Monday, 27 June 2016

The Queen’s Visit to the Well Hall Estate

Original post:

On Friday 29th March Queen Mary made what seems to have been an unannounced visit to the Well Hall Estate. The Kentish Independent describes the air of anticipation on the estate as the day progressed giving images of mothers and babies wearing their best ‘bib and tuckers’. People seemed to know something was happening but were not quite sure what! The Queen had motored to the area, arriving at about 3.15 p.m. The cars stopped at the southern end of the estate where she and her ‘small entourage’ were greeted by a couple of Central Government officials and by the Superintendent of the estate, Mr Ernest Turner. Apparently Queen Mary expressed a desire to visit each of the four classes of houses in the area. I wonder how they were chosen?

At 2, Broughton Road (now part of Rochester Way) in a Class 1 house she met Mrs Eliza Mabb. The newspaper reported that ‘with a true mother’s instinct the Queen delighted Mrs Mabb by sympathetic questions about the boys, and admired the photographs of the absent ones and of the Royal Horse Artillery veteran which adorn the walls of the comfortable living room.’ The ‘boys’ in question were Mrs Mabb’s sons by her first marriage, two of whom were in the Royal Field Artillery and one in the Royal Horse Artillery. Hopes were exchanged that the war would be over soon and both their sons to be home. Ernest Mabb, the husband, had himself served twenty one years in the Royal Horse Artillery and but was eligible for the house on the estate because he was now employed at the Royal Carriage Factory.

The newspaper went on to paint an image of the Queen as ‘a model housewife’ who clearly appreciated the cleanliness and tidiness of Eliza Mabb’s home. On the wall was a portrait of the King which Queen Mary declared a good likeness. There was a comment about the garden: “And what a lovely garden you can have” to which Eliza replied that the weather had not been good for gardening, nor did the demands of work at the Arsenal allow time for the cultivation of flowers and vegetables. Either this work was seen as her husband’s role, or she was also working part-time. Whatever her work status, Eliza was involved in activities on the estate, helping for instance at the tenant’s dance and social in January 1917.

The Queen went on to visit a Class 2 house where she met Mrs Thomas McCoy – Violet Ethel McCoy – of 135, Well Hall Road. Violet was a young housewife who had married her husband in October 1915 at St Mark’s church, Plumstead. They were both local to Plumstead with fathers working at the Royal Arsenal. Her father was a government bookkeeper and the family had lived in Blenheim Rd, Plumstead from where Violet attended Purrett Road School. Violet had a younger brother and sister. After leaving school she became a typist but had perhaps met her husband, Thomas McCoy through their connection with the Arsenal. Thomas was an engineer there which is how he came to be eligible for a house on the estate. Their house was on the east side of Well Hall Road and Violet was just 22 years old when she had to host the Queen’s visit. Violet was a committee member of the Tenants Association which is perhaps how she came to be chosen for the visit.

Further along Well Hall Road, the Queen visited Mrs Faulkner at No 268, a Class 3 house (with its bath in the scullery). She was involved in activities on the estate for instance helping to provide tea for the sports day (her husband was Chair of the organising committee for the event). A little more research is needed to find out about her life.

And finally she saw the flat of the Hardings. Eliza Louisa Sarah would have been about 34 at this time with three sons – Henry 11, Leonard,10, and Donald aged about five. Donald had been briefly enrolled at Deansfield School but left after a couple of months to join his brothers at the Gordon School. Eliza and Alfred George her husband had married in 1904 in Battersea where George was a lamplighter and where her father was a publican. The family had then moved to Clapton Park where Eliza had assisted her husband in a shop there. At some point George had got work at the Arsenal. He described his job as ‘Arsenal worker’ so perhaps was doing some unskilled work and for this reason the five person household were living in the two bedroomed flat on Granby Road. Eliza Harding was involved in activities on the estate and for instance was listed as helping at the children’s races.

It was perhaps not just a random selection that meant these women were visited, and although the visit does not seem to have been known to the public in advance, clearly something was ‘in the air’. Perhaps it can be described as a fairly well kept secret but these four women would have been aware of the visit to come and we can imagine they would have tidied up and got out their best china. What stories they would have to tell their families in the evening, and how many of those stories have come down through the generations.

Monday, 13 June 2016

The day the water came

Residents on Saturday 11th June 2016 along Well Hall Road, were awoken by small river caused by a broken water main.  The road was closed to traffic.  At time of writing, Thames Water are reporting up-to five days to fix.

Article from Newsshopper -
“A burst water main has shut an Eltham road for five days.
Well Hall Road (A205) has been closed both ways after a water main blew between Dunblane Road and Well Hall Roundabout (A208).
Kenneth Kelsall lives on neighbouring Congreave road and filmed the flooding on Saturday (June 11).
He told News Shopper: "The traffic started going past the house and I assumed there was a major crash, it was the most surreal experience I have ever seen, the water was half way above the wheels of a police car."It was like a river, one woman was really worried because it was going to flood her house.
"All the vehicles were covered in sand because the pressure had built up so much there would have been an explosion, there were bricks down the road from where it happened, all the sand was blown all over the cars."
The road is likely to remain shut until at least June 17 as emergency repairs begin today (June 13).
Mr Kelsall added: "They told me to get away from the area, that it would collapse, so they were shouting at me to move away as far as possible, all the path had been ripped up."
Bus diversions for routes 121 and 161 are in place.”

Friday, 10 June 2016

Going Shopping

Original post:

Well Hall Parade early 20th Century
Shopping for food features quite regularly in Eda’s diary, mainly food shopping. It is apparent that Eda, her mother and her brother all shopped for food. We know that queuing could take most of a day and that Tom had been kept off school to queue. 

Eda’s mother shopped in Woolwich probably when she finished work. David Greigs was a chain of grocers shops that had started in the late nineteenth century in south east London and in the diary is mentioned as a place for bacon. There were two branches in Woolwich, one on Hare Street and one on Powis. The other meat mentioned was beef which was bought at the butchers on Well Hall Parade – Hurdidge’s at No16. On 25th February, the first day of rationing, Eda said that the shop was full of meat. A month earlier she had referred to more horses being slaughtered for meat to feed the nation. Although I cannot find evidence that this happened on the home front, things were different in the trenches.

Well Hall Parade early 20th Century 
The parade at Well Hall contained several shops useful for daily needs. The photos shows it early in the century before the estate was built, and then a number of years later when we can see the tram lines in the road. The first shop on the right is The London Drug Company, a chemist’s shop, but just out of sight was a greengrocers. Interestingly, although now closed, it is clear that this shop was still a greengrocers until its closure; one of only two shops to continue in the same type of use, the other being the newsagent’s at No 11. Beyond the chemist can be seen the canopies of Moore’s, a drapers shop and then there was a confectioner’s. The extract from the Street Directory of 1919 shows the rest of the shops which end with No19, another grocers.

Well Hall Parade now
Another shop explicitly mentioned by name was the Maypole. There was certainly a branch of this dairy in Woolwich and it was one of the places where the family obtained the much sort after margarine. 

The family must also have shopped at the Royal Arsenal Cooperative from which they obtained useful dividends. What Eda doesn’t mention is shopping in Eltham itself. 

The purchase of only one or two non food items is mentioned; Tom’s ‘war’ boots, and I wonder where the other families shopped when the woman of the house weren't working? 
Was Woolwich still an important destination because of the tram link, the range of shops and the market? Did some of the women shop in Eltham itself? 
With food in short supply and in the days before domestic fridges, was shopping a daily activity?

Monday, 6 June 2016

Designing The Well Hall Estate

Original Post:

As part of the "Here Come the Girls" project by the Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust, Lynne has been researching the Well Hall Estate, in particular the families and daily lives of those who moved into the Estate from 1915.
Garden City for Arsenal Workers:
The Well Hall Estate

Progress Estate Map (copy)
Postcard c 1915 Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust
The Well Hall (Progress) Estate and the Great War

This is some background to the design and building of the Progress Estate, Well Hall, during the period of the First World War when it was known as the Well Hall Estate. It is not going to be a comprehensive history of the first few years of the estate’s existence – that is covered in other places. For those who would like to have further background history, there’s the entry on the Ideal-homes website about the estate Alternatively local historian Keith Billinghurst is writing a book which will be published later in the year, more details on this will be published on Progress Estate website here.

A housing shortage

No doubt sooner or later the agricultural land at Well Hall would have been submerged beneath housing in the period between the two world wars when London’s suburbs grew and grew. The First World War speeded up that process for 90 acres of the land and helped create about 1300 distinctive, publicly owned houses in the form of an attractive and highly regarded estate. The Well Hall Estate, Eltham, which was also called the Well Hall Garden Suburb or City, was not so much ‘homes fit for heroes’ – those came later – as homes fit for workers, workers at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich. We owe its presence, ironically, to the generally destructive First World War which led to the huge expansion of production at the Arsenal during the first months of the war in 1914. By the end of the year Woolwich Borough Council was petitioning the Local Government Board a central government organisation, for housing for the vast numbers of workers newly arrived or about to arrive in the area. In January 1915 the council highlighted the need for housing for the working classes.

Employment at the Arsenal had risen from 13,266 in August 1914 to 28,000 by the end of the year and was expected to rise another 7,000 in the next three months. There was reported to be no vacant accommodation in Woolwich suitable for persons of the working class. The shortage of housing in Woolwich had also been exacerbated by the pressure for married quarters for army families. As it was, thousands of workers travelled to the Arsenal from both north and south of the river. This need for housing was supported by the War Office. Once a decision was made to build the houses by the Office of Works, things moved incredibly swiftly. The Office of Works’ principal architect, Frank Baines, and colleagues visited the chosen site of 90 acres of agricultural land and within days a plan had been drawn up. The land chosen was used for market gardening on either side of Well Hall Road which a decade or so before had been Woolwich Lane. Astonishingly, within twelve months the estate was completed.

The design

The estate owes its character to its principal architect, Frank Baines, later Sir Frank Baines, who also designed the MI5 building on the Thames as well as many other housing estates, including one at Roe Green for workers in the nearby aircraft factory.

c 1915 Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust
In his training he was influenced by the arts and crafts movement (William Morris is perhaps the most famous name associated with this approach to the design of houses and household objects) and the ideas which led to the creation of garden cities and suburbs. Already by 1915 a number of settlements had been built based on these ideas: Letchworth, Bournville, Port Sunlight and Hampstead Garden suburb. The houses at Well Hall were designed in keeping with the principals of the arts and crafts movement and were in a range of traditional English rural styles. There were as many different styles as possible, especially of the roofs, and building materials, to give the impression of a settlement which had grown naturally rather than having been planned as a whole. Tiles were used and timber in the form of weather boarding, as well as plaster work and pebble dashing. Some people have attributed this variety to the general shortage of building materials during the war. There were four different classes of houses ranging from two to four rooms. One class consisted of self contained flats arranged in two storey buildings to look like houses. There were also many different arrangements of the rooms – perhaps a dozen in all. The houses were arranged in small groups, in pairs and in short terraces. The roads – apparently almost four miles of them – were narrow and winding and some passageways were created between groups of houses. There was a feeling of spaciousness, in spite of the narrow, curving roads, with each house having 100ft of land and quite a few houses having side gardens. Trees and hedges of the agricultural landscape were kept. Two open spaces were included, Lovelace Green and Sandby Green providing a visual focus for two areas of the estate and adding to the village feel of the area.

Work on building began on 8th February just a few weeks after the decision to build had been taken and the first houses were completed on May 22nd and occupied not long after. The whole estate was completed by December with a reported 3,700 names on the waiting list.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Samuel and his wife Daisy Varney – Neglect of a Child

Original post:

Samuel and his wife Daisy (Varney) were in trouble with the authorities according to a report in The Pioneer. They were taken to court in February 1916 for ‘wilfully neglecting’ their four year old. Edith. The child was found to be ‘undersized and emaciated, pallid and ill looking’ her hair swarming with vermin, unwashed and matted with eczema on her scalp; her body unwashed and she weighed only 18lbs (about 8Kg). The home surroundings were generally said to be wretched and squalid. However, the other children appeared to be reasonably well cared for and nourished.

From the 1911 census and birth records there might have been eight children in all, with a baby of a few months and two other children younger than Edith. It is possible that the eldest children – Daisy aged 19 and Ivy Lily aged 17 were not living in the family home by 1916. The next two oldest children had been registered at Deansfield School – Winifred aged nine and Alfred Samuel age five. Daisy and Samuel lived at 17 Martin Bower Road, a Class 3 house. Samuel was employed at the Arsenal, giving his employment on the Deansfield School register as a stoker. He claimed in court to be earning £3 a week of which he gave his wife £2 10s (£2. 50) a week so presumably his wife paid the rent (about 10/- a week) out of this money. A key witness was a neighbour Florence Howlett from No15 who said she considered the mother to be to blame. Samuel also seemed to point the finger of blame stating that when Edith developed ‘dirty habits’ his wife put the child in a
room on her own away from the other children.

Both parents were punished; Daisy was sent to prison for six weeks without hard labour, the newspaper account clearly labelling her as ‘unrepentant ‘. This is because she insisted that the child was quite alright and needed to be punished. Samuel however was bound over under the Probation Act. We can only hope that in the long term the family did not suffer from the separation and that Edith regained her health.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Wash Day – Well Hall Estate

The Well Hall Pioneer Circle considered wide ranging issues political social and domestic. During October 1916 the subject of wash day came up. It was reported that ‘washing-day was condemned as one of the most exhausting of the house wifely work days’. The women called for more laundry centres for small groups of houses (as well as cooperative kitchens and day nurseries).
Washing was a very physical activity. Without washing machines friction was needed to clean garments and this came from rubbing – either rubbing cloth against cloth or cloth against a washboard probably of metal at that time – or of drubbing with a dolly poster. Both of these would probably take place in a metal tub and with the help of a bar of hard household soap like  ‘Sunlight’. Water would first have been heated in a copper – we know that the kitchens on the estate were each supplied with one of these – and then baled into the tub. Whites needed to be washed separately from coloured and a little bag of Ricketts Blue might be used to keep them sparkling white. After washing clothes might be rung to make more effective use of the rinse water. Once rinsed undoubtedly in cold water to save time and fuel – clothes were either hand rung or put through the rollers of a hand operated mangle. These were not cheap items and Eda Biddlecombe in her diary mentioned that her mother bought one secondhand from a Mrs Parry probably a resident of Bexleyheath where the family used to live. The mangle is brought around by Carter Paterson.
Finally the clothes would be hung out to dry and, as we know from the estate rent book which set out the rules, this would need to be away from public view in the back garden. No wonder a whole day was dedicated to washing. I wonder how many of the estate’s housewives managed their wash on a Monday:
They that wash on Monday
Have all the week to dry;
They that wash on Tuesday
Are not so much awry;
They that wash on Wednesday
Are not so much to blame;
They that wash on Thursday,
Wash for shame;
They that wash on Friday,
Wash in need;
And they that wash on Saturday,
Oh ! they’re sluts indeed.
(Traditional rhyme)
Eda’s mother was doing her washing on a Friday when she got a needle in her hand and the only other mention of this chore in her diary was on a Saturday; for working women it was not easy to stick to the traditional ways! However, towards the end of her diary Eda refers to the fact that she has started an account with Laundry Mail so perhaps this was a collection and delivery service for domestic washing – more research needed!

Who worked at the Arsenal – Well Hall Estate

In November 1917 a local woman, Annie Wheeler, became a widow in difficult circumstances. Her husband, Station Sergeant William James Wheeler, a Yorkshire man by birth, was found dead with his throat cut, apparently by is own hand. Annie and he had several children. He had apparently been depressed and Annie at the inquest linked this to a blow to the head he had had five years previously since when he had complained of pains in his head.
Sergeant Wheeler was attached to Eltham Police Station but the family was living at 10, Congreve Road so we have to wonder whether there were some houses on the estate where non-Arsenal workers lived – perhaps those with some essential local jobs – or that Annie herself was a munitions worker. In 1919 Annie Wheeler was still living in Congreve Road.
A clue to another example of a non Arsenal worker is found in the minutes of the Housing of the Working Class Committee in November 1915 when the Office of Works referred to the letting of 175 Well Hall Road to a medical practitioner. However, three years later in 1918 this house was occupied by a plumber by trade – James Henry Broome and his wife, Grace – so it is not clear what happened about the proposal to have a medical practitioner on hand.
From the Deansfield Register of Admissions where the occupation of the parent is given in the Autumn of 1915, we can see that most fathers are working at the Arsenal; in all but a few examples it is the father’s name which is given. The exceptions include a few workers at the Dockyard such as John James Ketson of 31, Granby Road, a clerk in the Dockyard and David White of 39 Arsenal Rd. Three fathers are given as soldiers: Charles O’Garman of 2 Admiral Seymour Road and Robert Martin of the same address along with Charles Peart of 132 Well Hall Road. A further puzzling examples is David Rumsey listed as an invalid of 5, Dickson Rd.
In all these cases were exceptions made because of the important occupation of the man of household in whose name the tenancy would be? Alternatively, were their wives working at the Arsenal and this additionally influenced the decision to house the families? No doubt as research progresses we might find further apparent anomalies but the question remains as to how many of the women on the estate were working at the Arsenal as well as their husbands.