Saturday, January 18th 2014
The weather was not very propitious for long-distance trips today so we decided to go somewhere local. Where? We jumped on a bus or two and waited to see where they would take us.
The second bus brought us across Battersea Bridge to Clapham Junction. One of the many landmarks of this area is a Victorian department store opened by the Arding and Hobbs partnership. The original store opened in 1884 but was destroyed by fire. In its present incarnation it is as it was rebuilt in 1909. Though it still proudly bears the names of its founders, it is today owned and operated by Debenham’s. English Heritage describes “the commanding presence at Clapham Junction since 1884 of Battersea’s only department store, Arding & Hobbs – the one emporium capable of drawing shoppers from afar before the advent of the car”.
Battersea, now within the London Borough of Wandsworth, has many attractions and is worth exploring. Its modern-day name is a corruption of its ancient Anglo-Saxon one, though what this was seems subject to argument. One view is that the land once belonged to the Abbey of St Peter in Westminster and from this it is argued that a mention of its name as Patrisey, should be taken to mean “Patrick’s island” (the names of Peter and Patrick being cognate). Others adopt a simpler approach and say that this was originally the land of a man called Badric, citing a reference in Anglo-Saxon documents to Badrices ieg, which can be understood as “Badric’s Island”. In either case, the ieg, ey or island was most likely ground reclaimed from swamp to form rich farming land.
Walking up Lavender Hill, you soon notice the public library, its turret making the corner with Lavender Walk. It is a serious and respectable-looking building but well proportioned despite its awkward corner setting.
This part of the building is, as it looks, Victorian, dating from the 1890s. Libraries tend to reflect the affluence and pride of their communities and this one was obviously meant to serve the people of Battersea and also to impress. There was once also a museum on the first floor. If you pass on by, however, you miss the library’s secret: additions were made right up to 1924 and the entire building occupies an L-shaped site.
I have to say at this point that we hoped to take photos inside the library. Usually there is no problem with this and permission is granted on the understanding that we are discreet and do not photograph library users. It was something of a surprise, therefore, to be told “You would need to get permission from the press office but they are closed on Saturday”. So no photos. This turned out to be all the more unfortunate when we visited the reference library which is, as we shall see, in its own specially designed building, adjoining the Victorian library. It was furnished with original reading desks (incorporating inkwells) and very fine carved woodwork around the walls. But, no photos. Such a shame.
Realizing that the reference library had its own entrance, though this was not open to the public, we went around the corner into Altenburg Gardens to see what we could see. What we found was this beautiful 1924 façade and entrance. It mixes Arts & Crafts with Art Nouveau decorative enthusiasm to produce something quite individual and unique. (Shame about the parked cars blocking the view but that’s one of the penalties of living in the modern age.)
Civic pride and decorative energy are well displayed in the relief work above the door. This incorporates figures referring to the Battersea coat of arms and motto. Note the exuberant styling of the letters spelling out “REFERENCE LIBRARY”.
We could have taken lots of photos of the details (well, actually we did!), such as the weather vane in the form of a gowned figure studying a book,
or the pair of large lanterns flanking the gate,
or the sun-burst panel showing the lamp of learning within a circle formed by the borough motto, NON MIHI NON TIBI SED NOBIS (roughly, “Not for me, not for you, but for us all”):
Unsurprisingly and quite properly, the Reference Library has been designated a Grade II listed building.
Further along Lavender Hill, we find an imposing structure that today houses the Battersea Arts Centre, a thriving organization that practises art in all its forms.
Over the entrance porch, the lettering in relief reads MUNICIPAL BUILDINGS, but even if you missed this and couldn’t guess the original purpose of the structure, there is a clue in the name of the road that runs down beside it to the right: Town Hall Road. It was built in 1893 (as the bronze flag on top of the small turret declares), designed by E.W. Mountford, for the Metropolitan Borough of Battersea. When the boroughs were reorganized in 1965, independent Battersea was swallowed by the new London Borough of Wandsworth and the Town Hall was no longer needed as such.
Beside the old town hall is to be found an entrance with a metal canopy. This is the entrance to the Grand Hall, perhaps a reminder of glittering civic occasions in times past. We did not see inside but it is apparently a large interior suitable as a “venue” for events of all kinds. I was also intrigued by the reliefs on the side of the building, in particular the combined figure apparently representing a steam engine framed by the foreparts of two horses. They are finely modelled but I have no idea of their significance.
We stopped for coffee at a Caffè Nero on the corner of Cedar Road and there I spied a building covered in “ghost signs”. Cedar Road is where the road called Lavender Hill becomes Wandsworth Road though, paradoxically, we here leave the Borough of Wandsworth and enter that of Lambeth, though I am not sure where the boundary actually falls and on which side the erstwhile Cedars Motor Engineers finds itself.
The lettering is superimposed in places, showing that at least two generations of signs are present, the background layer (white, presumably) having faded more quickly than the black lettering. The premises were therefore once used by a company that bought and sold horses and hired them out with carriages, and later by another that either made or, more likely repaired, motors and perhaps hired them out. Or did the same company, Cedars, do both, either consecutively or concurrently? The answer might lie in business directories of the period if these have been kept, otherwise we are left with the unanswered question.
Poking my camera through the iron gates, I was able to photograph this commodious yard that looks as if it might have once been the stable yard in the days when horses were traded and hired out here. Today it has apparently found a more domestic use but I wonder whether motor cars were also kept here while being worked on.
Firmly within the Borough of Lambeth is a building bearing the name Rileys, a chain of snooker halls. Rileys discontinued use of the premises in 2009 and since then there have been planning applications but none seems to have come to fruition. More interesting is the nature and history of the building itself. It needs no more than a glance to see that this is an old Temperance Hall. These halls appear all over the country, particularly in major cities, and there is at least one other in Lambeth.
The Temperance movement sprang up from the early 19th century out of concern for the damage being done to individuals and society by the abuse of alcohol. Various strategies were pursued by various groups to persuade or force people to give up the demon drink, such as “signing the pledge” (to abstain from alcohol for life). It was realized that pubs and drinking dens had a social role in people’s lives and so the idea was born to create the temperance halls where people, particularly working men, could socialize and play games such as billiards and snooker, free from the temptation to drink alcohol. Temperance halls are found in various designs but the Wandsworth Road hall, built in 1909 for Temperance Billiard Halls Ltd, is a typical example, featuring a turret. A large floor space was needed to accommodate snooker tables with plenty of room to move around them and operate a cue. Therefore, when the halls ceased to perform their original function and were sold, they were bought by organizations that needed plenty of space. Ironically, given the original motive for their foundation, some temperance halls have become pubs.
This particular hall seems to be in a bad way, being somewhat dilapidated and encumbered by heating ducts and other excrescences. It is badly in need of repair and refurbishment. A viable purpose obviously needs to be found for it to generate money for its maintenance. I understand that various plans have been proposed but do not know whether any of these are likely to be adopted. The hall lies within the Lambeth Conservation Area, so perhaps there is hope for it.
The temperance hall stretches along a side street called Willard Street and another building is visible behind it, possibly attached to it, though I am not sure about that. Whatever this is, it looks derelict but a couple of details caught my eye. It would be easy to dismiss it as an abandoned workshop or similar but I noticed that beside the entrance (at the top of a metal staircase in good repair) there is an outdoor ashtray, suggesting that this has been a workplace since the smoking ban came into force (July 2007). And here is another intriguing detail:
The windows have been painted over and some are broken but those that survive are leaded windows, decorated with a flower design reminiscent of the Rennie Mackintosh stylized rose. This suggests that the building has been more than a “mere” workshop though I have no idea what. Was it part of the Temperance Hall, perhaps a meeting room or place for study?
There are almshouses dotted all over London, many of them still in use. They began at a time when there was no social care for the destitute and elderly apart from the workhouses and were a popular way for the rich to show their philanthropy and perhaps ensure their entry into Heaven. Typically, almshouses were built as a set of half a dozen or more, either in a straight line or grouped as a square around a central court or garden. Usually a chapel was included and the rules required the residents to attend services regularly. Self-contained apartments, single- or two-storey, were intended for a single occupant or at most a married couple. Family history and a connection with the slave trade lies behind this particular set of almshouses.
Almshouses usually have a plaque or inscription naming the founder, the foundation date and, optionally, the reason for the donation. The plaque on these almshouses reads as follows:
[FOR] EIGHT AGED WOMEN
WERE ERECTED BY
MARY ANN HIBBERT
I[N] GRATEFUL REMEMBRANCE
OF THEIR FATHER
WILLIAM HIBBERT ESQUIRE
LONG AN INHABITANT
William (1759-1844), the sisters’ father, was the sixth son of his parents and therefore needed to find a way to make his fortune. Accordingly, in his early 20st he set off for Jamaica where his uncle and brothers were partners in a slave trading business in Kingston. William apparently intended to become a planter, in which case he too, would have had to own and use slaves. In the event, however, he won £20,000 in a lottery and returned to England. William engaged in overseas trade and bought properties in England. He married and had eight children.
William was apparently attached to Clapham (which would have been rather different then from what it is today) and lived there for the last 44 years of his life. In his will, he left use of his house to his daughters Sarah and Mary Ann, who, 15 years after his death, founded the almshouses in his memory. It is now impossible to know whether the donation was motivated solely by daughterly affection and gratitude or whether there was some tinge of regret about the family’s connection with the slave trade.
We ended our walk where Silverthorne Road meets Wandsworth Road. On that corner is a quite handsome apartment block. It’s not difficult to guess in which era it was built, because of the silhouette perched on a gable above the corner entrance. But what was its date?
The panel contains a profile of Queen Victoria, facing left as on the coins of her reign, though the image is not the same as those used on coins. The letters ‘V’ and ‘R’ identify Queen Victoria, in case it wasn’t obvious. Instead of a date, however, we see the Roman numerals LX (60). This of course dates the building to 1897, sixty years after Victoria came to the throne. The building and its panel celebrate her Diamond Jubilee.
On the other side of Silverthorne Road stands a more sober-looking building faced with London yellow brick. It is not so easy to date as Heath Terrace but it is in fact Victorian too, though earlier, having been built around 1870. It still bears the name of the Plough Brewery though today it has been converted into offices and business premises. We were not able to look inside so I do not know whether much remains of its ancient structure.
So, what was the name of the company that operated the brewery? Unlike Battersea Library, that has lost its original front wall, no doubt a victim of road-widening, the brewery still possess robust iron railings. At intervals along its length, the initials ‘TW’ are displayed, making up the monogram of Thomas Woodward. The brewery may have changed hands at some point, though, because I have seen a reference to the memoirs of someone claiming to have worked as head brewer and giving the company name as Smith.
Although there are lots more interesting things to see in the area, we decided to turn for home. We shall return another day and continue our explorations.