then Bishop of London, and afterwards the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury. Lord Wimbledon, Lord of the Manor, met the Bishop and Lord Weston of Neyland, as he was then, at the door and gave his consent as lessee of the great tithes. Christopher Fox, Curate of Wimbledon, and Richard Avery, Curate of Putney, were also present, and gave their consent. The chapel was dedicated to the Holy Trinity, and ‘assigned to be a Chapel for ever to the inhabitants present and future of that house’.
In this chapel Charles I attended the wedding of Jerome Weston, to which Ben Jonson refers in his Epithalamiam, vol. ix, p. 92.
King Charles’s statue on horseback, now at Charing Cross, was cast by Hubert Le Soeur in 1633, on a piece of ground near the Church in Covent Garden. This statue was made to the order of the Lord Treasurer, Richard Weston, first Earl of Portland, and was to have been set up in his grounds at Roehampton. The contract for this statue is still in existence, and proves that Le Soeur received for his work the sum of ₤600. The statue had not, it seems, been set up at the time of the King’s murder, and was sold by the Army Parliament to John Rivett, or Ryvett, a brasier living in the parish of St. Sepulchre, Holborn, on condition that he broke it up and used the material in his business. Rivett, however, buried the statue underground, and produced broken pieces of metal as evidence of its destruction, later on doing a good trade in objects he asserted had been made from the metal of the King’s statue. A vast number, it is said, of handles of knives and forks in brass were made and sold to Royalists as relics.
At the Restoration the statue was found to be intact and was sold or presented to Charles II. It was erected in 1675, on the very spot where several of the regicides were executed, and faces down Whitehall towards the scene of the King’s death.
After the death of Richard Weston, his son Jerome became the first Ranger of Richmond Park, and acted for the King in his high-handed ejection (even though compensation was offered) of the unfortunate residents who occupied land within the area of Richmond Park, which was enclosed with a high wall in 1634, and stocked with red and fallow deer.
In 1640 Jerome Weston sold the house and park for the sum of ₤11,300 to Sir Thomas Dawes, by whom they were first let and afterwards sold about 1650 to Christian, Countess of Devonshire. She was the daughter of Edward (Bruce), first Lord Kinloss, Master of the Rolls, a chief favourite of James I, and was married to William (Cavendish), second Earl of Devonshire. She was described in her youth as a ‘pretty red-headed wench’. The Countess was distinguished as the patroness of the wits of that age, who frequently assembled at her house. Waller often read his verses there, and dedicated his Epistles to her. William, Earl of Pembroke, wrote a volume of poems in her praise, published afterwards and dedicated to her by Donne. Evelyn calls her ‘that excellent and worthy person’. Pomfret, after her death in 1674, wrote her Life, which was published in 1685. She was a zealous Royalist and entertained many of the King’s friends at her house; and concerted measures with them during the rebellion for restoring the Monarch. Her letters were written in cipher, in which she was assisted by her nephew, Lord Bruce, and her chaplain, Mr. Gale. She became at length a suspected person and was in danger of being sent to the Tower; but a seasonable bribe proved her protection.
She afterwards entered into a correspondence with General Monk, who, at a time when his conduct was most mysterious, is said to have made known to her, by a private signal, his intentions of restoring the King. When Charles II returned to England, he showed the sense he entertained of her zeal for his service by frequently visiting her at Roehampton in company with the Queen-Mother and the royal family, with whom she enjoyed an unusual intimacy until her death on January 16th 1674-5. (There is an original portrait of the Countess by Theodore Russell, a pupil of Van Dyck, of which there is a copy in Lysons’s Environs of London, vol. i, p. 452, Ed. 1796; from which volume the above narrative is taken.)
Roehampton House descended, after the Countess’s death, to her son William, the third Earl of Devonshire, who died there in 1684. He was father to the first Duke and had been a great sufferer in the Civil War.
Thomas Hobbes, the free-thinker, who was appointed tutor to the third Earl by his mother, was entertained in his house as long as he lived, though the Earl of Devonshire detested his religious and political opinions. Hobbes resided with the family, wherever they were, and refused to be left behind even in his last illness, though they were obliged to convey him in a litter; he died in 1679.
Sir Jeffery Jeffreys, Alderman of London, bought the house in 1689 and died there in 1707. It was afterwards the property of Mr. Joseph Bagnall, and sold in 1744. After it had passed successively through the hands of Mr. Fordyce, the Banker, and Mr. Thomas Parker, the old house was pulled down by Sir Joshua Vanneck (afterwards Lord Huntingfield). He employed Wyatt and Robert Adam to build a new house in 1777, now re-named Roehampton Grove. Portions of their fine work still remain. At this time the Chapel was re-erected as a separate building one hundred yards away from the house.
Mr. William Gosling possessed it in 1798. He was succeeded by MrThomas Fitzherbert. Then came Mr. Stephen Lyne Stephens, M.P., who married Pauline Duvernay, the celebrated danseuse of the time of King William IV. Mrs. Lyne Stephens gave the fountain in the village and contributed largely to the building of the Convent of the Sacred Heart.
In 1911 Mr. Fischer, a German, occupied the house till the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, when the War Office took it over, until in 1921 its present occupants, the Froebel Educational Institute, entered into possession.
On the opposite side of Roehampton Lane is a large mansion of red brick with stone dressings, built for Thomas Carey about the year 1710 by Thomas Archer, who also designed the church of St. John, Millbank, Westminster. This house now took the name of Roehampton House. The salon has a ceiling, painted, perhaps, by Sir James Thornhill, representing a feast of the gods on Olympus; the colouring is vivid, and the whole in good preservation. The main staircase is a very fine piece of work. The steps up to the front door are remarkable for their beauty of design. (The plans of the house are in Campbell’s Vitruvius Britannicus, vol. iv). Among other distinguished owners have been William, Earl of Albemarle, and the Earl of Leven and Melville. It is now Queen Mary’s (Roehampton) Hospital, tinder the Ministry of Pensions.
Manresa House, now occupied by the Society of Jesus, was originally called ‘Parkstead’ (Vitruvius Britannicus, vol. iv) and built about 1750 by William Chambers, as architect for Brabazon Ponsonby, Earl of Bessborough. It is said that the Prince Regent, when living at Clarence Lodge in Priory Lane, would sometimes spend an afternoon playing cards for high stakes with Lord Bessborough in a summerhouse facing Richmond Park, which is now a small oratory. The grounds of Parkstead then stretched right across to the Portsmouth Road and included all the top right-hand side of Roehampton Lane and the area through which Alton Road and Bessborough Road now pass.
The Convent of the Sacred Heart in Roehampton Lane was originally the house of Edward Law, Lord Ellenborough, Governor General of India in 1841.
Downsbire House was built by Bettringham for the Marchioness of Downshire in the latter part of the eighteenth century.
Mount Clare was built in 1772 by George Clive and so named in compliment to his relative, Lord Clive, who was proprietor of Claremont, Esher. Sir Charles Ogle, one of Nelson’s captains, purchased it and died there in 1858. The house is possibly that described by Disraeli in Lothair and named ‘Belmont’Nothing survives of Dover House but the name of Dover House Road. The house took its name from Lord Dover. Mr. Pierpont Morgan, the American financier, was its last occupant.
The house on the opposite side of Putney Park Lane known as Gifford House is built upon the site of the residence of Lord Gifford, the Attorney-General, who prosecuted Queen Caroline in 1820.
Bowling Green House on Putney Heath was known to be in existence in 1696 as an inn where bowls was the great sport. It became a fashionable place of entertainment and of gambling in the eighteenth century. It was afterwards occupied by William Pitt, the famous Prime Minister, who often walked along the avenue called ‘Pitt’s Walk’ overlooking the Common. He died there in i806. The site and grounds are now occupied by Bowling Green Close.
On the top of the rise before Beverley Brook is reached stood an old inn (now used as offices by the K.L.G.) called the ‘Bald-faced Stag’, well known in former times as having been the haunt and place of refuge of the notorious footpad, Jerry Abershawe, who for several years kept this part of the country under constant depredation and was eventually executed in 1795 for an attempted murder on Wimbledon Common. Fifty years later Queen Victoria used to make the first change of horses there when driving from London on her way to Windsor.
Roehampton originally formed part of the parish of Wimbledon, and later on of Putney when that became a separate parish in the seventeenth century. It is recorded that when, on the 26th May 1632, Lord Weston’s private Chapel was dedicated, Christopher Fox, Curate of Wimbledon, and Richard Avery, Curate of Putney, were both present, and gave their consent. But this Chapel was a private Chapel, and did not exempt its owner from duties to the parish of Putney. Christian, Countess of Devonshire, when living at Roehampton House, had two seats allotted to her in the gallery of Putney Church, but did not always pay her due, for in the Churchwardens’ Accounts of 1667 occurs this entry: ‘To charge of goeing and sending severall tymes to geet the Countess of Devonshire’s money for ye gallery 5s. 6d’. And in 1669 the Putney Vestry ordered the hamlet of Roehampton to pay one-third of all the sums raised in the parish; evidently Roehampton then had a large proportion of the wealthier residents of Putney.
When the first Chapel of 1632 was dismantled at the time of the pulling down of the old house, of which it was part, Lord Huntingfleld built the second Chapel in 1777 one hundred yards away from his new house, in the grounds.
But in 1841 this domestic Chapel was found to be insufficient for the growing needs of the hamlet, and the Reverend Christopher Thomas Robinson, Perpetual Curate of Putney, obtained the approval of Doctor William Howley, Archbishop of Canterbury (for Putney was then a ’Peculiar’ of the Archbishops of Canterbury), for the erection of a new Church designed by Benjamin Ferrey. On Wednesday, February 2nd, 1842, the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, after Holy Communion had been celebrated by the Reverend Edward Patteson, who thus concluded his ministry there, the Church was closed, and the work of demolition begun on the following day. Divine Service was held in a barn furnished from the old Chapel, on the opposite side of Roehampton Lane at the back of what is now called ‘The Rookery’, from Sunday, February 13th, 1842, until Sunday, February 26th, 1843.
On Monday, February 7th 1843, the new Church was consecrated by Archbishop Howley. The dedication of the first two Chapels to the Holy Trinity was continued in the third. It was of scholarly design in the Early English or lancet style of architecture. The walls were of Kentish Rag Stone. Above the western gable was an open bell turret with one bell. Within, at the west end, was a gallery entered by a separate staircase from an outside door, with small benches for the children of the parish. The east end had a rose-window at the top, with three lancet windows below. The stone altar is that which now stands in the Lady Chapel of the present Church. This Church must have rightly given occasion for pride and joy, for it was a well-built, fine building.
The Mirror of Saturday, March 4th 1843, gives a very quaint description of the Dedication Festival: ‘The ground on which the Chapel stands was partly presented by Bennet Gosling, Esq., who also contributed to the fund. Among the chief contributors may be mentioned Lady Dover (of Dover House), Mrs. Poulett Thompson, the Marquis of Bristol (of Bristol House, now Bristol Gardens), Lord Longdale (of Templeton House), Vice-Chancellor Bruce (of The Priory), J. H. Oughton, Esq. (of The Rookery),J. W. Bowden, Esq. Sir C. Ogle (of Mount Clare), the Hon. L. Melville (of Roehampton House), A. Robarts, Esq., Sir G. Larpent, D. B. Chapman, Esq. (of Downshire House), B. Gosling, Esq. (of Roehampton Grove), and T. Beaumont, Esq.
‘The Archbishop of Canterbury arrived at half-past ten o’clock on Monday last at the residence of J. H. Oughton, Esq., and robed, receiving his clergy, amounting to nearly forty in number, who came to be present at the ceremony. They proceeded then to the Chapel, situate at the corner of Mr. Gosling’s ground. Sir H. Jenner Fust read the consecration Deed, and the venerable Archbishop consecrated the Chapel. Prayers were read by Doctor Biber (formerly Minister of Kingston Vale, and now of Roehampton), and the sermon, by order of the Archbishop, was preached by the Rev. C. Robinson, Perpetual Curate of Putney.
‘After the Service the parties already named, with Lady Lascelles, Lady Bruce, the Hon. Miss Ponsonbys, Mrs. Talbot, and about two hundred and fifty gentry residing for the most part in the neighbourhood, returned to the mansion of J. H. Oughton, Esq. There a splendid dejeuner a la fourchette was provided and everything that taste could suggest, and unsparing liberality supply, set before the venerable Prelate and the honoured guests who accompanied him. The lady of Mr. Oughton was led into the banqueting room by the Archbishop, and, while the entertainment was strictly ‘the feast of reason and flow of soul’, the flow of champagne was not restricted, though it did not pass the bounds of temperance.
From a pamphlet published at the time we learn that, ‘By a subscription among the gentry, tickets for meat, bread, beer, etc., were distributed among the poorer families of the hamlet, that all might participate in the festive observance of the day.’
In 1862 Roehampton was made a separate parish.
This Church was enlarged in 1862 and 1883 by the addition of transepts and a choir vestry and organ chamber.
In 1898 the New Church was built and this Church was no longer used save for a short period during the Great War by the soldiers quartered in the neighbourhood, and the patients from the Hospital in Roehampton House.
In 1928 an Order in Council was obtained to pull it down, and to sell the land upon which it stood.
THE PRESENT CHURCH
On Saturday, April 8th, 1896, the Foundation Stone was laid by H.R.H. Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck. The Bishop of Rochester (Dr. Edward Stuart Talbot), for the parish was then in that Diocese, delivered an address on this occasion which set forth his hopes for the future work of this Church, in the parish, in the Diocese, and in the Mission Field, in the following words: ‘My hope would be that if here in Roehampton you receive more abundantly through this work, if here you find it easier to bring up your children in the faith and fear of Christ, if here worship is better ordered, if here you become more sensible of the privilege and dignity of belonging to our Lord Jesus Christ, and membership in His Church, then I trust that what will follow will be that this place will be increasingly one of those centres from which spiritual strength and spiritual help will go forth widely on the right hand and the left.
‘We cannot limit the influence of work done by any single place where the faith and service of Christ are present in their power. It may reach to the ends of the world, if we do our duty as a Missionary Church, but even more decided may be its influence on ourselves.
‘Amidst the vast needs of this great Diocese, we do look for such places as this to be increasingly a strength to us in our work, where those who are thus gifted by God with spiritual things will out of that abundance give freely and liberally to extend such blessings to others.
‘I sincerely trust that that may be the blessing which God has in store for this work; and I am certain that there is none, I will not say higher, but so high.’
On Saturday, February 19th, 1898, the Church was consecrated by Bishop Talbot of Rochester, who celebrated the Holy Communion for the first time in the new Church at 8 a.m. on the next day, being Quinquagesima Sunday.
A DESCRIPTION OF THE CHURCH
by the Architect, Mr. George H. Fellowes Prynne, F.R.I.B.A.
The Church was given a site which was originally that of the garden attached to the Headmaster’s house, bounded at the east by the Boys’ School building, and at the west by the strip of common land immediately above the Girls’ School.
The Church consists of nave, chancel, north and south aisles. A double transept is thrown out on the north side and forms the nave of an apsidal ended Lady Chapel on the north side of the Chancel. Breadth is given to the west façade on the north by a porch surmounted by a tower and spire over 200 feet high, and a projecting semi-circular Baptistry on the south.
The style adopted is that of the latter part of the thirteenth century, Early English, with some Decorative detail in the Window tracery.
It is built externally of Corsham Down stone, with a concrete core; internally with Bath stone and red and yellow brick, together with marble shafts in the Chance] and reredos.
The ROOF of the whole Church is of waggon form carried at one level from east to west.
The NAVE is 80 feet in length by 24 feet broad, divided into five bays with a panel for mural decoration and two clerestory lights above each bay.
The AISLES are 12 feet 6 inches wide.
The CHANCEL, which is well raised above the level of the Nave, is 36 feet long, of the same width and height as the Nave. There are passages at each side of the Chance] for returning communicants. A lofty arch divides the Chance] from the Nave. One of the chief features of the design is the large traceried screen that fills the arch, with a sculptured figure of an Angel descending with the message, ‘On earth peace, good will towards men’. The dwarf wall on which the screen rests has figures of a choir of sculptured angels against a gold mosaic background, and gilded wrought iron gates are placed at the entrance.
The REREDOS is of considerable height and gives dignity to the East end. It is built of various stones, marble, and alabaster. The two panels are cut in high relief and coloured. Above is a representation of the Crucifixion with St. Mary and St. John, and on each side a company of adoring angels. Below is the Last Supper with the Lord and His disciples. Judas has left an empty stool in the foreground and is seen at the back going out. The walls of the Sanctuary to the height of 10 feet are faced with stone diaper work, above which are figures of the four Evangelists and the four major prophets. The Choir walls and the organ case are of carved oak.
The ALTAR is of oak with three panels painted by Mr. F. A. Fellowes Prynne. representing angels swinging censers before the Lamb of God.
The FONT has a bowl of alabaster supported on columns of varied marble. Four panels represent the Nativity, the Presentation, the Baptism of our Lord by St. John the Baptist, and Christ blessing little children. Between these panels are placed four angels all in pure white alabaster. The steps are of Labrador granite. The octagonal cover is richly carved in oak. The counter-weight is in the form of a dove.
The PULPIT is made of alabaster with polished warble and granite columns and steps. The upper panels are filled with glass and gold mosaic. The niches are occupied with alabaster figures of the four Evangelists. The base is made of pearl Labrador granite.
The ORGAN was constructed under the direction of Mr. Hope Jones, was extensively repaired in 1926 by Messrs. Henry Willis and Sons Ltd.
The PICTURES in the Chancel, on the left, show the Entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the Cleansing of the Temple, the Feet – washing; on the right, Gethsemane, the Capture of Christ, and the Mocking. Below the West window are mosaics of the Incarnation, the Annunciation, and the Epiphany.
THE STAINED GLASS WINDOWS
The windows are remarkable for their quality, and well worth studying in detail.
The EAST window has as its centre the Lamb with the Seven Seals, surrounded by angels holding scrolls on which are the Latin words of the Song in Heaven (Rev. vii, 12): Benedictio. claritas, sapientia, gratiarum actio, honor, virtus, fortitudo (Blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honour, power, and might). Below is the Lord in Glory on His Throne; with St. Augustine of Canterbury and the Blessed Virgin Mary on the left; and St. John and St. Paulinus on the right. Below, the bottom line shows St. Stephen, St. Peter, St. Michael, St. Paul, and St. Alban.
The windows in the SOUTH AISLE show St. Martin of Tours, St. Chad of Mercia, St. Aidan of Northumbria, St. Alban, St. Augustine of Canterbury, St. Oswald, King and Martyr, and the Venerable Bede. Each has a scene from the life of the Saint in the lower part of the window.
The BAPTISTRY has windows of the seven corporal works of mercy to show the duty of all baptized persons – to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to give hospitality to the stranger, clothing to the naked, help to the sick, and pity to those in prison. All these are front the Judgment Day questions of St. Matthew xxv. The seventh window gives the seventh act of mercy, to bury the dead; added to the list in the Middle Ages when there were no public burial boards.
The two windows at the west end of the south aisle are of St. Perpetua, St. Helena; and of St. Euphemia and St. Margarita.
The great WEST END WINDOW has at the top a rose window showing the Dove, the symbol of the Holy Ghost; with nine rays shedding upon the world, ‘The Fear of the Lord, Strength, Godliness, Fortitude, Prophecy, Inspiration, Knowledge, Counsel and Wisdom’. The work of the Holy Spirit is to create heroes, prophets, scholars, saints and evangelists, which is shown in the windows below:
Beginning from the bottom and reading across we see (1) SS. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; (2) Ezra, Solomon, St. Thomas Aquinas (with his sun to express radiant wisdom), and St. Augustine of Canterbury; (3) Samuel, David, Anselm (holding his book, Cur Deus Homo), and St. Ambrose (with the Te Deum he is erroneously supposed to have written); (4) Moses, Isaiah, St. Bernard of Clairvaux (with his book Regina in praise of the B.V. Mary), and St. Jerome in his Cardinal’s hat.
The two windows at the end of the NORTH AISLE show St. Agnes, St. Elizabeth; St. Cecilia, and Rachel weeping for her children typifying the mothers of the Holy Innocents. In the North Aisle we see St. George, St. Andrew, and St. Patrick, where is placed most appropriately the War Memorial.
In the NORTH TRANSEPT are two windows from the Old Church. One portrays the Annunciation, the Birth of Our Lord, and the Visitation of the B.V. Mary to St. Elizabeth. The other has in the centre the Crucifixion, and on either side the healing at the Pool of Siloam, and the healing of St. Peter’s mother-in-law.
The LADY CHAPEL has five windows of St. Agnes, St. Elizabeth, and in the centre the Blessed Mother and Her Son, St. Anne, St. Catherine and her wheel of torture. At the side are SS. Faith, Mary Magdalene, and Lucy.
THE ROEHAMPTON SCHOOLS
An indenture drawn up in July 1836 refers to a school then existing. In 1850 this school paid a yearly rental till ‘divers well- disposed persons purchased the release for a Church of England Parochial School’. In 1854 a separate school for boys was built, together with a house for the Master this building is now used as a carpentry room. The Girls and Infants remained in their original home at the bottom of Ponsonbv Road, which was rebuilt in 1877 at the cost of one thousand pounds.
In 1888 the present Boys’ School and Master’s house was built at a cost of two thousand five hundred pounds. The clock was transferred to the clock tower then erected, from its original home in the old school below.
In 1890 two thousand pounds was spent on the Girls School building, in addition to the Mistress’s house.
In 1897 four hundred pounds was spent on further improvements to the Girls’ and Infants’ School.
Mr Elkerton finished his pocket history of Roehampton in nineteen thirty five. At that stage, he could not have foreseen the Second World War, nor the enormous changes that would follow here in Roehampton. But there was one thing that was happening during Mr Elkerton’s time, which would have a profound effect on the parish later.
In 1912 there was a disused pub standing on the old Portsmouth Road in Putney Vale. This had been called the ‘Bald Faced Stag’. In this year one of its cellars was taken over by Kenelm Lee Guinness. Mr Guinness was a racing driver and inventor.
Over the next couple of decades he developed a series of high-grade sparking plugs, which were able to withstand very high temperatures. In time these plugs became the industry standard for all high performance engines. Demand inevitably increased, and the operation at the Bald Faced Stag grew massively. What was now a factory on this site became a critical part of the production of all military and aeronautical transport. This was beginning to be a national priority towards the end of the nineteen thirties. The operation by this time had become known as the Robin Hood Works or KLG Factory.
The effect of the presence of this factory to the area in which it was situated – Putney Vale, Kingston Vale and Roehampton was to be profound. The KLG factory had become a strategic component in our nation’s defences. In other words, it was to become a key target for an adversary wishing to undermine or to breach those defences. It did not take long for just such an adversary to appear. (see ‘I Never Knew That About London’, Christopher Winn, Ted Smart 2007)
THE SECOND WORLD WAR
During the Second World War, Roehampton suffered turmoil just as it had in the First World War. However there were two great differences. The first was that considerably fewer of the young men of the parish were killed during the course of the conflict. You just have to count the names on the two Remembrance Boards in Holy Trinity Church to see that this is the case. The second difference is that the effects of the Second World War were felt by the village of Roehampton in a physical form – through aerial bombardment.
Again, if you look at the names on the list of the fallen for the Second World War you will find the records of three women, and several civilians. In two instances it is clear that a whole family has been killed.
The main cause of this aerial bombardment was the then presence on the present site of ASDA, the hypermarket on the A3, barely a mile from the village, of the large KLG plant mentioned above. In the autumn of 1940 there seems to have been a deliberate policy of attacking the factory. This can be seen from the following notes taken down by Mr David Williamson who was one of the churchwardens of Holy Trinity during the wartime period. He entitled it:
German Bombing of Roehampton from September 1940
‘Aviemore’ on Roedean Crescent burnt out by fire bomb
‘Tregrew’, Portsmouth Road, incendiary bomb, gutted.
Manresa, five high explosive bombs, destroyed cowshed and printing works.
Putney Heath, six high explosive bombs.
Bombs near Queensmere and Windmill.
Alton House – delayed action bomb in gardens.
Putney Vale cemetery – an oil bomb.
Richmond Park on Golf Course.
Highdown Road incendiary bombs.
Ashburton House delayed action bomb in grounds.
Scio House two big high explosive bombs in grounds.
Vicarage and Dean Lodge incendiary bombs put out.
Total number of bombs dropped on village in the night of September 18th was 54.
Many incendiary bombs outside school and church. One hit the baptistery on Sept 26th.
Convent of the Sacred heart burnt out Sept 26th incendiary bombs.
Oct 7 Three high explosive bombs Roehampton Gate three killed one wounded. Many houses badly damaged.
Oct 10 One bomb in Vicarage garden; one in Bessborough Road, one girl killed; one in Clarensdean, Alton Road; one in Manresa, one killed, two injured.
Oct 11 Two bombs in West Mead; three in Longwood Drive; two in Nepean Street; one in Akehurst Street; Queen Mary’s Hospital Limb Factory roof killing one man; Sacred Heart on fire again; Roehampton Gate fires.
Oct 12 Bombs on Common near church. Two craters. Spire cracked across.
Oct 14 Delayed action bombs near War Memorial (exploded Oct 26 and blew off the top cross). Two h.e. bombs in Highwood. One fell on Gardener’s cottage and killed Mr Woodger. One bomb on edge of Bowling Green Close, another in grounds of Scio House. Incendiary bomb through roof of Girl’s School, extinguished on roof of classroom.
Oct 16 Very large mine bomb fell on Golf Course, Richmond Park, no one hurt.
Oct 19 Wall of Manresa in Roehampton Lane blown down by bomb.
Oct 21 West Mead House garage bombed. Heathview Gardens garages – bomb fell in yard.
Nov 7 One fell on corner of Ashburton House. Two by Heathview Gardens. No one hurt.
Nov10 Two time delay bombs on Common above Headmaster’s house. Another in the road Medfield Street. Another at corner of Longwood Drive and High Street.
March 19 1941 Two high explosive bombs on Highlands Heath flats, windows smashed all around, top floor demolished, one killed, one wounded.
It is extraordinary to read through these notes. Some of the names mentioned are so familiar to us. It is hard to imagine such suburban sites of tree-lined tranquility being the scenes of such horror and death: Roehampton Gate, Highlands Heath, Bessborough Road and Nepean Street. The notes also give a reason for the oddly pitted and dimpled landscape of the Common between the War Memorial and the School. But there are also hints of another age and an unfamiliar dimension to life in Roehampton: the cowsheds at Manresa (Parkstead) House, the grounds of Scio House, Alton House and Ashburton House, great houses now long gone.
In researching for this update of Mr Elkerton’s history of the parish, a member of the congregation, Mr John Harvey, told me a number of stories of when he was a child in Roehampton during wartime. His memories focus on a slightly later period of the war than Mr Williamson’s. Here is Mr Harvey’s account:
‘Background: German “V” weapon offensive
The main attack was between June 13th and September 1st 1944. The Allies finally overran the launching sites and Rocket Pads in March 1945. People had thought that the war was over when Hitler launched the first “V1s – Flying Bombs”. These were quite small, but versatile – 25 feet long with a wing span of 17 ½ feet wingspan and 850kg of explosive. They were powered by a pulse jet – sounding like a badly tuned motorbike. Thousands were launched from ground ramps, and later in 1945 by aircraft.
‘Some 1444 landed in Kent, 880 in Sussex, 122 in Wandsworth, 33 in Wimbledon, 141 in Croydon and 114 in Lewisham.
‘By September 1944, the “V2” Rocket had been perfected. This was 46 feet long with a diameter of 5 feet. It weighed 13 ½ tons. After lift-off it reached a speed of 3600 miles per hour reaching a height of 50 to 60 miles.
‘The first to land in Britain was in Chiswick. The Government said that a gas main had blown up. The explosion was accompanied by a quite considerable echo. This led to its nickname “The Flying Gas Main.” Smithfield Market was hit by a V2. It penetrated the Underground and killed 110 people.
‘Several thousand missiles landed (V1 and V2) with the loss of 5500 civilians and inflicting enormous damage. In fact, more were killed through this offensive than were killed during the Blitz. The last rocket crashed in Orpington on March 27th 1945.
‘The German Rocket engineers and scientists were captured by American Soldiers and taken to the USA. There they were instrumental in the development of the American Rocket capability.’
(My mother, who was in London during the Blitz and at this time, always used to say that, if the British had captured Werner von Braun, the head of the German development team, then he would have been hanged as a war criminal – we should never forget that the V rockets were an anti-civilian terror weapon. Instead von Braun joined NASA in America, and was feted by the world’s press after the moon landings of the late sixties. – JAM)
The Roehampton Incident
Mr Harvey’s account continues: ‘The V1 flying Bomb which so narrowly missed Holy Trinity Church was late in the programme. It was possibly launched from an aircraft in 1945. It did not power-dive on to a target, which was often the case. Others cut out and dropped, but this one glided in soundlessly. An air raid warning had sounded, but nothing was expected so late in the war. People were standing on their doorsteps in Medfield Street, facing the Green where an air-raid shelter existed for a while. Suddenly the people rushed down their steps and across the road. Once across, they immediately dived down into the grass. I was watching this scene, and I knew what it meant. I shot out of the front room of our house (which was in Ponsonby Road), making for our cellar when there was a heavy explosion. All our front glass was blown in, including the front door.
‘The V1 was well known for its blast effect – making next to no crater, whereas the V2 rocket dug itself in before exploding.
‘What had happened was that a flying bomb had been observed just missing the church tower and church roof, to say nothing of the school tree, straight in its way. If it had struck any of these, then all our roofs would have been blown in, possibly worse. In the end the missile continued to glide, following the present footpath to Dover Park Drive and it hit the house standing on the corner, killing everyone inside. The site is now occupied by ‘Little Dover House’.
‘At the end of the war on VE day our victory bonfire was by ’No 1 Bush’ which is still there on the Ponsonby Road side of the War Memorial.
‘I have been reminded that the church tower was fitted with a telephone during the early years of the war. The reason for this was the tower’s use as a fire watching post – a look-out for incendiary bomb fires during the German air raids on London and its environs. It was also a point from which any leaks in the Blackout could be observed and put right by the Air Raid Protection service.
‘One particularly nasty incident was when a number of heavy bombs landed in the woods between the church and Scio pond. There was a well-used path, leading from close by the top school-master’s house to Scio right through the woods, which was destroyed by this raid. It received a direct hit, leaving a very large crater, which was never filled in.
‘Evidently there was a rope available anchored in the tower to allow for a quick exit down the side of the tower in case of just such an emergency!’
The mention of damage done to the heath, the local houses and to the great houses perhaps prefigures the greatest change that was to take place to Roehampton in all its history. But first we need to put this change into context.
At the end of the Second World War, Roehampton was little different to what it had always been – a small village on the margin of London. Indeed, as we have seen Mr Elkerton describes it as ‘The Last Village in London.’ That is, it is the last village that you come across as you move west and south away from the city. Beyond Roehampton is Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common, and beyond them is Surrey.
That Roehampton should, at that time, have been relatively undeveloped is in itself odd. The other villages around had been transformed in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. They had seen enormous changes with a massive influx of population and the consequent spread of row upon row of Victorian and Edwardian terraces. Earlsfield, Southfields, Wimbledon, Sheen and Putney are all characterised by this rapid expansion of working class homes.
Roehampton was spared this rapid growth in population because, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it had become the site of a number of large houses owned by aristocratic families who wanted a base near, but not too near, to the political and commercial heart of the nation.
These families built estates stretching out from the centre of the village: Alton House, Roehampton House, Exeter House, Ashburton House, Scio House, Templeton, Parkstead House and Mount Clare, to mention a few. The existence of these estates and the determination of their owners to hold out against the influx of the working classes into the village ensured that Roehampton retained something of its picturesque past – which can still be glimpsed today.
However, changes in the society and the economy were being felt even amongst the great families, making one family’s ownership of a number of estates around the country unviable, and so some of the great houses were turned over to institutional use, even as early as the late nineteenth century. Parkstead House was sold to the Society of Jesus. The Froebel Institute moved to Grove House a little later. At about the same time that the Roman Catholic Church established the Digby Stewart / Sacred Heart complex on Roehampton Lane.
Then, of course, the greatest estate of them all, Roehampton House, became a hospital during the First World War. During the nineteen twenties and thirties, some of the smaller estates were showing the way for the future through conversion to private housing: Highlands Heath, Exeter House and Wychcroft Manor.
By the time of the Second World War, almost all of the great families had left the area, and their houses were taken over for other uses. Some now housed medical or educational institutions. Some had been demolished and turned over to private housing. And there were others had had become effectively ‘mothballed’ – looking for a new use, a new role. Many of these were war-damaged or changed irrevocably.
This need for a new role coincided with an even more desperate need: the relocation of those whose homes had been bombed during the Second World War, or who were living in wretched and inadequate accommodation elsewhere in London.
The two needs came together in the creation of the Alton, Ashburton and Lennox estates, by the London County Council in the late nineteen forties and early fifties.
This was a bold piece of social engineering. The parklands of the former estates would be taken over for housing of a totally new type. Blocks of flats of thirteen floors would be planted amongst the trees of the estates, to provide continuity and to preserve the park–like atmosphere of what had gone before. These blocks were of a radical new design looking towards the modernist architectural masters of earlier in the century: Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier.
This was a time of great optimism. It was the high tide in fact, of such modernist architecture, and of the modernist spirit.
Roehampton and places like it were to be the crucibles of a new way of living. The tower blocks were to be ‘streets in the sky’ places of equality and progress. There would be a classlessness to the community and a solidarity of outlook. The past was to be left behind, and the future would be embraced. The homes built here were to be machines for living in. They would be virtually indistinguishable from each other, and they would cater simply for the needs of the family according to its size with one bedroom-, two bedroom- and three bedroom flats. The public open grasslands replaced private gardens.
This was the dream – a functional, unsentimental, progressive community built on the principles of equality, sharing and progress. And it worked. And it worked well.
Something of the spirit of these times can be glimpsed from an article written by the foremost architectural critic of his age, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, in the Architectural Review for July 1959. Two quotes:
‘…the Roehampton estates contain few buildings dedicated to anything other than dwellings…..The main shopping centre is going to have sixteen shops in all. Two subsidiary shopping terraces, one in Bessborough Road, the other near the middle of the estate, will account for another twelve. That must seem preposterously little for nearly ten thousand people, but it ought to be remembered that the Roehampton estates lie alongside the old village centre of Roehampton with its long established shops.’
‘….although humanism and variety are the hallmark of the whole scheme they are not active equally in all parts. In fact there is a very noticeable change between Alton East and Alton West. It is patent in the architectural design and affects the relation of buildings to plan. The earlier point blocks are faced with pale cream brick and have lively projections and recessions in outline. The earlier maisonnettes and cottages have roofs of gentle pitch. The whole combines perfectly with the picturesque plan, the winding streets and informally placed trees. It is architecture at ease.
‘The later architecture is exacting. It is highly intelligent, concentrated, of great integrity, crisp and precise. The point blocks are completely flat in their elevation. Nothing must stick out. The maisonettes have flat roofs and windowless end walls and the slabs are extremely interesting, but unquestionably ruthless in their rhythm.’
There was a steady stream of people moving in from nineteen fifty five until the early sixties. Residents committees sprang up, social clubs and children’s organizations flourished.
The schools were booming. The churches grew and came together for sharing and friendship. Community spirit molded people from diverse communities form all over London. Often people moving into Roehampton, allocated a flat on a more or less random basis would discover that their next door neighbours were from the same part of London that they had just left.
Different parts of the estate would develop their own character and rivalries would emerge between them. Roehampton became a mature community, in other words. Life continued well for the residents, they became established in their work, and their children grew up, did well and went on to University in many cases.
A SHOCKING CASE OF MURDER
In September 1969 an incident occurred which caused a nation-wide reaction and which called into question all that had been achieved in Roehampton. This was the murder of Michael de Gruchy, a solicitors’ clerk, on Wimbledon Common just beyond the underpass below the A3 close to Ringwood Gardens. Michael was a gay man, and this crime became the most notable instance of ‘queer-bashing’ to take place in Britain. Queer-bashing was the deliberate targeting, victimization and physical violence against gay men, by gangs of youths. The youths in this case all came from the Alton Estate.
Both within Roehampton and across the country, a debate ensued trying to come to terms with what had happened, and attempting to diagnose the culture shared amongst the boys that had committed the crime. One thread within the complex of issues raised by the murder was the lack of entertainment and diversionary provision for young people on the Alton Estates. It is the general understanding that this debate led to the building and equipping of the Alton Youth Centre on Bessborough Road as a help towards better provision for young people.
This second generation had a more profound problem to deal with, and that was that there was no accommodation within Roehampton for them to move into. Their parents’ generation had taken all the available housing. And so they had to move out. This was the beginning of the scattering. A couple who had moved here in the nineteen fifties with, say, three children born here, by the end of the nineteen seventies, could have a child moved to Australia, another living in Raines Park to the south and the last in Croydon to the east.
Then came two massive changes to the fabric of the newly consolidated Roehampton community. Both were products of national government policy. The first, during the nineteen seventies, was the duty imposed upon local authorities to house the homeless. This meant that if any family or individual found themselves without anywhere to live, then the local authority had to find them accommodation, and usually this came from the existing housing stock, although Bed and Breakfast was used as a short-term stop- gap.
Then, during the nineteen eighties the national government brought in the ‘right to buy’. Council tenants were given the right to buy the homes that they had been living in, in some cases for over thirty years, at a discounted rate.
This right was taken up enthusiastically by the residents of Roehampton. Sometimes these were sold on after the minimum period, but mostly the couple who bought stayed where they were.
But they got older. And from the early nineteen nineties, as the original owners died or moved away to be with their children, so their flats and houses have been sold on. In a few cases this has been to young families looking for their first homes, but mostly it has been to private landlords. These landlords have carried out major alterations and remodeled the accommodation for single people, students or for lone parent families. On the two main estates in Roehampton, about fifty percent of the residents took up the right to buy, and the other fifty percent have remained as tenants of the local borough council – Wandsworth.
During this same period of the mid eighties to the mid nineties, increasing demands were made upon borough councils to house those in most housing need, and so the stock of local authority housing here in Roehampton, the largest stock of such housing in the Borough, was devoted to lone-parent families, refugees and asylum seekers. Now it was right and proper that the accommodation should be used in such a way, but it did have the effect on Roehampton of making the community ever more transitory. So much so, that there is scarcely a Roehampton community at all now.
Very few people stay long enough to make it a community. And the plurality of the different groups who live here works against any sense of shared experience or shared history. There is a minimal sense of engagement. We celebrate out diversity and the richness of our cultural mix. People come from Russia, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Afghanistan, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Brazil, and China – all over the world. We mix but we do not have enough time to engage. Our backgrounds are so different, our individual histories are so different, our languages are different and often our religions are different.
A common pattern has emerged: people come to Roehampton, get themselves settled and in order, and then they move on to the more southerly suburbs or to where their ethnic communities are better established.
Roehampton is by no means unique in this regard. Transitoriness is common to many areas of London. One could almost say that it is the defining factor in metropolitan life today. It is just that in Roehampton, it is particularly intense, stark and evident.
But it is not just the people of Roehampton who are changing. At the turn of the twenty first century, a number of large developments were initiated. The first of these was the move of Southfields College to Roehampton Lane. Southfields was a Methodist Teacher Training College situated on Parkside, opposite Wimbledon Common on the way to Wimbledon Village.
In 1975, it became part of the Roehampton Institute which has mutated into the present University of Roehampton. The new purpose-built site for the college was carved out of the grounds of Digby Stuart College, another partner college in the University. The consolidation of the University of Roehampton was completed in 2004 by the transfer of Whitelands College, a former Church of England Teacher Training College, from West Hill in Wandsworth to it present site at the old Manresa House behind Danebury Avenue shops. With the move the main building on this site has reverted to its previous name of Parkstead House.
A similar two-phase redevelopment is presently in train on the site of Queen Mary’s Hospital. The Hospital used to occupy Roehampton House and it s grounds. In 2006 Queen Mary’s moved to a new building that had been constructed at the northern end of its previously extensive site. Part of the old grounds have been converted into car parking facilities for the hospital, whilst the rest of Roehampton House and its grounds have been refurbished and redeveloped to provide four hundred and eighty four new dwellings for the people of Roehampton and beyond.
Perhaps there is another change which has affected the fabric of Roehampton as profoundly as the bombing of the Second World War and the building of the Alton estates. And that is the mushrooming of car ownership during the nineteen eighties and nineties.
Traffic and congestion, in fact, completely subverted the original plans for the Roehampton estates. The whole enterprise as set forth by the London County Council was to have the estates served by two main roads which provided a conduit for traffic through the estates, by which also linked them to the rest of the surrounding areas. In Alton East this was to be Alton Road, and in Alton West this was to be Danebury Avenue. During the nineteen sixties and early seventies, such was the volume of traffic at peak times along Danebury Avenue, that it became a dangerous example of what we know now as a ‘rat run’. Commuting drivers saw it as simply an easy way from Richmond Park through to the A3.
And so it was that in a few years after the building of the estates, Danebury Avenue was closed at a point near to what is now the Alton School. This closure has turned the bulk of Roehampton into a huge cul-de-sac and has devastated the economic life of the parish. Roehampton shops pick up virtually no ‘passing trade’.
Even the ‘preposterously little’ provision of shops, mentioned by Pevsner, has withered away.
Furthermore, at any time, day or night, it is impossible to find a road in the parish without one side of the road completely taken up with parked cars. Most roads and streets have as many cars parked as they can physically accommodate and still allow traffic to pass. Roehampton Lane is now one of the busiest thoroughfares in South West London with regular peak-time traffic jams. The pollution and noise from this flood of traffic are causing increasing concern.
In fact, it is hard to conceive of the traffic situation getting any worse than it is at present. The parking capacity of the area has almost reached saturation point, and only a small increase in the volume of traffic along Roehampton Lane would cause gridlock along the Lane itself, or on either the A3 or the Upper Richmond Road, into which the Lane disgorges its flow.
If Mr Elkerton were to return to Roehampton, now, seventy years after he wrote his history of the parish, he would find a community changed beyond recognition. What he knew of the great houses has vanished; the rolling parklands belonging to those houses now host the tower blocks and maisonettes of the Alton estates. Three of the four village pubs have been closed. A few of the trees he had known still survive, most particularly the beautiful Cedar of Lebanon by Mount Clare.
But has the Church changed too? Would Mr Elkerton find a niche inside the present Holy Trinity? I like to think that he would. He might find the modern idiom of our services a little too relaxed and informal in speaking of God. He would enjoy our 12.00 o’clock service of Holy Communion according to the Book of Common Prayer. He would even be familiar with our 8.00 o’clock Communion, which is essentially the same service as was put forward to the Church in the 1928 version of the Book of Common Prayer. I’m not sure that he would approve of our coffee and biscuits in church after the main service, but I think he might enjoy it nonetheless.
On thing I am sure that he would praise God for is our partnership with the Methodist Church, the fact that we are a Local Ecumenical Parish.
In the building of the Alton Estates, land had been set aside for a church in the heart of the community, near right by the shops in Portswood Place which serve the bulk of the Alton West estate.
Soon after the estate was built, a group of Pentecostalists, Free Church members and others set up an independent church meeting at the Bessborough Hall. Plans were made to build a permanent home for this church, but, of course, funds were low, and the capital costs of the project were formidable. It was then in an extraordinary act of generosity and vision, that the Methodist Church offered to provide a building and a minister for this congregation. And so, Minstead Gardens Methodist Church and Centre came into being.
Once the church was established in its new home, it became obvious that there should be close co-operation between the churches here in Roehampton. Close friendship had always existed between the Catholics at St Joseph’s and the other Christians in the parish. However, it was felt that a deeper relationship should grow up between Holy Trinity and Minstead Gardens, and so Roehampton Ecumenical Parish was brought into being. A Methodist Minister was to lodge in a Manse attached to Minstead Gardens, and the Protestant side of the parish was to be a joint effort by both churches, Methodist and Church of England working in partnership.
Although two full attempts to reach unity between Methodism and the Church of England have failed since the start of our partnership here, and even though priorities change and church funding ebbs and flows, the ecumenical parish still goes on.
Methodist Ministers in Roehampton
|Frank Himsworth BA
David Rice BA
Richard Jones BA
Eric Murray BA
Veronica Faulks BA
John Cooke BA
John E. Davis BA
|1978 – 1983
1983 – 1988
1988 – 1995
1995 – 2000
2000 – 2006
2006 – 2007
Methodist Urban Mssioners to the Alton Estates
|Keith Rowbottom BSc||2008-2016|
The Vicars of Roehampton
|George Edward Biber LLD||1843 – 1870|
|Robert Carrington MA||1871 – 1906|
|James Henry Browne MA||1906 – 1924|
|Henry Elkerton BD||1924 – 1945|
|William Charles Campling MA||1945 – 1959|
|Gerald Hudson MA||1960 – 1971|
|Barney Milligan BA||1971 – 1979|
|David Painter MA||1980 – 1991|
|John Cox MA||1991 – 1995|
|James McKinney MA||1996 –|
A view along Roehampton Lane circa 1841. The houses to the right are assumed to be the High Street. The building to the left is thought to be the school, and the horseman with the red coat is approximately where the road crossing by St Joseph’s Church would be.