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.

No comments:

Post a Comment