Category Archives: UK local history

The road that never was

A rough guess as to the new road route
A rough guess as to the new road route

Back between the wars a new arterial road was planned running from Chessington to Sutton. It was never built but the route was still being safeguarded when I joined RBK in 1974. We had a map of it in the RBK planning office. While I was working there (c.1976?) the safeguarding was lifted but legacies of this plan remain.

The road (see the Sabre roads website Lost Arterial A24 for more detail) entered New Malden just south of the A3 then would have run along what are now Sheephouse Way and the end of South Lane – now you know why they have such generous grass verges. It would then have run across Malden Park and the railway. The line on the map above (from freemap.org) gives a rough idea of the intended route.

Look at the map and you’ll see a green swathe between Pembury Avenue and Risborough Drive. This was left undeveloped in the when Wates developed this area as the Worcester Park Station Estate in the 1930s and is now called Risborough Green. Rumour has it that its elevated ground level is down to the site being used as a dump for WW2 bomb site rubble.

The site between 133 Pembury Avenue and 200 Kingshill Avenue was also set aside for the new road – it’s now been infilled with a block of flats, Primrose Court. The houses on the other side of the road are much newer too.

Hopefully someone reading this knows a lot more about this road than I do. If so, please add a comment.

Sheephouse Way, New Malden - note the verge width
Sheephouse Way, New Malden – note the verge width
Risborough Green, Worcester Park
Risborough Green, Worcester Park
Primrose Court
Kingshill Avenue, Worcester Park
Kingshill Avenue, Worcester Park
Green Lane footpath - this might have been an arterial road
Green Lane footpath – this might have been an arterial road

Wates chalet spotting

Homes with “an exterior of outstanding loveliness”*.

Last month I wrote about Wates-built houses in New Malden, mainly in the area south of the A3 Kingston Bypass. Drive around the side streets and you can’t help noticing all the chalets, most built by Wates. At a quick glance you might think them all the same but not so.

The first chalets in Malden date from c.1932 – they are semi-detached and the roof slopes rise to a common ridge. Pictures (A) and (B) show two variants: I’m fairly sure that (A) with the front facing entrance door is the earlier and (B) with the side facing entrance door and Dutch gable (the small vertical tile-hung triangle at ridge level), later.

What came next – the semi-detached SC chalets or the more common link-detached variant? Once again we really need the RBK archive to tell us. My hunch is that the link-detached came first. Why? The 1935 Wilverley Park brochure offers buyers both options, promoting the semi-detached chalet as ‘New’:

C4 detached 3-bed chalet: “This wonderful Wates Chalet retains the sweeping roof lines which are so charming a feature of Wates original Chalets. Fully Detached with all its accompanying advantages of peace and privacy – a complete absence of ‘neighbour noise’ – the grand feeling that you really ARE in a house of your own – these are considerations which affect your personal comfort as a discerning Homeseeker.
Come and see for yourself the charm of these new wonder Chalets with their wide bays extending right to the eaves, mellow faced brickwork and smooth rendered walls blending into a delightful harmony – the new Wates Detached Chalet representing a standard of unrivalled value in planning, equipment and beauty.

SC3 Semi-detached Chalet: … For many years now Wates have been famed for their Chalets …. The New Semi-detached Chalet retains all the beauty of design, the bold sweeping roof lines and pleasing elevation which characterises every Wates-Built Chalet. With its newly revised arrangement of rooms it has won the approval of all purchasers. Come and see the improved planning, generous equipment and delightful appearance of these new semi-detached Chalets.

Urban legend had it that the link-detached option gave the advantages claimed above whilst allowing the house to be rated as semi-detached since it was (if only by the brick arch) connected to another house. True? I don’t know.

3-bed link-detached (C) and semi-detached chalets are by far the most common variant but there are others too. Two-bedroom chalets (D) – recognisable by the entrance door being towards the front of the flank wall – were created by deleting the front ground floor third bedroom. 4-bedroom chalets (E) are identifiable by a two-storey section at the rear; most also have a ground floor WC. Lastly, and very rare, are the detached chalets with integral garage (F) – this variation doesn’t work for me – and the corner chalets (G) which do.

Some chalets have a round porthole window lighting the first floor box room, others don’t. Some have a flat front-facing window to the ground floor third bedroom, others have an oriel window. Were these extra cost options?

Buyers were offered the option of buying freehold (FH) or leasehold (LH), the latter making housing more affordable. Here’s a summary (all 3-bed):

Detached chalet: FH £929, LH £749, weekly outgoings £1:12:9d/£1:10:11d, TFA ~95m2, lounge 14’3”x13’0” (4.34×3.96m)
Semi-detached chalet: FH £819, LH £639, weekly outgoings £1:8:11d/£1:7:1d, TFA ~95m2, lounge 14’3”x13’0” (4.34×3.96m)

And for comparison, traditional Wates ‘Tudor’ semis:

TDL Tudor Deluxe: FH: £729, LH: £579, weekly outgoings £1:5:9d/£1:4:3d, TFA ~98m2, lounge 14’3”x12’3” (4.34×3.73m)
TDL Tudor Major: FH: £649, LH: £499, weekly outgoings £1:2:11d/£1:1:6d, TFA ~79m2, lounge 13’1”x10’9” (3.99×3.28m)

Thus it can be seen that 1930s buyers paid a premium for chalets, justified by the space and architecture.

Ground rent, included in the LH weekly outgoings, was £9 a year for chalets, £7.10 for Tudor SDs, equating to a 5% return to Wates. I wonder how many people took the leasehold option, given that the saving was less than two shillings a week. Perhaps the reduced deposit was the key attraction. There was also an option to rent: in the 1930s many working class people had an aversion to going into debt even though we now see mortgage debt as ‘good’ debt.

Dormer additions: As built, chalets have a large under-roof box room next to the front bedroom. It’s relatively simple to build this out as an extra bedroom and many owners have done this (H). During my BCO days (1976-84) two local builders, Malcolm Carter and Tony Forte, did little else. Malcolm’s reputation was such that he ran an eighteen month waiting list. You didn’t decide whether to appoint him or not; he decided whether or not he wanted you as a customer. Another common alteration was adding a ground floor WC under the stairs: the space is tight but it can be done.

Other comments: Given Malden’s shrinkable clay subsoil, subsidence problems requiring underpinning were not unknown across my patch. Wates built houses were almost immune to such problems – the filed plans showed them as being built on Twisteel reinforced concrete rafts.

The plan above (for a chalet in Streatham, so may not reflect what was done in Malden) is interesting in that it shows cavity walls on three sides and a one-brick solid wall for the wall facing the mirrored chalet. When I was in primary school we were taught that cavity walls were introduced to improve insulation. They do, but the real reason was to eliminate the problem of driving rain finding its way through the wall. The facing walls are not, obviously, subject to driving rain.

1930s Wates houses also show the durability of concrete roof tiles: they were only introduced in the late 1920s so when these houses were built they were a new and untried innovation. Most roofs are original and still in excellent condition.

Click on an image to enlarge it; click again or press [Esc] to return. Please excuse the quality of the pics: I only had one day free when last in the UK and it was a wet, grey one.

* Weekly Dispatch (London) – Sunday 21 January 1934

Wates: The brothers who changed New Malden

In my September 2022 piece I noted the dominance of  developer Wates in shaping modern New Malden, especially south of the A3. This month I’m writing about the firm; next month I’ll concentrate on their archetypal chalets with their “exterior of outstanding loveliness”*.

The Wates business began around 1900 when Edward Wates (1873-1944) set up a furniture store in Streatham, South London, his brother Arthur joining him in 1902. The store, E & A Wates, sold furniture and furnishings and handled removals. It closed in May 2021 and the buildings are now being converted into flats under the name Wates Yard. Younger brothers William and Herbert, who were builders, joined the firm in 1904 and persuaded their older brothers to invest in some land in Purley to speculatively build two new houses. Wates was in the housebuilding business and by 1914 they’d built 139 houses.

During the 1920s Edward’s three sons, Norman (1905-69), Ronald (1907-86) and Allan (1909-85) joined the firm, progressively taking over from the first generation. Norman was the dominant figure: in 1926 under his leadership it embarked on ‘what was then an enormous speculation’, an estate of 1,000 houses in Streatham Vale, which took five years to complete. Ronald trained as a surveyor and took responsibility for site acquisition, later pursuing a second career as a borough and LCC councillor, for which in 1975 he was knighted. Allan joined the firm in 1930; from 1936 he was responsible for the contracting side of the business. All three brothers took an active role in community and philanthropic activities, something which younger members of the family have continued: since it was formed the Wates Foundation has made grants totalling over £100 million, which have provided vital support to thousands of charities.

The period up to WW2 saw enormous expansion, though activities were largely confined to a relatively small geographic area to the south of London from Twickenham in the west to Sidcup in the east. By doing this Wates could maintain a permanent workforce rather than using casual labour. By WW2 Wates  had completed 30,000 houses, 1500-2000 a year.

During the 1930s Wates built more homes in Malden than any other developer. From memory the first houses built by Wates in Malden were some  terraced houses on the south side of Kingston Road – built around 1930 IIRC. After this Wates moved on to build many of the houses in Cromwell Avenue estate. Kenneth Bland (1909-83) joined Wates as chief architect in 1933 and would be there until 1970s – he may be responsible for the Dutch gables found on later Wates houses (they’re not exclusive to Wates of course). Estate layouts, road and utility service design and the like were generally handled by Chart, Son & Reading, a Croydon firm of architects and surveyors.

With the opening of the Kingston Bypass (A3) on 28 October 1927 the land to its south was fair game for development and between 1928-34 Wates bought up multiple parcels of land. During the 1930s they were building houses by the hundred – Wilverley Park, Motspur Park, Barnfield and Wendover estates, the Worcester Park Station estate and several infill developments such as Burford Road.

From 1936 speculative house building in Greater London started to wind down. Most easy-to-develop land had been developed and the flow of new buyers had probably slowed down. The last Wates houses built in Malden before WW2 were for the most part larger detached houses pitched at a slightly different demographic.

As with other pieces in this occasional series, some of the information given here is drawn from memories of my time (1976-84) working at R.B.Kingston upon Thames Building Control and may be incorrect. If you can add anything or see any errors in what I’ve written please add a comment. Unfortunately the British Newspaper Archive has yet to digitise copies of the Surrey Comet for the period covered by these pieces.

* Weekly Dispatch (London) – Sunday 21 January 1934


The title I’ve given this page is a bit tongue in cheek. Wates were responsible for most of the interwar housing between the A3 and the Chessington railway line but a number of other builders were active in the Malden & Coombe BC area including

  • E&L Berg: Notable for their halls-adjoining semis in the High Drive area and their Berg Sunspan houses in Woodlands Avenue.
  • Crouch Group: Builders of many semis in the Kenley Road area.
  • Gleeson: Built lots of houses between the large Wates developments and the Hogsmill river. Their attempt to copy Wates chalets doesn’t IMO come off.
  • R.Lancaster (Wembley): Kingston Vale estate, SW15 (Bowness & Ullswater Crescents, Derwent, Grasmere and Keswick Avenues, Windermere Road). Large houses for better off buyers.
  • Lavender and Farrell: Developed the Worcester Park end of M&C: Manor Drive, Highdown and Leyfield. For a detailed history see Worcester Park Life, Dec 2012, Local History article.
  • New Ideal Homesteads: Set up in 1929 and grew to be the largest homebuilder in the 1930s. Undertook development to the north of Clarence Avenue
  • For more information see ‘Dictionary of British Housebuilders‘, Fred Wellings, 2015

The Book(let) I wish I’d written

Two months ago I wrote about my eight years working as a Building Control Officer (Building Inspector) in what had been the Malden and Coombe Borough Council area in S.W.London. Over that time I really got to know the area and its history. It was always fascinating to look at the archived plans and peruse old maps – many of the old hand-tinted plans drawn on linen were real works of art. It wasn’t really part of our jobs but we regularly got phone calls from estate agents asking when a property they were to sell had been built, our pre-computer era card index quickly providing the answer. If I’d thought about it, I could have spent my lunch hours compiling ‘Malden and Coombe, Street by Street’, giving a potted history of each street. Too late now! But since I left RBK in 1984 lots of other information has become available. Here’s some:

New Malden’s early development owed much to the railway: New Malden station opened in 1846, with the remaining section of the Kingston loop line from New Malden to Kingston following in 1869. Then just before WW2 the Chessington branch opened, with Malden Manor station serving the new estates south of the A3 Kingston bypass (opened 1927). Although outside the municipality, Motspur Park (1925) and Worcester Park (1859) stations also serve the SE area.

Semi-Detached London New Malden was transformed by inter-war suburbanisation as described in Alan Jackson’s excellent book ‘Semi-Detached London’. Although published in 1973, copies are readily obtainable through AbeBooks. The Medical Officer of Health’s reports available on the Wellcome Library website show the M&C population growing from 7,199 in 1903 to 15,366 in 1923 to 39,930 in 1939. 

Various developers were at work in the area during this period including R.Lancaster, New Ideal Homesteads, Lavender and Farrell, E & L Berg, Crouch and Gleesons, but the biggest of them all was Wates, whose built their distinctive chalets and more conventional Tudor-style semis by the hundred – check out their Wilverley Park estate brochure here.

Whilst preparing this page I found a vast collection of OS maps digitised by the National Library of Scotland. Check out these extracts from the 1911 and 1933 OS maps, the latter showing part of the Wilverley Park estate. The kink in Malden Road provides a reference point. In the 1933 map you also see the A3 clipping the top corner.

New Malden OS extracts 1911 and 1933

New Malden OS extracts 1911 and 1933 reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

What’s interesting to me is that I’m now seeing this story being replayed to the north of Melbourne, with consent being given for fields to be turned into new housing states at a rate that is hard to believe.

More resources on Malden history:

Maldens and Coombe Heritage Society web site

Village Voice and Worcester Park Life – each issue contains a very good history feature

Alan Godfrey maps: Sy0713: Coombe and Norbiton 1911; Sy1301: New Malden 1911 – hopefully at some point they’ll publish Sy1305 and Sy1306 to cover a lot more of New Malden.

Chapel Next The Green – Into Print

Chapel Next the Green cover

Chapel Next the Green cover

As described last time, I started with the idea of a simple update to a 25-year-old church history  and ended up doing much more. Reading church minute books led to investigating denominational records, the site history, local newspapers and much else. Now it was time to turn my copious notes into a book we could afford to print and which people would find interesting. Having unpicked the story of the dissolution of the church in 1879 and its re-formation in 1882, I suggested a Centenary weekend whose highlight would be the release of my finished history. Now I had a deadline to work to.

In 1979 I was one of the first people to get a home computer, a Commodore PET. I bought a word processing program, name long forgotten, written in BASIC, so customisable. It allowed text to be edited, saved to and retrieved from cassette tape. Output was limited to a monospace font with full space justification. Very limited – the superscript references to footnotes were written in by hand using a Rotring pen – but what a step change from repeatedly retyping manuscripts. Over many weeks I typed up my notes creating the first rough draft.

Centre spread pictures of ministers

Centre spread pictures of ministers

I approached a printer near my office, Emberbrook Print, and explained what I had in mind – a saddle-stitched (stapled) A5 book. Just their sort of job. The church agreed to underwrite the print cost on the basis that selling the print run would return this. This all led to settling on a 72-page book (including covers). The extra cost of the four-page centre photo section was met by a former member. After allowing for prelims, pictures and footnotes, each section would, on average, be limited to around two pages, 800 words. Impossible given the extent of my notes!

For several years my best friends Brian and Margaret Pearce had made me welcome for coffee on Sunday evenings. Now these turned into editorial meetings. Brian, when not working as a college librarian was a writer and poet, and Margaret acted as a fearless editor of his work. Just what I needed! I took the decision to divide my account up by pastorate. A few people criticised this, as placing too much emphasis on the part ministers play in the life of a church, but I hope that my text has the balance right. Over several months, each Sunday morning I handed over a dot-matrix printout of the latest section, vastly over-long yet containing nothing that could be left out (or so I thought). The same evening over coffee I was presented with my edited text, English and punctuation corrected as necessary by Brian, large chunks marked for deletion in red by Margaret. A healthy discussion followed! With some sections this process was repeated several times.

Finally the text was complete but eight lines over length! On a beautifully edited text finding any content that could be removed was hard work, but we managed it. In the meantime a friend’s father, Edmund Heller, took professional photographs of the inside and outside of the church building and my good friend Arthur Burgess organised copies of the obit pictures of former ministers originally printed in Congregation Yearbooks.

Sample of body text

Body text (note the handwritten superscripts!)

Now to the final stage. To keep the price down, the book was to be offset printed from camera-ready copy. This was produced on a Qume daisywheel printer, hired at vast expense from a firm in Old Street, carbon ribbon onto coated paper. I took a week off to produce the page masters. The body text was relatively straightforward, but each page took about ten minutes to print – I watched patiently as the WP program fathomed out each line’s justification. The double column appendices were harder work: the sheet was loaded into the printer and its position carefully marked with a process blue (invisible to a litho camera) pencil before printing the left-hand column. Then it was a question of reloading the paper, lining up the marks and printing the right-hand column. Any previously-missed  error on the output meant another ten minute wait but eventually I had a set of page masters.

The front cover uses an enlarged extract from the 1863 OS map. The cover text was supplied by Emberbrook in the form of Letraset-style strips (one per line) which removed the need to manually space letters.

Page masters delivered, I waited with a mixture of expectancy and apprehension. I need not have worried: I was (and still am) very pleased with the result, though of course it reflects the technology available to me at the time. For the centenary weekend we invited back all those former members we had contact with and it was a great occasion, with Rev Richard Hall, URC Thames North Moderator preaching at our Sunday morning service. I was touched that with the book being just hours old, he quoted from it in his sermon.

Will a future church history ever be published in book form? 2035 will mark the 200th anniversary of the formation of the church. But the reality is that it’s much easier to assemble a body of knowledge as a series of web pages which can be updated as new information becomes available and which are readily searchable.

Twickenham United Reformed Church website history pages

Chapel Next The Green – Research

Chapel Next the Green cover

Chapel Next the Green cover

Forty years ago my history of the Twickenham Congregational Church (Twickenham United Reformed Church from 1972), Chapel Next the Green was published. This post and the one that will follow are about the researching and production of the history respectively, not the history itself. For this refer to the book itself or the church website.

I always had an interest in local history and having grown up in the church I had heard all sorts of stories of its past. Back in 1951 the then church secretary, Reg Peirce, had put together a history to mark what was though to be the church’s triple jubilee (150 years).

Some time in the 1970s I thought that it was time for an updated history and the church meeting agreed to me producing this. I had no background in historical research – at the time I was a council building inspector – and my original plan was to do a relatively quick update to Reg’s history. But I’d started on a journey which would last a good few years.

My starting point was with the church archives, such as they were. These included copies of leaflets, reports and other items of interest (including a programme for the 1902 Centenary Bazaar) and, most importantly, Church Meeting and Deacons Meeting minute books starting with the re-formation of the church in 1882 after a very testing few years. I soon realised I would need to read through these minutes twice: on the first read you get the facts, but because you don’t know what will happen next it’s hard to tell what is or isn’t significant. Needless to say, all this reading and note taking took an extended period.

By now I had a picture of church life from 1882. My next step was to visit the United Reformed Church History Society’s library. Congregation Yearbooks furnished obituaries of the church’s ministers back to the 1850s and sundry other information.

But now I had a problem. Reg’s history (probably based on Andrew Mearns’ 1889 London Congregational Church Directory: “1800 Church formed by B.H.Kluht assisted by Lady Shaw and Dr Leifchild“) left me puzzled. Debrett’s Peerage had failed to provide a suitable Lady Shaw. There was no Rev Kluht active at that time – only one who wasn’t born until 1816. And I’d also found that First Cross Road where the church stands was a result of the 1818 Enclosure Award; before this it was part of Twickenham Common.

Lady Shaw's School registered as a place of public worship

Lady Shaw’s School registered as a place of public worship

And then the penny dropped. What if Reg’s history was wrong? Yearbooks from 1862-1884 stated that the church was founded in 1838. All fell into place: Lady Shaw became such on her 1834 marriage to Sir Robert Shaw at Twickenham Parish Church. Benjamin Kluht came to the church as its first minister in 1840. During his seven year pastorate the first chapel was built on land at the rear of Sir Robert and Lady Shaw’s garden.

Then as I widened my research I found the December 1835 certificate of registration of Lady Shaw’s school room as a place of worship which can be taken as the birth date of the church. Now it all made sense.

My research took me to the Greater London Record Office, the Congregational Library at Caroone House, Dr Williams Library, the Guildhall Library, the Public Record Office and British and Foreign School Society Archive. And I made a visit to the elderly Rev Harold Bickley who had become the church’s minister in 1916. The more I knew the more there was to discover. But given that the aim was to publish an updated history, I had to stop somewhere. The decision was made to have a special weekend marking the centenary of the re-formation of the church on 27th April 1882 and so work switched to assembling all my research into a coherent account. Next month I’ll try and recall how this was done.

More:

 

1960s Sunday School memories

Although they weren’t churchgoers, my parents – like many others at that time – wanted me to go to Sunday School. A fellow school-gate mum told my mum that the Twickenham Congregational (now United Reformed) church had a good Sunday School. So late in 1959, aged six, I was enrolled. At that time well over 100 children attended each week, most like me having been sent rather than brought.

Each Sunday morning we met in the hall and paraded into church where we sat in our designated pews. Following two hymns and the children’s talk, we adjourned to our classes. After nine months in the primary class I moved up to the junior department which met in the main hall. Demountable screens split the hall into classrooms, each class having around eight children – boys’ classes one side of the hall, girls’ the other. In due course we graduated to the young people’s class, where boys and girls were allowed to mix!

The Sunday School had its own calendar which superimposed the following special events on the regular Sunday morning classes. Roughly speaking it looked like this:

  • Early in the year those of us who wanted to, participated in the National Sunday School Union’s Scripture exam. For six weeks we would study the year’s exam theme and had to learn a memory passage. Then on a Friday evening we all turned up to sit the exam paper. Later a district awards presentation, preceded by a tea, was held at Twickenham Baptist Church. A member of the Baptist church was an amateur printer and produced beautiful Twickenham & District-specific certificates – sadly none of mine survive but here’s an example from Norwich (ack Leo Reynolds)
  • One highlight of the year was the Sunday School festival marked by a fully costumed and staged play. Maurice Stockdale, then Sunday School superintendent, took great pride in producing this. Parts were found for every child who wanted to take place with, by tradition, teachers taking the parts in the last act. We went to rehearsals on six Monday evenings, followed by a Sunday afternoon dress rehearsal (then the obligatory tea!), the performance itself in front of church members and proud parents being on the Monday evening. I just remember playing Elisha’s servant in the play ‘So Small a Thing’ – the healing of Naaman.
  • To June and the Sunday School outing. Back in the early 1960s most people still didn’t have cars so, annual holiday apart, rarely went far, making the outing a great event. Our outing destinations were Oxshott Heath with its enormous sandpit, Frensham Ponds, Box Hill, and for seaside trips, Lancing or Wittering. An elderly near-blind member of the congregation, James Rennie, would give Maurice some money to be shared out towards the end of the outing so that each child could buy some seaside rock or sweets. He would be amazed to know that his simple kindness towards children he didn’t know is still remembered fifty years after his death.
  • Holidays over, September saw promotion Sunday. Everyone who was eligible moved up on the same date, and getting a new teacher was an exciting thing. Even more so, joining the mixed young people’s group!
  • This one I can’t date, but like many children across the world in linked churches we were given collecting boxes to collect donations in support of the London Missionary Society’s John Williams missionary ship which served scattered communities in the southern Pacific. When the John Williams VII ship was commissioned at Tower Pier in 1962 our Sunday School ran an outing to visit her but my parents wouldn’t let me go, scared that I might fall in the Thames!
  • And so to year end. The Christmas family service would invariably include a short nativity play of some sort. Then we’d have a Sunday afternoon Christmas party with games and tea. Aged about nine I can remember my teacher telling me “as it’s the party you can call me Christine instead of Miss Kerslake”! How things have changed!

Within five or so years the practice of non-church parents sending children to Sunday School was no more and numbers sadly collapsed. I’m so grateful to have been part of the preceding generation. So many happy memories of my teachers – Margaret Day, Christine Kerslake, Pat Sparks, John Cragg and Maurice Stockdale. Thanks for all you gave me as a small child.

Swimming in the 1960s

I was not a water baby. It took me a long time to learn to swim but thankfully I did. Back in 1863 Abraham Slade recorded:

July 14th. 1863. My poor dear Arthur aged 9 years : About 6 in the evening went alone to bathe in the river near Whitton, and got into a deep hole and lost his life, was brought home quite dead. Was buried in Twickenham Burial Ground on the 18th Saturday afternoon… Oh the anguish of soul it has caused his parents…

Thankfully as a child growing up in Twickenham I had many better, safer options. My first vague memory of public swimming pools is from the early 1960s. Keen that I should learn to swim, I was enrolled in Saturday morning swimming lessons at the old (1882) Richmond swimming pool in Parkshot, Richmond, by then showing its age. Changing cubicles lined both sides of the pool. We went there because the then Borough of Twickenham didn’t have an indoor pool. There I learned to swim!

At primary school we had swimming lessons – memories are vague, but perhaps just during our last two years? A green Fountains coach would take us to Isleworth Baths (1936) and back to school afterwards. Outside school, I don’t remember going swimming very often: I never ever swam at the massive Twickenham Lido but would go to the then outdoor Teddington pool on hot summer days. Of the Twickenham baths, derelictlondon.com says

Built in the 1930s, in a concrete and brick art deco style, Twickenham Baths was municipal architecture in the grand sense with its wide hall, twin staircase and deep arches… The pool itself was an old-fashioned Lido, the last word in leisure, generously proportioned and with ample room for sunbathing on the paved areas. There were fountains at each end of the pool and a diving board at its deepest point, in the middle

Then to Hampton Grammar School. During my first few years during the summer term we would go swimming once a week at the outdoor Hampton pool, then unheated. If the water temperature was 10C (!) or more, it was deemed suitable for swimming.

Later in my school career we were given a wider choice of activities on games afternoon. Not being keen on the mud and cold of football, I opted for swimming. We were left to make our own way from school to the near-new (1965) Feltham baths by bike (c.3 miles, 10 mins), where our names were ticked off by Mr Pickering, supervising master who had driven there and would spend the session sitting in gallery catching up with marking. Once the allotted time was up we were left to get changed and make our own way home. Today there’s no way any school would be allowing its pupils to go off unsupervised, and I can’t imagine many parents would allow it either. The interesting thing about this pool was a movable boom which could be placed at one end to give a full-length pool or moved out to create a separate diving pool (in those days pools had springboards and high diving boards).

As the truly excellent Lidos Alive pages recount, the pools of my childhood are no more. In 1966 Richmond Parkshot was replaced by a new pool complex in Old Deer Park. The 1936 Isleworth pool and Library has been rebuilt as Isleworth Recreation Centre. Teddington, originally built as a lido pool in 1931, was closed in 1976 and rebuilt as an indoor facility in 1978. Hampton Pool was closed by LBRuT in 1981, then reopened following community pressure. It’s run by Hampton Pool Trust, a non-profit It’s still an outdoor pool, rebuilt in 2004, but the water is now maintained at a year-round temperature of around 28 degrees – such luxury compared with our 1960s 10C! Feltham baths is now Hanworth Air Park Leisure Centre & Library.

Twickenham Baths is the one that has disappeared. It was closed in 1980 and the site stood derelict for years. The old swimming pool was filled in and all buildings demolished in 2005. 41 years later the long term future of the site still has to be determined.

And now? The building in which I live has a beautiful 25m pool which I ought to use but rarely do. This winter I must make the effort to do so.

On Maths Teachers

Last Saturday saw the annual City Bible Forum ‘Life at Work’ conference. With the uncertainties of Covid-19 this year’s conference had to be a virtual one over Zoom. Whilst some of us in Melbourne missed the excellent food served up by our usual hosts, CQ Functions, many others away from capital cities were able to participate. One speaker was Eddie Woo, committed Christian and maths teacher extraordinaire. His YouTube channel, WooTube, started with him filming class lessons for a sick student in 2012, and it now has over 1.1 million subscribers. For his work he was made Australian Local Hero of the Year 2018 – a well deserved honour.

As for my own school maths teachers, they may never got to be known outside their local circles, but thanks to them I’ve spent 30+ years writing engineering software with more than a little maths. I owe them all a great debt.

Extract from Hampton Grammar School report

The facts do indeed justify the conclusion!

Two from Hampton Grammar School stand out. It’s an institution I carry less than fond memories of and yet I remember many individual teachers with affection.

Maths was my strong subject as this report extract shows (I’m not sure why this term’s class ranking was so low). Unfortunately I didn’t apply myself to most other subjects.

For O-level maths our teacher was the elderly (to us schoolboys) Frank Steffens. He was an old boy of the school having been Head Boy c.1924-5. He went off to university, then returned to HGS to spend the rest of his working life as a maths teacher. His apparent sternness disguised a kindly nature. He wanted every boy in his class to succeed and we did. I’m not sure whether today’s teachers would be allowed to make the weakest pupils of the week sit in the front row on the following week, but it was a tactic that worked!

I was in the ‘Latin A’ [express] stream which meant that we took our O-levels after four years instead of five; for maths we took the ordinary exam in January followed by Additional Maths in June. There were 32 of us in the class (not streamed for maths); 28 of us got a grade A in the O-level, 4 got B’s and 4 C’s (when pass grades were A-E), an extraordinary achievement. Later, in the sixth form Mr Steffens took us for a general studies class. Us boys were amazed that someone so ancient (he would have been in his early 60s!) could understand and explain to us the science behind Dolby stereo!

We started our A-level studies under Stan Barton, who was also Deputy Head. With an interregnum between heads, he was often called away and so would set work for us to get on with in his absence. Not too much work was being done when Alan Waltham, head of maths, happened to walk by the classroom and hearing our chatter decided to investigate. He decided that it would be best if our group could sit in his classroom and get on with our work while he taught his main class, breaking off occasionally to check on our progress. Finding that four of us were well ahead of the others he offered to coach us to sit pure and applied maths as two subjects rather than sit the combined paper, an offer which we accepted. And so this left him teaching three different groups at the same time! And we all passed!

Then to Reading University: No specific maths classes but in my last year those of us in the Building Surveying stream had a weekly structural engineering class. It was the high spot of my week, not so for most of my fellow students. Our lecturer, Mike Hewitt, owned a calculator which could calculate sines and cosines! We were in awe of this device which had cost him a couple of months salary. We did our calculations with slide rules! He understood that some were not mathematically inclined: “In the exam there will be seven questions and you have to do five. 4½ will be mathematical questions and 2½ essay questions [i.e. one half-and-half]. That’s so those of you who can’t add up 2+2 can at least pass on the essay questions and the clever buggers among you [looking at me] can’t get 100%”. He’d be pleased, I hope, to see what this ‘clever bugger’ has been doing for most of his working life.

Memories of Junior School – The Teachers

Archdeacon Cambridge’s Junior School’s building, next to Holy Trinity Church, was twenty years older than the infant school, its foundation stone having been laid in 1841. I will share more memories of the building in a future post. Sadly, a quick Google search failed to produce a picture. Nearly sixty years on, my memories are vague, but perhaps some comments will flesh them out.

Compared with many modern schools, Archdeacon [as it tended to be known] was a small school, six teachers, head and school secretary – much like ‘King Street Junior‘, a BBC radio comedy. In my final year we had 42 in the class, so I would guess that there were about 200-240 pupils.

On entry, presumably following reports from infant school, pupils were put into one of two streams. Those judged (at age seven!) to have less academic potential were put in Mrs Stringer’s class for their first two years. Nearly sixty years on I remember her as a kindly soul. For their second two years her pupils would be passed on to a Mr Laing, then probably not far from retirement, who to us seemed to be dour unfriendly man. From what we gathered (perhaps incorrectly) he didn’t do much teaching, it having been determined that his pupils would never amount to much. Rather he supervised them as they did craft and other activities. All a bit sad in retrospect.

Meanwhile, those of us who were judged to be of average or better ability went through four classes, The first (year 3 in today’s parlance) was taken by Miss Weir, a middle aged lady who was a very effective teacher. In addition to her regular teaching, she conducted country dancing lessons. Away from school, she was a church organist in Hampton.

The next year’s class teacher was a Miss Cooper who returned from one holiday as Mrs Palmer. I have no memories of her, as four of us who were judged to be academically ahead were jumped a year and so missed being in her class.

So my next teacher was Mrs Atkins. I think she retired not too long after I left. She had a somewhat undeserved reputation as a stern disciplinarian but was another excellent teacher. One key thing I remember about her was that she drove a car, a Mini. The four of us who had jumped a year found ourselves with a different set of classmates but we soon fitted in.

For the last year (my last two years) we moved up to Mrs Piggott’s class. She was another excellent teacher, probably in her 30s, and she had a degree in maths. My enthusiasm for this subject was noted and encouraged. It must have been quite challenging to be teaching a class of 42, but a good number of us made it on to grammar school.

By today’s standards, the support team was modest. Mrs Hare, a quietly efficient no-nonsense lady was the school secretary, her duties including acting as school nurse, attending to sick pupils and the results of the inevitable falls. Mr Broughton, the school caretaker, was responsible for cleaning and, in the winter, maintaining fires and delivering buckets of coal to each class.

And last but not least was our head, Mr Brown. If my memory serves me, he’d been head since 1947. He, too, retired not too long after I left and was, underneath a rather bluff exterior, a kindly soul who really did care for the well-being of the school and its pupils. He like Mrs Atkins, drove to the school, but in contrast to her state-of-the-art Mini, he drove a blue sit-up-and-beg Ford Popular. Despite the antiquated buildings he ran a good and happy school.