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This section is now part of an article about One Branch of the Rowntree Family in the WW1 Era.
Chiswick - A Family Habitat in the Twentieth Century
Hammersmith Terrace from the South Bank of the Thames
Just as York has been the centre of the lives and loves of the present day Rowntree family and with a history going back to the nineteenth century, so it seems that Chiswick has been a habitat for members of the extended Rowntree / Gray Branch of the family and offspring from about 1900 for about 105 years.
Fred Rowntree moved from Scotland in 1900 to Fulham with his family, Mary Anna nee Gray (Annie) and three children, Douglas, Colin and Molly ( Judith Mary ). By 1911 Fred had moved to No. 11 Hammersmith Terrace and it will be noticed that his sister in law, Florence, had moved into No.10.
The answer as to why Fred moved into the area is pure conjecture. However it can be seen from the 1911 census that Hammersmith Terrace was a hotbed of artistic types and that Emery Walker who had been mentor to William Morris, had settled in No.7.
William Morris had lived at Kelmscott House, just down the river, before he died and there is every reason to believe that Fred was involved with the Arts and Crafts Movement, having probably worked with Rennie Mackintosh in Scotland.
Hammersmith Terrace is situated on the north bank of the Thames and although it is within view of Hammersmith Bridge it is situated on Chiswick Mall and before the building of the dual carriageway running through Ellesmere Road and Hogarth Lane, and the extension, it would have seemed very adjacent to the main High Street in Chiswick..
It must have been a particularly pleasant place to live assuming one could cope with number of floors and the occasional flood.
Flooding was always to be an issue along the Thames, Mary mentions in a letter that in 1915 the tide was high and Picton House had a puddle at the bottom of the stairs. The well known flood of 1928 which effected much of the Estuary was reported to have flooded Hammersmith Terrace. However because the houses are built on gravel with good drainage it did not cause a major problem. Central London had a rough time of it with Millbank collapsing and there is first hand anecdotal report of sewage coming up into the basements in Victoria Street.
we know that, at that time, Samuel Begg, the artist, who worked for the
Illustrated London News was living at 23 Fairfax Road less that a ¾ of
a mile away in Bedford Park. This was a new housing estate, or rather
“Garden Suburb”, built from 1870’s on and greatly influenced by
the Arts and Craft Movement. No doubt at the time it was an attractive
environment for artists and actors, just as it is today.
Somehow Fred’s son Colin met Mary Begg Sam’s daughter. The only connection that can be suggested to date in that Fred may have had an informal interest in Bedford Park because of its Arts and Crafts leaning. This link is somewhat less sure than that found or guessed at between the Dibdin – Aglio families in the 1860’s and the Dibdin - Haycraft families in the 1890’s.
So be it, Mary married Colin in 1914 and there is evidence that the families travelled back and forth across Chiswick although we have no indication of the mode of transport. Walking would not have been too onerous in those days. Nowadays to cross the “New Road” is a dismal experience.
In January 1915 Mary rented Picton House, at the downstream end of Strand on the Green, again on the Thames in Chiswick but nearer Kew Bridge. Annie, Fred’s wife would rather that Mary have found somewhere more “suitable” up nearer them but all had a hand in helping Mary with organising the decoration and furnishing.
There is no indication that Mary moved in until after the war that, of course, went on for longer than was at first expected. When they did move, they lived there for about 7 years and the Wisteria referred to by Mary is still there.
Letters from Fred and Annie to Colin give us some idea of the domestic and housing activities of the Rowntree and Gray family. At some point during the War period they inhabited No. 3, No. 5, No, 10, and No. 11 Hammersmith Terrace, with Sam Begg over in Fairfax Road and Mary and Colin at Picton House and the Cruikshank family in Dukes Avenue. The family of William Russell Flint, the watercolour painter, lived in the area and were close friends of the Beggs. Why Annie felt that Mary would be better off at the Hammersmith end of the river is not clear, but memory has it Strand on the Green was quite an industrial area even as late as the1950’s, with a number of boat yards so perhaps she felt it was a little downtown.
Dukes Avenue must have been quite an uptown road in the 1920’s and ran straight into Chiswick House Grounds, however once the New Road was built, Chiswick was cut into North and South and Dukes Avenue was blocked off. The building of this Road took a long time with the first stretch, from Wellesley Road to Cherry Blossom roundabout, which was a dual carriageway, completed by the late 1940’s. The next stretch, cutting through to Hammersmith was done in about the 1960’s. Two new Flyovers, either one or both were built under the management of John Knight, Betsy’s husband, helped the traffic in and out of the West End through Hammersmith but probably had a very unsettling effect on those living south of the New Road.
The West corner of Chiswick was on an interesting junction between the North Circular Road, Kew Bridge and the start of the South Circular, Chiswick High Road leading into the West End and The Great West Road which was then the main Bath and Bristol Road, the A4. This was the trunk road to replace the original route out through Brentford.
In this respect Chiswick was the mirror to the roads around the Woolwich Ferry on the East Side of London.
Map of Chiswick before the “New
Road” was built showing the line of it.
Cedars Rd - Ellesmere Rd - Hogarth Lane - Great West Rd
The Great West Road had a cycle track along its full length of about 10 miles to London Airport and it was quite a shock to one’s parents to know that one had ridden the length, there and back, on a huge old women’s bicycle at the age of 12 or 13 years old. This was only matched by cycling back from Ware in Hertford, a full 40 miles, at the age of 14.
Now, of course, the “New road” flies over Chiswick Roundabout and stays in the air for some miles forming the start of the M4 to the West Country. Ten miles out from Chiswick the M4 has a branch down to London Airport
Nestled in the corner between Brentford High Street and The Great West Road was Brentford Market that specialised in fruit and vegetables and, at Christmas, was the place to buy a Christmas tree and a box of apples or tangerines. Fun carrying that lot back on the top of a bicycle.
As seen from the 1911 Census Fred’s sister in law, Edith Mary Cruikshank nee Gray lived at 27 Dukes Ave. W4 with a daughter and 2 sons, Mary Arch, William Gray (Willie) and Edwin named after his father. Willie at that time would have been 26 and got married locally to Ada in 1915. Realising that he would want to move out of his mother’s home, is perhaps the reason why Mary Rowntree suggested, at one point, that she and Colin may consider renting Picton House to them.
In 1925 Colin and family left Chiswick for Yorkshire followed by Samuel Begg and his wife. In 1927 and 1933 respectfully Fred and his wife died, presumably leaving No. 5 the only house occupied by the clan on Hammersmith Terrace. It is believed that Florence Gray had already left No.10 by the time of the war, as there were cards from her in Scotland during that period and one referring to a visit to London. It is not known when Douglas moved out to Gerrard’s Cross but judging from a letter from Annie to Colin in November 1914, the family was looking for a property in the area at that time.
The Guise Family in Chiswick
After the Second World War, Joan Guise, the widow of Tony Guise who drowned in WW2 moved to Chiswick with her son, from Streatham, the seat of the Guise family.
Her reasons for moving from the flat in Stanhope Road were associated with the need for more space, a way of earning a living and a garden. However to move away from Streatham was probably to do with making a fresh start in life and to steer away from the family and connections with the immediate past. Why she moved to Chiswick is probably because her friend, Jean Irvine, from her days as a student at the Royal Academy was living in Beverley Court on Wellesley Road at the Turnham Green end. In Dec 1946 Joan took on a large Victorian property in Wellesley Road, leasehold, with the view of letting out rooms, as furnished and serviced digs, to earn a living and to spend time obtaining her piano qualifications so that she could earn a living teaching. Raoul went to Bedford Park Prep School for a couple of years, before going to boarding school in Hertford.
From a child’s point of view, Chiswick was quite a place to be. Wellesley Road did not have much traffic and to get to school a mile away there were a couple of buses no.91, and no.55 and by judicial management of the penny for the fare, it was possible to get through the whole journey on buses without walking. The High Road had every type of shop from Goodmans, a clothing material and haberdashery store, to a fishmonger and horsemeat butcher. Goodbans was special in so far as it was like a department store and had a compressed air pipe system to sent bills and money to and from the cash clerk who sat up high at the back of the shop.
There were well placed garages, several old fashioned grocers such as Gapps Store and Cullens where one stood in the shop and were served from behind a counter by any number of assistants who knew what stock there was.
There were two toy shops, one, in the High Street and one up in Turnham Green Terrace and at most westerly end, Gunnersbury Station with access to the London Underground District line and to the old British Rail Broadstreet line that travelled round the north of central London to the Station next to Liverpool Street.
By 1947 some of the “New Road” had been built, with a strange half flyover going nowhere over Wellesley Road. This did not go down again to the other roads, and had no traffic on it so was a useful play area. There were still routes across to the River Thames and walking a dog down to the river either at high tide or low tide was a delight. In those days to be out on one’s own at the age of six was considered to be quite normal and with a dog for protection it was totally safe.
Strand on the Green was a special place to go as it was busy with boat yards and at high tide the water sometimes lapped over the bank and at low tide there were acres of mud.
The walk to the river from Wellesley Road was lovely because it entailed a quiet path by the railway line, crossing the line, wandering through Chiswick Village, a group of blocks of flats, and then down past the workshops on the Strand.
From there, one had a view of the shot tower in Brentford looming up over Kew Bridge and in the other direction, Barnes Bridge, on which travel the trains, both underground trains and main line trains.
A View of the River Thames looking East from Kew Bridge. On the left is Strand on the Green were Paul Rowntree spent his early years at Picton House. The bridge is used by the District Underground and the main line Broad Street Line. On the right is Olive Island. Many of the trees and houses on the Strand are now (2005) as in the picture.
Connections between families living in an area based on geography is to be expected, however there are some other connections, interesting because of their shared coincidence.
In 1963, the two Knight girls from Hammersmith Terrace were visiting friends in Wellesley Road at the house that just happened to be adjacent to Joan’s house. They report some years later that they remembered seeing Raoul tearing two cars apart in his back garden.
The coincidences continued when some years later after getting married Raoul and Joanna settled in Rusthall Ave, loosely set in Bedford Park and nearly bought a house within the boundaries of Bedford Park proper, near Fairfax Road which is where Samuel Begg, Joanna’s great grandfather lived before moving to Yorkshire. At the time we were not aware of the family connection and were warned by a local surveyor that a house that interested them was a classic example of crumbling brickwork in Bedford Park.
Mary refers in one of her letters to going with her father to the Chiswick Empire, a wonderful music hall in Chiswick High Road opposite Turnham Green. This closed and was knocked down, in about the 1960. However, I have a memory of going once to see, not only, Alma Cogan singing Zambesi, but also, Ida Lupino and Lupino Lane of Lambeth Walk fame.
Cliff Richard performed there during the last couple of years of its working life.
Picton House Strand on the Green with the Wysteria
Paul Rowntree often spoke of Picton House, his birth place and on one occasion we all went to see the property from the path. He did sail as a very young boy on the Thames with his brother Michael, from the bank on Strand on the Green. During a time of sailing enthusiasm our family did sail on a few occasions in a 14 foot dinghy on the tidal stretches of the Thames along the Strand and Chiswick Mall, on one occasion risking hitting Hammersmith Bridge.
It was easier sailing up at Richmond between Richmond Half Lock and Teddington Lock except when they dropped Richmond lock and it seemed as if the plug had been pulled on the river.
The river was a natural attraction as we see nowadays people will pay vast sums of money to live by it, but in those days it was just a resource to be accepted as part of life, useful as a workplace and a great playground.
Watching the Boat Race from Dukes Meadows on the downstream side of Chiswick Bridge amongst crowds of people with dark blue and light blue banners, in the 1950’s, was always a celebration, matched later by memories of the boat race gatherings of the Rowntree / Thorp clan at 5 Hammersmith Terrace in the 1960’s and 70’s
The final coincidence:
Two of Colin’s great grandchildren , and three of his brother Douglas’ great grandchildren all lived in Chiswick in the 1970’s and bewildered the teachers in the local Primary School by how well they got on together without realising that they were second cousins.
Other Joys of Chiswick.
Walking from Chiswick High Road along Dukes Avenue, shrouded in huge trees, towards Chiswick House Grounds must have been a delight at a time when one could have gone straight into the grounds which were open free to the public. Much time was spent there by children and in the 1950’s it was a regular thing to have a cricket match on the green within the grounds.
On a less grand scale but equally noteworthy were the Prefabs or prefabricated houses. These were built quickly after WW2 as emergency housing, to last ten years, but happened to last for many more.
There were a number of sites in Chiswick but particular memories are of those nestled between Chiswick High Road and the underground Railway line that ran just north of it. It is probable that they only were kept in use for about 20 years as the area was cleared by about 1970. It is worth mentioning that still in the Catford area, even as recent as 2011, there are the original prefabs whose occupants are very happy with them and people were battling to save them.
There were buses going all over Chiswick. The 91 going along Wellesley Road and numerous buses and trolley buses on the High Street. It is strange to remember about the three local swimming baths all within easy reach. Chiswick baths were at the end of the 55 bus route but to get to Brentford baths we caught the 655 trolley bus. Why one should have chosen Brentford baths, I cannot remember but the building was special as it was made from very soft deep red bricks that we could bore into with a coin making a beautifully smooth hemispherical holes while we were waiting outside. Acton Baths were most convenient for the schools in the Bedford Park area. The usual crocodile of children walking was the mode of transport.
At the bottom of Wellesley Road were three blocks of flats Beverley, Belgrave and Beaumont Court that were built round an enormous private garden, in the middle of which was a swimming pool. Knowing families in the flats meant that I had the opportunity of swimming in this dark black pool which was special in so far as that the bottom was so steep from the shallow end to the deep end, that one could do nothing but slide down it because of the slime that coated all the sides and the bottom.
Further on was Turnham Green bounded by three roads one of which was Chiswick High Road itself. Joan’s second marriage was held at the Christchurch on Turnham Green
The observer returning to Chiswick after the last half century will be able to seek out many changes, however, the first unavoidable major new building in the town was the development of the IBM building on top of Gunnersbury Station. Originally the station, accessible from 3 directions, had the feel of a rural station with a small crescent outside on the High Street side. Serving both Underground and traditional main line trains, it did not have the atmosphere of the more modern, concrete and glass, stations such at Chiswick Park Station on the Acton side of Chiswick.
Built in the early 1960’s this IBM skyscraper had an impact on the station and loomed over many of the otherwise very private gardens in the neighbourhood.
When discussing Chiswick recently, I found myself referring to the level crossing on the Bath Road which ran along on the south side of Bedford Park. Although it did not exist as a crossing one seemed to be aware of it in the 1960’s. There was in fact a disused railway line that ran from the back of Chiswick High Road across at this point and bordered Bedford Park curving round to the west behind the Southfield Primary School dividing off the large factory area of CAV Ltd which has now all gone. The line continued across just north of Southfield Recreation Ground situated at the top of Chiswick and joined the other main lines in Acton. I now remember those daily walks past the school to CAV across this missing railway line and sadly at the time never quite saw the significance of it. I do remember the weeks of lunch time treks back across the line to collect one daughter from the school to take her to Chiswick Grill, a small Italian restaurant at the Hammersmith end of Chiswick where for 5/- we got a single lunch and divided it into two. The joy and patience with which they served us for our daily lunch was memorable as was the evening meals that we, occasionally, as a family enjoyed.
Parking was never a problem in the area at that time and the high street had for a short stretch a two tier structure with a narrow road running alongside with shops along side. The name Green’s restaurant come to mind as another example of somewhere that served traditional family lunches at a reasonable price .
It is interesting to imagine a place like Chiswick before the advent of the railways and of course the motor vehicle. Judging from the Parks and Green areas that now exist, the area must have had a distinctively rural atmosphere with Chiswick and Acton divided by fields that are now Acton Green Common and Chiswick Common. The only link between these now, is through the bridge at Fishers lane which goes under the Underground line, which happens to be overground until Hammersmith.
One bitter-sweet memory, centres on the City Barge pub situated on Strand on the Green such that having a meal outside could well involve watching the tide rise over the footpath and encircle ones feet at the table. In this occasion 11th Sept 1973, about 4 years before we left London for the north, Alfred Marshall came down for a week or so and stayed at St Alban’s Ave. On the evening of Joanna’s 30th birthday we all went for a meal at the City Barge and returned home late that evening. Alf had a good glass of whisky as a night cap and the next we knew in the middle of the night he was calling out and died in the early hours of the morning of 12th Sept. The girls were ushered out of the house to school as soon as possible and the undertaker called in. Sad but at least the evening celebration is well remembered.
Strand on the Green and Barnes Railway Bridge