Monday, 26 September 2016

The Well Hall Estate: Musical Talents

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The first social event organised by the Tenants was held in Gordon School in December 1915 – how quickly the tenants were putting into practice their aims!  The newspaper accounts of this evening and the one the following year offer glimpses into the talents of the residents and the manner in which they enjoyed themselves.

Music, dance and game playing feature among the entertainments for the evening for adults (downstairs) and children (upstairs).  The latest dance was the two-step and we can imagine that being danced enthusiastically, but does anyone now know how to do it?  Perhaps someone can demonstrate!

Amongst a number of names, two stand out: Mrs Elizabeth Stollery sang and Miss Olive Stollery her daughter sang and ‘officiated at’ the piano.  Mrs Stollery was a sixty year old widow  who may have had links with the estate because her eldest son, Henry Alexander was living at 68 Arsenal Road with his wife Blanche.  (In 1911 Henry had been a clerk living in Plumstead working for the government and may have worked at the Arsenal in this role.)  Olive her daughter would have been about 20 and might still have been living with her mother.

With the musical background we can imagine a piano in their home, either rented for 1/6 a week from Redman’s of 27, Plumstead Road, or owned outright.  Perhaps there was a tradition of musical evenings in the family.  A family memory from her nephew recalls that Olive had her own piano when married and that there were family musical evenings.  In fact Olive also played the violin and the nephew also said that she was to the lead violinist at the Royal Artillery Theatre.  It would be wonderful to find Olive’s name on a programme for the Theatre.

Monday, 19 September 2016

The Well Hall Estate: The Coal Club

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Ellen Stewart of 57 Congreve was a prime mover of the coal club established in 1917 after a particularly cold winter in 1915/16.  The Pioneer newspaper of 16th November that year stated: “Many were the days when tenants of both houses and bungalows [the hutments] at Well Hall had to go to the Station yard to beg and pray, and maybe, if father went after a night’s work, swear for a bucket of coal.’  The Easter had been particularly bad and men had to load all sorts of receptacles with coal and trudge with it through the snow because the coal man rarely left the main road when the weather was bad.  It was reported that some far-seeing members of the community – Mrs E Stewart and Mr J. Mills and Mr W.B. Peake – had got together in June and planned a coal club.  The Estate Office in Well Hall Road was used as an office and it was open twice a week in the evening to take contributions.  The club was going to offer coal at 1s 10d a cwt.* rather than the commercially available 2s 2d – about an eighth cheaper. They had managed to get a large supply by November and this could be bought by the 700 members in batches of 5cwt or more.  It’s not clear how the coal would be transported to individual houses.

Sadly the newspaper article stated that poor health had meant that Mrs Stewart could not continue with her role, but there were other women – Mrs Lewis and Mrs Flack –  who were helping.  This is a wonderful example of the cooperative community that were brought together on the estate.  Even if not everyone was involved, there was clearly a spirit of self-help among enough of the residents to provide support for local people, and some of this came from the women of the estate.

Earlier in the year Mrs Stewart who was involved in the Well Hall Pioneer Circle spoke to the group about ‘women’s place in nature’ based on the writing on eminent sociologists. She was clearly interested in ideas of the time, but sadly its been difficult to find out a thing further about her earlier life.

*A cwt. was shorthand for the term hundredweight which was 112b, about 50Kg.  1s 10d would be about 6p in today’s decimal money.

Monday, 12 September 2016

A Widow as an Estate Resident

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We know that to rent a house on the estate you had to be working at the Arsenal.  The Pioneer claims the process involved writing to the Principal Architect himself.  So, whatever was involved in the process, approval was apparently needed by the employers at the Arsenal.  But were the tenancies always in the name of a man?  Where there was a married couple perhaps, but what about widows?  (Single women workers were soon able to live in the hostels in various locations around Woolwich including Well Hall.)

An example of a widow was Olive Grover living at 11 Phineas Pett Road.  She identified herself as a widow when she registered two of her children – Edward Albert and Mabel – at Deansfield School in Autumn 1915.  In 1911 she and her husband, Walter (then aged 35) were living in Welling with their seven children aged between 1 and 10 years and then had moved to Plumstead where the children attended school.

Walter was a Wheeler Sergeant based at Woolwich and, according to Olive’s great granddaughter died of Rheumatic fever in October 1914. It is believed that Olive then had to get work as a cleaning lady to try to support the family of seven children so that sounds as if she was not working at the Arsenal.  Given the date of her husband’s death, Olive must have been sub-tenant on the estate, either with or without the permission of the London County Council.  11, Phineas Pett Road looks as if it was a ‘Class 1’ house i.e. having four bedrooms and so perhaps room to spare for lodgers.

The eldest child, also called Walter, was 14 when his father died. He enlisted (illegally as he was underage) two years after his father’s death.  In those intervening two years it seems likely he was working to help support the family.  After the war, around 1920, Olive and the children migrated to New Zealand and thereafter to Australia.

Monday, 5 September 2016

The Woman with the Pram

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Very early on in the life of the estate a series of photos were taken, perhaps as a public record of the Government Estate at Well Hall. Many of the photos show groups of adults and/or children, but on only one of them is it possible to link people to one of the houses. A photo of Well Hall Road shows a woman with a pram entering what I believe is No 133, a Class 2 house. Just inside the doorway is another figure.

I really wanted to find out whose these people were as I have very few other identified photos of people from the estate at this time. With the help of the baptism records of St John the Baptist Church (available at the London Metropolitan Archives), Eltham, and the family history websites ‘Ancestry’ and‘Find My Past’ I believe I have identified the woman as Alice Beckett with her baby son Ronald Beckett, who was baptised on 18th June 1916, having been born in September the previous year. It seems that after the war the family owned a motorcycle repair business in Eltham.

Alice Miriam Swan married her husband, Gilbert Tavernier Beckett in Tunbridge in 1902. He was a motor and cycle engraver who had also worked with guns. As an engineer he had skills that would have led to employment at the Arsenal. The female figure inside the door might be that of Alice’s eldest daughter, Violet, who would be about thirteen assuming that the photo, dated 1915 but clearly taken in the summer when the estate was properly finished, was taken in 1916.

In 1939 Ronald, apparently known as Mick to his family, was still living in Well Hall but he married during the war and he and his wife Ivy were living the Shooters Hill area in the post war period. I don’t know when and where he died. Alice his mother might have died in 1952. In the photo her face is turned towards the photographer and the daughter is peering out of the door so they were aware the photo was being taken. I wonder if they ever saw a copy of it?

With thanks for some additional comments to family descendants who I have been able to contact.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Pioneer Women Garden Party at the Old Manor House, Well Hall

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The Pioneer Women held a garden party on Saturday July 8th 1916 in the grounds of the old Manor House, at that time the home of Mrs Hubert Bland – the author Edith Nesbit, whose best known children’s novel is ‘The Railway Children’.  The newspaper article refers to Mrs Hubert’s kindness in doing this for a second time – there had been a similar but smaller event in 1915.  People were encouraged to come with talk of a hearty welcome and entertainments and children’s sports.  Only 6d a ticket (2.5p)!  There is a list of over forty people, mainly women, from whom tickets can be obtained.  Several of the women lived on the Well Hall Estate:

Mrs Hider of 4, Boughton Rd (now Rochester Way) (Class 2)

Mrs Lewis of 13, Brome Road (Class 3)

Mrs Tompkins of 131, Congreve Rd (Class 2)

Mrs Mills of 290, (now 370) Well Hall Road (Class 2)

Mrs Morgan of 288, (now 368) Well Hall Road (Class 2)

Mrs Flack of 19 Congreve Road (Class 2)

Mrs Filder of 8, Ross Way (Class 1)

Mrs Baillie of 34, Prince Rupert (Class 2) – see separate blog entry

The Pioneer newspaper, which reported the event, referred to the larger than expected influx of people on the day and how the women coped with this with ‘valiant spirits’ in spite of the lack of men to help them setting up.  The grounds themselves – long rambling walkways through antiquated gardens and adjacent verdure and pastures – were described and then the activities: the launch of a refurbished boat which then gave trips to all and sundry; the children’s sports; tea and fortune-telling by the Queen of Sheba; competitions; a baby show; all followed by a concert and dancing in the twilight to the strains of the cinema orchestra.  What a day!

The prizes for the races were distributed by Mrs Hubert Bland (Edith Nesbit) herself and she expressed her pleasure at seeing them all there.  She called for cheers for the organisers.  

Two of the winners tell us a little more about the estate.  The children who came second and third in the baby competition – George William Aston aged 8 months and Irene Maud Wenbourn aged 17 months were both living with their respective parents at the same address – 40, Admiral Seymour Road.  Was this another example of houses were sublet or extended families living in them.  Other results that caught my eye were in the races where in the Girls (8 – 10) and Boys (6 – 8 and Under 6, three of the winners came from the same family.  W. Horsfield, C. Horsfield, F. Horsfield and C. Horsfield must have come from athletic stock!  But they were not an estate family.

The parents of these children were Walter and Mary Emily Spiers and Walter was active in organising events on the estate.  His wife Mary had been born into a humble family in Chiswick in 1870.  Her father, James, originally from Oxfordshire was a labourer who sometimes worked on roads and her mother, a laundress, had been born in Devon.  She married Walter Horsfield who was an army man, in 1891.  Life in the army resulted in several moves during their married life so that their children – seven living children at the time of the 1911 census (three had died) – were all born in different places. Berkshire, London, South Africa, and Gloucester.  At one point they were living in the army barracks at Hyde Park, but by 1911 however the family were in Elibank Road, Eltham and Walter was a government (army) store keeper.  Their youngest child, the one who had one the under sixes race in 1916 was Charles who was born in 1912.  The other three winners were Frank aged six Constance aged eight and Wilfred aged nine.

Friday, 12 August 2016

The Battle of the Somme and the Well Hall Estate: Another Son of the Estate Killed in France

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George Thomas Jeffery was another soldier with local connections who died during the Battle of Somme.  He had enlisted at the age of 20 in November 1914 giving his father as Thomas and his mother as Alice.

The Jeffery family were living in 12, Admiral Seymour Road by June 1917 when Thomas wrote to the army regarding his son’s personal effects including a silver wrist watch and a gold ring.

Alice Emily his mother as well as George and two of his siblings were all helping with their father’s business as a seaman victuler in 1911 when they were living in Rochester.  There were four sons in all, all of them younger than George.   When George enlisted, joining the Kings Royal Rifle Corps, the family were living in Rochester, but the move to Well Hall would have happened within the following year or so.  How sad that within about eighteen months of that new beginning for the family, the eldest son was dead.  George died of wounds on 18th August 1916 and is commemorated on the memorial at Thiepval.

George’s brother Frederick William was also injured in the Battle of Somme, but survived and by the end of the war was no longer in the army although another brother, Arthur, was.  Arthur was living on the estate with his father in the 1920s. The eldest child, Grace, married in 1919 and had a son who was named George, perhaps after her brother.  Alice died in 1925.  I wonder if the wrist watch and the ring were ever found and returned, precious mementos of Alice’s son.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Births and Deaths in Ross Way

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Mary Ellen McIlRoy lived on the estate at 56, Ross Way and I came across her name because it appears in both the birth and death registers of St John’s church in the course of two years during the war.  What is her story?

Mary Ellen was the daughter of William Charles Holden and his wife, Mary Ann.  She was born on 28th November 1877 possibly in the Royal Herbert Hospital, but certainly in the Charlton/Woolwich area where her father was a Corporal in the AHC.  By 1891 there were five other children in the family of whom she was the eldest, and the family were living in Woolwich, where her father was by then a hospital orderly.  Her youngest sister was born in 1897.  No doubt Mary Ellen had a responsible role in the family as the eldest child.

On April 18th 1897 at the age of twenty, Mary married Danby Hunter, a house painter, with whom she had two children – Maud and William Danby.  Danby, who claimed on his marriage certificate that he was a bachelor at this point, had already had two children by a previous marriage and one of them came to live with them.  Danby Hunter died in 1906, leaving Mary Ellen with the three children.

Where she went for the next few years isn’t clear – she didn’t return to her parents’ home in Fenwick Street, Woolwich – but she eventually met and married John Alexander McIlroy in 1914.  By this time her eldest two children, if not the third, were living independently of her.  John, who had served for twenty-one years in the army travelling around a great deal and living most recently in Yorkshire, was by then earning his living as a blacksmith in Woolwich.  He too had been widowed and had had at least four children with his first wife. At the time of his marriage the children would have been aged between six and fourteen.

The marriage took place in Woolwich on 4th October 1914 and we can only assume that at some point during the next few months John was able to get a job as a blacksmith at the Arsenal and so the family came to live in Ross Way.  He was probably also in receipt of an army pension.  The children by the couple’s previous marriages were now aged between eight and sixteen and there is no way of knowing if they all came to live in the newly formed household.  None of them were registered at Deansfield School in the autumn of 1915.

On 28th September their daughter Mary Ellen McIlRoy was baptised at St John the Baptist church, Eltham and it was here only two months later that John Alexander was buried.  There is evidence of some ill-health in his army record – ‘debility’ – and this may have contributed to his early death at the age of 44, leaving Mary Ellen a widow for the second time with several children and a baby.  Some time between 1916 and the 1919 Electoral Register Mary and her family moved on from 50 Ross Way.  A family tree on the family history website Ancestry shows her marrying once more in the 1920s and there is also a picture of her wedding to John Alexander but I haven’t as yet got permission to use that in the blog.

There is an interesting puzzle about the occupancy of 50, Ross Way in that on 12th August in 1916 (a few weeks before Mary Ellen’s baptism) a John Everett aged 27, rifleman, and Grace Brooks had given this address when they married at St John the Baptist church, Eltham.  Were all these people living in the house?  It was a Class 1 house with three bedrooms upstairs but also an extra bedroom on the ground floor.  Was this being sublet, with or without the permission of the London County Council who were then managing the estate, and if so how common was this?