K10: Gloucester Road

K10John Galsworthy, Coombe and the Forsyte Saga

On 1st March 1968, part of Gloucester Road (the section north of the Coombe Road/Coombe Lane juction) was renamed Galsworthy Road. This was after the writer John Galsworthy, but came at the same time as the great success of the TV adaption of his most famous work the Forsyte Saga. [Also, Soame’s Walk, off Trap’s Lane was named after a main character in ‘Man of Property’].

Galsworthy’s connections with Coombe

John Galsworthy was born on Kingston Hill in November 1867 and spent his childhood there until 1886. He died in Hampstead on 21st January 1933 from a stroke, having been suffering from a brain tumour. He had been too ill to collect the Nobel Prize for Literature which he was awarded in 1932.

The connection of Galsworthy with Coombe is actually due to the author’s father, also John Galsworthy, who built large houses on the estate formerly owned by the Duke of Cambridge, off Grange Road. He was a churchwarden at St John the Baptist, Kingston Vale and his wife was a Surbitonian. The houses he built were Coombe Warren (1868, later renamed Coombe Court, demolished 1931), Coombe Leigh (1873, later Coombe Ridge, now Holy Cross Preparatory School) and Coombe Croft (1878, now Rokeby Preparatory School) and the Galsworthy family lived in each of them for a time. John Galsworthy the author was born in another large house called Parkfield, which is now a nursing home called Galsworthy House. Coombe Warren was the inspiration for ‘Robin Hood’ – the house built by Soames in the Forsyte Saga.

‘The Forsyte Saga’, TV Adaptation, 1967-68

The Forsyte Saga TV show was 26 episodes long, and the last major serial to be filmed in black and white by the BBC. Its original run was on BBC2, from 7th January 1967 to 1st July 1967, but it gained huge popularity in 1968 when it was repeated on BBC1 at 7:25pm on Sundays. Kingston History Centre volunteer Dan said it “had the nation in thrall, with a stellar cast!” and my mum said “I saw the TV series (years ago) and found it very sad and tragic then”. The final episode shown in 1968 had 18 million viewers tuning in (compare that to Strictly Come Dancing Final 2015 which gained 12 million viewers). The series went on to be  shown around the world and was the first BBC TV series to be sold to the Soviet Union. It is estimated that it had a worldwide audience of 160 million people.

The Forsyte Saga, paperback edition published 1970

In preparation for writing this blog, I read the trilogy which includes ‘The Man of Property’ (first published 1906), ‘In Chancery’ (first published 1920) and ‘To Let’ (first published 1921). It’s available to loan from Surbiton Library and I well recommend it. The Saga is part one of three which form the Forsyte Chronicles.

The three novels tell the story of Old Jolyon, his son Jolly and nephew Soames, and their children. It is poetically written, from the point of view of the individual characters, how they relate to each other and the world.

A major theme is the concept of ‘property’, in relation to a physical house and also between a husband and wife. When you enter a relationship, and particularly a marriage, do you in some ways take on the ownership of your partner and they you? Can you have expectations on them? Can you judge them as you would yourself? Or do you remain as individuals who just happen to be co-habiting? The novels (and my own reflections) expose that marriage is, at least in part, an outward showing of unity to society, but that within it, both parties remain in some sense strangers to one another (and maybe even themselves), as the concept of ‘self’ is always transitional.

There are no real heroes, but rather each character and their motivations are presented as conflicted and ambiguous. The division between right and wrong and how personal desires can influence or change your moral outlook is explored through different generations of the Forsyte family as they negotiate an ever changing world (The Boer War, motor cars). I felt that it was a moving and honest presentation of human nature.

Death is ever present in the Saga and this really struck a chord with me having recently lost a beloved grandparent. The deaths of various characters are portrayed skilfully and poignantly. Some deaths are anticipated but the last moment is always sudden, always heart breaking. To die an old man is just as painful as to die a youth, despite what the living might say to console ourselves. Galsworthy captured beautifully the feeling of loneliness that one must feel in the moment of death, a final goodbye to yourself, whether worn through old age, through sickness or tragedy. The Saga helped me explore my grief but also made me quite sad at times.

Sources

Butters, S (2013) ‘That Famous Place’ A History of Kingston upon Thames Kingston University Press

Galsworthy, J (1970) The Forsyte Saga: Part 1 Penguin Books Ltd

The Nobel Foundation (1932) John Galsworthy – Biographical Available here.

Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames (undated) John Galsworthy in Coombe [leaflet available at Kingston History Centre]

Advertisements

K07: Park Road

K07 blog illustration.jpg

Two tales from World War Two

Trying to understand today what it must have been like to be a civilian during the Second World War in Kingston is quite impossible. The continuous threat from bombardment, the rationing, the worry for loved ones on the front, carrying your gas mask everyone, queues for the buses, houses destroyed down your street, patches of intelligence about the atrocities in the East – the sheer pressure of the situation, and the only consolation that it least it was shared by everybody, and we were just “another south-west suburb” (Surrey Comet, 1944). This blog is about two aspects of the war experience in Park Road, Kingston: bombardment and war time manufacturing.
SC1945Jan27

“V Bomb Kills Five”

There were a number of HE (High Explosive) bomb strikes on or near Park Road early in the war recorded by the ARP Wardens of Kingston Council on a ‘Bomb Map’ available at Kingston History Centre. They were at 20:43 on 30/10/1940, 19:19 on 12/11/1940 and 20:33 on 29/11/1940. The Park Road – New Road junction was also the location for the only V-2 rocket to land in the former Borough of Kingston, the present monument at the site erected in 1995.

V-2s were retribution weapons, the first long-range guided ballistic missiles, sent over London by the German Luftwaffe as payback for the effective bombardment of German cities by the Allies. According to Wikipedia, modern reconstructions estimate that they create a crater of 20m wide, by 8m deep, ejecting around 3000 tons of material into the surroundings.

The bomb landed at 14:35 on Monday, 22nd January 1945. The article to the right is how the Surrey Comet wrote about it in their issue of 27th January 1945, page 7.

Later, A.W. Forsdike, Town Clerk and ARP Controller, wrote a report on the incident. There were 5 immediate fatalities, and 3 later in hospital as well as 120 injured. The injured were treated at the Aid Post and Kingston Hospital: “at one period it was thought that the hospital may become congested”. In total, 40 people were hospitalised. Kings Road, Tudor Road, New Road and Elm Road were also damaged with a total 2004 houses affected (33 demolished, 80 seriously damaged).

His report describes how “the most severe and widespread incident in the Borough” was managed by a mixture of civilian volunteers and service personnel. ARP Wardens, the National Fire Service and Police were in action by 14:42. British soldiers from the nearby barracks and American Forces from encampment in Richmond Park cleared the roads within 3 hours. A mobile First Aid post was set up by the Women’s Voluntary Service and Housewives. Dangerous work was carried out to rescue those under rubble by Wardens and the Heavy and Light Rescue Parties from the Borough’s Villier’s Road Depot, led by a man called Coulton: “All the living casualties were extricated within about an hour”.

Incident Control was set up in houses opposite Alexandra Hotel for three weeks, manned by ARP Wardens. An Enquiry Point was managed by the WVS for one week after the event and they also managed a large number of curved asbestos huts later erected to meet the housing shortage on the road. Forsdike wrote that: “Owing to the tremendous demand for labour in the London area, we are only permitted to repair houses up to a standard laid down by the Ministry and known as “reasonable comfort”. Plastering, painting and distempering (except patching) at the present stage, is entirely prohibited, except under exceptional circumstances.”

For me, the most evocative and poignant description in the newspaper article is the call by rescuers for silence. Silence. Silence, in order to listen for life, rescuers ‘holding their breath whilst…bent low and strained to hear a noise which would guide them to a rescue’ (Surrey Comet, 27/1/1945). It is unsettling to imagine the scene, as children were dragged alive from the rubble.

 

Park Works, 16 Park Road

One way in which we remember the past is through the designation of the built environment as having some sort of historical interest: this could be through identifying conservation areas, or protecting certain buildings from adaptation and demolition. This is done at local level by the Council and at national level by Historic England (previously English Heritage).

The south of Park Road is in a conservation area and ‘area of special local interest’, designated in June 1989 by the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames. In April 2015, a planning application was made by Countywide Design to convert Park Works, 16 Park Road (a site on the junction with Borough Road) from multiple occupancy industrial estate into homes and white collar office accommodation. The application was withdrawn in November 2015.

In the early part of the 20th century Park Works was used by Jabez Summers and Son who were builders. From 1922 to 1971, H D Symons & Co Ltd used the works and in war time they were involved in producing glass fabric insulation used in the aircraft industry. This activity was considered of national importance, damage or destruction to/of the factory was to be reported to the Ministry of Home Security (ref.Emergency Control File).

The factory expanded in 1939 to a design by A.P. Starkey, better known as an Odeon Cinema architect, to house 260 workers, of whom 230 were women. The two-storey facade to Borough Road was added at this time, with a pillbox or fire watching post incorporated into the design in early 1941, after the previous winter’s bombardments of the local area (as detailed above). To avoid disruption to production, factory owners would often build their own watchtowers which would  allow work to continue below as the air raid sounded. Employees would keep a look out above and warn of likely incendiary devices, at which point workers would rush to the shelters. The factory therefore represents a number of interesting historical themes: the significance of local, small scale manufacture to the war effort, women’s roles in the war, and wartime design. The Borough Road facade is now listed Grade II thanks for the efforts of a man called Nigel Bailey, who has kindly written the following:

When I was alerted to the fact that Park Works was under threat of demolition, I was motivated to get it listed for two reasons, firstly because it is a rather unique building, secondly because it was clearly part of Kingston local war time history. The building had a story to tell. I started with the Pillbox-study-group.org.uk. I was surprised that despite them not being aware of it, they seemed unintererested. I wondered if they thought it was a folly, not a genuine pillbox. When I discovered that the original drawings for the building described it as a fire watch post, it convinced me that the building was all the more unique. After all, there are lots of pillboxes dotted about the countryside.

It still irritates that I couldn’t establish exactly what was manufactured at the factory. Insulated electrical wiring seems most likely. Not quite the story I was hoping for, but I was pleased that Historic England agreed with my supposition that it was supplied to the Hawker Aircraft industry for use on the Hurricane fighter planes. The high point in my research was when I found a letter in the Kingston Emergency Control File, kindly retrieved by Kingston Local History, which described Park Works as being of national importance during wartime.

My pleasure at Park Works being grade II listed was slightly dampened by the fact that Historic England only listed the front section of the building- the canteen- and fire watch post. The saw tooth roofed workshops, where the manufacturing took place, remain unprotected despite the delightful architectural interiors.

 It is only through the effort of local people, that the past can be remembered and preserved and I personally feel that Park Works story is worth looking after. I visited the site yesterday and can appreciate that it isn’t the tidiest part of our shared borough, but factories are messy places, they are where things are made which demands a certain amount of chaos. Park Works also remains an important facility for small local businesses.

 

Both stories – one of destruction and the other of production – seek to illustrate the human experience of war in Kingston, and how we attempt to remember, understand and protect it in the present. This blog is written in remembrance of the eight casualties from the V-2 rocket strike, of whom we only know five names.

 Amy Ethel Dormer
Patricia Land
Winifred Gertrude Maton
Mary Read
Vera Styles

Sources

Bailey, N (2015) Park Works: A case for its Ptotection  Unpublished, available at Kingston History Centre

Built Heritage Consultancy (2015) Park Works Kingston upon Thames: Heritage Statement  Available here.

Burford, R (2015) ‘Small businesses fact the boot as developers plan Kingston industrial park redevelopment’ Your Local Guardian Available here.

Butters, S (2013) ‘That Famous Place’: A history of Kingston upon Thames Kingston University Press

Forsdike, A W (1945) Town Clerk’s Air Raid Reports 1940-1945 Unpublished, available at Kingston History Centre, reference KT189.

Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames (2015) Planning Database Available here.

Royal Borough of Kingston (2016) List of Conservation Areas Available here

Surrey Comet, 27th January 1945, p.7.

Wikipedia (2016) V-2 rocket Available here.

Becoming the 213 bus

My  life has become the bus. This project has been on my mind for the last 7 months, and there has been no escape because I have to use the 213 bus every day to get to work and back again. On Tuesday I have to hand something in for my MA degree at Kingston. It’ll be ready, but I’ve got the sort of work ethic which makes me want to go right up to the wire, even if that isn’t entirely necessary.

One of the earliest memory fliers that I received was from my course mate Pirrko and this is what she wrote:

My bus stop is NA

I’ve been using the 213 bus for – years

I walk past the Fairfield Bus Station on my way to University of Kingston and often see the 213 bus, which makes me think of Amy who is doing a creative project on that bus route. In a sense, the bus has become to symbolise Amy – her creativeness and love for quirky things.

You may remember from a previous post that I did joke about dressing up in a cardboard bus costume at Malden Fortnight. Unfortunately, with one thing and another I didn’t quite get it finished in time. However, it is finished and last week I went on the bus as the bus…You might ask why, and to be honest, if I’d been asked that on the bus I don’t quite know what I would have said.

The essay component of my project is all about the everyday, and how we should find more joy in our daily lives – bus travel can be joyful if you look at it the right way. Yes, waiting at the stop in the cold and rain is rubbish, and the stink of stale alcohol and wee on some late-night journeys can be really unpleasant. But looking out the window, you are bombarded with endless images, some of which are incredibly beautiful: the sunset, daffodils in bloom, pouring rain which makes everything glimmer. The buzzing of the air con relaxes me so much I tend to fall asleep, and eavesdropped conversations can be so funny, or thought-provoking, or utterly bizarre.

On the bus, you are with a whole load of strangers who you might never meet in another aspect of you life. This is important for social equality, if you sit in a car all day you might feel safe, but you are also isolated from the world and other people. On the bus you have to be with people who you might totally disagree with, or you might meet a future husband or wife. The bus is a place of possibilities.

I became the bus because I wanted people to think about the bus for once, I wanted people to be intrigued or amused, I wanted to intervene in the everyday lives of a few unsuspecting bus users. Secondly, I felt the need to possess the bus – I’ve invested so much of my life in this project, I’ve often felt totally consumed by it, becoming the bus is kind of taking it over, making it mine. Thirdly, I’ve got an epic fancy dress costume for Halloween and a great talking piece in the form of a bus costume-bedside cabinet!

A lot of people simply won’t get the point of this project. And it may mean absolutely nothing in the long run to anyone but me. On the other hand, we all have a 213 bus: it might be the bus or train you get to work or school everyday, or even the route you walk to get to your local shops. It’s a time and place where you live most of your lives – I hope my project inspires someone somewhere to re-imagine their 213 as joyful, something worth paying attention to, as you simply don’t know what will be revealed.

It is worth the expense of youthful days and costly hours if you learn only some words of an ancient language, which are raised out of the trivialness of the street, to be perpetual suggestions and provocations

Jane Bennett (2001) The Enchantment of Modern Life. Woodstock: Princeton University Press. p.95. Originally from Henry David Thoreau’s On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.

P.s. Next week the local history starts in earnest with Fairfield Bus Station (K1)  – a history of the Cattle Market Car Park in Kingston. Bet you can’t wait?!

Morning chat at Malden Green Avenue (well, one street away)

A gentleman called Ron invited me round for tea with him and his wife Julia months ago. They were so lovely and hospitable, I am ashamed it has taken so long for me to write up their 213 story.

Ron moved to New Malden with his parents in 1967. In 1975, he and Julia were married and lived together in Motspur Park, both working in accountancy, Ron for Kingston NHS at  Kingston and Surbiton Hospitals. In 1993, they moved to Mayfair Avenue, near to Malden Green Avenue stop.

They have two sons, and Julia remembers travelling on the 213A for hospital appointments during her pregnancy in 1979. One son went to Tiffin Boys, the other to Sutton Grammar so they both used the 213 but going in opposite directions. Nowadays, Julia uses it to get to fitness classes in New Malden and they both may occasionally catch the bus from New Malden Station after coming back from central London – I do this too if I’ve missed the train to Worcester Park and it saves a walk at the other end! Because the 213 links to lots of other routes and is regular, it is a very useful bus. Also changes such as the Oyster Card system and ‘countdown’ at stops and on mobile phones have really improved the customer experience and generally made it easier to use.

Ron is very interested in heritage and local history, and provided me with a list of useful local history publications. Here are some of the things he told me:

– The place name, ‘Malden’ is derived from ‘Maeldune’ meaning ‘cross on the hill’ in Old English, which refers to the ancient church of St John the Baptist in Old Malden

– New Malden Railway Station kept having its name changed. When is was first built in the mid 1800, it was called ‘Malden’, then ‘New Malden and Coombe’, then ‘Coombe and Malden’, then ‘Malden for Coombe’, then ‘Malden’ again  and finally in 1957 it was named ‘New Malden’ Station. A case of confused identity maybe?

– Longfellow Road, Worcester Park was apparently childhood home to John Major, whose father was a garden gnome maker. Longfellow Road itself is one of the oldest in Worcester Park so maybe that is why it has a stop named after it, rather than there being a stop called ‘Worcester Park High Street’ or even ‘Central Road’ instead.

– Malden Road leading to Worcester Park used to be lined with lombardy poplars (we’ve got a lovely photo of this in the Kingston Local History Room collection). Many of the trees were found to be diseased and had to be cut down in October 2010. They have been replaced by oaks after a public consultation.

Ron and Julia’s Photos from Worcester Park Running Day 2008 and RF 60th Anniversary 2012

Another time, Ron took me for a little tour of the local area, showing me St John the Baptist Church, and the extend of Nonsuch Great Park, which is Worcester Park now and how the road names come from the old field names. We then went up Trap’s Lane in Coombe and looked at John Galsworthy’s house on Coombe Hill and what is now Rokeby School. After that we visited Kingston University’s Roehampton campus which is part of what was the KLG spark plug factory. This was significant to Kingston’s history as Kenelm Lee Guiness (KLG) supplied spark plugs to Hawker Aviation and both of these factories were reasons to bomb the local area during the Second World War.

Meeting Ron and Julia made me realise that being here (living in Worcester Park/London), it can be possible to make yourself a little place, feel a sense of community and start to know people. I moved here almost two years ago and through this project I have realised just how many interesting people I have met and come to know. Also, learning stories about a place’s past helps you understand reasons for the present, and makes me feel a sense of continuity and embeddedness, that my experiences flow back through time and have been shared by countless others. Maybe people can have more than one home, they can belong to more than one place and time. I need to remember this feeling and be positive about the now, finding meaning and joy in my everyday life – that’s the point right?