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Twickenham United Reformed Church

Twickenham in 1898

Based on a short talk given to Twickenham Local History Society by Tony Bryer on 7th December 1998

My emphasis is civic life and the new developments taking place in Twickenham in 1898. In 1898 we are at the end of a century that saw great changes. Walter Besant prefaces his 1909 book: 'London in the Nineteenth Century' by saying ... The [19th] century has abolished lotteries, public executions, floggings and imprisonment for debt. It has given baths, public wash-houses, free libraries and free schools, and modern lodging houses to the people; it has extended the franchise; it has given people the right to hold public meetings, to speak as they please and to form trade unions. It has opened up for the people a larger and fuller life than they could enjoy before, offering them good music, good pictures, easy access to the country, many holidays and a greatly increased number of theatres ....

In 1898 Twickenham was in transition. The Council minutes make references to carthorses and the workhouse; to trams and electricity. It was a time of change. The whole of what was the Borough of Twickenham is now almost seamless suburbia,but in 1898 this was not the case. You had Twickenham town, another settlement around the Green and the mansions of Strawberry Hill, but each of these was separate from the next. Up to now the area to the north of the town centre had not been touched by development, except round the station. Beyond Cole's Bridge (over the Crane by Twickenham Station) was the Cole Park estate. In the 1890's the brewery (until 2003 occupied by the sorting office) was sold to Brandons of Putney, leaving the remaining land with the family trust. This estate was marked out for development in 1892, but because the legal obstacles were not resolved until 1898 when the first house Silverleigh, in London Road, was built. It would have sold for around £1000 or rented for £60-70 a year.

Across the London Road, change was also afoot. In February 1895 Thomas Twining, then in his 89th year, had died at Perryn House; he had lived there since his father bought the estate with its 1760's house in 1838. The house, described as having 17 bed and dressing rooms and 7 reception rooms, was put on the market but its age counted against it and no buyer or tenant could be found, so it was decided to offer it for development. Initially it was offered for sale in three lots, but then in October 1897, (next slide) 44 building plots in what is now Grimwood Road were sold off, so we may guess that by 1898 work was well in hand. Finally, and slightly outside the area I'm covering, Cambridge House and its 30 acres had been sold for redevelopment in 1897. The land is now occupied by Alexandra, Creswell, Morley and Denton Roads. The houses that were built let at £36-£52 a year. Elsewhere more modest dwellings were being built such as Gothic Villas.

In the town centre: most shops were to be found on the north side of King Street, Church Street and London Road, and the Town Hall was the main occupant of the south side of King Street. These were just the visible businesses: the Richmond Times Almanac lists about 750 traders, hoteliers and publicans, bootmakers and dressmakers being the most common occupations.

King Street itself was then a lot narrower. It was widened in 1928 when the old Town Hall was demolished. (next slide) Between the church and the river were narrow alleys that were once the slums of Twickenham. In 1875, referring to this area, the Rev H.F.Limpus, Vicar of Twickenham, wrote in the Parish magazine about a hovel of two rooms containing a family of six, with another expected, adding that "Not one wealthy man would allow his cattle to be housed in such places as I could point out to him". He ended with a plea for change: "then we might sweep away for ever the block of sheds and hovels extending from the church down to Water Lane". The building that now houses the Mary Wallace Theatre was built in 1870 as a Mission Room.

Let's continue our trip through 1898 by walking through the pages of the Council minutes and the Richmond and Twickenham Times

The Richmond and Twickenham Times coverage of Twickenham started 1898 with a look back to the year just past. It noted that houses were being erected in great numbers; H. Jason Saunders had been appointed Clerk, the Moormead question was still unresolved, the London City Mission hall had been closed as it was required for the new (York) street. Socially, 'the increased occupancy of some of the large houses has caused a considerable increase in the number of garden parties and social functions which cannot fail to do good'. During the summer, performances by the band at Kneller Hall had drawn large attendances. The Working Men's Club & Institute had opened new premises in Church Street, and at the other end of the social scale the Duc and Duchess of Orleans were coming to York House.

You might think that privatisation was invented by Mrs Thatcher, but no, in 1898 Twickenham already had privatised rubbish collection, whose performance was being questioned in the Times: It might be just as well however for the District Council, instead of repeating contracts year after year for dust removal to see if public money could not be saved by them doing the work themselves. £700 a year is a large sum to pay and seeing that at Chiswick money is being saved by the use of motor wagons, the subject is worthy of consideration. Perhaps, motor wagons though are a little too modern for the Twickenham District Council.

A very detailed account was given of the funeral of Countess Frances Russell, widow of John, 1st Earl. On Thursday the body was removed from Pembroke Lodge to Woking Necropolis and then cremated in accordance with the deceased's wishes. This took place in the private crematorium constructed by the Duke of Bedford who is a great advocate of this method of disposing of the dead. And you thought that Dukes just spent their time hunting, shooting and fishing.

In February the Surveyor reported that in consequence of the delay in getting granite broken up at the workhouse he was considerably behind with the repair of the roads. The Committee fully considered the matter and recommended that the Surveyor be instructed to hire a steam roller for a period not exceeding one month to expedite the work on the main roads. The Council put an advert in RTT requesting tenders for oats, bran and straw, 900 tons of steam coal, 2000 cubic yards of broken flints and meat, milk and bread for patients at the cottage hospital.

In March at a talk given to the Liberal Association some portraits of Liberal Lords having been shown, the speaker went on to condemn the upper house which, he said, mutilated and rejected every measure put before them by the Liberals. What did we want in the present day? Of course the abolition of the House of Lords was an important matter, but the most pressing was one man, one vote (applause and shouts of 'one woman, one vote').

In April 1898 a fair came to Twickenham Green. The Medical Officer gave this report to the Council who resolved to take proceedings: For several days past this land has been occupied for a fair . . . . There is a large steam switchback, swings, coconut and dummy shies, and trials of strength in which mallets are used. The whole of the ground today was a complete swamp. . . . The whole surroundings are, in my opinion, in their present condition not only a nuisance and injurious to the health of those living on the land, but also to the people, and especially the children visiting the show. Also in April, building plots in Upper Grotto Road were auctioned, selling for £45-£61 each and the houses were built soon afterwards.

In May the Council considered four tenders for the supply of a carthorse, ranging from £45 to £65. I was once told a story about a 1940's Planning Committee meeting which had spent more time discussing a garden shed than anything else. The person who told me the story observed that when it came to garden sheds, every man on the committee was an expert and so had to put in their two pennyworth. We may guess that the same phenomenon was true here, for it was decided to ask the tenderers to produce the horses for inspection by the full Council on the following Thursday.

The Twickenham riverside is currently the subject of debate. The Council resolved that as the preservation of the beauty of the river frontage is of the greatest importance to Twickenham, the Pleasure Grounds committee be requested to make enquiries and report to the Council from time to time the prospect and cost of obtaining control or ownership of any land abutting the river. The Surveyor was asked to report on the feasibility of providing footbridges to Eel Pie island and from the island to Ham, but nothing more came of the idea. At the time Eel Pie island, now a scene of tranquility, was an immensely popular place for visitors. According to one report 10,000 people visited it on August Bank Holiday 1898, though I personally think that this figure sounds impossibly high.

Church Street - then forming part of the main road to Richmond - was, even by the standards of the 1890's, considered to be old fashioned and too narrow and by 1898 work on what would become York Street was well advanced. At the end of May Page's corner disappeared. The RTT reported: Page's Corner, one of the most dangerous in the County of Middlesex has disappeared. For many years past the business of draper was carried on by Mr Page, a very old resident who although somewhat eccentric in manner and dress was deservedly respected by residents.

Ageism is not new. In June the Council decided to advertise for a caretaker for the Moormead Pleasure Ground. The job description stated that the applicant must be resident in Twickenham and should not exceed 35 years of age. The pay was 24/- per week including Sunday work. There were nine applicants; four were interviewed: the one appointed was over 35, but he was the only one living in Twickenham so got the job. A month later the committee considered a letter from a Mr Reeves complaining of the caretaker being uncivil and using gross language towards his wife. The complainant, caretaker and several persons who were cognisant of the facts attended before the committee and gave their version of the affair. It would appear that Mrs Reeves one afternoon undoubtedly committed a breach of the bylaws by breaking may off the trees and repeating the action when warned by the caretaker. The caretaker expostulated with her and no doubt used unbecoming language for which he has expressed his regret. In the evening of the same day, Mr Reeves, after playing cricket, went to the caretaker and, from the evidence forthcoming the committee are of the opinion that he accosted the caretaker in a manner which led to a rather unseemly squabble. A new Local Government Bill was being put through Parliament which would allow local authorities to set aside parts of their recreation grounds for sport, pay for bands to perform, and erect and maintain refreshment facilities.

Also in July, the foundation stone of the new Wesleyan Methodist Church in Queens Road was laid; the church has since been demolished; the adjacent older hall surviving it.

In September the Council considered a detailed report on the economics of providing electricity. Kingston may been slow to see the potential of the railway but had got its electricity supply in 1893. It took several more years before electricity arrived in Twickenham: you can read the full story in the BoTLHS society paper The coming of electricity to Twickenham.

I've already mentioned personnel in the shape of the Moormead caretaker. At the other end of the Council hierarchy, Mr Raffin, the Councils' Surveyor tendered his resignation following the offer of a job in South Africa. At the Council meeting Councillor Morrow 'proposed that the resignation be accepted with pleasure'. 'Where does the pleasure come in?', asked the chairman. Because it will be a great satisfaction to the residents to know that they are getting rid of him (shouts of 'oh!') and in future business will go on more satisfactorily than in the past', came the reply. Councillor Beard said that he 'believed Mr Raffin to be as honest and straightforward a man as ever came to Twickenham'. Mr Webb said that when he got notice of the resignation he thought it a happy release for the Council, after all they had gone through. Mr Goatly urged that the motion be not put as the resignation was a matter of fact and could not be refused.

With the York Street work in hand and a large number of houses being built in the area no time was lost in appointing a replacement. Fred Pearce, assistant Surveyor at Wimbledon was appointed; the salary was £260, rising by £20 annual increments to £400. He held the post until his death in 1928, and in contrast to his predecessor was later described as Twickenham Council's greatest public asset. "Yes I did say so, and meant what I said. I am sorry I cannot make myself plainer, but the facts are as I have stated and I have nothing to withdraw or add" would be his standard reply to anyone who questioned what he said. The RTT recorded the votes cast for each candidate: Pearce: 13; Webb: 6; Scott: 2; Towlson: 1; Morley: 1 and Maxwell: 0. One has to feel some sympathy for Mr Maxwell's public rejection, but no doubt Mr Pearce was gratified by the clear majority he received.

A letter was received from London United Tramways advising the council of their intention to run electric trams through Twickenham. The trams finally arrived in 1903.

As the year drew to its close, it seems that less things of note were happening - or perhaps I was not reading the RTT microfilm as carefully as when I started! - but at the end of the year the RTT noted that in the two years to Christmas 1897 plans for 500 houses had been submitted, but during 1898 as many again had been submitted. And as we all know, this was something that would happen in each succeeding year as Twickenham left the nineteenth century behind and completed its evolution from town to suburb.

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